Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe 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.

2 Corinthians 11:30-33

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.

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My last post discussed Paul’s description of his brutal persecution in his ministry for Christ. He concluded by saying that he was also consumed with anxiety for the well being of the churches he had planted and the congregants.

Paul is boasting, something he finds distasteful. However, he has to do it in order to contrast his godliness and authenticity with the venal, devilish false teachers who had inveigled themselves with the Corinthian congregation.

He says that, if he has to boast, he will do so by talking of his weaknesses (verse 30).

He says that God the Father knows that he is not lying (verse 31), something the false teachers said he had done.

Paul describes God more fully.

John MacArthur explains why (emphases mine):

… what he is saying is, “I’m going to call on God, the true and living God who is identified repeatedly in the New Testament as the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus.”

In other words, worshipping God is not enough. You are not worshipping the true God. You don’t know the true God unless you have identified Him as the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus.

Of this verse, Matthew Henry says:

It is a great comfort to a good man that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is an omniscient God, knows the truth of all he says, and knows all he does and all he suffers for his sake.

Paul mentions another episode of persecution, one that took place early in his ministry in Damascus.

He says that the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city in order to seize him (verse 32), but someone lowered him in a basket through a window in the wall, enabling his escape (verse 33).

The story is in Acts 9. Paul — still Saul at that point — had only regained his eyesight and his strength after his conversion when he began preaching. This episode in Damascus did not occur straightaway but some time after his conversion:

Saul Proclaims Jesus in Synagogues

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

Saul Escapes from Damascus

23 When many days had passed, the Jews[a] plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall,[b] lowering him in a basket.

The man who had been responsible for persecuting Christians in Jerusalem — including the death of St Stephen, the first martyr — experienced his own persecution shortly after his conversion. Persecution would be part of Paul’s life up to his own martyrdom in Rome.

MacArthur has more on this Damascene episode, which Paul recounts in more detail in Galatians 1:

The Lord, after he converted him, took him and sent him into Arabia – Nabatean, Arabia it used to be called. He sent him into Nabatean, Arabia, south of Damascus, somewhere between the Red Sea and the Euphrates River – in the modern era world, that area. He sent him into Nabatean, Arabia for three years. He didn’t have an seminary education, didn’t have any formal training, didn’t have anybody with him. God sent him down there, and the Lord Himself gave him his message. You remember he says that to the Galatians, “I didn’t get my gospel from any man. No man gave me this gospel. The Lord set me apart, took me down, and for three years he’s down in Arabia, and he’s preaching the gospel all over Arabia.

After three years, he comes back to Damascus. And when he gets back to Damascus, according to the ninth chapter of Acts, he starts to preach Christ. And the Jews, who have a synagogue in Damascus, are furious, because he’s preaching Christ as the Messiah, as the Savior, as the King of Israel. And so, they’re plotting his death.

Now, in Damascus there’s a colony of Arabs, who’ve migrated up from Nabatean, Arabia, and they live in Damascus. Damascus would be the main city in that part of the world. And I’ve been in Damascus; it’s an incredible place with an incredible history. It was the further eastern most extension of the Roman Empire as well, and it was a very formidable place.

So, Nabatean Arabians had migrated up. In fact, there were so many of them there that the colony was large enough to have a governor. And it says in verse 32, “In Damascus the ethnarch” – that’s the governor, and he would have been the guy assigned to govern this Arab colony in Damascus, he was under Aretas the king. Aretas is … a title rather than a name; Aretas is like Pharaoh or Caesar. It’s the title of the king of Nabatean, Arabia.

So, the king of Nabatean, Arabia, a man called Aretas, appointed some governor to kind of lead the colony of Arabs up there and rule over them. Well, what happened was Paul’s ministry down in Arabia had irritated the Arabians and the normal hostility and persecution that arises against the gospel arose there, and it migrated up into Damascus. And so, the Arabians somehow joined with the Jews. On the one hand, in Acts 9, you got the Jews plotting to kill him, and now you’ve got the Arabians involved.

Aretas had assigned this ethnarch, and is job – the Jews had given him the job – “to guard the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me.”

The word was out, “Paul’s in town; we’re going to get him.” The Jews wanted him dead, and the Arabs wanted to cooperate in the process. The Arabs were given the responsibility to guard the gates so that if he tried to get out of the city, they would seize him, and he would be executed.

Now, he had just gotten launched into the ministry, and already he’s got the Jewish and Gentile world after him. This was just the beginning of how it would be throughout his life, until one day he laid his head on the block in Rome, and a Roman executioner chopped it off, and he entered the presence of the Lord. From the beginning of his ministry to the end, this is all he ever knew.

This is how Paul was able to escape:

The wall of Damascus was very wide – wide enough to drive a chariot on. And homes were built up on the top of the wall, and some of them hung over the edge and had some windows, which would just be an opening, where some wooden doors could be opened or closed. And they figured out a scheme. They would get Paul up into one of those homes on the wall, and they would put him in a basket.

The word for basket here – sarganē – is a rope basket, not just a reed basket or straw basket, but a rope basket. You’d take rope and just wrap it into a basket form and somehow tie it all together. They’d have to be pretty strong to hold a full-size man.

Today, Paul would have been considered too confrontational:

And anybody in their right mind today, who sat him down, in our contemporary Christian environment, would have said, “You know, Paul, you really need to change your method; you’re just infuriating the whole world. I mean there’s got to be a soft sell here that you could develop. There’s got to be some subtleties, Paul. Everything can’t be blatant.” I mean he wouldn’t have known even what you were talking about

Pastors used to be much more Pauline, although that was so last century. I only ever heard one fire and brimstone sermon in my life. I was 12 or 13 at the time. An elderly Irish priest gave it. He was a retired pastor, stepping in for ours one weekend. He wore the traditional pre-Vatican II alb which had about six inches of lace at the bottom and at the ends of the sleeves. I will remember him for the rest of my life.

Perhaps we need more Pauline preaching today. My dad really enjoyed the Irish priest’s sermon and said he could have listened to him for hours. It reminded him of his childhood.

Build it and they will come. We’d stop calling new churchgoers ‘seekers’, because so many would come to church that a full house, so to speak, would become the norm once again. We would no longer have to think of those people as being in a special category.

We can but pray for such a happy eventuality.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 12:1, 11-13