“This Looks Like a Job For…” – Act 8:26-40

That the eunuch was a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, and was in charge of all her treasure, was also quite something. The Candace (not a name but a title) was singled out in some of the historical writings of the Roman’s. She was described as a warrior queen. She was the mother of the king, who, apparently, was considered above the secular rule of his nation. Because of this, she ruled independently as Queen. The kingdom of Ethiopia and the Roman Empire had long had conflicts, but Rome had been unable to conquer them. Hence, from a political point of view, the Ethiopian eunuch was an official in a kingdom hostile to Rome. Even more, being in charge of the Queen’s treasury, it also meant that the eunuch was a powerful person in that kingdom.

That the Ethiopian was a eunuch was also quite something. The reputation of eunuchs in ancient times (the context of the original readers of Acts) was not a good one. One man describes it:

The eunuch was a figure perceived to be neither celibate nor morally chaste, but was a monstrous gender formation whose ability to navigate within and take on the properties of both male/masculine and female/feminine worlds (physically, sexually, socially, culturally, even politically) was the source of his/her ambivalent social status.[2]

Another man described their situation as a “gender-bender.”[3] They were “other”—not considered masculine males, but also not women. Thus, the state of a eunuch brought on a revulsion in people—a discomfort.

For some unfortunates, it was an ancient practice for eunuchs to be made in order to serve in high up positions in ancient political structures. We see examples of this in the Bible in Daniel, chapter 1, also Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian in Jeremiah 38-39, in Esther, chapter 2, and 2 Kings 9. Their physical alteration kept them from procreating, so neither they nor their children could cause certain problems when it came to thrones and such. This is what seems to be the case for the Ethiopian eunuch here in Acts.

Now, the Law given in Lev. 21:20 and Deut. 23:1 would not allow eunuchs to be part of the assembly (the Israelites gathered for worship), nor could they be priests. This basically excluded them from any of the religious worship of the Jews. They were outside those bounds. So, this man had travelled all the way to Jerusalem to worship, but was likely not able to even enter the temple, much less participate. He very well may have been quite frustrated about this situation, as he headed home to Ethiopia. Yet, in Isaiah there was a prophecy that would have given him hope (and he was reading Isaiah in his chariot). Isaiah 56:3-5 says this:

Let not the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’ For thus says the Lord: ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.

This is essentially a promise that eunuchs who are within the covenant of the Lord will be included in the Kingdom of God, as inheritors of the promise. This is in line with what Jesus said was coming in Matt. 19:12, which has had considerable historical fallout,

For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.

While much can be said about this statement, what we can see relevant to this passage was that despite the reputation of eunuchs, their ambiguous status, the revulsion generally felt towards them, and the exclusion of them from Judaic cultic worship, Jesus did not exclude eunuchs from being able to enter the Kingdom of God. With Matt. 19:12 and Isa. 56:3-5 taken into consideration, and seeing God himself sent Philip to have this gospel conversation with the eunuch, the boundaries to his inclusion in the Kingdom of God had become non-existent.

And so, we come to God’s mission for Philip. Although the Ethiopian was a believer in God, and Jesus had made it clear that eunuchs were welcome in the Kingdom of God, he still had not heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. This was a necessary step for this man’s salvation—to enter the Kingdom of God. He needed that message of good news. Therefore, God himself took steps to make sure that he got it.