Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip,
“Get up and go toward the south to the road
that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”
(This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and
went. Acts 8:26-27a NRSV
This is the beginning of the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. An unnamed eunuch is returning home after worshiping in Jerusalem. He is reading the Book of Isaiah and the apostle Philip runs up along side his chariot and asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The eunuch replies, “How can I unless someone guides me?” Philip is invited into the chariot, he and the eunuch talk and the eunuch is baptized.
What struck me when I read this story last week was the odd parenthetical remark. “This is a wilderness road.” Parenthesis are not a common feature in the Bible. So why is this statement in parenthesis? Why is this statement in the story at all? Does it add something important to the story?
It could simply be an interesting descriptive detail for readers unfamiliar with the road in question. But typically the writers of the Bible don’t give us details just for fun or to add some local color to the story.
This is a wilderness road.
It may be a clue that something important is going to happen. You would think Philip’s encounter with an angel would be a sufficient clue. Why tell us “This is a wilderness road”?
Lots of people end up in the wilderness in the Bible. Moses leads Israel into the wilderness and they live there for 40 years. Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness. In between those two stories there are many more wilderness experiences. When someone goes or is sent into the wilderness, they encounter God. Often the encounter is difficult and trying.
Whose wilderness experience is this? Philip’s or the unnamed eunuch’s?
I suspect it was the eunuch’s. Actually I suspect this was just the beginning of his wilderness journey. He was on the road in more ways than one. He is returning to a place where he was well known a different person. His encounter with Philip has changed him. The eunuch is described in ways that let us know he was very wealthy and very powerful. He was a person of great responsibility in the queen’s court. Following Jesus is always a challenge for the wealthy and powerful.
These are early days in the church. Had word of Jesus reached Ethiopia yet? Or was the eunuch the first one? What would it mean to be the only believer in the queen’s court? Is he to live a wilderness life in the midst of power, wealth, and luxury?
We don’t know any more about the eunuch’s life than we have in this one story. That happens a lot in the Bible. People encounter Jesus and for most of them, we don’t know anything else about them. We know their life was changed, but we don’t know the details. How was their life was different?
I wonder if we aren’t told because everyone’s experience is different. There is no correct wilderness life. No proper way forward. If we knew what happened to the eunuch, or to the woman at the well, or to Zacheus we might decide their experience should be our experience.
And while their experience is not our experience and my experience is not your experience, we do not travel the wilderness road alone. We accompany each other, we support each other, we care for each other. We walk together. And we walk with the one who knows the wilderness journey. We walk with the one who has gone before us and now walks beside us. We will be in the wilderness, but we are not alone.
One thought on “This is a wilderness road”
On Mon, Aug 22, 2016 at 6:11 PM, Conversation in Faith Weblog wrote:
> Nancy posted: “Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go > toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This > is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Acts 8:26-27a NRSV > This is the beginning of the story of Phili” >