Acts 8:26–40. This is an intriguing story in many ways and raises numerous questions, some of which have answers and some about which we can only speculate.
For instance, how did the Ethiopian come to be worshipping the God of Israel? As a eunuch he would not have been able to be a proselyte to Judaism. Maybe he didn’t take to the gods and worship practices of his own culture – we’ll never know. And what was it like for Philip to disappear in one location and appear in another? We can only imagine.
If you’ve ever wondered how Philip heard the man reading, that’s something we can answer: it was considered rude to read silently until a couple of hundred years ago!
There are several things worth noticing about how God directed Philip and how Philip responded here. The God of this account is the same God who still speaks today, and the more we know of his ways the more we are likely to recognise his voice in our own lives.
Firstly, the Holy Spirit doesn’t give Philip the entire plan – just one step at a time. He’s told the road and the direction to take, but no more information than that. And Philip ‘started out’ (Acts 8:27) – no hesitation. When he gets the next instruction, to get close to the chariot, he’s so eager to obey he runs (8:30). Let’s have the faith to obey God even if we don’t know why he’s asked us to do something.
Secondly, God gets Philip to the right place but doesn’t spell it out or micromanage what unfolds. We don’t need the Holy Spirit to spell out every tiny detail: as Paul says in Romans 12:2, if we are ‘transformed by the renewing of [our] mind’ we will ‘be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.’
Thirdly, God speaks through Scripture, the meaning of which is sometimes explained to us by other Christians. Philip knew his Bible and took time to help the man understand what he was reading in Isaiah. Are we willing to help others hear God through the Bible?
We don’t know what happened in the life of the Ethiopian after his desert encounter with the vanishing evangelist. Often we won’t know if we’ve made an impact when we tell people about Jesus. But if we are responsive to God and people around us, it could be life changing.