Updated: Feb 4
An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
This is the Acts selection for the Easter season, coming from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B 2018. It will next be read aloud in church by a reader on Sunday, April 29, 2018. It is important because it tells of an Apostle following in the path of Jesus (fulfilling his “Follow me” instruction), as Philip was led into his own wilderness experience. The Ethiopian eunuch then epitomizes the mission of Apostles as reaching out to Gentiles and not being limited to Jews.
This selection begins by stating, “An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.”
It is easy to assume that Philip was the disciple from Bethsaida who chose to follow Jesus, as reported in the Gospel of John (John 1:43-48). That Philip was one of the eleven who were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday (the first day of the week), who was equal to Simon-Peter and John of Zebedee, and other Apostles who were prepared for ministry during the forty days Jesus spent teaching them, prior to his Ascension and the subsequent Fiftieth day. This means a holy call to the wilderness would not be required of Saint Philip; however, there is another Philip to consider.
In chapter six of the Acts of the Apostles, we are told of the need to choose “good men” from among the Hellenistic Jews and Hebrew descendants, who would attend to the needs of the widows that were being overlooked. Two of the seven named “good men” were Stephen and Philip. Although Stephen was said to be “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” the others were growing in their faith, so the Apostles could continue to devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (All from Acts 6:1-7)
It would make perfect sense to see the Philip named in chapter 8 of Acts as referencing this newly ordained priest named Philip. Therefore, when “an angel of the Lord said to Philip … go toward the south … to Gaza (on a wilderness road),” it was another Philip’s divine call to have the metal of his goodness tested.
When the reader is presented the translation, “So he got up and went,” it produces an image of Philip getting up off the sofa of his home and taking off, in order to do as told. That misses the point of Philip having just encountered “an angel of the Lord,” and it is a poor translation. This is reminiscent of Peter standing up on the day of Pentecost, where Acts 2:14 says he “raised his voice,” giving the connotation of Peter speaking loudly. The deep meaning says Peter’s voice was “lifted up” (“epēren“) spiritually.
The text shows pause (by comma or implied) in the words, “kai anastas , eporeuthē.” That pause says there was space between Philip “having been risen up” (“anastas”) and his “going on a journey” (“eporeuthē”) for the Lord. Because he was told to “Rise up” (“Anastēthi”) by the angel, that meant more than “stand up from a seated position,” as it spoke volumes as a command to become “Elevated” or “Raised” in Spirit. By seeing this language in this way, one can then see Philip was called to a test of his “Raised” Spirit, just as all Saints are called by God and Christ to prove themselves.
When the translation then transitions to say, “Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch,” importance is lost in the absence of pause, where the actual text says, “kai idou , anēr Aithiops,” or “and behold , a man an Ethiopian.” By understanding a pause, so one fully grasps “Behold,” one can then realize this is a one-word statement that can also translate as “Discern, Perceive” or “Experience.” That focus allows one to see how the information presented in Holy text says Philip went to be tested and “Experience” that test, before meeting a man who was an Ethiopian. Such a translation as “Now there was” [instead of “Behold”] can then be realized as a stand alone statement that Philip had been in the wilderness being tested for close to forty days. Then he came upon [following the pause of a comma] “a man an Ethiopian,” after Philip’s testing had prepared him to impact a traveler in the wilderness.
In the Greek text, the “Ethiopian man” is identified as that, with commas offsetting the additional information that he was a “eunuch.” That was another stand alone statement, which was then followed by an explanation, such that his impotency was relative to the man being “a court official [a potentate or ruler] of the Candace.” That information is offering insight into the Ethiopian man’s character, more than some unnecessary words being written.
When the translation says, “the Candace,” that says a person’s name was not being stated, but a proper title. That title is more properly spelled as “Kandake,” which states how the “Ethiopian man” worked as an emissary of a Nubian or Kushite “Great woman,” who was then identified as a “queen of Ethiopians.” By use of the Greek word “dynastēs” [“a ruler, potentate, member of the court”] with control of “all her treasure,” this “man an Ethiopian” might well have been “a eunuch” (“eunouchos”) by choice (rather than by forced castration), choosing to “abstain from marital sex,” due to knowing the treasury could not be entrusted to one not having complete control of a rational (business only) mind.
Kush was where Sudan is now.
The southern edge of Kush came close to where modern Ethiopia is, with Meroë the place of the Kandake.
With that background established, it is important to catch that this man was important because he was “in charge of her entire treasury.” The history of the Kingdom of Kush (as a nation led by powerful women), it is believed Kush had been conquered by the Roman Empire (around 100 BC), and by the time of Nero’s rule (after Jesus’ crucifixion), Kush had become a “client state.” That would have made Kush like the Herodian kingdom, which included Judea and Galilee and other regions.
The Herodian “client states.”
