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a man like a sheep

Now the passage of Scripture that he [see below] was reading was this, “Like a sheep was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.         Acts 8: 22-23


The “he” above was a black man, a eunuch, a public servant with similar responsibilities to Jersey’s Treasurer of the States. He was responsible for the finances and financial resources of Ethiopia at a time when Ethiopia, in the horn of Africa, was much larger than its present size.


The year was circa 35 AD. The place was Gaza – that area (the “Gaza Strip”) near modern Israel that is now under the de facto control of Hamas and about which there is so much turmoil and strife. The Gaza strip borders on Egypt. This black Treasurer of the Queen of Ethiopia was on his way home from Jerusalem through Egypt to his homeland, which at that time bordered the southern boundary of Egypt.


He was reading whilst his official transport took him back home. He was reading (see above) about sheep.


The National Trust for Jersey last year imported 20 pregnant ewes and a ram of the Manx Loaghtan breed – the closest breed still in existence to the breed that thrived in Jersey in the 18th Century and earlier. “Thrived” may not be the correct word. They survived - on poor vegetation and in exposed coastal areas of Jersey. A sheep’s life is not a happy one.


When this Ethiopian high official read about a man being slaughtered like a sheep he knew what it meant. When he read that the man was silent, like a sheep is silent when being shorn, he knew what that meant. Sheep don’t count. When he read about a man being humiliated like a sheep and being denied justice he knew that sheep had to endure such things. Sheep get killed and eaten.


So when he read the rhetorical question, “Who can describe his generation?” he readily understood the unrecorded answer with regard to this man – no one could write his life-history because “his life is taken away from the earth.”


From what book was the Ethiopian Chancellor so carefully reading?


From a book preserved (then as now) in the national archives of Israel – a book written by a man named Isaiah who lived around BC 700. In fact, today a wing of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem houses a complete copy of this book – a 2,100 year old copy dating back prior to the time when this Ethiopian public servant was reading his copy around AD 35.


The Ethiopian had a problem of interpretation. About whom was Isaiah writing? Was Isaiah writing about himself or about somebody else?


Often today, Jersey folk say – ah, yes, the Bible – but how you interpret it is what counts – and who knows about that?


But an interpreter was available for the Ethiopian Treasurer – a follower of Jesus Christ named Philip. So we do know the AD 35 Christian interpretation of this BC 700 manuscript.....


Philip told him “the good news about Jesus of Nazareth”. Some months earlier in Jerusalem this Jesus had been condemned as a criminal worthy of death – condemned to death both by the Jews and the Romans – condemned to crucifixion and executed by that method that the Romans reserved for their worst criminals. He was the silent slaughtered lamb – the man of whom Isaiah wrote.......


And Philip drew the Ethiopian’s attention to an earlier sentence in the Isaiah manuscript: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way [remember Frank Sinatra?]; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”


One sheep-like man? One silent innocent man on whom iniquity was laid by the LORD? One man bearing the consequences that should have fallen on me as a self-seeking human being? Yes. And he asks that his followers go his way, losing all so that others may know him.

 ‘Jesus did not die just to give us peace and a purpose in life; he died to save us from the wrath of God.’  (Jerry Bridges, Writer and Preacher)
"Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy; but the Father, for love!" (Octavius Winslow, Preacher, 1808-1878)
Richard Syvret

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