On the road to Gaza Philip came upon an Ethiopian eunuch. Ethiopia is a name which in ancient times was given to a large area of Africa south of Egypt. Today that land is more limited: it is a smaller country to the southeast of Egypt. But in that day it referred to the whole region of the upper Nile, approximately from Aswan to Khartoum.
I press this because it is the area from which the Queen of Sheba came in the days of King Solomon. In other words, there had already been a link between that area of the world and Judaism. The Queen of Sheba had been greatly impressed by King Solomon, and Solomon had certainly shared the Scriptures of the Jews with her. Who is to say what may have happened? Over those hundreds of years, who knows what remnant of the true religion may have survived in far-off Ethiopia? We do not know, of course. We do not have that kind of a history of Ethiopia. But here, in the time of the early church, there was an Ethiopian who, for some reason or other—something he may have heard, some tradition that may have been passed down to him—had gotten the idea that in Jerusalem, hundreds of miles away, there was a religion that he should investigate if he was serious about finding God.
So he made the long, long trip to Jerusalem. Another man would not have been able to do it. It was hard to travel in those days, and this was a very long and costly journey.
If he had been even a minor official in the court of Candace, he would not have been free to make the journey. But he was an important man, the keeper of the treasury of what was acknowledged by all to be a very rich country. He was free to go because of his position.
I wonder what he found when he got to Jerusalem. There is nothing in the story to indicate that he heard anything about Jesus, though it is hard to think that he could be in Jerusalem in these days and get no “wind” of what was going on.
Because the Ethiopian probably did not know Hebrew or Aramaic, only Greek, and because he had been in Jerusalem for what was perhaps a relatively short time, it is possible that he really had not heard about Jesus. But he had certainly entered into the religious life of the Jews. This man was a God-fearer; he had reverence for the traditions of Israel. So there was a special place for him. He would have been welcome.
Yet I wonder what he found in the religious life of Judaism in those days? We know a bit of the answer because we have the gospels. We know what Jesus had found and what the early apostles were finding. The religious leaders of the nation had great traditions. They had the Old Testament. But they had become hopelessly legalistic. They were more concerned with the jots and tittles of the law than with its spirit. So I suspect that this man from far-off Ethiopia must have been badly disappointed as he confronted Judaism.
It is not much different today. People go to churches hungering and thirsting after God, but instead of finding God, they find people who are concerned about rules, or politically-minded people.
This man had not found God, but he had found something. He had found the Scriptures, the religious books of Judaism. Now he was reading them. He was reading from Isaiah, which he had purchased in the city. And now, although he had not found much in the actual religion of the people, he was reading the Word of God.