People say that black is beautiful, and I believe it. I think the most beautiful face I’ve ever seen on a human being was that of a young Ethiopian woman. She had been imprisoned eleven times for her participation in evangelistic and church activities, and every time she got out, she just went right on proclaiming Christ. When she would tell how the young people were marched off to jail, with their hands uplifted, singing and praising God, her face would shine. I saw there a beauty I have never seen anywhere else.
The Bible says very clearly that black is beautiful (Song of Solomon 1:5). But as I studied the black persons mentioned in Scripture more carefully, I found another message—the Bible implies that black is blessed. Not that being black automatically makes you blessed, but these people had an unusual way of reaching out to God—finding Him as their own, embracing Him and His ways, committing themselves to the truth of the Gospel. And God blessed them.
The Bible does not usually indicate a person’s color, but more often describes the land of origin. People moved around a lot more than you might think in the ancient world. Ordinarily, but not always, people from Africa were black. On the other hand, sometimes the Bible tells us specifically of a black person in Palestine, Syria, or the Sinai desert.
The first African women I could find in the Bible is Hagar, an Egyptian and a slave of Abraham’s wife, Sarah. In Egypt, then as now, there were both brown and black-skinned people; but there is a good likelihood that Hagar was a black woman captured in Nubia and brought as a slave to Egypt. I suspect that she may have been part of the gift package which Pharaoh, king of Egypt, gave Abraham in return for his wife, Sarah. The Bible says that Pharaoh gave him sheep, oxen, he-asses, menservants, maidservants, she-asses, and camels (Genesis 12:16). Notice that the slaves were listed along with the sheep and oxen and camels. Pharaoh may have given away those slaves as pieces of chattel, but watch what God did!
In this story, neither Abraham nor Sarah came off very well. You remember that they passed her off as Abraham’s sister, because she was his half-sister. Abraham and the beautiful Sarah agreed together not to mention that she was also his wife, since they were afraid that in order to take Sarah, Pharaoh would kill Abraham.
We are usually too polite to dwell on the indiscretions of important Bible characters, but Abraham just sold his wife into slavery! Therefore this story is about two slave women, not just one. When Pharaoh discovered that he had been deceived, he sent the bunch packing.
The years passed, and there was still no child for Sarah and Abraham. Then Sarah took a short-cut. She decided to use Hagar’s body for breeding purposes. The text literally says “to be built up by her” (Genesis 16:2). We know that certain societies in the ancient Near East obligated a childless wife to give her servant to the husband if she could not produce a child, and then the children were considered hers. Although God had called Abraham and Sarah to a new land and a new life, they were still obeying old laws. Sadly, no one gave Hagar or her feelings a second thought.
The Bible says that Sarah invited Abraham to go in to Hagar, and he heeded her (Genesis 16:2). Hagar became pregnant, and she was proud, possibly looking on herself as having new status in the community because she had obeyed her mistress’s request and was to be the mother of the master’s child. And yet the Bible says that she looked with contempt on her mistress (Genesis 16:4); the Hebrew says literally “her mistress became little in her eyes.” Maybe Hagar despised Sarah for turning her into sexual property.
Sarah complained to Abraham about Hagar’s attitude, and he said “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her as you please.” (Genesis 16:6). That was license to mistreat her, and Sarah was so harsh to her that Hagar ran away into the desert.
The desert can be a cruel place for anyone, let alone a pregnant woman, but God had not forgotten Hagar. The angel of the Lord found her collapsed and alone by a spring of water. Judging by the location in which she was found, she was trying to get back to Africa. She was desert-wise enough to have found water, but then the terrible reality must have hit her: she needed food and shelter from the sun and winds if she and her child were to survive. But it turned out that God himself was her support system.
This is the first time in Scripture that we see God’s concern for an “ordinary” individual. The angel exhorted Hagar to go back to Sarah’s tent in order to receive the care she needed. Then he promised that her child would become a mighty man and that she would be the ancestress of a multitude. She was even given a name for the child, Ishmael, meaning “God shall hear.” The angel added, “For Jehovah hath harkened to thy distress.”
This is also the first time in the Bible where we have seen someone cry out to God in trouble, and seen the response. Anybody who names their child “God shall hear” knows something about prayer! That person knows that when we cry out to God, He listens and starts changing things. When we pray, the first thing God changes is usually us.
