Philip and the Eunuch
Acts 8:26-39
And 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…


1. An "angel of the Lord spake unto Philip." Whether there was a visible representation or not we cannot tell — very likely there was. But certain it is that he spake. The partition between men and angels is very thin — they can hear us talk, we can almost hear them. The two spheres of rational existence adjoin and seem sometimes to overlap each other. Angels, in the first century of our era, busily interested themselves in the affairs of the Church. Have they been withdrawn? No. "Are they not all ministering sprats," etc. We believe that evil spirits insinuate wicked thoughts. Why, then, deny the same power to good spirits? We sit leisurely in the house, when suddenly a thought shoots through the mind that we must "go towards the south" — visit a certain street. It is not impulse, nor feeling, for both bid us remain where we are; but we have no rest — the thought continually recurs. At last we go; and lo! we discover that our presence and assistance were sorely needed. Alas! we are not equally obedient with Philip.

2. The angel said, "Go toward the south," etc. One cannot help wondering at the angel's knowledge; but Palestine is not the only country with whose geography angels are acquainted.

3. That the message would prove a trial to Philip's faith is unquestionable. It required that he should deny his most cherished predilections. Succeeding so remarkably in a city of Samaria, no doubt he was much tempted to prolong his stay. He might, with a great show of reason, raise formidable objections, but did not. The unbeliever always raises objections, but the believer always puts them down. "He arose and went."

4. As soon as he arrived in the unpromising neighbourhood, he saw a chariot occupied by a "man of Ethiopia" — probably the region now known as Nubia and Abyssinia. The eunuch, therefore, was one of the sable descendants of Ham. Human reason is much embarrassed that God should order His servant to forsake the populous city to preach to a foreign traveller in a desolate path. But God pays as much heed to the one as to the many. His government is special, attending to the minutest wants of individuals, as well as general, attending to the collective wants of the multitude. "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner," etc. The "man of Ethiopia" was also an "eunuch." Eunuchs were numerous in the East, but were forbidden in Israel. Divine religion never encourages the mutilation of the body. False religions do. Their only method of overcoming sin is to disable the body to commit it. But true religion inculcates subjugation. Wherefore the Ethiopian eunuch could only be an outsider — devout, pious may be, but still an outsider. He was employed under Candace, and was set over all her treasures, i.e., her Minister of Finance, the most important office of all under a despotism. But the Grand Vizier of Ethiopia discovered to the bitterness of his soul that earthly possessions, however vast, cannot satisfy the profound yearning of our humanity. That is why "he went to Jerusalem to worship."

5. The best spirits of the nations turned at this period with loathing from heathen religions and superstitions. Some betook themselves to atheism; others to witchcraft. But the better disposed passed over to Judaism. They found in it what the other systems of religion failed to give — pure morality and strict monotheism. So the eunuch travelled to Jerusalem "to worship God."


1. The eunuch was now returning, and humbly studied the Word of God on his way from the temple of God. We often erase all good impression received in the house of God by frivolous dissipating talk on our way home. But the eunuch, "sitting in his chariot, read Esaias the prophet." People nowadays, going on a tedious journey, take with them frivolous and exciting books with a view to "kill" the time. Better I should imagine did they learn a lesson from the religious African and read the Bible not to "kill" the time but to improve it.

2. He was "reading aloud," as was customary among Orientals. But the word also signifies to read to another. He was endeavouring to benefit his charioteer as well as himself. A truly generous man! The section of Scripture he was reading was singularly appropriate. It was the very section which treats of the close relation eunuchs were to sustain to the Church of God under the New Dispensation. Not by chance was he reading this portion of Holy Writ. No; he was studying it rather than any other that he might come to some definite conclusion respecting:his own chances of ultimate salvation.

