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Bible readingThe 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 28:7-10

Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 They also honored us greatly,[a] and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.

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Last week’s entry discussed the welcome by the Maltese of Paul and the 275 other passengers who providentially survived the shipwreck.

They called Paul a ‘god’ when he shook off a poisonous viper off his hand and was unharmed.

John MacArthur says this, which relates to today’s Lectionary Gospel passage from Luke 10 (emphases mine):

Go back in your Bible to Luke 10. I’ll show you 2 passages. When the Lord first sent out the 70 to talk about the kingdom, they must have had a lot of snakes in those days. But when they sent them out he told them this promise, verse 19. Well, he gave them a lot of things. I like this. We’ll go back to verse 17. “And the 70 returned with joy saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us through your name.’” Horrific. “And he said unto them, ‘I beheld Satan as lightening fall from Heaven.’” Sure, he’s subject to my name, I remember when he fell.

Listen, “Behold I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall, by any means, hurt you.” Now he says don’t rejoice in the spiritual subject to you, rejoice that your names are written in Heaven. That’s a positive there. So he says I give you the power to tread on serpents. He sent them out with the ability to do that.

Now I want you to look at Mark 16:18. Now here he says to his disciples, now you’re going to in the world and many signs are going to accompany your ministry. You’re going to cast out demons. You’re going to speak with new languages. Verse 18, Mark 16. “They shall take up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them.” Now you see it’s fulfilled, isn’t it?

Now remember this, folks, that is not for today. You drink a bottle of poison you have no guarantees except that you’ll be dead. And if you play with poisonous snakes you cannot claim Mark 16:18. It’s interesting that the same people who want to claim that the speaking with new language was just for the apostles aren’t anxious to claim the drinking of poison or the playing with poisonous snakes.

This was purely for the apostolic era and an important thing but here’s the fulfillment of it. He just flicks off a poisonous snake. You say, well why this? I mean what a silly thing to happen. You know why God let that happen? Can you imagine the reaction of the people? God used miracles to confirm his apostles and to confirm their divine source and to confirm their word.

Incidentally, I can’t help when he flicked that snake off but think about the fact that ultimately, the ultimate snake is going to be flicked off – Satan himself. Romans 16:20, “I’ll shortly put Satan under your feet.” I like to think about that.

Luke, the author of Acts, does not tell us that Paul disabused them of the notion that he was a god, but we can be pretty sure that he did, because he shared the Good News wherever he went. Also recall that, at other times in Acts, Paul was quick to point out that he was a human being, not a deity:

Remember back in the 14th chapter he was there in the area of Galatia and there was this guy crippled from his birth, in verse 8, and Paul was preaching and he looked out and there was this guy and he says stand on your feet, fellow! The guy leaps up and jumps around. The people saw what he did. They lifted up their voices saying in the speech of Laconia, “The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas Jupiter and Paul Mercury.”

And they brought out a bunch of animals to sacrifice to Jupiter and Mercury, and Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes and ran crying, “Sirs, why are you doing these things? We are men of like passions with you. We preach unto you that you should turn from these vanities unto the living God.” See, he didn’t want to be a part of that proliferation of deities, that polytheism that they were involved in. They wanted to the representatives of the true God, not a god.

The chief of the island, Publius, put all 276 survivors up for three days, showing them much hospitality (verse 7).

Matthew Henry says that the three days allowed Publius to make arrangements for their long term stay, which was three months:

he had a considerable estate in the island, and some think was governor, and he received them and lodged them three days very courteously, that they might have time to furnish themselves in other places at the best hand. It is happy when God gives a large heart to those to whom he has given a large estate. It became him, who was the chief man of the island, to be most hospitable and generous,–who was the richest man, to be rich in good works.

Even though he was materially well off, Publius could not prevent illness in his family. His father had been suffering from dysentery, so Paul visited the man, prayed and laid hands on him. He was duly healed (verse 8).