Was God’s instruction to Hagar strange? She was told to go back to slavery until the birth of her child, and to get protection for him during his childhood. Yet she was also promised that he would be wonderfully free: “He shall be a wild ass of a man.” You cannot tame the wild ass—it is completely its own master and goes where it will (Job 39:5-8).
It was probably difficult for Hagar to go back, but she was spared death in the desert and had God’s promise of ultimate freedom. And something more than this happened—she had an experience of God for herself. A poor runaway slave woman really talked with God and learned first-hand of His compassion, kindness, and loving care. She said, “Have I really seen the God who sees me and remained alive after seeing Him?” (Genesis 16:13). She even had the courage to give God a special name, “Thou art a God of seeing.” Do you know God well enough to give Him a special name, to talk with Him in this kind of intimacy? Hagar was a mighty woman of God, and she called the well where God found her “the well of the living One who sees me.” Not only had she been found, but she reached out by faith and found God for herself, first hand. She understood God in a new way, and it transformed her life and made the old drudgery bearable.
She was transformed by her personal knowledge of God, and so it is with each man, each woman who comes to a saving and personal knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and Saviour from sin. Hagar teaches us that God is concerned for individuals, and that He can save them if they will just cry out to Him and embrace His ways.
As I thought about the black and /or African women of the Bible, I wondered if there was a distinguishing characteristic, something special about the way they operated. And I think I have found it: it is their spiritual receptivity, their willingness to meet God in new ways, to tread new paths, to dare when all the odds are against them. That is my theory, and you can help me put it to the test.
Hagar returned to Sarah (whom I hope had also learned her lesson and now treated Hagar decently). The slave woman gave birth to a son who was destined for wonderful freedom. Abraham, following the angel’s message to Hagar, named him Ishmael and raised him as his son. When God established a covenant with Abraham, Ishmael too was circumcised as a child of the promise.
All went well until Isaac was born and started to grow. After Isaac’s nursing period there was a great feast to celebrate the weaning, and there Sarah saw Ishmael mocking or taunting little Isaac. I do not know what justification there was for what Sarah did next. Maybe she was feeling irritable, unreasonable, and threatened. Maybe there really was reason for fear: jealousy between brothers is an ugly and dangerous thing in the book of Genesis. Just think of Cain, who murdered Abel, and of Jacob, who stole both the birthright and blessing of Esau, and of Joseph, whose brothers sold him into Egypt as a slave.
At any rate, when Sarah insisted that Ishmael and Hagar be evicted, Abraham was beside himself. How could he do this to his own child and to the mother of his child? Yet God told him to let them go, and that he would make of Ishmael a great nation. So the next morning Abraham took bread and a skin of water and put it on Hagar’s shoulder and sent her and Ishmael away to wander in the wilderness of Beersheba (Genesis 21:14). There are some harsh realities here. Yes, God turned Sarah’s ill will into liberation: Hagar walked out of that camp a free woman. But could she and her adolescent son survive the wilderness? How long would one skin of water last?
It did not last long enough, and Ishmael, probably about fifteen or sixteen years old, was the first to succumb to thirst. Hagar, in the last extremes of desperation, laid her motionless son under a bush where he could have a little shade. There was nothing further that she could do except to call upon God. She sat down about a bow-shot away to wait for the end, unable to look upon the death of her son. She wept as she again cried out to God: what had become of His promise? Would it not have been easier for her to have died the first time she went out into the desert?
But God heard her cry and that of her son, because, even in the last extremity of dying, the lad’s spirit cried out to God. The Angel of the Lord called out of heaven, “What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is” (Genesis 21:17). Thus God heard her, and then He led her. “Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink.” God gave her a new insight so that she saw what was there all the time—water, the most precious resource in the desert.
Both Old and New Testament speak of water as a symbol of spiritual life. The righteous person is like a tree planted by rivers of living water. God provides streams in the desert for those who look to Him. Jesus promises to give living water, and those who believe on Him will have streams of living water to give to others.
So far as I have been able to discover, Hagar was the first person to have been led to water and to have been enabled to give it to another. We are told that the first time something happens in the biblical account, we should pay special attention. Here an African woman, newly freed, is led by God to water, and she gives it to her son. May God lead each one of us to the living water and enable us to share its blessing with others.
