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Eunuchs in the O.T.

  • Eunuchs were excluded from the assembly of the Lord and from the priesthood.
    • “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord" (Deut 23:1).
    • And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. 18 For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19 or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, 20 or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles... 22 He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy things, 23 but he shall not go through the veil or approach the altar..."
  • Lev 22:24 — animals, too — unfit for offering as sacrifices.
  • 2 Kings 9:30-33 -- Eunuchs defenestrate Jezebel.
  • Isa 39:7 = 2 Kings 20:28 -- Hezekiah's sons will be made into eunuchs in Babylon.
  • Also Jer 29:2; 34:19; 41:16.
  • Key passage: Jeremiah 38:1-13
  • Esther 1:10 and throughout; Daniel 1:3-18 -- Daniel may have been a eunuch.
  • Important note about eunuchs and officials:
    • The O.T. Hebrew word for official (saris) also means eunuch.
    • This is probably because many officials, especially those with access to the royal palace (and royal lives), were often castrated.

Eunuchs in the N.T.

  • NT times: Matt 19:12 — Jesus is probably referring to eunuchs metaphorically -- those who forego marriage.
  • The better known Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40).
  • A Gnostic work from 180 AD names him "Simeon Bacchus." Perhaps that was his name (?).

Parallels between the two men:

  • Both are Ethiopians eunuchs.
  • Both had attached themselves to God's people, one serving the king of Judah, the other living as a God fearer (a Gentile attracted to Judaism and observing Torah partially -- embracing the moral aspect of the old covenant without taking the demanding requirements of keeping kosher, observing Sabbath, and submitting to circumcision (which would have been impossible). There was a strong Jewish presence in Ethiopia.
  • Both came into contact with a man of God -- a man with a message.
  • Both were responsive to the message of God. Ebed-Melekh realized that Jeremiah was both innocent and one who spoke the truth from God. His more famous New Testament counterpart welcomed the assistance and guidance of Philip.
  • Both acted with urgency. Ebed-Melekh took 30 men plus the necessary accessories to bring Jeremiah out of the cistern (where the water level had gone down). Candace's treasurer gave the order for his chariot to stop so that he could be baptized.
  • In a sense, the O.T. Ethiopian Eunuch foreshadows his better known N.T. counterpart.

Outsiders: God's love and justice

  • Key passage: Isaiah 56:1-8
    • Judgment on unfaithful Israel, and esp. its leaders.
    • Welcome to foreigners, eunuchs, and others excluded from the covenant blessings.
    • 1 Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed. 2 Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil. 3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, 'The Lord will surely separate me from his people'; and let not the eunuch say, 'Behold, I am a dry tree.'" 4 For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. 6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” 8 The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”

What we learn about God

  • He sees the end from the beginning.
  • His exclusion of the eunuchs was not because he lacked love.
  • The Lord is just.
  • Outsiders become insiders.
  • God won't miss anyone. Let's trust him!

Fascinating Update

  • The region of Africa the official came from was Nubia. Better translated "Nubian" than "Ethiopian."
    The official was not necessarily a eunuch (castrated), as the word eunoûchos also means official. For example, in Genesis (the Greek LXX) Potiphar is a eunoûchos, and yet he had a wife. The Hebrew word (MT) sāris also means either eunuch or official.
  • So... In Acts 8 it's a Nubian official, not an Ethiopian eunuch!
  • For more—if you are up for an academic article—see Mark Wilson's compelling piece HERE.