The King James Version uses the term ‘bloody flux’ for ‘dysentery’, because that is what it was called at the time.

MacArthur explains:

Now 1611 medicine leaves a lot to be desired and the King James was written in 1611 and bloody flux just doesn’t seem to make it. Fever I understand. The word for fever in the Greek is the word puretos and it means a gastric fever. The fact that it is in the plural, fevers, indicates that it was a recurring gastric fever.

Now the bloody flux is the Greek word dusentaria from which we get the word dysentery which is an intestinal disease. Now what he really had here was some sort of recurrent dysentery and a gastric fever accompanying it. Some historians record that this was a common problem in Malta because they have a certain kind of microbe in their goat’s milk. And so here Publius’ father who has this gastric problem, dysentery, to whom Paul entered in, prayed, laid his hands on him and healed him.

After this miraculous healing, others with diseases went to Paul to be healed (verse 9).

MacArthur is certain that Paul preached as he healed:

What Paul was doing by praying and laying hands on was identifying God’s power and the fact that he was God’s agent.

Now there is something that isn’t said here but it needs to be added to the text in this sense. I am totally convinced that what Paul also did here is to preach. And I think the reason it doesn’t say that is because it’s so obvious. The Lord Jesus Christ did not perform miracles without speaking to point out the fact that these miracles were to corroborate the testimony of the gospel. Peter, when he performed miracles, earlier in Acts, preached Christ. Paul, when he did miracles, preached Christ, having established the conformation of divine agency he then proclaimed the divine message.

So if Paul healed, believe it, Paul preached. And tradition tells us that he founded in these days the church at Malta.

I am glad that MacArthur mentioned the tradition about Publius. Of course, we read no more of him in the Bible, but it is believed that he was the first Bishop of Malta:

And tradition also tells us that the first pastor of the Maltese Christians was Publius. And very likely, if he had a house that could handle 276 guests, that’s probably where the church began too. And so we can be, even though it doesn’t say, confidently, the church was founded then and agreeing with tradition that Publius may well have been the first pastor and the church could have possibly even have met in his house. Someday, just to be sure, we’ll check out the Lamb’s Book of Life when we get there and we’ll well see a list of Maltese names and at the top will be Publius, and maybe following it will be names like Julius, a Roman Centurion and a few other people from a certain ship that had a wreck on the Coast of Malta.

Saint Publius is venerated in the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches. Like the Apostle Paul, Publius also died as a martyr, but later, around 125 AD. Hadrian was emperor at the time.

The Maltese are friendly, open people, so it is not surprising to read Luke’s comment that they honoured all the shipwreck survivors greatly and, when it came time to leave, loaded their ship with everything necessary (verse 10).

I’ll have more about Paul’s journey to Rome next week.

Next time — Acts 28:11-16

Bible treehuggercomThe 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 28:1-6

Paul on Malta

28 After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2 The native people[a] showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice[b] has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

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We are now in the final chapter of Acts.

Last week’s post discussed the providential safety of all 276 persons who were on the ship which ran aground in Malta during the raging storm.

Luke, the author of Acts, was there, hence the first-person narrative (verse 1). He noted that they learned they were on Malta, which was part of the Roman Empire at that time.

The reason that no one knew where they had landed was probably because the shipwreck took place on a part of the island that was unfamiliar to them.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

The reason they didn’t recognize it when they arrived was because they came by way of a little bay now known as St. Paul’s Bay which was not the normal port. The normal port was a place called Valletta … and this was not Valletta. The sailors and the soldiers probably had been to Malta before but wouldn’t have recognized this part of the island. It wouldn’t have taken them very long, however, since it was a mile only 17 miles and 10 miles wide.

Valletta is the capital of Malta and some distance from St Paul’s Bay.

Interestingly, the place where they landed — St Paul’s Bay — is now the largest town in Malta, as the city’s Bay radio station reported in 2018:

St Paul’s Bay is officially the biggest town in Malta.

