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empty Posted February 2001
Rev. Robert Ash Rev. Robert Ash People Of Color In The Bible  
(Part 2 - Ethiopia)

by Rev. Robert Ash

ZEP 1:1 The word of the LORD which came unto Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hizkiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.

Ethiopians, a race of black people, are another people of color mentioned in scripture. Actually, the Bible term "Ethiopia" refers to a number of black-skinned peoples who lived in the southern Nile area, including southern Egypt plus modern-day Sudan, Ethiopia (called Havilah in Gen 2:11), Somalia and other areas. Also called "Cushites" today, all "Ethiopian" peoples descended from Cush, the oldest son of Ham (Noah's youngest son -- Gen 9:18-19, Gen 10:6-7). There are over 50 mentions of "Ethiopia" and "Ethiopian" peoples in the Bible. 

God first mentions Ethiopia in the Creation account itself. The river that watered the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:10) split into four giant rivers: "The name of the first [is] Pison: that [is] it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where [there is] gold...And the name of the second river [is] Gihon: the same [is] it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia." (Gen 2:11, 13). God's "Garden" was quite colossal, actually -- more like a giant preserve, a country or a continent. His "Garden" had to be watered by a mighty river! That river split into four other mighty rivers, two of which flowed in Ethiopia. 

One of the most amazing facts in the Bible is that the inspired author of Zephaniah was at least half-Ethiopian (he had an Ethiopian father, no info about his mother). This Israelite prophet was a direct descendant of King Hezekiah: "The word of the LORD which came unto Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hizkiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah." (Zep 1:1). "Cushi" means "man of Ethiopia". There are three men named Cushi in scripture, all very prominent: Joab's runner (2 Samuel 18:21-32), the great-grandfather of Jehudi the scribe (Jer 36:14), and Zephaniah the prophet's father (Zep 1:1).

Moses had an Ethiopian wife. He married her after his first wife died. Moses' only children were through his first wife, Zipporah (1 Chr 23:15), but God loved Moses' Ethiopian wife so much that He burned in anger against Moses' own brother and sister Aaron and Miriam when they spoke against her and against Moses for marrying her. God even struck Miriam with leprosy for her wrong, probably because she was the ringleader in this error--see Nu 12:1-15). This blessed Ethiopian woman was now one of His people, and God was not going to let anyone get away with speaking against her. Not anyone.

Another Ethiopian saved Jeremiah's life. Jer 38:4-15 records: "Therefore the princes said unto the king, We beseech thee, let this man be put to death: for thus he weakeneth the hands of the men of war that remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, in speaking such words unto them: for this man seeketh not the welfare of this people, but the hurt."

Then Zedekiah the king said, "Behold, he [is] in your hand: for the king [is] not [he that] can do [any] thing against you. Then took they Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech, that [was] in the court of the prison: and they let down Jeremiah with cords. And in the dungeon [there was] no water, but mire: so Jeremiah sunk in the mire. Now when Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs which was in the king's house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon; the king then sitting in the gate of Benjamin; Ebed-melech went forth out of the king's house, and spake to the king, saying, My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon; and he is like to die for hunger in the place where he is: for [there is] no more bread in the city.

Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, saying, Take from hence thirty men with thee, and take up Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon, before he die. So Ebed-melech took the men with him, and went into the house of the king under the treasury, and took thence old cast clouts and old rotten rags, and let them down by cords into the dungeon to Jeremiah. And Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said unto Jeremiah, Put now [these] old cast clouts and rotten rags under thine armholes under the cords. And Jeremiah did so. So they drew up Jeremiah with cords, and took him up out of the dungeon: and Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.

Jer 39:15-18 say, "Now the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah, while he was shut up in the court of the prison, saying, Go and speak to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring my words upon this city for evil, and not for good; and they shall be [accomplished] in that day before thee. But I will deliver thee in that day, saith the LORD: and thou shalt not be given into the hand of the men of whom thou [art] afraid. For I will surely deliver thee, and thou shalt not fall by the sword, but thy life shall be for a prey unto thee: because thou hast put thy trust in me, saith the LORD." God used this Ethiopian man Ebed-melech to save the life of one of his most prominent and important prophets, the prophet Jeremiah. Then God blessed Ebed-melech by saving his life in return. It's a good thing to do good to God's people, whatever color they are, whatever color we are.

God also used a rumor about an Ethiopian king to save Jerusalem during one of the most famous battles in the Bible. This is a battle so spectacular and so famous that the Bible goes into detail about it, and not once, but twice! The Bible talks about this battle in 2 Kings 18 and Isaiah 37. Anything God tells us about twice is important. Anything He tells us about once is important, and it's doubly important if He tells us about it twice.

There was a king named Rab-shakeh who had Jerusalem surrounded. It looked like God's people were doomed. He had conquered other mighty nations before attacking Jerusalem. But he got so proud and cocky that he started blaspheming God. Isaiah 37:7-9 is God's reply to Rab-shakeh:

"Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumor, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land. So Rab-shakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish. And he heard say concerning Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, He is come forth to make war with thee...." Indeed, God sent Rab-shakeh back to his own country and killed him. And He used a rumor about Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia, to get Rab-shakeh back there.

Of the nations that Israel went to war against in her history, Ethiopia had the largest army. Its size is mentioned in 2Ch 14:9 "And there came out against them Zerah the Ethiopian with an host of a thousand thousand, and three hundred chariots; and came unto Mareshah." A thousand thousand is a million. Zerah the Ethiopian led a 1 million man army, the largest numbered army that Israel ever fought. Zerah the Ethiopian went to war against Asa king of Judah, whose army was much smaller. 

But being Ethiopian or any other race is never enough to win the battle. Without God on their side, any army of any size and of any race can be defeated. 2Chronicles 14:10-12 continues "Then Asa went out against him, and they set the battle in array in the valley of Zephathah at Mareshah. And Asa cried unto the LORD his God, and said, LORD, [it is] nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O LORD, thou [art] our God; let not man prevail against thee. So the LORD smote the Ethiopians before Asa, and before Judah; and the Ethiopians fled."

It doesn't matter how big the battle is or who we're fighting against, with God on our side, even one plus God is a majority. How can we have God on our side? By turning away from our sins and trusting God's one and only Son, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, God who came once to dwell on earth, who died once on the cross for our sins and rose once from the dead on the third day after, so that all who repent and believe on His one resurrection will be saved from our sins and from His coming Judgment. Believe on Jesus Christ right now and get God on your side! 

To be continued....Watch for the next part where we will talk about People of Color in the Bible, the Cyrenes.

Recommended Reading

Aharoni and Avi-Yonah, The MacMillan Bible Atlas (Macmillan Press, New York, 1977)

Eusebius, The History of the Church (Dorset Press, New York, New York, 1965, 1984 translation by G.A. Williamson)

Rev. Robert Ash is co-pastor and youth minister of Euphrates Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland, California. He has 18 years of preaching, teaching, evangelism and apologetics experience in church, prison, college campus, and street ministry. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a master's degree from Stanford University. The opinions expressed are those of the author. This article is used by permission.
Copyright (c) 1999

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