We read that God was with the boy, and he became an expert hunter, and Hagar his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt (Genesis 21:21). So a second African woman became part of the blessing which was promised to Hagar and her son, Ishmael.
I would like to make the point that God does not play favorites on the basis of race—or even of past sinfulness. Abraham and Sarah made some bad judgments, but they were still used by God. I do not want you to forget that, even though I have concentrated here on Hagar. God uses ordinary people, and I am glad, because there is hope that God will use even you and me. I guess I would find the Bible pretty discouraging if it only told how God interacted with “good” people!
Africans and the Exodus
In time the descendants of Isaac were themselves made slaves in the land of Egypt, and God heard their cry. The Pharaoh felt threatened because there were so many of them, and at first he tried to kill them with hard work. Despite severe oppressions, the people flourished, and so he commanded that the mid-wives should not allow the Hebrew male children to live, although the females might be preserved. Although the mid-wives were Hebrew, they had Egyptian names, Puah and Shiprah. They refused to obey the king’s order because they regarded every infant as a sacred trust; and they worked to save the life of each one, regardless of sex. That constituted civil disobedience, and so the Pharaoh sent out the soldiers to cast the male children into the river.
One mother had the faith to hide her baby, and when it was no longer possible to conceal him, she set him in the river in a little basket, right near the bathing beach of Pharaoh’s daughter. A group of African women found him—the princesses and her attendants. They knew he was a Hebrew baby, and they knew what they were supposed to do with him; but they also knew that life was precious, and they decided to raise him instead. That was more civil disobedience, and furthermore, the child’s own mother became the wet-nurse. Have you thought about all the women who were part of God’s plan in raising up a deliverer for Israel? There were the mid-wives, Moses’ mother Jochebed, his sister Miriam, the princess and her ladies-in-waiting. One scholar remarked that if Pharaoh really wanted to exterminate the Israelites, he probably should have begun with the other sex.
I would like to remind you that Moses’ adoptive mother saw to it that her son got a first-class African education. The Bible says that he was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22). Later he would use the knowledge of law and medicine and military science and engineering for God’s glory. When Moses reached maturity, however, he was very ill-prepared for the role God had for him to play. He decided to see what was happening to his own people the Israelites, lost his temper over flagrant injustice, and struck an Egyptian slave-master so hard that he died. Furthermore, Moses soon discovered that the children of Israel were in no way ready to accept his leadership and that the news of his violent action would soon reach the ears of the Pharaoh.
Moses had no choice but to flee into the desert—this fine young princeling of Egypt, who was used to a life of luxury. His military training had taught him how to locate water, but he arrived at a well with no bucket to draw the water. He did not have to wait long before several young girls arrived, sisters herding their father’s sheep. They bent their backs to the arduous task of hauling up enough water to satisfy the thirst of their flock in a dry and dusty desert. No sooner had they emptied the last bucket into the trough, however, than trouble struck in the form of renegade herdsmen who drove the women a way and took the water for their own sheep. It was a neat trick to save themselves the trouble of drawing the water.
Moses again demonstrated a strong instinct for justice and single-handedly drove off the shepherds. One well-trained soldier was more than a match for a bunch of bullies! Then he helped the sisters water their flock and sent them on their way home. Of course, these sisters were black. Moses risked his life to fight for the rights of three black women.
Now, the father of these women was Jethro, a priest; and God had given him great wisdom. An Arab tradition said that Jethro and his family had been sent from Ethiopia as missionaries to the land of Midian. It is this family that took Moses in and helped him to a knowledge of God.
The father, Jethro, was simply horrified that his daughters should have left the kindly stranger still sitting by the well. Surely they must have explained that his remarkable military prowess bespoke experience in Egypt but that his soiled and tattered clothing hinted that he was a fugitive. It might have been dangerous to receive him into their home. Who knew what his past was or what the Egyptians might do if they found him.
Jethro, the missionary and priest and man of God, insisted “Call him, that he may eat bread.” So it was that Moses came to their tent. The family opened their hearts and their home to him, and best of all, their acquaintance with God. The Lord was present in the hearts of that black family. If Moses had spent forty years gaining a formal education in Egypt, he now spent another forty gaining spiritual insight. The girls taught him how to take care of Jethro’s sheep, how to find water in the desert, how to protect the sheep from sand storms, how to lead them through the wilderness. One day he would guide people, not sheep. Have you ever thought that Moses’ desert education was under the direction of African and/or black women and men?
