Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. Acts 8:26
Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here) You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here)
With the account concerning Peter and John completed, the narrative now returns to Philip, beginning with, “Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip.” As always, the word “angel” signifies a messenger. Nothing more is said to further define its meaning at this time, but in both 8:29 and 8:39, the Spirit is mentioned as communicating with or physically transporting him.
As this is the case, it may be that the “messenger” of the Lord is a dream, a vision, or by direct communication from the Spirit. But because that is not explicitly mentioned, this is only speculation. Regardless of this, Philip is given a direct communication from the Lord through a messenger, “saying, ‘Arise.’”
It is a way of indicating that he must now take action according to the word of the Lord. The last time he was mentioned was in Acts 8:13. He may have received these instructions while he was still in Samaria. With the apostles there or having left (depending on when this call to him is made), he now has a new charge set before him. One can assume that because of his faithfulness in evangelizing, he is being personally selected to continue on with the Lord’s unfolding of the redemptive narrative.
As such, the messenger continues with, “and go toward the south.” As he is in Samaria, it would be to the south of that. The specific directions are being given for a specific purpose which will be revealed in the coming verses. What occurs will bring about a conversion that fits a pattern that goes all the way back to the early Genesis narrative. The Lord is purposefully directing Philip to represent this pattern for the New Testament.
In order to do so, Philip is to go toward the south “along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Here, a word is introduced that is found only one more time, in Acts 22:6, mesémbria, and which is translated as “south.” It is a compound word coming from mesos, meaning “middle,” and hémera, meaning “day.” Hence, it means “mid-day.”
All translations say “south” because it is where the sun is at mid-day. However, it could just as easily be that Philip is being told, “Rise up and go toward mid-day to the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” The reason for this is that people would not want to travel in such a hot place at a time like this. Instead, it would be much less taxing to go early in the morning when it was cool.
Gaza, or Azzah, means “Strong,” or “Strong Place.” It was granted to Israel as a part of their inheritance when the borders were originally defined in Numbers 34. It was then assigned to Judah in Joshua 15:47. For a historical view of the location, Charles Ellicott provides the following:
“The history of the city so named (appearing at times in the English version—Deuteronomy 2:23; 1Kings 4:24; Jeremiah 25:20—as Azzah) goes even as far back as that of Damascus, in the early records of Israel. It was the southernmost or border-city of the early Canaanites (Genesis 10:19), and was occupied first by the Avim, and then by the Caphtorim (Deuteronomy 2:23). Joshua was unable to conquer it (Joshua 10:41; Joshua 11:22). The tribe of Judah held it for a short time (Judges 1:18), but it soon fell into the hands of the Philistines (Judges 3:3; Judges 13:1), and though attacked by Samson, was held by them during the times of Samuel, Saul, and David (1Samuel 6:17; 1Samuel 14:52; 2Samuel 21:15). Solomon (1Kings 4:24), and later on Hezekiah (2Kings 18:8), attacked it. It resisted Alexander the Great during a siege of five months, and was an important military position, the very key of the country, during the struggles between the Ptolemies and the Seleucidæ, and in the wars of the Maccabees (1 Maccabees 11:61).”
The reason for the specificity concerning what to do (and/or when to do it) is explained by Vincent’s Word Studies –
“There were several roads from Jerusalem to Gaza. One is mentioned by the way of Bethlehem to Hebron, and thence through a region actually called a desert.”
In order to ensure that the divinely planned meeting that is intended to happen comes about, Philip is given exacting instruction. As such, it could be that he is being told to take the south road, or if “mid-day” is intended, the correct road to take would still be known based on the final words of the verse, which say, “This is desert.”
If “south” is meant, then these words now may be Luke’s explaining the directions of the messenger. If “mid-day” is meant, then this is the messenger’s explanation of which of the two roads to take. Either way, it is known by Philip to go on a particular road down to Gaza, and it very well may be at a particular time of day. The latter seems quite possible based on the events that will come about in the verses ahead.
Life application: The events taking place in Acts are often given with very specific instructions to those who are to carry them out. A plan is being worked out, and patterns and parallels to other parts of the Bible are being completed now in Acts. Only in referring to the Old Testament can these be understood.
God is revealing to us the redemption of man. But man isn’t just one line of people, even if all people descend from one man. Rather, there are records of who various people groups are, and we are seeing the divinely unfolding plan of God for those groups of people. Some were to be exterminated for His sovereign reasons. And yet, even in the extermination of those people groups, there are those who are spared. One example is seen in the instructions to Israel –
“But of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, 17 but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the Lord your God has commanded you, 18 lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 20:16-18
Among those in this group who Israel failed to exterminate are several people who became key figures in the redemptive narrative, such as Rahab the harlot, Uriah the Hittite whose wife was Bathsheba, and Araunah the Jebusite. Jesus descends from both Rahab and Bathsheba, and He holds the title to real estate because of the record of a purchase made from Araunah that is found in 2 Samuel. None of these things occurred by accident, even if Israel failed to do as they were instructed.
If you feel you are either unimportant or that your role in God’s plans and designs is insignificant, you are incorrect. These people probably felt just the same way. And yet, they became central figures in what God was doing. And you will be a central part of what God is doing as well. Metaphors are used concerning believers, such as “living stones” or “pillars” in the temple that the Lord is building.
A temple cannot stand without proper support. As such, it cannot stand without you. God has figured you in as a most important part of what He is creating. Be pleased to know this.
Lord God, thank You that we are counted as important parts of what You are doing. You hold all of the power of the universe, and more, in Your hands. And yet, You have determined that we are useful in the temple You are building where we will dwell with You forever. Thank You that You have such care, even of us. Amen.
If you wish to view or download Pastor Charlie's completed commentaries you can access them by Clicking Here (note- they are PDF files which require adobe software or other PDF reader program to view. PDF reader programs are usually free to download).
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