Apart from Egypt, Ethiopia is the most frequently mentioned African country in the Bible. It was sometimes called Cush and its people were dark-skinned. It bordered Egypt to Egypt’s south and, like Egypt, was centred on the Nile River. The region it occupied is today the northern part of Sudan (Isa 18:1-2; Jer 13:23; Ezek 29:10; for map of the region see EGYPT). To most of the people of Palestine, Ethiopia was the southernmost country they knew of. Writers frequently used its name poetically to symbolize the unlimited extent of God’s sovereign rule (Ps 68:31; Isa 11:11; Ezek 30:4-5; Zeph 3:10). Individuals from Ethiopia feature occasionally in the Old Testament story.

During Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan, Moses married an Ethiopian woman, probably after his first wife had died (Num 12:1). In later times an Ethiopian who worked in the palace of the Judean king saved the life of God’s prophet Jeremiah (Jer 38:7-13; 39:15-18). Ethiopia features in the biblical record mainly during the period of the divided Israelite kingdom, when it attacked Judah on at least two occasions (2 Chron 12:2-4; 14:9-15). Later it gained control over Upper Egypt, and for about half a century exercised a strong influence over Egypt. It even challenged Assyria, which was the leading power of the time (2 Kings 19:8-9; Nahum 3:8-9). The challenge brought little success and soon Ethiopia, along with its ally Egypt, suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Assyria (Isa 20:3-6). It subsequently fell under the control of Babylon, and then under the control of Persia (Esther 1:1). In pre-New Testament times, Ethiopia was one of the many countries where Jews settled and established communities. Some Ethiopians attended the Jewish synagogues and became worshippers of the God of Israel (see DISPERSION; PROSELYTE). One of these worshippers of God, or ‘God-fearers’, was among the first non-Jewish people to become Christians in the time of the early church (Acts 8:27-38).

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