The popular seaside resort, which includes Bugibba, Qawra, Xemxija, Burmarrad and Wardija, has seen its population soar in recent years to 23, 112.

St Paul’s Bay has overtaken Birkirkara as the largest town in Malta, according to official figures from the National Statistics Office.

Birkirkara is now in second place with 23,034 residents, with Mosta third and Sliema in fourth place.

Mdina has the smallest population in Malta with 235 residents, followed by Għasri in Gozo with 421 people.

The figures show that Malta’s population now stands at 460,297 – and almost one in eight residents are aged over 65.

The Maltese were very kind to Luke, Paul and the other shipwreck victims. They lit a huge bonfire in order that they might warm themselves (verse 2).

In older versions of the Bible, ‘barbarous’ is used instead of the word ‘native’. That was not an insult, but, Luke, as a Greek speaker, used the word to denote any non-Greek speaking people: barbaroi. From this, we got the word ‘barbarian’ and ‘barbarous’.

They were pagans at the time, but as the Bible shows us, unbelievers were sometimes kinder to those in need than God’s own people. The Samaritans are a case in point.

Matthew Henry’s commentary expands on this:

So far were they from making a prey of this shipwreck, as many, I fear, who are called Christian people, would have done, that they laid hold of it as an opportunity of showing mercy. The Samaritan is a better neighbour to the poor wounded man than the priest or Levite. And verily we have not found greater humanity among Greeks, or Romans, or Christians, than among these barbarous people; and it is written for our imitation, that we may hence learn to be compassionate to those that are in distress and misery, and to relieve and succour them to the utmost of our ability, as those that know we ourselves are also in the body. We should be ready to entertain strangers, as Abraham, who sat at his tent door to invite passengers in (Hebrews 13:2), but especially strangers in distress, as these were. Honour all men. If Providence hath so appointed the bounds of our habitation as to give us an opportunity of being frequently serviceable to persons at a loss, we should not place it among the inconveniences of our lot, but the advantages of it; because it is more blessed to give than to receive. Who knows but these barbarous people had their lot cast in this island for such a time as this!

Paul, as ever, made himself useful by gathering sticks — brushwood — to keep the fire going, when he was bitten by a viper (verse 3).

Paul loved to serve people and, in doing so, imitated Christ. MacArthur points out:

Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto” – but what – “to minister and to give his life a ransom for many.” This is always a quality of true leadership. So we ought to add it to our study … True leadership includes the mentality of a servant; the eagerness to do the humble task as well as the exalted one.

Humility is absolute to true spiritual leadership. Look at Jesus in John 13, washing the disciples’ feet and he says then to those 11 leaders, or Judas, of course, would not be included in the ultimate fulfillment but he says to them, “You do what I have done to you.” In other words, you lead with a servant mentality. You stoop to meet the needs of each other. If you’re too important to get dirty, you’re too important to wash feet, if you’re too important to pick up sticks you’re not as important as you think you are.

The presence of the viper is still a subject of lively debate unto this day. Malta is not known to have poisonous snakes, yet these people recognised that this beast was venomous. In 2014, the Times of Malta published an article by an expert in local flora and fauna who says that Luke was wrong; they all landed on neighbouring Melita, which does have venomous snakes. However, it is also possible that, as a Maltese historian posits, humans introduced venomous snakes, which died out over time.

Luke’s words — ‘fastened on his hand’ — meant that the snake injected venom into it.

The Maltese watched what was happening and believed that Justice — a goddess of theirs — would not allow Paul to live. They wrongly assumed he was a murderer who must die for his deeds as punishment (verse 4).

However, Paul shook off the snake, which landed in the fire (verse 5).

Henry says:

It was well they did not knock him down themselves, when they saw he did not swell and fall down; but so considerate they are as to let Providence work, and to attend the motions of it.

After the Maltese saw that Paul was unharmed by the snakebite, they revered him as a god (verse 6).

