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The Ethiopians

and

the Sabbath

 


Acts 8:26-38 The founding of Ethiopian Christianity

[Not long after the resurrection of Jesus] the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south to the way that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, which is desert.

And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Isaiah the prophet.

Then the Spirit said to Philip, Go near, and join yourself to this chariot.

And Philip ran there to him, and heard him read the prophet Isaiah, and said, Do you understand what you read? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.

The place of the Scripture which he read was this,

He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened He not His mouth: In His humiliation His judgment was taken away: and who shall declare His generation? for His life is taken from the earth. [See Isaiah 53:7-8].

And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I ask you, of whom speaks the prophet? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached to him Jesus.

And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what hinders me to be baptized?

And Philip said, If you believe with all your heart, you may. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

The eunuch, in his blindness, had been groping for light. As a Jew he believed the Scriptures, but could not fully understand them. He therefore went on a journey to Jerusalem to the temple. Hungering and thirsting for knowledge, he laid his perplexities before the priests and scribes; but after that he was still more mystified than before by their interpretations of Scripture. He prayed fervently for light and knowledge, and God heard his prayer, and sent His angel to Philip, bidding him go to Gaza for the purpose of preaching Christ to a single person that hungered and thirsted for the truth.

The eunuch had heard at Jerusalem various conflicting reports in regard to Jesus of Nazareth. His mind was troubled upon the subject. He had a copy of the Scriptures with him, and was diligently studying the prophecies in reference to the Messiah, when Philip met him. They were strangers; but the mind of Philip was impressed that this was the man who needed his help. Walking by the side of the chariot, he inquired of the eunuch if he understood the prophecies he was reading. He answered that he needed instruction, and invited Philip to take a seat beside him.

The Scripture he was studying was Isaiah 53:7. Philip understood the desire of his heart, and preached to him Jesus Christ as revealed in prophecy, and his mission to the earth to save sinners. He showed him the steps necessary to take in conversion - repentance toward God because of transgression of the Father's law, faith in Christ as the Saviour of men, and baptism in the likeness of His death. The eunuch's heart was all ready to receive the light and truth, and he accepted with gladness the gospel preached by Philip.

And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water; and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what hinders me to be baptized? And Philip said, If you believe with all your heart, you may. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

The answer of the eunuch was prompt and decided. He commanded the chariot to be stopped,

... and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.

In this instance we have an illustration of the care of God for His children. He called Philip from his successful ministry in Samaria, to cross the desert and go to Gaza to labour for a single inquiring soul. The promptness with which the eunuch accepted the gospel and acted upon its belief should be a lesson to us. God designs that we should be quick in accepting and confessing Christ, prompt in obeying Him, and in answering the call of duty. The eunuch was a man of good repute, and occupied a high and responsible position. Through his conversion the gospel was carried to Ethiopia, and many there accepted Christ, and came out from the darkness of heathenism into the clear light of Christianity.

God saw that when converted he would give others the light he had received and would exert a strong influence in favour of the gospel. Loyal angels were attending this seeker for light, and he was being drawn to the Saviour. By the ministration of the Holy Spirit the Lord brought him into touch with one who could lead him to the light. The man's heart thrilled with interest as the Scriptures were explained to him; and when the disciple had finished, he was ready to accept the light given. He did not make his high worldly position an excuse for refusing the gospel.

To-day, as then, angels are leading and guiding those who will be led and guided. The angel sent to Philip could himself have done the work for the Ethiopian, but this was not God's way of working. As God's instruments, men must work for others.

Notice how much effort was put forth for just one man, an Ethiopian. This because God had a great work for him to do. From that one meeting with Philip he was to return to Ethiopia and form a new church group. From that time on there have been Sabbath-keeping Christians in that country.

Psalm 68:31-32 God knew this time would come

Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands to God. Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth; O sing praises to the Lord; Selah:

 

The history of Ethiopia

A striking illustration of Rome's policy toward those who disagree with her was given in the long and bloody persecution of the Waldenses, some of whom were observers of the Sabbath. Others suffered in a similar manner for their faithfulness to the fourth commandment. The history of the churches of Abyssinia/Ethiopia is especially significant. Amid the gloom of the Dark Ages, the Christians of Central Africa were lost sight of and forgotten by the world, and for many centuries they enjoyed freedom in the exercise of their faith.

But at last Rome learned of their existence, and the emperor of Abyssinia/Ethiopia was soon beguiled into an acknowledgment of the pope as the vicar of Christ. Other concessions followed. An edict was issued forbidding the observance of the Sabbath under the severest penalties.

But papal tyranny soon became a yoke so galling that the Abyssinians determined to break it from their necks. After a terrible struggle the Romanists were banished from their dominions, and the ancient/ faith was restored. The churches rejoiced in their freedom, and they never forgot the lesson they had learned concerning the deception, the fanaticism, and the despotic power of Rome. Within their solitary realm they were content to remain, unknown to the rest of Christendom.

Note from Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopaedia, article Ethiopia:

In 1557 Jesuit missionaries arrived, but their conversion of Emperor Za Dengel (r. 1603-4) and his subsequent attempts to spread Roman Catholicism provoked a revolt that ended in his death. A turbulent period followed, after which Ethiopian civilization reached a high point under emperors Susenyos (r. 1607-32), Fasiladas (r. 1632-67), John I (r. 1667-82), and Yasus the Great (r. 1682-1706). Yasus was the last strong ruler before a prolonged period of decline, during which Ethiopia broke up into separate polities. When Scottish explorer James Bruce visited Ethiopia (1768-70) he found the state in anarchy, the emperor having lost almost all authority.

The Sabbath-keeping churches of Africa kept the Sabbath as it was held by the church at Rome before her complete apostasy. While they honoured the seventh day in obedience to the commandment of God, they abstained from labour on the Sunday in conformity to the custom of the church. In later centuries, upon obtaining supreme power, Rome trampled upon the Sabbath of God to exalt her own; but the churches of Africa, hidden for nearly a thousand years, did not share in this apostasy. When brought under the sway of Rome, they were forced to set aside the true and exalt the false sabbath; but no sooner had they regained their independence than they returned to obedience to the fourth commandment.

These records of the past clearly reveal the enmity of Rome toward the true Sabbath and its defenders, and the means which she employs to honour the institution of her creating. The word of God teaches that these scenes are to be repeated as Roman Catholics and Protestants shall unite for the exaltation of the Sunday.

In the experience of Philip and the Ethiopian is presented the work to which the Lord calls His people. The Ethiopian represents a large class who need missionaries like Philip, missionaries who will hear the voice of God and go where He sends them. There are those in the world who are reading the Scriptures, but who cannot understand their import. Men and women who have a knowledge of God are needed to explain the word to these souls.

 

Another note from Funk and Wagnall's Encyclopaedia:

Ethiopia in Transition

As the 1990s began, a drastic cutback in Soviet aid left Mengistu's government vulnerable. Two allied rebel movements, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), based in Tigre, and the separatist Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), gained control of the northern provinces in 1990. In May 1991, Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe; more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews, or Falashas, were airlifted out of Addis Ababa by Israel just before the rebel forces entered the city. The EPRDF, led by Meles Zenawi... set up a national transitional government, while the EPLF established a provisional government in Eritrea. After voters approved secession in 1993, Eritrea declared its independence, and Ethiopia recognized the new government.

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