In time Moses married the oldest daughter, Zipporah, whose name means “bird.” Philo, a Jewish author who lived at the same time as Jesus, said that like a bird she could soar to spiritual heights, and that she was able to bring Moses to understand spiritual realities. When their first child was born, Moses named him “stranger” because he said “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:22, 18:3). Later, as Moses felt more comfortable in his new surroundings, he named his second son Eliezer, which means “God is my help.” He said “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh” (Exodus 18:4). He was beginning to feel more at home, and for the first time we find him talking about God.
Then there was the day when God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush and called him back to Egypt to deliver his people. He asked for the blessing of his father-in-law, took his wife and his sons and set them on an ass, and went back to the land of Egypt (Exodus 4:20).
On the way, Moses had a life-threatening experience. We do not know its exact nature, but Zipporah perceived in this terrifying experience God’s call to renew the covenant. As you recall, the covenant with Abraham required that all males be circumcised. Zipporah understood what was needed: She circumcised the children and flung the foreskins at her husband’s feet. She was the one who understood God’s command, and she was the one who was quick to obey. She saw what Moses could not.
Later rabbis, maintaining that circumcision could only be performed by a male priest, said that she just handed Moses the flint. However, the biblical text records that she performed the rite herself—and did not enjoy the process either. She complained to her husband, “You are the bridegroom of blood!” (Exodus 4:26) She may not have liked officiating, but her act of faith brought their sons within the covenant of Israel.
“But,” you might ask, “why did Moses send her back and not allow her to enter Egypt?” Some have said that perhaps she objected to the circumcision in the first place and that her continued distaste led to so sharp a disagreement that he sent her back to Midian. I believe there are other more relevant reasons given in the text. Moses was returning to a people who had resented and rejected him forty years before. Raised as an Egyptian and having lived for forty years in Midian, he could not hope for easy acceptance. His Ethiopian wife, as Numbers 12 attests, would do little to improve his popularity.
He also probably could not speak Hebrew very well, for he was removed from his parents’ home as soon as he was weaned (perhaps as late as five years of age). Moses may well have been far more fluent in Egyptian, and God arranged that Aaron should be his mouth-piece in Hebrew. With a language problem of his own, Moses was ill prepared to introduce his wife and children into a community already suspicious of him.
Zipporah was a tent-dweller whose survival skills would later prove to be of immeasurable importance to the children of Israel, but how would she assimilate to living in Egypt, in a settled house and learning a whole new system of housekeeping? Later the people would weep in the desert fort the leeks and garlic and cucumbers of Egypt, but how would the wilderness-bred Zipporah and her sons have adjusted to the diet in the Land of Goshen? If Moses expected a speedy departure from Egypt, it would be more expedient, and safer, to send Zipporah away, perhaps to make preparations for the actual Exodus. She may have been organizing a welcoming committee for a people about to walk into freedom.
When it was time for the children of Israel to leave Egypt, the women were told, “Let every woman ask of her female neighbor and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewelry of silver and of gold, and clothing, and you shall put them on your sons and daughters” (Exodus 3:22). The command is repeated in Exodus 11:2. Did you know that African women were the major donors in financing the Exodus? That generosity later made possible the construction and beautification of the tabernacle, the wilderness House of God.
The Bible further tells us that when the children of Israel left Egypt, they took with them a mixed multitude, black women among them.
Once the Exodus was accomplished, Jethro came to his son-in-law to hear all that God had done, and he brought with him Zipporah and the children. Jethro declared, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because he delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians, when they dealt arrogantly with them” (Genesis 18:10,11).
Then he led Israel in worship and instituted the first sacrifice for the new-born nation. “Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, offered a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God” (Exodus 18:12). Did you know that it was a black man who taught Aaron how to offer sacrifices to the Lord, who made the elders of Israel understand how to worship the true and living God, who led them in the beginning of the sacrificial system?
There were three great leaders for those pilgrim people bound for the promised land. Micah 6:4 says “Have I not set before thee Moses and Aaron and Miriam to lead thee?” Each of these three leaders acquired their basic skills from the family of Zipporah. She herself must have taught Miriam what she needed to communicate to the women of Israel about basic survival in the wilderness—women’s tasks like tent-pitching, nomadic housekeeping, rolling gear in a bedroll, finding and drawing water, food gathering and preparation, the care and protection of children, birthing and burial, and care of the sick. Yes, Miriam had a lot to learn from Zipporah.
