During Black History month, it is good to highlight powerful examples of black history from the Bible. As I have lived in a black community for many years and also started and pastored churches with significant numbers of Christians of color, I have learned to have a deep appreciation for black people, their godly faith, and their diverse culture. While these Biblical examples exemplify faithful believers everywhere, they also remind me of the like precious faith I have seen in years of ministering in black communities in New York City.
1. Ebedmelech the Ethiopian: A Powerful Example of Faith, (Jeremiah 38:6-13; 39:15-18). Jeremiah ministered in loneliness and under constant attack. No one would defend him and the great prophet was thrown in a dungeon where he “sunk in the mire” (Jeremiah 38:6). While Jeremiah was left for dead, out of sight and out of mind of the people, while no one stood to support, visit, or minister to him, out of nowhere comes a man named Ebedmelech the Ethiopian. He stood up for the prophet going to the king’s house and stated that they were treating Jeremiah in an evil way. Ebedmelech knew Jeremiah’s condition was dire and he was likely to die. The king let Ebedmelech take thirty men and then used the simple resources at his disposal: old rotten rags and rope. He created a crude harness and had Jeremiah securely strap himself to his contraption. Ebedmelech pulled Jeremiah to safety, prolonging his life.
God later came to Jeremiah with a message for Ebedmelech. God promised that he would deliver Ebedmelech from the evil that would fall upon Jerusalem. God commended the Ethiopian’s trust in the LORD during the dark days of unbelief and coming judgment. Ebedmelech is a powerful example of faith. He sympathetically defended the prophet of God, he creatively delivered him with basic resources, and he reaped what he sowed as God promised him deliverance. Ebedmelech’s powerful example of faith resulted in a mighty deliverance, the Prophet Jeremiah and his own!
2. The Ethiopian Eunuch: A Powerful Example of Searching, (Acts 8:26-40). This man of Ethiopia was an important man in a powerful position, but he did not seem to have peace. It is true that he had great human authority but there was still an inner ache. His career was succeeding but he hungered to know the living and true God. He came all the way from Ethiopia to Jerusalem searching for truth but found dead religion. As he returned to his homeland, he engaged in something vital: he was reading the living Word and specifically, Isaiah 53. This demonstrates his sincere searching for truth.
At that moment, God sent a Spirit-filled servant to this searching soul. Phillip told him that passage he was reading in Isaiah 53 spoke of Jesus Christ. In this divine appointment, the seeking Ethiopian believes in Christ. When they come to water, the Eunuch asked Phillip to baptize him. Phillip’s answer was clear: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.” The Eunuch declared his faith and powerfully obeyed the Lord’s command to be baptized as a believer. His powerful example of searching resulted in an urgent sense of obedience to baptism after he believed with all of his heart.
3. Niger and Lucius of Cyrene: A Powerful Example of Leadership, (Acts 13:1). This is the only mention of these men in the Bible, but it demonstrates their position of leadership in the vibrant, mission-minded church of Antioch. They are described as those among the “prophets and teachers” working alongside Barnabas and the Apostle Paul. Incredibly, we see this church with great ethnic diversity as Jewish, Roman, and Africans served together in the leadership of the church, striving for the faith of Jesus Christ. This church is the model New Testament church as the believers were called Christians for the first time (Acts 11:26). These men served humbly in prayer and fasting, surrendering to God’s will that they send out Barnabas and Saul on the first missionary venture. Simeon, called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, were among the leadership responsible for fulfilling the great commission and obeying the command of Christ. Their powerful example of humble leadership resulted in dynamically living out the Great Commission.
These three powerful examples of black history in the Bible are examples to us all. May God give us grace to walk by the faith of Ebedmelech, the searching that results in obedience like the Ethiopian Eunuch, and leadership that leads to Great Commission living like Niger and Lucius.