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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 27

 

 


Verses 1-44

The journey to Rome has been seen as a striking picture of the history of the church publicly in its earlier years, with its rapid decline and eventual shipwreck. Paul is on board, but a prisoner, indicating that the truth he proclaimed was not given the liberty that is properly due to it, though there is some measure of respect for him. The end of the journey (and the end of Acts) sees Paul a prisoner in Rome itself, as in the great Roman church Paul's ministry has been confined severely for centuries, though he himself is given some measure of honor. Though Paul is emphatically "minister" of the truth of the body of Christ, the church (Colossians 1:24-25), yet that which professes to be the one church confines his ministry in such a way that it is ineffective so far as that church is concerned.

In verse 1 the word "we" is of precious interest. Luke has identified himself with Paul the prisoner, as we see he also did later when Paul was about to be offered (2 Timothy 4:6; 2 Timothy 4:11). Paul and other prisoners are put in custody of a centurion named Julius, who proves to be a considerate man. They find a ship that is expected to sail by way of the Asian coast. Aristarchus of Thessalonica is mentioned as being with them, no doubt a believer also who willingly identified himself with Paul. The ship stopping briefly at Sidon the next day, Julius showed remarkable kindness to Paul in allowing him to visit with his friends in the city. He evidently saw in Paul a character sufficiently trustworthy that he had no fears of his trying to escape.

Leaving Sidon, the ship carrying Paul and his company was required to change its plan of sailing close to the Asian coast because of contrary northerly winds, and sailed more westward on the south side of Cyprus. From there they travelled northwest to the Asian coast, arriving at Myra, a city of Lycia. Here they changed ships, the centurion finding an Alexandrian vessel due to sail to Italy. In trying to remain close to the coast, progress was slow, however, and many days elapsed in sailing about 100 miles. They still wanted to sail toward the northwest, but evidently headwinds prevented this, so that they turned southward and sailed around the east end of Crete and turned westward along its south coast. The sailing was hard there, but they finally arrived at a promontory of the island where they stopped in a small harbor called Fair Havens.

In all of this we are surely taught that much of the church's history has been influenced by the winds of circumstance. How often we too have found contrary winds that cause us to take a course much longer than we desire.

Because of unfavorable weather, time lengthens out, and with winter approaching, sailing was threatened by serious danger. Paul respectfully warned the centurion and the captain and owner of the ship that he perceived (not by distinct revelation, but by wisdom that perceived when danger threatened) that to proceed then would result in much damage to the ship and danger to their lives. However, both the captain and the owner were anxious to go on, and the centurion accepted their judgment, specially since Fair Havens was a small port, and Phenice, about forty miles further up the coast, would suit them much better. This has been an attitude repeated far too often in the history of the church. Though Paul's ministry has warned us of the dangers in the path, yet, instead of being content to wait on God while in confined circumstances, we act in view of finding better circumstances and run headlong into trouble.

The south wind blew softly. Outwardly the prospect seemed favorable, for the wind would keep them near the coast since they would be traveling northwest. All began well: they sailed close to Crete. But depending on present appearances is not depending on the Lord: in fact He had already spoken through Paul. When God has given His word, all rationalizing is disobedience to Him.

A violent change very soon took place. A northeast wind, Euraquillo as is understood by translators the most tempestuous known on the Mediterranean, arose with terrible fury. This drove the sailing vessel far off course, away from the Isle of Crete. It was impossible even to tack: they had to let the wind drive them toward Clauda, an island to the southwest, which they skirted on the south side. Luke mentions the difficulty with which they secured the lifeboat, which evidently was in danger of being swept overboard. In fact, it proved of no value to them anyway! We spend time and effort on human expedients to insure against possible danger, while the best insurance, obedience to God's word, we forget!

Using helps, they undergirded the ship, which is apparently called "trapping," done by passing cables around the ship to preserve it intact against the force of the waves. They lowered the gear also, which does not mean totally leaving themselves without sail, but with some lowered sail left they would at least have some measure of control remaining. Yet they were driven. The next day they lightened the ship by throwing overboard its cargo -- not all of it, for there was wheat at least left (v.38). The day following they threw out those furnishings of the ship that could be spared. Do we not see implicit in this the effort to preserve the church from ruin by means of giving up some of the valuable blessings with which the grace of God has blessed her?

