Our travels in the last couple of days have taken us south of Jerusalem. We have been studying the geography of the land to see how it impacts the history of the land. Specifically, what were the routes that the peoples travelled to get from one place to another, whether for trade or aggression.
Israel has many different geological formations, there is the flat coastal country, the low country called the Shephelah with hills and broad valley, and there is the hill country with deep V-shaped valleys, cliffs and ridges. And to the east it becomes wilderness with arid climate and little vegetation and dramatically falls off to the Rift Valley where we find the Dead Sea. All of this impacts our understanding of the history of this part of the world, and more specifically for us, stories of the Bible.
On Tuesday morning, we had a stop to observe a bit of Roman road construction (see the photos). The Romans were master road builders, and roads were a central part of their strategy of expanding and controlling their kingdom. This example of Roman road had lasted a very long time. The Romans conquered Judea in 163 BC, and it could have been on this very road that the eunuch was on when Philip explained the gospel of Jesus to him:
Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch
26 Now man angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south4 to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And the invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”5 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
That they were on this road would make sense since this would have been the main road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Considering the topography, there weren’t many options. But where did he baptize him? There is precious little water along this route. No rivers or lakes, no springs or streams that we know of. So, maybe did Philip take a long time explaining the gospel form the scrolls of the prophet Isaiah? Did the conversation last so long that they had arrived in Gaza, on the very shores of the Mediterranean Sea, by the time they were finished, and so have it available for the baptism? “See, here is water!”
And, of course, it is lovely to think of how quickly news of Jesus spread. The eunuch was returning to Ethiopia, and he was an important official. The church in Ethiopia is a very early extension of Christ’s Church.
Wish you were here. Signing off – Father Wismer