Henry says that we can view Paul’s shaking off the snake as an allegory about resisting temptation:

He carelessly shook off the viper into the fire, without any difficulty, calling for help, or any means used to loosen its hold; and it is probable that it was consumed in the fire. Thus, in the strength of the grace of Christ, believers shake off the temptations of Satan, with a holy resolution, saying, as Christ did, Get thee behind me, Satan; The Lord rebuke thee; and thus they keep themselves, that the wicked one toucheth them not, so as to fasten upon them, 1 John 5:18. When we despise the censures and reproaches of men, and look upon them with a holy contempt, having the testimony of conscience for us, then we do, as Paul here, shake off the viper into the fire. It does us no harm, except we fret at it, or be deterred by it from our duty, or be provoked to render railing for railing.

Both commentators point out the fickle nature of mankind, as the Maltese onlookers displayed in this narrative. Within minutes they changed their mind about Paul, who went from murderer to god in their estimation.

Henry makes this observation and reminds us of another time in Acts when something similar happened:

See the uncertainty of popular opinion, how it turns with the wind, and how apt it is to run into extremes both ways; from sacrificing to Paul and Barnabas to stoning them; and here, from condemning him as a murderer to idolizing him as a god.

Of course, Paul would have disabused them of such a notion.

However, the purpose of this miracle was to ready the Maltese for the Gospel — and more miracles among them.

Next time — Acts 28:7-10

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

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe 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 27:27-32

27 When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. 28 So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms.[a] A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms.[b] 29 And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. 30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s revelation of the vision he had of the angel of God — whom Paul worshipped and to whom he belonged — of deliverance from the storm. However, he said, they would have to reach land in order for it to happen.

Now they had been in a relentless nor’easter for a fortnight in the Adriatic — not the present day Adriatic Sea, although that is what it was called in the Ancient World — when the sailors had reason to believe they were nearing land, around midnight (verse 27).

John MacArthur explains the location (emphases mine):

Adria, in ancient times, referred to the central Mediterranean, that whole area. And they didn’t really know where they were, other than that they were somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean in the Sea Adria. Well, “as they were driven up and down in Adria” – and that gives you an idea that they had no idea where they were going because they didn’t even know if whether it was up or down – “about midnight the sailors deemed that they drew near to some country.”

Even in those days, sailors had sounding instruments of some sort to check sea depths, so those on Paul’s ship found a depth of 20 fathoms. Further on, they took another sounding and found a depth of 15 fathoms (verse 28). One fathom is approximately two yards or two meters.

It being dark, the crew feared a shipwreck, so they let four anchors down to stabilise their position and prayed for daylight (verse 29).

Matthew Henry gives us a practical application of their situation:

When those that fear God walk in darkness, and have no light, yet let them not say, The Lord has forsaken us, or, Our God has forgotten us; but let them do as these mariners did, cast anchor, and wish for the day, and be assured that the day will dawn. Hope is an anchor of the soul, sure and stedfast, entering into that within the veil. Hold fast by that, think not of putting to sea again, but abide by Christ, and wait till the day break, and the shadows flee away.

I know of a Catholic four-year college in the US that used to have a class ring with a Cross with two anchors crossed beneath it, diagonally. Those are the anchors of faith.

The sailors were understandably frightened. They decided to lower the lifeboat into the sea, climb aboard and desert the ship to somehow save themselves (verse 30).

Henry warns against such treachery:

having the command of the boat, the project was to get all of them into that, and so save themselves, and leave all the rest to perish. To cover this vile design, they pretended they would cast anchors out of the fore-ship, or carry them further off, and in order to this they let down the boat, which they had taken in (Acts 27:16,17), and were going into it, having agreed among themselves, when they were in to make straight for the shore. The treacherous seamen are like the treacherous shepherd, who flees when he sees the danger coming, and there is most need of his help, John 10:12. Thus true is that of Solomon, Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth or a foot out of joint. Let us therefore cease from man. Paul had, in God’s name, assured them that they should come safely to land, but they will rather trust their own refuge of lies than God’s word and truth.