Rather than jump to a conclusion that this Ethiopian man was in some way Judaic, it would be better to see him as a traveler to Jerusalem so he could do business with the Romans there. The modern Ethiopian connection to Judaism was still hundreds of years its onset, although this man might have descended from the Makeda of Ethiopia (Queen of Sheba). For the Ethiopian man to have a scroll of Hebrew text, from a land that did not commonly read, that says he was of royal status and thus educated; however, he did not understand the meaning of the text, which would indicate that scripture was being read for the first time.
The “passage from scripture” that he was reading aloud was from Isaiah 53:7b-8b. The verse-plus that leads into those two verses quoted in Acts says, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:6-7a, NASB) The last segment of the total three-verse selection (Isaiah 53:6-8, NASB) adds, “For the transgression of my people he was punished.” Because all of that was not read aloud, the Ethiopian man was touched by words that made sense personally to him, as he knew the silent sacrifice, humiliation and justice denied him, even though he was “of the court of the Kandake.”
This view then takes one back to the statement (separated by commas, so it stands alone as important) that the “man an Ethiopian” was a “eunuch.” This becomes the sacrifice that had been made by the Ethiopian ruler, whom Philip met. The removal of his lusts and desires of the flesh – by whatever means necessary – ensured his subservience to “the Kandake,” so the valuables of the kingdom would be in safe hands. This says that it was because the Ethiopian man was a eunuch that he understood the scripture of Isaiah as his own self-allowed humiliation for the better good. The Ethiopian man had given up his life (as it normally would have been otherwise) on earth, in the same way the writer of the scroll had prophesied the Messiah of God would.
The word can equally translate as “vehicle,” and the image one should get is more like a “stagecoach,” where the Ethiopian man rode comfortably inside a horse-drawn carriage, driven by attendants. Inside this “vehicle” is space for a scroll to be unrolled and read, without getting in the way of any other passengers.
The reading of scripture can then be seen as a standard pastime of long-distance travelers, where one goes to the airport newsstand and buys a book to read before a flight. Probably, this scroll was just one of the choices he had to read during a long ride back to Egypt, before taking a boat to Kush (going south along the Nile). The Book of Isaiah might have been one of several that seemed interesting. Perhaps one of the high priests in the Temple of Jerusalem had an extra scroll for sale in the book store there?
We then read, “Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah.” The word “Spirit” is capitalized, as “Pneuma,” which can also translate as “Wind” or “Breath,” meaning it was a divine “Whisper” within the mind of Philip. This can be seen as the Mind of Christ that spoke to Philip as he was in the wilderness; and it not only told him to approach the vehicle and enter it. As Philip was running to reach the carriage, the Mind of Christ was telling him what was being read inside, by the Ethiopian man. Thus, more than Philip asking the man inside the carriage if he understood the meaning of what he was reading, it was the knowledge of Jesus Christ that was pouring from Philip’s lips, to one known to be thirsting for insight.
It is important to see how the Ethiopian man asked Philip about the meaning of the scripture he was reading, rather than expect “someone to guide” his knowledge. For Philip to ask, “Do you understand what you are reading?” was like the thoughts the Ethiopian man was having. Because he could not possibly understand without guidance, his response was to ask, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”
His asking becomes an example of “Ask and you will receive.” Because the Ethiopian man felt a personal connection to the scripture he was reading, even though he did not understand it, he wanted to know more. The scripture was touching him to cause him to want to know more. His asking was then like a prayer, with Philip’s appearance being the answer to that prayer.
In this reading selection, the Ethiopian man is called “the eunuch” four times, after having first been identified as “a eunuch.” He was not identified as a man, or as an Ethiopian, or as a potentate, ruler, or court official. The fact that this man traveled in a vehicle of luxury, with a driver and attendants he commanded, as a man of power who controlled the entire treasury of a nation means little in this story. At the core of this man’s identity was the fact that he was a man who voluntarily abstained from marriage, such that he was not led by his innate drives to procreate, regardless of whether or not he had been willingly castrated to physically prevent that or if he somehow used extreme powers of will to quell all dangerous emotions that might overcome him.
The aspect of the Ethiopian man and Philip (driver, et al) coming upon a body of water on the wilderness road to Gaza means they came upon a wadi where rain had collected. The knowledge Philip had imparted a thirsting man led them to water for cleansing. The baptism Philip performed was symbolic with physical water, but because the Holy Spirit was upon him at that time, the Holy Spirit also came upon the Ethiopian man, cleansing his soul.
A human being whose emotions had been sacrificed to serve a queen were suddenly overwhelming, as he “went on his way rejoicing” knowing he now willingly served the Father and the Son. Philip, however, did much as Jesus was known to occasionally do, which was suddenly disappear. When we read that “Philip found himself at Azotus,” his wilderness journey might well have led him physically there, instead of along the road the Ethiopian man’s carriage took. Thus, when Philip reappear in Azotus, it was after he had spiritually left his body, so the Lord could show him the power of the Holy Spirit to find seekers, wherever that may be. This is the element of synchronicity.
As I have stated previously, reading scripture should have the effect of placing the reader in the scenes depicted, where the one of least value is who the reader must identify with first. One must ask oneself, “How do I have the same flaws of character?”
