The Rejoicing Eunuch

The “Living in the Vine” guys had Pastor, Doug Van Dorn as a guest on their podcast entitled: Baptism. Click here to listen to episode #29.

The episode has many nuggets. One which really stood out to me took place at about 43:41. Here, Van Dorn (in order to answer a question from one of the podcast hosts regarding the appropriateness of those churches who promote a spontaneous profession of faith, followed by an immediate, on the spot baptism) mentioned that he also does not like how this is happening.

(I think it’s safe to say that most brethren would agree.)

The concern, obviously, is the authenticity of such baptisms, especially in light of whether or not those who are being baptized so quickly actually understand why they are being baptized. It’s an important question to ponder.

In answering the question, Van Dorn referenced two different accounts of immediate baptism in the book of Acts. The second one he gave is what I want to focus on. (Listen to the podcast to get the full discussion of this very important subject.)

Here’s Van Dorn regarding the second illustration…

“…And then, the second example I’m thinking about, is… the Ethiopian eunuch. So, they’re on this road, they’re reading… the scroll of Isaiah. Which, I think is really itself very interesting, because the last ten chapters of Isaiah form what scholars call a ‘chiasm.’ So, it’s a literary device where it begins and ends the same way, and it has a middle somewhere in it. And, that chiasm begins with a eunuch going into the temple, and it ends with Levites becoming priests. And of course, in the middle there is Isaiah 53, and you know the whole Gospel message, you know the Messiah dying on the cross and stuff like that. So, you can just imagine what’s going on here. He’s reading this, and then he… they’re clearly having a discussion about what he’s reading. I mean, that’s even what is said in the text. So, there’s understanding that’s going on, and the disciple Philip is making sure that the Ethiopian knows what he’s reading. And then, when he comes to the end of that, it’s still in that same conversation. But, this is not something which was just a two minute walk in aisle and ‘…ok, I think I’ll do that sort of a thing.’ This probably went on all day. And, when they finally got done with it, he says, ‘Well, why shouldn’t I be baptized?’ Which to me is exactly the question he should be asking. It’s a very natural question to ask from that text, if you know what baptism is. And then, the the answer is, ‘Well, here’s nothing that should hinder you.’ And so, he baptized him that day. So, my point is… and think this is what you guys are saying, that there is some kind of delay. But, I don’t think that that delay has to be like an ‘x’ amount of time. Or, instead it needs to be… you need to understand what it is that you are confessing. And, that’s really the elders’ job in a church, that if a person can satisfy what those elders have said, then, you know, that could take 5 minutes, or it could take a few days, or, you know, whatever it is that they think it needs to take. But, I agree that the Biblical example is that it’s to be quick. And, I think that when we wait long periods of time, that we may be actually changing the purpose of baptism…and kind of… our practice is revealing that.”

The Point

My intention here is to unpack something which Van Dorn pointed out in this second reference that I had not known before. It touches upon something quite beautiful…

While listening to Van Dorn, I was struck by the significance of what the Ethiopian eunuch was reading (beyond the well known fact that what he was trying to figure out in Isaiah 53, describes Christ). What I mean is, I was unaware of what comes soon after. Just three chapters later begins the “chiasm” that Van Dorn mentioned, starting in chapter 56 where obedient eunuchs are encouraged to not discount themselves before God…

Isaiah 56:3-8 (CSB)
“No foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord
should say,
“The Lord will exclude me from his people,”
and the eunuch should not say,
“Look, I am a dried-up tree.”
For the Lord says this:
For the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
and choose what pleases me,
and hold firmly to my covenant,
I will give them, in my house and within my walls,
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters.
I will give each of them an everlasting name
that will never be cut off.
As for the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to become his servants —
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold firmly to my covenant —
I will bring them to my holy mountain
and let them rejoice in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be acceptable on my altar,
for my house will be called a house of prayer
for all nations.”
This is the declaration of the Lord God,
who gathers the dispersed of Israel:
“I will gather to them still others
besides those already gathered.”

Now, I must admit that the Bible is silent as to whether or not the apostle Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (as Van Dorn suggests) actually continued to read together beyond Isaiah 53:7-8. However, to think that an apostle would not key in on the eunuch references, just a little further along in Isaiah, would be hard for me to believe.

Here is how Luke described it…

Acts 8:26-39 (CSB)
“An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the desert road.) So he got up and went. There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud.
The Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.”
When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”
“How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides me? ” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the Scripture passage he was reading was this:
He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb is silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who will describe his generation?
For his life is taken from the earth.
The eunuch said to Philip, “I ask you, who is the prophet saying this about — himself or someone else? ” Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning with that Scripture.As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “Look, there’s water. What would keep me from being baptized? ” So he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him any longer but went on his way rejoicing.”

Philip used Isaiah 53:7-8 as a springboard for their conversation. Again, it would be hard to convince me that an apostle would not have simply continued on from where the eunuch was reading from, but instead then leave the text and go on some tangent… when just a little further in the text, the liberation of even a eunuch would soon be directly referenced. That would be an incredibly big mistake in evangelism, especially for an apostle, don’t you think? The significance for a eunuch, who was found struggling to understand Isaiah 53, to at that moment then be led to Isaiah 56 would be incredible when you really think about it.

Why?

Well, do you realize what a eunuch is?

According to dictionary.com, a eunuch is a man who has been castrated, especially one formerly employed by rulers in the Middle East and Asia as a harem guard or palace official.

Think about it…

A castrated man is found by an apostle, reading a prophet of a religious system which requires circumcision in order to become a member of said system. I cannot imagine that Philip would not have continued reading through to the references that I cited above (as Van Dorn suggests) which shows that even those who could now never be circumcised would be included with those already gathered by simply believing in the one described three chapters earlier.

How relieved that eunuch must have been!!

It’s no wonder that he requested to be baptized as soon as he had spotted the water. And then after… he went on his way rejoicing.

As Van Dorn eluded to, it’s not how long it’s been since you confessed Christ which determines whether you ought to be baptized or not, but as he said, “…you need to understand what it is that you are confessing.”

It’s clear that the Ethiopian eunuch understood this.

Do you?

Godspeed, to the brethren!

To read more from theidolbabbler click here.

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