If Aaron needed to learn how to perform sacrifices to God, Moses needed to learn the basics of administration. Jethro watched while people stood in line all day long for Moses to settle their disputes, and the court system was so snarled up that he did not have time for anything else. Jethro declared, “This is not good! You shall represent the people before God, and bring their cases to God; and you shall teach them the statutes and the decisions, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do.” Jethro helped Moses to understand the tasks to which God had called Moses, and Jethro showed him how to organize the people by tribes and how to set up a representative form of government, with duly appointed officials and competent judges to hear all but the most difficult cases. Did you know that it was an Ethiopian who set up the judicial and administrative system of Israel? The Israelites had been a slave people, down-trodden and degraded, totally unused to governing themselves or thinking for themselves. Well, a remarkable black man, with an equally remarkable daughter, changed all that.
Jethro, used to a free nomadic existence, departed, but apparently left behind Zipporah’s brother, Hobab, whom Moses begged to remain permanently with the Hebrews. Moses felt totally incapable of leading this people, who had known only a slave existence, and must now survive in so cruel an environment (Numbers 10:29). “Do not leave us, I pray you, for you know how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and you will serve as eyes for us.” Hobab consented to stay, and his family later entered the Promised Land and lived there (Judges 1:16; 1 Samuel 15:6, 27:10; 30:29). Yes, black people were numbered among the heirs to the Promised Land.
But the leadership exercised by Zipporah’s family was soon resented. Miriam and Aaron, as the most prominent leaders, voiced their objections. Earlier non-family members like Korah had resisted Moses, but now it was his own flesh and blood who were no longer willing to tolerate either their sister-in-law or a system that placed so much of the leadership in the hands of her relatives. Did race, culture shock, and language barriers play a part? Possibly, but I believe that the issue of leadership was the most basic. Miriam and Aaron both objected that because God spoke to them as well as Moses, they did not need their brother any more. The Lord sent for them in the tent of meeting; and the pillar of cloud descended upon it. God told them that while indeed he spoke to them, he spoke with Moses face to face. However, we must not forget that it was Jethro who helped Moses gain this knowledge of God.
After the encounter with God, when the pillar of cloud was lifted from the tent of meeting, there stood Miriam with her skin turned deadly white from leprosy. Apparently she had been the most vocal in repudiating Moses and Zipporah, and now Israel was obliged to repudiate her. Miriam had objected to her sister-in-law’s black skin; she was now forced to consider the consequences of having white skin. As Moses prayed, she was promptly healed from leprosy, but God insisted that she follow the appropriate regulation, spending a week outside the community. She could not hold a position of leadership until she recognized God’s sovereign choice: God uses many different kinds of individuals to give leadership to his people. When Miriam came to this knowledge, she was restored to her extended family, and to the people of Israel.
No, Zipporah did not have an easy life or an easy marriage, but she and her family were spiritual trail-blazers in the history of God’s dealings with His people.
The Queen of Sheba
Of the black and/or African people named in the Bible, one of the most outstanding is the Queen of Sheba. She heard not only of the wealth of Solomon, but also of his wisdom, as his ships carried to her shores news of his kingdom along with their cargo. The Bible says that she heard “of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord” (1 Kings 10:1). She must have been both highly intelligent and possessed of great intellectual curiosity, so she prepared to test Solomon with hard questions. This was not merely an intellectual exercise; she came because of his fame concerning the Lord—a spiritual quest that brought her on a journey by land and sea, perhaps more than a thousand miles. This was lengthy and dangerous, especially for a woman, and only to be attempted for matters of high consequence.
She came in a manner befitting a great queen, with a great retinue and camels bearing spices and very much gold, and precious stones (1 Kings 10:2). She had no need to gawk at Solomon’s wealth, for she herself brought great wealth with her as a gift to him. This is far more than just a royal state visit—she came to him as to a spiritual adviser. “When she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. And Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king which he could not explain to her” (1 Kings 10:2-3).
