And applications for divides today
I have been reading the posts and memes on current events and race relations back and forth online and have been pondering over whether to write up my own reactions and experience. It’s really too complicated tackle with a short post. Too sensitive to attempt online. I am not experienced/ educated enough to speak about many things with any authoritative credence.
What I do know and love are some stories about black people/people of dark color in the Bible. My hopes are that these next few observations shape a new understanding of many Bible lovers/ Jesus followers who may not have read these accounts, or have not understood their significance, that we may apply them to our respect for and kinship to each other today.
It is just within the last decade that movie makers have attempted to create representations of Biblical events with Middle Eastern actors. However, there are still many characters in the Bible that originate from Africa, but without it being straight-called “Africa”, it may be hard miss for many as the skip through unfamiliar to us names and places.
A good quote:
“It is difficult to see the black presence in the Bible because you won’t read the terms black or African but you will read the terms Ethiopians, Cushites, Egyptians, Hebrews, or other tribal terms. Ethiopia is mentioned 45 times in the Bible; add this to the number of times Egypt is mentioned, and Africa is mentioned more than any other landmass in the Bible. It should also be noted that the "Middle East," including the Holy Land was connected to Africa until 1859 when the Suez Canal was completed and had been referred to North East Africa for the majority of modern history.” - ONLEILOVE ALSTON
An overview of black biblical characters, followed by personal applications from private study:
“Cush or Kush (/kʊʃ, kʌʃ/ Hebrew: כּוּשׁ Hebrew pronunciation: [ˈkuʃ], Kush) was, according to the Bible, the eldest son of Ham, a son of Noah. He was the brother of Canaan (land of Canaan), Mizraim (Egypt) and Phut (land of Libya), and the father of the biblical Nimrod mentioned in the "Table of Nations" in Genesis 10:6 and I Chronicles 1:8.
Cush is traditionally considered the eponymous ancestor of the people of the "land of Cush," an ancient territory that is believed to have been located on either side or both sides of the Red Sea. As such, "Cush" is alternately identified in scripture with the Kingdom of Kush or ancient Ethiopia. The Cushitic languages are named after Cush.” Wikipedia
Noah’s grandson who started a whole region/nation was black. Cush fathered Nimrod, who is the first referred to in the Bible as a “mighty hunter” before the Lord . (Chronicles and Genesis)
“Many of the Hebrew patriarchs married or had children with women from African tribes. Abraham had children with Hagar and Keturah both from African (Hamitic) tribes. Moses married Zippora, who was Ethiopian. Jacob had children with two handmaidens from African tribes, and these children became the patriarchs of two tribes of Israel.” (sojo.net – previous link).
Ebed-melech the Ethiopian helped save Jeremiah from death in a cistern well.
The Ethiopian eunuch court official of the Queen of Ethiopia was ministered to by Phillip in a chariot, then baptized.
The Queen of Sheba (Ethiopia) asks questions of King Solomon. (pictured)
It is possible that Queen Ester was very dark, as at first she posed as a gentile candidate for royalty/harem for Persian King Ahasuerus who ruled over a vast area that included from India into Ethiopia before revealing that she was Jewish. How could she pose as non-Jewish woman to the King if she looked like what we typically think a modern Jew would? Rabbinical commentary notes that she had a darker sort of olive-green completion.
Simon of Cyrene (a North African city) carried Jesus’ cross.
The following are my personal biblical applications of how we speak of physical differences:
Woe to the land of whirring wings
along the rivers of Cush, (Sudan)
2 which sends envoys by sea
in papyrus boats over the water.
Go, swift messengers,
to a people tall and smooth-skinned,
to a people feared far and wide,
an aggressive nation of strange speech,
whose land is divided by rivers.
What doesn’t stand out to me here is the “woe” part, as this is part of a section of prophecies where God is mentioning judgement over many different peoples surrounding Israel, and Israel herself for sins of idolatry and cruelty. In no way should we add this verse as fuel to label dark skin as “cursed.”
On the contrary, I see God lamenting that His beautiful, tall, and clear skinned and strong people have erred and must be corrected. He does not take delight in chastisement over His beautiful people in Cush ( and even though I have scoured google to find the verse, I know from reading the prophets this summer that there is a verse where God calls another people besides the Israelis “His people” - I am thinking it was either Egypt or another African nation. Can you help me find it?).
Application: if God views the dark Sudanese (Cush is considered a part of modern day Sudan) as worthy of being called out for positive physical qualities - even while being issued punishment - who are we to joke about differences or prefer one to another?
Don’t make or laugh at racist joke, or you find yourself in opposition to God’s words and holy design.
Moses’ interracial marriage:
In The Complainer’s Journal I wrote about Miriam being struck by God with leprosy after criticizing Moses for choosing a black wife. I didn’t dive into race there but focused on the sinfulness of critical attitudes towards authority, but I am ready to expand on race here.
Numbers 12 Good News Translation (GNT)
Miriam Is Punished
“12 Moses had married a Cushite woman, and Miriam and Aaron criticized him for it. 2 They said, “Has the LORD spoken only through[b] Moses? Hasn't he also spoken through
us?” The LORD heard what they said. (3 Moses was a humble man, more humble than anyone else on earth.)
4 Suddenly the LORD said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “I want the three of you to come out to the Tent of my presence.” They went, 5 and the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud, stood at the entrance of the Tent, and called out, “Aaron! Miriam!” The two of them stepped forward, 6 and the LORD said, “Now hear what I have to say! When there are prophets among you, I reveal myself to them in visions and speak to them in dreams. 7 It is different when I speak with my servant Moses; I have put him in charge of all my people Israel. 8 So I speak to him face-to-face, clearly and not in riddles; he has even seen my form! How dare you speak against my servant Moses?”
9 The LORD was angry with them; and so as he departed 10 and the cloud left the Tent, Miriam's skin was suddenly covered with a dreaded disease and turned as white as snow. “
Notice that leprosy turns Miriam white as snow – a foil to the
dark-skinned wife of Moses. Unfortunately, I cannot site ( I read years ago), but I have read rabbi commentary on this account in which God is explained as purposefully lightening Miriam's skin to the pale of disease, since she preferred her lighter skin as superior over Zipporah’s dark skin. In my own life I have seen people speak of interracial marriages as “sickening”. That statement is in strong opposition to God’s opinion as shown in Moses' story and the verdict seen in Miriam’s punishment. Be careful that your personal preference doesn’t slide into dangerous territory in where you criticize a marriage because of color as Miriam did.
These applications are just 2 that stick out to me for how we (for me, I mean southern, white, Christians) should carry out our Christianity regarding race today. These are in addition to the general call to peace, love, anti violence, compassion, helping the oppressed, listening more than speaking.
I hope that if this post was an intro for you into black history in the Bible, that it will begin a common feeling of brotherhood for you within our shared faith.
Please share and pray about what you can personally do to foster peace and brotherhood.