However, Paul saw what they were doing, went directly to the centurion — Julius — and his men. Paul told them that, unless everyone remained on board, no one would be saved (verse 31).

Henry says that, even if the sailors had deserted, God would no doubt have saved Paul and everyone else in some way.

Henry then provides thoughts on the adage that is not in the Bible but is nonetheless applicable to a life of faith: God helps those who help themselves. This is Henry’s brief analysis, which is well worth remembering:

Duty is ours, events are God’s; and we do not trust God, but tempt him, when we say, “We put ourselves under his protection,” and do not use proper means, such as are within our power, for our own preservation.

Returning to the story, the centurions quickly cut the ropes tying the lifeboat to the ship, preventing any cowardly escapes by the sailors (verse 32).

MacArthur says:

I’m not sure Paul advised them to do that because they could have used that dinghy. They could have used it to get to shore later on. As it turns out they’re going to have to swim. But, apparently, the centurion thought it necessary to stop them.

I would like to cover nautical and historical information that MacArthur gives. Cauda, which he mentions, is called Gavdos today and is the southernmost Greek island. It is located just south of Crete:

Verse 27 then indicates that the sailors heard the surf pounding. It’s interesting to look at a little bit of nautical insight into this. Now mark this. The distance from Cauda, on your map, to Malta, is 476.6 miles. Now, Mediterranean navigators have supplied information that indicates that such a ship in a gale or hurricane wind would drift about 36 miles every 24 hours.

If they were fighting into the wind to try to compensate, they would be able to go about 36 miles every 24 hours. Now, if that was true, it would take them exactly 13 days, one hour and 21 minutes to be driven from Cauda to Malta. You add one day from Fair Havens to Cauda and you have the sum of fourteen. So navigational information, nautical judgments corroborate, specifically, the fact that is in fact a 14-day journey if you happen to take it in a hurricane.

Now, according to further calculations, and as I said at the beginning of this study last Lord’s day, many archeologists and many historians have studied this passage for its nautical information. And so many secular minds have been applied to this passage. But according to these calculations, it would be on the 14th day that they would have been less than three miles from the entrance of the harbor at Malta that today is called, for obvious reasons, Saint Paul’s Harbor. So the nautical people tell us that in exactly 14 days at that speed they would be three miles from the entrance to Saint Paul’s Harbor.

Now notice that Malta is a dot in the Mediterranean. You have to see here the providence of God, don’t you? There’s no other conclusion. The Scripture is so accurate. The soundings that they then took indicate that they are passing Koura. Notice that Melita, or Malta on the map, the very east point of it is called Koura, K-O-U-R-A. And by the time they would have passed Koura, they would have been about a quarter mile from shore, and that’s why they would have heard the pounding. A quarter mile from the east point shore, three miles yet to go until they would come right into the harbor, now called Saint Paul’s Bay.

That harbour is still known as St Paul’s Bay, although, strangely, the Apostle is not the town’s patron saint.

Koura is today known as Qawra, which is Maltese.

Continuing on with MacArthur’s explanation:

And do they heard the pounding of the furious surf being driven by the wind to crush the shore. Well, of course, as soon as they heard that they wanted to find out how near they were, so verse 28 says, “They sounded,” – that is they dropped sounding devises into the sea to determine the depth. – “and they found they were twenty fathoms.” A fathom is approximately six feet, so you can multiply that and figure out they’re about 120 feet. And then they went a little further it says, probably about a half an hour. “They then sounded again and found it fifteen fathoms.” And even today it’s interesting that the – that the geography around Malta supports this very text, that these are very accurate features. “And they found it fifteen fathoms,” so they were really moving toward the shore.

I have found an essay online, complete with maps, which discusses St Paul’s journey. I will write about it once I finish covering this perilous sea journey — which continues next week.

Next time — Acts 27:33-38

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