This woman had serious questions about God and his ways and his will. And God gave her answers. It is all right to have doubts, to wrestle with issues concerning God, to go on a long journey of questioning—because God can give you the answers, too. When the Queen of Sheba had pondered all that Solomon told her, and seen his administration and the way that he worshipped God, “there was no more spirit in her.” I think that means that all her resistance to God was gone, and hunger was satisfied. How many of us are willing to seek after a knowledge of God in this say” (God commands us to love Him with all our hearts and all our minds. It is loving God with your mind when you seek to know about Him.)
The Queen of Sheba paid a very great price in time, travel and energy, and she too was a spiritual trail-blazer. Jesus used her as a prophet and a spiritual example when he said,
“The queen of the South shall rise up in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, one greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42, Luke 11:31)
That African queen is a model for all of us in her quest for God; and Jesus has promised, “Seek and ye shall find.” Her spiritual receptivity was a lamp which still lights the long path to God. If by chance there is some reader who, regardless of sex or race or age, has never found Jesus Christ, the One greater than Solomon, then follow the example of the Queen of Sheba. Find all of your answers in Christ and give your heart and life to Him as Saviour and Lord.
Black and Beautiful
The next woman of whom I shall speak declared in a beautiful poem that she was black and beautiful (Song of Solomon 1:5). What a combination! A very unusual thing about this women was that she knew how beautiful she was, and yet she was never conceited or obnoxious about it. Even other women loved her. They called her “The fairest among women,” and they loved to have her in their company. How many beauty queens are like that? But, you see, her character was even more beautiful than her body. Have you ever heard the saying, “Pretty is as pretty does”? Well, she was a person of beautiful actions and attitudes.
Not that she did not face prejudice, even with all her beauty; but she dealt with it kindly and constructively. “Do not stare at me because I am black” (Song of Solomon 1:6). She went on to describe her humble origins as a village maiden. Her family had set her to care for vineyards and sheep; and she did not disguise her rural background or try to put on airs. She was used to hard work, and that was a part of her charm. She knew who she was and was proud of it. My mother would say that she had a conscious sense of self-worth. She had a positive picture of herself, neither overblown nor deflated.
The Bible says that we should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but to understand with sober judgment the gifts that God has given to each. That means, “Don’t sell yourself short.” Prize yourself as God prizes you. Jesus says that each believer is a gift from the Father to the Son. You are God’s gift to Jesus (John 17:6-11). Treat yourself respectfully as that gift. The Bible also says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (Corinthians 6:19, 20).
In the Song of Solomon, this woman put a healthy value on her own body and used it as a precious gift. She pointed the way toward the dedication to Christ of our own bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1).
She understood that she herself was a gift to her beloved; and she was happy to bring him the beauty of her body and mind. Both bride and bridegroom rejoiced in the beauty of the other, but each came to the other in the knowledge of their own worth. You see, the Song of Solomon—more properly called the Song of Songs—is a book about romantic love that ripened into marriage.
It is unusual to find an ancient piece of literature that speaks of falling in love and goes on to explore the joys of both sexual and emotional union. Some people say ”Nonsense, that kind of thing doesn’t have a place in the Bible. This is a book about the love that exists between Christ and the Church.” But even if one spiritualizes this poem, then the heavenly bride, the Church, is pictured as a beautiful black woman! People are always complaining that our young people are getting into trouble because they do not have adequate sex education. Well, they ought to pav more attention to the black woman and her message in the Song of Songs. It tells us what it is like to be attracted to someone, all the questions you ask about your beloved, how hard you try to get to know that person as a person. The lovers in this book talk to friends of their beloved, they ask about their homes, their hobbies, their favorite places and occupations. Shyly at first, they start communicating. They have a deep sense of beauty, they delight in sounds and smells and lights, and they share them with one another.
Experts say that the greatest need in marriage is to communicate. What these two have to say to each other is pure poetry. Notice the tenderness they exhibit toward each other. They understand that true love is based on far more than just bodily union. They need to understand each other’s soul. After a misunderstanding and temporary separation, they come together all the more joyfully and cement their love into a lifelong relationship.
Set me as a seal upon thine heart,
as a seal upon thine arm:
for love is strong as death;
jealousy is cruel as the grave:
the coals thereof are coals of fire,
which hath a most vehement flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can the floods drown it;
if a man would give all the substance of his
house for love,
it would be utterly scorned.
