Day 211: There’s a Place for Us (Isaiah 56)

“Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” Isaiah 56:3-5 ESV

Read The Bible Through: Isaiah 54-58

One year I was doing a reading plan that gave an Old Testament reading and a New Testament reading for each day. And it “just so happened” that I read Isaiah 56 alongside the story of Philip’s conversation with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. Seeing the two passages together absolutely floored me. Here’s what God showed me that day:

The Ethiopian eunuch had “gone to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 8:27). What the text doesn’t say, but we know from our understanding of how the temple was laid out, is that the eunuch could only have gone as far as the court of the Gentiles, the outermost perimeter of the temple complex. Not only was he a Gentile, but he was also a eunuch, and Deuteronomy 23:1 makes it abundantly (and uncomfortably) clear that eunuchs could not enter the assembly of God. Here’s the verse in the NIV, the least graphic of the English translations (you’ve been warned):

“No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.”
‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭23‬:‭1‬ ‭NIV‬‬

In the time of Jesus, the Court of the Gentiles was clearly separated from the Court of Women by a low barrier called the soreg. All along the soreg were signs posted like this. This one is a reproduction, but the real one is in a museum in Istanbul, Turkey:

Translation: No stranger is to enter within the balustrade round the temple and enclosure. Whoever is caught will be himself responsible for his ensuing death.

Note: if you ever visited a church you thought was unfriendly to guests, realize it could be way worse.

Artist’s rendering of Gentiles worshiping from behind the soreg

So the eunuch is sitting in his chariot, reading from Isaiah 52 and 53, about someone who was humiliated and deprived of justice. And I can imagine him relating to every word, because it sure sounds like what he must have been feeling himself. So he asks Philip a poignant, vulnerable question:

“About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” (Acts 8:34 ESV)

I love the question behind the question. The eunuch seems to want to know who this is, that would be able to understand his own humiliation so well.

Verse 35 says that Philip “opened his mouth and, beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.”

What gave me chills in that reading plan that day was seeing how close Isaiah 53:7-8 is to Isaiah 56:3-5. I can imagine how the eunuch’s face must have lit up if Philip unrolled the scroll just a little bit more! How Philip might have said, “Guess what! The One the prophet is speaking of has broken down all the walls of separation between us and God! At the point of His death, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom (see Matthew 27:51). Now everyone has equal access to God. Even foreigners. Even eunuchs.

Even you.

In Ephesians, Paul alluded to the soreg, that physical barrier that kept Gentiles from the Temple:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

Ephesians 2:14-16

Because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, the eunuchs who hold fast to the covenant have a place within God’s walls that is “better than sons of daughters.”

Because of the cross, nothing keeps you from complete, open access to God.

Oh, outcast! Oh, child of adoption! Oh misfit! You who have been crushed, or cut, or snubbed, or brushed off, or turned away. You belong. Because of Jesus!

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