A reflection on the encounter of Philip the Deacon and the Ethiopian eunuch, from The Living Church

Daily Devotional • July 1

David Baumann

Led to Encounter

philip dcn ethiopian

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch | Herbert Boeckl | Angel’s Chapel, Seckau Abbey, Styria, Austria

A Reading from Acts 8:26-40

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside 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 silent before its shearer,
so he does not open 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 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.


The story of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch is fascinating, not least because of what we are not told. Who was this man? Why would he travel many hundreds of miles to get from his home (ancient Nubia, now upper Sudan) to Jerusalem? As a eunuch, he was barred from the full worship of the God of the Jews — yet he came. Clearly he was devout. Moreover, he was eminently capable and trustworthy, since he was in charge of his queen’s entire treasury. He was acquainted with the Scriptures and was reading Isaiah as he was returning from his personal pilgrimage. It is difficult to imagine someone more suitable for hearing about Jesus. So “an angel of the Lord” leads Philip to the encounter on the desert road. At the Ethiopian’s invitation, Philip uses the passage from Isaiah 53 and “told him the good news about Jesus.” The telling obviously includes the need for those who believed to be baptized, for the Ethiopian asks for baptism at the first sign of water they find — probably a providential occurrence, since water is very scarce in that region.

In this compelling encounter we see how evangelism works at its best: God knows the readiness of the potential convert and leads an evangelist to the encounter. The conversation is between two people but is clearly guided by the Holy Spirit. The potential convert is ready and willing to hear, and the evangelist is willing to respond to God’s lead. Surely there are many in our world today who would like to hear “the good news about Jesus.” Their hearts are ready. Are we willing to be led to an encounter? Philip’s obedience shows us how to do it.

David Baumann has been an Episcopal priest for 47 years, mainly in the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Springfield. He is now retired and has published nonfiction, science fiction novels, and short stories.

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