(Song of Solomon 8:6,7)
No, you cannot buy the kind of love which the beautiful black woman gave or received. She and her affections simply were not for sale. Her beauty had attracted the eye of King Solomon, and she recognized the splendor of his wealth; but she was not about to share her beloved with other women. “You, O Solomon, may have the thousand” (Song of Solomon 8:12). Hers was a deeply demanding and highly exclusive relationship. “I am my beloved’s and he is mine” (Song of Solomon 6:3, 7:10, 2:16). There was no room in her heart or mind for another, and she expected an equal commitment from her bridegroom. This is God’s pattern of human love at its most perfect, and we are led to understand it by a beautiful black woman.
New Testament Case Histories
As we come to the New Testament, we are sure that there were black women in Jerusalem who witnessed his crucifixion; but like most of the other women who followed Jesus, they are nameless and unidentified. We do know that his cross was carried by Simon of Cyrene, most probably a black, and if he is mentioned, there were black women present as well.
An influential woman in the book of Acts was Kandace, Queen of Ethiopia. Her chief treasurer had somehow come to worship the God of Israel, and she gave him permission to make the long journey to Jerusalem to bring his adoration and his tithe. Like most high-ranking officials in oriental courts, he was a eunuch. As such, Kandace entrusted him with high responsibility; and she respected his spiritual calling. A seeker, as he returned to Ethiopia, he took advantage of the journey to read the Scriptures. Itis then that he was joined by Philip the Evangelist and led to an understanding of the One who was bruised for our iniquities and chastised for our transgressions. He received Christ into his heart and life and went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:39). This is the end of the Bible account, but not the end of the story.
Very early there was a vigorous church established at several points in Africa, and the common supposition is that the Ethiopian treasurer was the first to bear the news and to plant churches. In this he appears to have supported and endorsed by the royal approval of Kandace. He was allowed the time, the funds, and the energy to make Christ known, Kandace was a supporter. How we need to support other Christians, to pray for and with them, to encourage their efforts in the Gospel. The Bible tells us to spur each other on to good works. Are you giving your Christian friends the nudge and the support that they need?
There was one church in the Bible that was very active in supporting Christian outreach. Two of its prominent members were black, Simon the Black and Lucius of Cyrene. Of course I amspeaking of the church at Antioch that sent out Paul and Barnabas and Silas. I know that this was a community where there were resident black people, both because of what the Bible says and what archaeology reveals. There is an ancient floor mosaic at Antioch that shows a black fisherman, with clearly Negroid features. He is so proud of his fine catch that he is positively strutting as he marches along, with his fish dangling from both ends of the pole that he carries! He was obviously a very positive member of the Antioch community, one of the many in the Antioch church who had a passion to get the Gospel out to the rest of the world.
Black is Blessed
Jesus told a parable about a woman baking bread. She put just a very small amount of yeast into the dough, and its action produced tremendous results. The yeast represents the good news of the Gospel and the transformed life in Christ.
If you bake your own bread, you know that you have to take very good care of the yeast. It is composed of living organisms, and first you have to scald the milk so that the bacteria will not kill them. Then you have to cool the milk, because too much heat will also kin the yeast. On the other hand, too cold an environment will not be conducive to its action either. Since yeast is alive, you cannot go by an absolute recipe. Each batch is different, and each will demand a differing amount of flour. You just have to get in there with your hands and work until you know the consistency is right.
Making bread is slow work, taking lots of energy, but the results are wonderful. That is the way it is with the Kingdom of God. We need to share the yeast of God’s Good News, because as we share, it will transform human lives.
Women and men of all colors must know that they are made in God’s image, that Jesus Christ died to redeem them, and that if they believe, He win be theirs and they win be his. Like Hagar, they need to know that God is ever-ready to hear; and like Zipporah they need to use all their gifts and knowledge of survival to help others. Like Jethro, they need to use their gifts of teaching and administration, and, like Hobab, they need to be willing to help guide those in need. Like the Queen of Sheba, they need to enlarge and better their minds and souls. Like the beautiful black woman of the Song of Songs, they need to love chastely with all-out commitment to their beloved. Like the Ethiopian high official, they need to seek above all for God’s truth and be ready to accept and act upon the answers God will provide those who seek Him. Like the men and women of Antioch, they need to go and give and pray. Like the woman placing yeast in her bread dough, we all need to be a transforming influence for Jesus Christ: Black is blessed, and may God make the world ready to receive this blessing!