In this reading, it becomes too easy to identify with Philip, as if one is a truly devout disciple of Christ, who is married to God in one’s heart, so one can hear “an angel of the Lord” speak. Few are able to make that claim, as such people would be explaining scripture to the world of Gentiles (and Jews) who read it, but do not know how to understand, “unless someone guides me.” On the contrary, most Christians shun study of the Holy Bible, leaving that “head trip” to the professionals.
This means the vast majority of readers ARE “The eunuch.” That symbolism can bring with it elements of being intelligent, yet pagan controllers of wealth. It can mean one spends more time at work than with family – always on the road for another dollar bill. It can strongly suggest that one is most sacrificing of the emotions of the world, because one is more driven to acquire the things offered by the earth. However, the biggest element of being a eunuch is to see oneself as barren, thus unable to reproduce baby Jesus within. It is the absence of sperm or egg, where being fruitful and multiplying … for the purpose of supplanting one’s religious values into those personally brought forth into this world … has been lost.
From the Game of Thrones comes a prototypical eunuch, who may parallel the heart of the Ethiopian man met by Philip.
The lesson of this reading, which is presented during the Easter season of personal Resurrection of Jesus Christ in Apostles, is to rejoice in knowing that one’s ill-advised life decisions have not kept one from redemption and everlasting life. Just as children brought into the world maintain a lineage of physical genetics, spreading the Gospel of the Holy Spirit maintains the lineage of Jesus Christ, allowing one’s soul to become one with God as a truly Spiritual being. Just as Philip was a good man who was chosen to serve, he was then then called by the angel of the Lord to be proved by fire. Philip responded and was made a reproduction of Jesus Christ, so that body could then pass that Spirit onto a Ethiopian man, who felt a need for redemption and a new life purpose.
Because a eunuch acts as a statement of a lack of desire to join with a partner, for the purpose of sexual release, that is rejecting the basic notion of joining oneself with another self, so a child can result. It represents the epitome of selfishness. This lack of physical emotions (either forced upon or willingly chosen) makes one’s heart cold and hardened.
That symbolism is then one’s inability to love God with all one’s heart, either because one feels forced to doubt (from flimsy explanations or “in your face” examples) or one willingly chooses not to believe in the unseen (from peer pressures and philosophical teachings). Being a eunuch is then what keeps one from understanding Scripture, because one’s own personal troubles keep one from seeing the truth that has already been rejected. Without a personal wilderness experience that tests you as potentially being the weak link to God, the purpose in waiting for redemption is seemingly never worthwhile. One cuts off any chance of knowing God, choosing impotency over fruitfulness, from big brains that are blind to the truth.
When the Mind of Christ led Philip to join with the Ethiopian man, that Mind knew the Gentile had just read a passage that opened a wound, causing the heart to pump extra blood of emotion. The eunuch saw himself in the sacrifice of Jesus, as prophesied by Isaiah. Such and opening sent the Holy Spirit to the man, in the form of Philip, so the Ethiopian eunuch could feel the Scripture totally being about him. That truth came to him when he became one with Jesus Christ. His sterility would be undone by being reborn as Jesus Christ – his guide to Scripture meaning within – so he could then have new children in Christ, just as Philip could then claim a relationship with the Ethiopian man. They were then brothers in Christ.
When we then read that Philip immediately was no longer seen by the eunuch, but “the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away,” so he “found himself at Azotus,” this is the life purpose of a Saint. Paul wrote frequently about the dependencies adult human being have with sexual relationships. It is how some say that men are led more by their little brain than their big brain, which means sexual drives make many human beings forget about spiritual purpose when physical emotions control their bodies.
When one is led by sexual appetite, one can break any number of religious rules. Doing that too often makes one less able to sense the error of those ways, so that people defend themselves with excuses that prevent their hearts from receiving the Holy Spirit – opening up their hearts for God with love. A Saint is ready to receive God and Christ, when one has made the sacrifice to become a eunuch, where the castration is not the removal of sexual organs, but the removal of an ego that can be misled by sexual urges.
That is what Paul wrote of. It is how Jesus said, “These [strangers] are my mother and brothers,” because family is less about physical bloodlines, and all about being a productive “living vine” of Christ. Thus, being called to proclaim the good news in all the towns means one is always going home to family, wherever one goes in ministry and evangelism. Those we are led to by the Holy Spirit will be those who we will be related to, through being Jesus Christ.
Note: The cover art depicts The Hanged Man Tarot card, specifically from the Mythic Tarot deck. The character from Greek mythology that is used to depict the “willing sacrifice for a higher good” symbolism of The Hanged Man is Prometheus, who gave fire to humanity against the orders of Zeus. In the spirit of the Easter season, it would be worthwhile to read about Prometheus, whose name in Greek means “Foresight.” Since the Resurrection of Jesus Christ within a Saint requires a willing sacrifice be done first, reading this mythology can help enlighten one as to the impact the reading from Isaiah had on the Ethiopian eunuch.