3. The chariot was driving leisurely along when Philip, wearied and dust-stained, arrived in sight. The paths of the two men were now to intersect. At the beginning an angel spake; now that he has obeyed and his work is at hand, the "Spirit of God said unto him." As a reward for cheerful and implicit obedience, the presence of the angel of God is superseded by the presence of the Spirit of God. The angel was adequate to bid "Philip arise and go"; but not to bring about the conversion of the traveller. Angels minister unto the heirs of salvation but cannot sanctify them. "The Spirit said unto Philip." He did not speak, converse in audible tones, as the angel did, but expressed Himself distinctly in the inward voice of the soul. Angels can never speak in the soul, at best they can only speak to it. We cannot help wondering at the marvellous combination of distinct agencies: the Word, the Servant, the Angel and the Spirit of God all work together to effect the salvation of one soul!

4. Philip then "ran" and said unto the eunuch, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" "The eunuch answered," dec. (ver. 31). If he did not understand, he had the first qualification to do so, he knew he did not understand, and was candid enough to avow it. Many now are like him in their ignorance of the Scriptures, but very unlike him in their unconsciousness of that ignorance. They occupy exalted positions in science and literature, but they claim to understand theology likewise better than its professed students. Talk of the dogmatism of theology! Why, it has never been half so dogmatic as so-called philosophy. But the eunuch, humble as a little child, expressed his willingness to learn of the footsore pedestrian. Then he read over the passage again, and said, "Of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself or of some other man?" Forgetting his social superiority in his intense eagerness to solve the great problems of religion, he beseeches Philip to explain the prophetic riddle. The prophet speaks of the "Servant of the Lord." But who is this Servant? "himself or some other man?" A right honest and thoughtful question — one still hotly debated between the rationalistic and the evangelistic schools. But of Philip's answer there can be no doubt — he pointed him in plain unambiguous language to that "Other Man." "Philip opened his mouth," and delivered himself of his momentous message. Some people when they open their-mouths shut the Scriptures. They darken counsel with words without knowledge. But Philip "opened his mouth," and thereby opened the Scriptures. "He began at the same Scripture," but he did not finish there. That Scripture is the climax of the Old Dispensation, which never reached a higher strain. But the climax of the Old is the starting-point of the New. Where Esaias left off, there Philip began. The only way to expound the Bible is to preach Jesus. Omit Him, and it is a dark riddle which no human ingenuity can unravel. He is the key to unlock the prophecies.

5. In a city of Samaria, Philip "preached Christ"; but to the eunuch "he preached Jesus." The Samaritans expected the Christ; and were full of theories respecting Him. Among them, therefore, Philip had to dwell principally on the Christhood of the Saviour. But the eunuch was not hampered with any preconceived notions. What he supremely desired was a personal Saviour. To him, therefore, Philip preached Jesus. But Philip was not content with a mere exposition of the prophecy. He pressed the Saviour on his acceptance. There is reason to fear that much of modern preaching is not personaI enough. You pick up a volume of sermons "preached before the University of Oxford." Before, forsooth! Let the beams of the sun fall broadly on your hand, and you hardly notice it; concentrate them on one spot and they burn. And the gospel light shines fully and broadly on our congregations, but how few the conversions! We diffuse the light instead of focussing it.


1. Modern Churches require candidates to submit to a tedious process of probation. Prudence now counsels delay, but the eunuch was baptized immediately.

2. But he was baptized on making a confession of his faith. Whether ver. 27 is genuine or not, the truth it contains will still remain intact. Only on a candid confession of faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God can a man be legitimately received into the Christian Church. Correct views on other doctrines are of great importance to a robust, vigorous, spiritual life; but they do not necessarily endanger our ultimate salvation. But a correct belief respecting the Person of the Saviour is an element absolutely essential to salvation — without it no man can be saved.

3. The eunuch, being baptized, "went on his way rejoicing." Prior to his interview with Philip he was restless and unhappy. He carried a sorrow he could not explain. His profound grief found vent in the tearful strains of Isaiah lift. But Philip's teaching dissipated the gloom. The strings of the burden snapped in sight of the Cross, and the eunuch was delivered from that which he feared. Many foolishly imagine that religion is a melancholy thing. A sad mistake!

(J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.

WEB: But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise, and go toward the south to the way that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is a desert."

Philip and the Ethiopian
Top of Page
Top of Page