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Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 12:6-11

Peter Is Rescued

Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

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Last week’s entry discussed St Luke’s — the author of Acts — account of Herod Agrippa’s beheading of James, the brother of John (the sons of Zebedee). Herod then went after Peter during Passover in order to please the Jews. He had Peter imprisoned and watched by 16 guards. Meanwhile, the church in Jerusalem prayed earnestly for his safety and that God would somehow release him.

John MacArthur preached that such prayer was an extreme spiritual effort. The Greek word used is ektenoce, which he explained is a medical term used when describing muscles stretched to their limit.

Matthew Henry believed that there was a rotating prayer vigil by the people for Peter (emphases mine):

It was an extended prayer; they prayed for his release in their public assemblies (private ones, perhaps, for fear of the Jews); then they went home, and prayed for it in their families; then retired into their closets, and prayed for it there; so they prayed without ceasing: or first one knot of them, and then another, and then a third, kept a day of prayer, or rather a night of prayer, for him, Acts 12:12. Note, Times of public distress and danger should be praying times with the church; we must pray always, but then especially.

It was nearing the time for Herod to release Peter for a show trial then sentence him to death (verse 6). That night, Peter was sleeping between two of the soldiers, chained to each of them. Sentries were outside guarding the prison.

An angel of the Lord appeared in Peter’s cell, a divine light brightening the area (verse 7). The angel gave him a sharp blow to awaken him immediately — and enough to function. When Peter stood, he found his chains broke and fell to the ground.

Herod thought his scheme was literally iron-clad, but God always has the upper hand on His creation, especially evildoers who think they are more powerful than He.

Furthermore, God does not forget His own. We see that clearly illustrated in this event. Henry tells us:

He seemed as one abandoned by men, yet not forgotten of his God; The Lord thinketh upon him. Gates and guards kept all his friends from him, but could not keep the angels of God from him: and they invisibly encamp round about those that fear God, to deliver them (Psalms 34:7), and therefore they need not fear, though a host of enemies encamp against them, Psalms 27:3. Wherever the people of God are, and however surrounded, they have a way open heavenward, nor can any thing intercept their intercourse with God.

The angel told Peter to put on his clothes and sandals and to wrap a cloak around himself. The King James Version is more specific:

And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.

Readers might recall Jeremiah 1:17-19 in the KJV:

17 Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them.

18 For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land.

19 And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.

John MacArthur describes girding of the loins:

they used to wear an inner garment that hung very loosely and in the daytime they’d cinch it up with a belt. At night they’d loosen the belt and let it hang loose.

There is also a connotation of preparing to act. The Free Dictionary provides this definition:

gird (up) (one’s) loins
To summon up one’s inner resources in preparation for action.

Once Peter was dressed, he followed the angel but thought he was receiving a vision (verse 9). One can imagine he had probably dreamt of being released, and, in a possibly groggy state, believed this was too good to be true.

Henry reminds us of Psalm 126:1. I included the next two verses as this was probably how Peter felt later when he realised what had happened:

126 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
    we are glad.

Verse 10 tells us that they passed the first, then the second, guard. The iron gate opened by itself. As they went along one street, the angel suddenly left Peter. That was because Peter was now free and knew his surroundings.

Henry discusses the gate:

And probably the iron gate shut again of itself, that none of the guards might pursue Peter. Note, When God will work salvation for his people, no difficulties in their way are insuperable; but even gates of iron are made to open of their own accord. This iron gate led him into the city out of the castle or tower; whether within the gates of the city or without is not certain, so that, when they were through this, they were got into the street.

This is more than history. Henry gives us much to consider:

This deliverance of Peter represents to us our redemption by Christ, which is often spoken of as the setting of prisoners free, not only the proclaiming of liberty to the captives, but the bringing of them out of the prison-house. The application of the redemption in the conversion of souls is the sending forth of the prisoners, by the blood of the covenant, out of the pit wherein is no water, Zechariah 9:11. The grace of God, like this angel of the Lord, brings light first into the prison, by the opening of the understanding, smites the sleeping sinner on the side by the awakening of the conscience, causes the chains to fall off from the hands by the renewing of the will, and then gives the word of command, Gird thyself, and follow me. Difficulties are to be passed through, and the opposition of Satan and his instruments, a first and second ward, an untoward generation, from which we are concerned to save ourselves; and we shall be saved by the grace of God, if we put ourselves under the divine conduct. And at length the iron gate shall be opened to us, to enter into the New Jerusalem, where we shall be perfectly freed from all the marks of our captivity, and brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

The broken chains remained in the cell:

Tradition makes a mighty rout about these chains, and tells a formal story that one of the soldiers kept them for a sacred relic, and they were long after presented to Eudoxia the empress

When Peter was fully alert, he then realised that he had experienced a miracle that delivered him from Herod and the Jewish people who wanted the Apostle dead (verse 11).

This is the KJV:

11 And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.

The Bible MacArthur used for his sermon has the word ‘considered’. He provides this interpretation:

“And when he had considered,” I love that word considered soonhedon, soon means together and hedon means to see. To consider means to see together. It means to take all the parts of something and see it together in perspective.

Now we can see that Peter might have been thinking along the lines of Jeremiah 1:19 above.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 12:12-17

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