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5. A Man From Africa

It must. have been the very last person Philip expected to meet on the lonely road: The Minister of Finance of the Kingdom of Ethiopia!

(NKJ Acts 8:27) So he (Philip) arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning.

An Important Black Man

Of course Philip didn't know at once who exactly this traveller was, but he could indeed tell that he was an important person; In the course of their conversatlon he would get to know him better.

* He was a man from Africa, from the land of Ethiopia. In the time of the New Testament the land of Ethiopia lay just south of Egypt. Today it is called the Sudan. It is not the same land as modern Ethiopia. We can accept that this man was darkskinned or black. The name "Ethiopia" means "land of the Black people".

* His country was ruled by a Queen. The word "Kandake" was not her name. It was her title. The ruler of that land was always addressed in this way.

* The traveller was a high official responsible for the financial affairs of his country. One could say he was the Minister of Finance in Ethiopia.

A Long Journey - to Pray!

Another thing Philip found hard to explain. This man had been in Jerusalem, and, what was more, had gone there to pray! He had travelled from Ethiopia, across Egypt and on to Jerusalem. He wished to go there to pray in the temple of the Jews!

Where and how he had come to know the religion of the Jews, we cannot say with certainty. We do know that in those days there was a Jewish colony in the South of Egypt. It is possible that it is there that he came into contact with the Old Testament and the Jewish worship and service of God. The fact that he went to all the trouble of a journey to Jerusalem in order to pray in the temple, shows how much he was prepared to do for his religion.

Returning Home Disappointed

In spite of his zeal and earnestness and the great trouble he went to, his pilgrimage was evidently a disappointment to him. According to the laws of the Old Testament no foreigner (non-Jew) was allowed nearer the temple than the so-called "forecourt of the gentiles". This official, a stranger in Jerusalem, evidently ran into nothing but "No Admittance" signs all over the place. Such notices were fixed to the pillars of the temple. Non-Jews were forbidden to go any further to pray with God's people in the temple.

And this was the man Philip met on the deserted road to Gaza! A man from the far end of the earth (that is how the Jews thought of Ethiopia). Was this the reason, Philip probably asked himself, that the angel of the lord caused him to uproot himself in Samaria?

God Plans in Advance!

But this man travelled in the chariot of a wealthy person! Philip was on foot.

This person was a high official of a queen, and Philip? He was a deacon. He hadn't done too badly with his evangelistic work in Samaria. But here, on this dusty road, padding along on his two feet? Would the person even notice him? The rich man's chariot moved past and Philip surely wondered what exactly the Lord was doing with him on this road.

What Philip didn't realise was that God plans everything ahead. He already knew how the meeting between Philip and the high official would take place. He was already busy preparing this seeker for his discussion with Philip.

God plans ahead. If we often don't know what we should do, how to tackle things or in what way we must bear our witness, we must not be afraid. God knows how. He arranges his work in advance.

A Person Is Known By His Books

Something which Philip apparently didn't know at that stage is now told to us by Luke, the writer of Acts.

Fill in the missing words:
The man of Ethiopia was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading ________ _______ _________.

This man from Africa was busy reading. On his return trip from Jerusalem to Ethiopia he sat with a scroll in front of him. He was reading the Old Testament book of Isaiah!

In those days there were not yet books with pages such as we know. Instead they used scrolls made of animal hides and every word had to be written by hand on each scroll.

To write a book in this way was a very time-consuming, tedious and exhausting task. Therefore books were not plentiful. They were scarce and expensive. However, as we have already heard, this man was a high official. He was evidently well-to-do. He could afford to buy a book for himself.

Tell me what you read, and then I know who you are. This is a well-known and very true expression. It is therefore of great significance that this man sat reading the Bible as he took his lonely journey along the Gaza road.

It leaves no doubt that he was sincerely interested in the religion of Israel. He was, as we shall see in the following verse, one who really searched.

What was more, he took the trouble to visit Jerusalem. He did more than his duty to practise his religion and fulfil his responsibilities in connection with it. Think of the difficulties and cost of travelling from his distant land to the temple in Jerusalem!

On With the Search!

He was now on his journey home. Evidently, he was to some extent disappointed. He had apparently encountered the stop signs in Jerusalem.

In spite of this, he perseveres in his search. He searches further in the Bible! It is possible that this is why he chose the quiet road to Gaza, so that he could be unhindered in his reading of the Word of God.

This man did well. He had the desire to find the living God. He kept on with his search. What is more, he seached in the right place - the Bible. This is the Word of God which can bring a person to Jesus and make him truly happy.

The Bible says so itself. Read 2 Timothy 3:14-17 and fill in from that passage the words missing below. Paul writes to a young man Timothy about the value of the Bible:
But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All __________ is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for _________, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in ______________, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly ____________ for every good work.

It is God Who Seeks!

This man thought that he was the one searching for God. He was. But in reality it was the living God who was searching for him and was on the point of meeting him.

One cannot but realize that God was at work, arranging this meeting between Philip and this searching man from Africa! The Lord in fact specially prepared this "pupil" for his "teacher," this "searcher" for the "messenger".

Today this is still the case. God is busy through his Spirit preparing the hearts of people. Whenever we speak with someone about salvation in Christ, we can count on it that the Lord is already at work in him.

Not that everyone to whom we speak will necessarily accept the message with joy! Unfortunately this is not so, because to many the message is objectionable. But we can know that, as messengers of the Lord, we do not stand alone. He is Himself busy preparing people. The work belongs to Him. And we, the messengers, belong to Him.

On the other hand this section also speaks to those who are still searching for God. When the message of Jesus reaches you - perhaps through the medium of this study - then it is God who is speaking to you. Perhaps He has already arranged a meeting between you and Himself. Perhaps He is now at work through his Spirit in your heart . . .

Questions to Answer

1. The official from Ethiopia undertook a long journey to Jerusalem.  What had he gone to do there?
2. Why was he apparently disappointed as he travelled home?
3. Why did this man from Africa sit reading a book of the Bible? What did  he hope to find in it?
4. Who arranged the meeting between Philip and the official? How do we know  this?