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Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe 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 omit — 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 27:39-44

The Shipwreck

39 Now when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to run the ship ashore. 40 So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. 41 But striking a reef,[a] they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. 43 But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, 44 and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.

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In last week’s entry, Paul brought the crew and prisoners together to share a meal — their first in a fortnight. Paul gave thanks to God in front of everyone.

Paul had been correct about every aspect about this horrific sea journey, therefore, the men trusted him, especially Julius the centurion.

So here they were nearing land. They had no idea where they were, only that there was a bay with a beach upon which they hoped to get the ship ashore (verse 39).

In order to get the boat ashore, they left the anchors in the sea and loosened the ropes around the rudders before raising the foresail to the wind, enabling them to reach the beach (verse 40). The weight they needed on sea was now unnecessary and, in fact, would inhibit them reaching shore had they kept everything intact.

Matthew Henry’s commentary sets the potentially perilous scene for us with no one on shore to help guide them onto land (emphases mine):

… here we are told, 1. That they knew not where they were; they could not tell what country it was they were now upon the coast of, whether it was Europe, Asia, or Africa, for each had shores washed by the Adriatic Sea. It is probable that these seamen had often sailed this way, and thought they knew every country they came near perfectly well, and yet here they were at a loss. Let not the wise man then glory in his wisdom, since it may perhaps fail him thus egregiously even in his own profession. 2. They observed a creek with a level shore, into which they hoped to thrust the ship, Acts 27:39. Though they knew not what country it was, nor whether the inhabitants were friends or foes, civil or barbarous, they determined to cast themselves upon their mercy; it was dry land, which would be very welcome to those that had been so long at sea. It was a pity but they had had some help from the shore, a pilot sent them, that knew the coast, who might steer their ship in, or another second ship, to take some of the men on board. Those who live on the sea-coast have often opportunity of succouring those who are in distress at sea, and of saving precious lives, and they ought to do their utmost in order to it, with all readiness and cheerfulness; for it is a great sin, and very provoking to God, to forbear to deliver those that are driven unto death, and are ready to be slain; and it will not serve for an excuse to say, Behold, we knew it not, when either we did, or might, and should, have known it, Proverbs 24:11,12.

They struck a reef — or a place between two bodies of water — and struck land. The bow could not be moved, and the surf broke up the stern (verse 41).

The place they landed is today known as St Paul’s Bay in Malta, as Wikipedia explains:

Saint Paul’s Bay (Maltese: San Pawl il-Baħar, Italian: Baia di San Paolo) is a town in the Northern Region of Malta, sixteen kilometres (9.9 miles) northwest of the capital Valletta. Saint Paul’s Bay is the largest town in the Northern Region and the seat of the Northern Regional Committee along with being the most populous town in Malta.

Its name refers to the shipwreck of Saint Paul as documented in the Acts of the Apostles on St. Paul’s Islands near St Paul’s Bay, on his voyage from Caesarea to Rome, which laid the foundations of Christianity on the island.

Burmarrad, Wardija, Qawra, Buġibba, Xemxija, and San Martin, as well as part of Bidnija and Mistra, form part of St. Paul’s Bay Local Council.[2] The area of the locality is 14.47 km2 (6 sq mi).

The population in 2018 was 23,112. This goes up to about 60,000 between June and September with Maltese residents and tourists lodging in hotels, especially in Buġibba and Qawra.

Heading north is Mistra Bay, its headland and St Paul’s Island. Going west and crossing the island towards Ġnejna Bay and Golden Bay is the scenic Wardija Ridge.

Afterwards, still in the days of the Roman Empire:

St. Paul’s Bay became an important harbour. Remains of a Roman road, baths and beehives, have been found at Xemxija, while Roman anchors were found on the seabed.

Oddly, St Paul is not the patron saint of the bay. Instead, the patron saints are Our Lady of Sorrows, the Sacred Heart of Mary and St Francis of Assisi.

Returning to Luke’s account of the shipwreck, the Roman soldiers were highly concerned about any prisoners escaping. This was because, under Roman law, a guard would be made to assume his escapee’s sentence. That could mean prison or death.

Therefore, the soldiers planned to kill the prisoners, thereby preventing any escape (verse 42).

However, Julius the centurion, their commanding officer, ordered them not to do that (verse 43). He wanted to save Paul, whom he liked from the time the Apostle was assigned to his ship to sail to Rome for trial.

Julius ordered those who could swim to do so and the rest could buoy themselves on planks or pieces of the ship.

In the end, everyone landed safely on Malta (verse 44).

John MacArthur elaborates on the concluding verses of Acts 27, which really describe a divine miracle, because the violent storm was still raging:

So they head in and they’re headed, supposedly, for a beachy area by a creek “and falling into a place where two seas met.”

That, friends, is a very difficult phrase. Dithalassos is the one word. The translation “two seas meet” may not even be an accurate translation. It probably means a shoal or a reef. They could have called it the dithalassos in this sense. In the middle of Saint Paul’s Bay, there is a small island called Salmanetta, and the waters from the west and the waters from the east meet behind this island. And it may have been that they assumed that the island was actually an extension of the mainland. And when they went into that area, they realized that there was water behind the island, and where those two seas met there had been the pushing together of sand that created sand bars. Whatever the significance of it is, they ran aground into the sand bars.

Verse 41 says, “Falling into a place where two seas met they ran the ship aground and the bow stuck fast and remained unmovable, but the stern was broken with the violence of the waves.” So here the bow is stuck in the sand bar, apparently a great distance from the shore and the waves, the tremendous hurricane waves are just smashing the stern of the ship and splintering it to pieces. And so there they are, stuck while the ship disintegrates.

That brings us to the fifth stage in this record, the safety. And here comes the great ending, verse 42. And notice, the soldiers were afraid of not only losing their own lives but of losing their prisoners, because when a Roman soldier lost his prisoner he had to take his prisoner’s sentence. Remember that? So he didn’t want to lose his prisoner. And so the soldiers panicked, verse 42, “The soldiers’ counsel was to kill the prisoners lest any of them should swim out and escape.”

So they were going to slaughter Paul and all the rest of the prisoners on the ship so they wouldn’t get away. But the centurion moves in and saves Paul’s life. And all the rest of the prisoners could thank Paul, too, for having their lives saved. Verse 43, “But the centurion, willing to save Paul,” – I mean he knew this. We – we’ve got to have this guy. Without him we have no chance. – “kept them from their purpose,” – He restrained the soldiers from killing the prisoners – “commanded that they who could swim should cast themselves first into the sea and get to land.”

You know, “everybody in the pool” was the call. And if you can swim, hit it. “And the rest, some on boards and some on broken pieces of the ship.” I mean that thing was disintegrating right there and they were just grabbing onto whatever they could if they couldn’t swim. Well, you can imagine the 276 people diving into a hurricane water, grabbing boards and floating debris and trying to make it to shore. But you know something wonderful? Verse 44 ends this way. “And so it came to pass that they” – What? – “all escaped safely to the land.” That is incredible. Absolutely incredible; 276 people jumped in the water and 276 people met on the shore in a hurricane.

God was at work accomplishing His divine purpose.

MacArthur describes how He used Paul as His instrument for all those survivors:

The first thought those people must have had is, “You know, that God that Paul worships, He’s right. His word is true. He said this would happen. Look, it has happened.” You see how God not only credibly establishes His own veracity, but He establishes the veracity of His leader, Paul, doesn’t He? God keeps His word

God’s word is reliable and God established that in this marvelous incident.

More will follow about Paul’s time in Malta en route for Rome.

Next time — Acts 28:1-6

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