Color is only skin deep
Devotion In Motion
“The word of the LORD which came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.”
Of the 40 or so people inspired by God’s Spirit to author the Bible only one was caucasian – a Greek named Luke. Everyone else was Jewish. But I believe one of the authors was an Ethiopian Jew – a black-skinned man – and that was Zephaniah. Of all the Minor Prophets, Zephaniah gives us the most detail about his background and pedigree. Beginning in verse 1, “The word of the LORD which came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.”
King Josiah reigned 31 years – from 641-609 BC. He was the last godly king to sit on the throne of Judah. Remember Josiah was “the boy king.” He took the throne at 8 years old. Imagine, our country being ruled by a 3rd grader… “Hear ye, hear ye, video games for one and all… ice cream throughout the land…” The major healthcare reform would be free chewable vitamins. Actually, 2 Chronicles 34:3 says of Josiah, “In the 8th year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David…”
Notice the phrase, “While he was still young…” Josiah’s eighth year made him 16 years old. When most adolescent males start bucking authority, and sowing their wild oats, Josiah decided to get serious about his relationship with God. Why waste the best years of your life on sin and reckless living? Be a Prime Time Christian! Give God the prime of your life! A lot of teenagers sow their wild oats; then spend their 20s and 30s pulling weeds. They have to live through some pain, and try to straighten out the consequences of their sin and mistakes.
It’s better to sow good seeds, and enjoy an early harvest. It’s probable Zephaniah was an influence in the early life of King Josiah. Perhaps he paved the way for the revival Josiah launched to turn the Jews back to God. Now Zephaniah’s prophecy warns Judah of God’s coming judgment. The immediate threat was the Babylonian empire spreading west across the Fertile Crescent. Judah needed to repent and return to God or face His judgment. Sadly, Josiah’s revival didn’t last long. After the king died, Judah resumed their wicked ways, and the dire warnings of Zephaniah came to pass.
Notice in verse 1, Zephaniah tracks his genealogy to the fourth generation. This has caused scholars to wonder why. There are different ideas as to his motive. But there is one theory by Walter Kaiser in his commentary on Zephaniah. Notice, the prophet’s father was named “Cushi.” Cush is the Hebrew name for the country of Ethiopia.
It’s possible Zephaniah was a black-skinned man from Ethiopia. To this day, there is a large contingent of black Jews living in Ethiopia. For centuries these Jews were cut off from the rest of the world. In the 18th century AD explorer James Bruce found a tribe of these Jews living along the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. This tribe called themselves, “Beta-Israel,” or “House of Israel.” Today, European Israelis call them “Falasha” which means “foreigner.” It’s a derogatory term. If you meet a black Jew in Jerusalem don’t call him “Falasha” – say he’s from “BetaIsrael.”
It’s interesting, upon initial contact with the rest of Jewry, the Ethiopians were surprised that all Jews weren’t dark-skinned. Actually, their form of Judaism is closer to the Bible than the Judaism of white, European Jews. The Ethiopians lack the rabbinical traditions of European Judaism. They have no rabbis. Their leaders are priests who claim to be descendants of Aaron. As to their origins we’re not sure… In Acts 8 Philip preached the Gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch who had visited Jerusalem for the feast – indicating there were African Jews in Ethiopia during the first century AD.
Solomon married a thousand women, many of them the daughters of neighboring kings. You would think there was probably an Ethiopian princess in his harem. Maybe her offspring went back home to Africa. Some Bible scholars suggest the Ethiopian Jews are descendants of Moses and his Cushite, or Ethiopian wife – who was obviously a dark-skinned woman. Numbers 12 tells the story… Moses’ siblings, Miriam and Aaron opposed the marriage between their brother and new sister-in-law. They were against interracial marriage and tried to fire Moses. Yet it didn’t take long for God to settle the disagreement. Numbers 12:9-10 tells us, “So the anger of the LORD was aroused against them… suddenly Miriam became leprous as white as snow.” God struck Moses’ prejudiced sister, Miriam, with the dreaded flesh-eating disease of the ancient world, leprosy.
Apparently, Miriam had a problem with the color of the woman’s skin. Now she’s got a problem with her own skin – and its pigment is the least of her worries. Who cares about the shade of a person’s skin now? What a superficial distinction! Remember what God told Samuel (16:8), “For the LORD does not see as man sees: for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” This is why the Bible says nothing to prohibit interracial marriage. To the contrary, God works overtime to abolish racial distinctions. Galatians 3 tells us that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek – we could add, black or white.
Today, the only distinction God sees between people is whether they’re in Christ, or outside of Christ… This is why a believer should never marry an unbeliever, but this has nothing to do with the color of anyone’s skin. It’s almost humorous, after Miriam was struck with leprosy it didn’t take Aaron long to change his opinion. He figured he would be next. Aaron pleaded with God, “Please do not lay this sin on us, in which we have done foolishly and in which we have sinned…” Let me say this clearly, prejudice against another person’s shade of skin is shady – it’s sinful – and if you harbor even a little of that attitude you need to repent.
Back to Zephaniah’s four generations… Even in the Law of Moses God demonstrated His desire to bridge racial divides. In Egypt there were interracial marriages between Egyptians and Hebrews. That’s why in Deuteronomy 23:7 Moses instructs his people not to hate the Egyptians – instead, he makes a way to turn them into Israelis. The Lord commands, “You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land. The children of the third generation born to them may enter the assembly of the LORD.” Notice, third generation offspring become full citizens. Perhaps the reason Zephaniah lists his genealogy to the fourth generation is to prove his Jewish identity.
And the question is who do you identify with? Christ? or something else? Great question to ponder isn’t it?
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