A Eunuch Becomes a Family Man (Jan-Feb 2003)

By Matt Dabbs

by Terrell Lee
January – February, 2003

Luke demonstrates the universal nature of the gospel by sharing numerous examples of both “normal” and “unusual” people who received the good news. In his Gospel Luke narrates healings of the demon-possessed, sick, and physically challenged. Furthermore, he introduces to us many people, women particularly, who are not mentioned in the other Gospels. Yet, the Gospel of Luke is only the beginning of the gospel. Whatever Jesus did in his ministry, Luke shows the church to imitate in her ministry in Acts. Many of those who enjoy the blessings of restoration and salvation enter Luke’s account as somewhat of a surprise to the reader. For example, those who crucified Jesus, Jewish priests, Saul of Tarsus, Cornelius, a jailer, and a host of others believe the good news. Luke’s plan for Acts is to show how Jesus’ disciples carried out the directives in Acts 1:8.

The Ethiopian eunuch qualifies as one of Luke’s unusual characters (Acts 8:26-40). While we do not know many things about this man, what we do know is intriguing. He was from a place that the ancient world considered romantic and exotic. Herodotus stated that Ethiopians were the tallest and most handsome of all people. Therefore, the narrative would certainly make a positive contribution to Luke’s purpose because of the mystery surrounding Ethiopia, the kingdom of Mere, located south of Egypt, qualified in various ways as “the ends of the earth.”

Ethiopians peaked the curiosity of the Greeks. Homer called them the “farthermost of men,” noting that the “sun sets there.” God’s divine priority included Ethiopians coming to enjoy the Lord’s salvation (Psa. 68:31; Isa. 11:11; 45:14; Zeph. 3:10).

In non-Greek and non-Jewish civilizations, eunuchs functioned in various capacities. Castration was widespread in the Near East and such men were sometimes given royal responsibilities: they served as court officials and were placed in charge of the king’s harem (cf. Est. 2:14), or where the rulers were queens as in Meroe, eunuchs worked closely with the queen (cf. 2 Kings 9:32-33). Eunuchs also served as bodyguards, palace officials, statesmen, and military officers. Cyrus, king of Persia, believed eunuchs were more docile and loyal, therefore many served under his command. Finally, castration sometimes functioned as a form of punishment.

The Old Testament prohibited eunuchs from entering God’s assembly (Deut. 23:1). Furthermore, since God’s plan for man and woman was marriage and reproduction, the rabbis taught that it was the duty of every man to marry and have children. Actually, failure to do this was considered a violation of the divine command in Gen. 1:28. Rabbi Ben ‘Azzai was perhaps the only celibate rabbi in antiquity, justifying his celibacy by explaining that because his soul

Luke portrays the Ethiopian eunuch as a religious (perhaps frustrated) seeker—he had been to worship in Jerusalem with a people whose Law restricted him from their assembly (however, cf. Isa. 56:4-5). When Philip approached the chariot, the eunuch was reading from Isaiah 53. Had the eunuch been reading through an Isaiah scroll and “just happened” to be at this section when Philip joined him? Isaiah 53 contains twelve verses; is it coincidental that verses 7-8 confused him? Knowing what we know about the Ethiopian eunuch, is there any surprise he felt drawn to the person in the text? Could it be that he identified with the person in those two verses in some unique way? Sure, we know Isaiah 53 is a Messianic prophecy, but to the eunuch verses 7-8 carried special meaning: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” (Acts 8:32-33, NIV)

The eunuch certainly understood what it was like to be led to the slaughter; earlier in his life someone had done that to him. And what good did it do to resist? He was an innocent lamb who could offer no defense of his own. Humiliation and injustice—the eunuch understood those terms. Descendants? He would have no family because he had been robbed of that divine privilege. So the eunuch’s heart melted as he read this text and the burning question on his heart was “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” (Acts 8:34). God had prepared this man’s heart to hear the gospel, so Philip simply “told him the good news about Jesus” (v. 35).

How I wish I could have heard that conversation! No doubt Philip explained the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, but in this case there was more to tell. Even as the eunuch’s heart went out to the man in Isa. 53:7-8, Philip’s heart went out to the eunuch. He learned that Jesus certainly identified with him, more so than any person he had ever known. Is it possible Philip asked the eunuch to scroll forward a bit further in Isaiah to chapter 56? Might Philip have read this passage of hope to the eunuch?

Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (NIV, Isa. 56:3-7)

What could be better than sons and daughters to a eunuch? A name–the name of Jesus! God promised eunuchs a name that would not be cut off. God promised to put an end to the “cutting off” that prevented eunuchs from having a family. Rather, eunuchs will no longer be “dry trees.” They would be a part of God’s family and join all God’s people in the joy of prayer in the house of God (cf. Lk. 19:46).

In Acts 8 Luke reminds the reader that Jesus continues building bridges that unite heaven and earth. The lives of Jesus and the eunuch intersected in their experiences of injustice. Then when the eunuch learned that he could identify with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection through his own death, burial, and resurrection, is there any wonder that he commanded his chariot to stop so that he could receive baptism? That’s how God gave the eunuch a spiritual family, something better than sons and daughters.

Jesus continues to build bridges in an effort to span the distance between God and man. Perhaps you can identify with the pain and emptiness in the eunuch’s life. Have you felt the throbbing of injustice at work, school, or even at home? Has abuse attacked your well-being? Do you feel different, unacceptable, rejected? The eunuch found hope in Jesus; you can too. God’s family can be your family and in it you will find peace and rest.

Additionally, the cross may have “ended” Jesus’ earthly life, but by the power of God’s resurrection he now lives, reigning at the right hand of God, again taking flesh in and through his spiritual family, the church. His vision is now the vision of every believer. His mission and passion are our mission and passion. Perhaps God is diligently preparing the heart of someone you know, someone who carries the scars of injustice, someone who longs to be somebody in the house of God. Do you long to be God’s instrument to bring understanding into that person’s heart? Are you eager to share God’s family message with someone who needs hope? As believers in the Lord Jesus, let us yearn to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk. 4:18).New Wineskins

Terrell Lee is preaching minister for the Reidland Church of Christ in Paducah, KY. He and his wife, Teresa, have two children, Joshua and Alicia, who is married to Brian Brophy. [Email terrell@reidland.org]

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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