This continued for many days with no glimpse of the sun or stars, no light from heaven to either cheer them or give guidance. Typically speaking, no doubt at the period of the church's history of which this is typical, many felt that they had been forgotten by God, but it was their own neglect of dependence on God that had brought them to this. They come to the point of despair as to the possibility of being saved from a watery grave.

Through all the time of the tumultuous tempest until everything seemed totally hopeless, Paul had restrained himself from speaking his mind about the matter; but finally boldly drew the attention of the crew, respectfully reminding them that they ought to have listened to his counsel before, yet not in an arrogant way, but in kindness encouraging them to take courage, for he assures them that none of their lives would be lost, though the ship would be. He speaks with fullest confidence that God had revealed this through His angel. The interest of God in that ship was mainly because of His servant being on board: that servant, Paul, must eventually stand before Caesar. Divine wisdom had ordained that this great man must hear the gospel through God's imprisoned servant. But it was added that God had given him all that sailed with him: their lives would be spared because of Paul's presence on the ship. Is there not here an indication that the ministry of Paul is a wonderful preservative for the saints of God though the outward testimony of the church is reduced to ruins?

His words to them are full of refreshing encouragement in contrast to the despair that others were so keenly feeling, for he says, "I believe God that it shall be even as it was told me." Whatever the causes of discouragement, this is the precious basis of all encouragement. However, he tells them that they would be "cast upon a certain island," a very descriptive phrase in view of what actually happened.

The ordeal continued until the fourteenth night, and it was a virtual miracle that all should survive through this. About midnight the sailors sensed that they were nearing land. Their soundings confirmed this, and fearing the possibility of shipwreck on the rocks, they threw Out four anchors. Other than in this chapter, we read of an anchor only Hebrews 6:19; but there the anchor is secured within the veil where Christ has entered. The anchor is our hope in Him, both sure and steadfast. In this case they later cut the anchors off and wrecked the ship (vs.40-41).

The sailors however lowered the lifeboat, wanting to give the impression that they were going to secure the bow of the ship by anchors, but with the intention of rowing to shore themselves. Paul discerned this and warned the centurion and soldiers that it was necessary that all must remain in the ship if they were to be saved at all. On this occasion the centurion believed Paul: experience had taught him enough for this. The soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat and the sailors had no time to board it. Typically, does this not tell us that deserting the testimony of the church is no remedy for its condition?

Day being about to break, Paul urged all on board to eat, since they had not done so for the fourteen days of violent weather. Because of troubles through which the church passes too, we neglect the feeding of our souls on the truth of the Word of God. In view of such a condition as 2nd Timothy contemplates, Paul also tells Timothy, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). Let us take Paul's words to heart. He accompanies this exhortation by the assurance that God would preserve all of them, certainly a hint of the eternal security of all true believers. Before them all he then took bread and gave thanks to God. His doing this, and himself eating, encouraged them all to eat also.

The number of people on the ship is recorded here -- 276. If all the soldiers under the centurion were on board, this would be 100. Therefore there were many passengers besides, including Luke and Aristarchus as well as the prisoners and of course the sailors. When all had eaten sufficient, the remaining cargo of wheat was thrown overboard to lighten the ship.

Daylight gave them no recognition of the land to which they had been driven, and they had no idea where they were. However they found themselves near the mouth of a creek bounded by shores rather than rocky crags, a convenient place for them to run the ship aground. If the weather had been favorable they may have tried proceeding along the shore to see if they could find a landing, but they were no longer inclined to battle with the wind and waves nor to risk the danger of being wrecked on the rocks.

After so traumatic an ordeal the captain of the ship had no hesitation in beaching it. They cut off the anchors and left them in the sea. Also loosening the lashings that had kept the rudders from movement and running up the foresail, they used the power of the wind to drive them as forcibly as possible toward the beach. The ship grounded in a place where two currents met and the prow stuck and remained unmoveable. The violence of the two contrary currents was directed against the stern, causing it to break up.

The cruel suggestion of the soldiers that the prisoners should be killed was forbidden by the centurion because of his regard for Paul. He gave orders that those who could swim should get to land that way, while the rest used boards or other paraphernalia of the ship to support themselves in the water. Paul's words were fulfilled in all getting safely to land.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Acts 27:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/acts-27.html. 1897-1910.

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Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020
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