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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Acts 9

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1-2

Acts 9:1-2. And Saul, yet ( ετι, adhuc, hitherto, or still) breathing out threatenings and slaughter — This very emphatical expression refers to what is related of Saul, Acts 8:3; (where see the note;) and it shows that his zeal against the followers of Christ was so outrageous that he could be satisfied with nothing less than their utter destruction. It shows too, that the Jews were now at liberty to put them to death; probably, as Macknight observes, “because between the removal of Pontius Pilate, and the accession of Herod Agrippa, in the second year of the Emperor Claudius, who gave him all the dominions of his grandfather, Herod the Great, there was no procurator in Judea to restrain their intemperate zeal.” Saul, therefore, being thus freed from restraint, and at liberty to pursue his malicious design of endeavouring to effect their extirpation; went to the high-priest — Whom he knew to be much exasperated against them; and desired of him letters to Damascus — It is generally supposed that Caiaphas now filled the office of high-priest; and if so, as he was an inveterate enemy of Christ, and had a principal hand in his crucifixion, he would doubtless be glad to employ so active and bigoted a zealot as Saul in carrying on the persecution against them, which at this time was very violent and severe. To the synagogues — From this, and from Acts 9:20 th, where Paul is said to preach Christ at Damascus in the synagogues of the Jews, it appears there were more than one in that city, as there were also in divers other cities of the Gentiles. These synagogues, it seems, had a jurisdiction over their own members, in the exercise of which, however, they were sometimes directed, as on this occasion, by the high-priest and council at Jerusalem. At this time Damascus was full of Jews. Indeed, being the capital city of Syria, it generally abounded with them; so much so, that Josephus assures us ten thousand of them were once massacred there in one hour; and at another time, eighteen thousand with their wives and children. (Joseph. Bell., lib. 2. cap. 20; and lib. 7. cap. 8.) Now in a place which so much abounded with Jews, it is very likely there would be some Christians. Probably, indeed, some of those whom persecution had driven from Jerusalem had taken refuge there, and by their zeal and diligence had been instrumental in making converts to the faith of Christ. If so, it must have exceedingly vexed Saul to find that his endeavours to extirpate Christianity only tended to spread it the more, and to increase the number of those who embraced it. This, of course, would the more inflame his rage against Christ’s disciples, and excite him to make still greater efforts to destroy them, and exterminate their religion. Be this as it may, understanding that there were Christians at Damascus, although it was at a great distance from Jerusalem, he resolved to go thither, with his new commission from the high-priest; that if he found any there of this way — Any of the Christian community; whether they were men or women — For he and his employers spared no age or sex; he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem — To be proceeded against in the severest manner by the sanhedrim. He was not content with having driven many of them into exile, and with having imprisoned others, (Acts 8:3,) but he thirsted for their blood. And, as he was joined by assistants equally bigoted and furious with himself, the news of their coming reached Damascus before they arrived, and greatly terrified the saints, Acts 9:14; Acts 9:21. The Lord, however, marvellously interposed for their deliverance, and probably in answer to their united and fervent prayers; but in a way which, it is likely, none of them had thought of.


Verses 3-5

Acts 9:3-5. And as he journeyed — Full of wrath against the Lord’s disciples; and came near to Damascus, suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven — This, doubtless, was occasioned by the rays of glory which darted from our Lord’s body. Some have thought that Saul, being a learned Jew, would easily know this to be the Shekinah, or visible token of the divine presence; and that he therefore cried out, Who art thou, Lord? — Though he saw no human form. But the question certainly rather implies, that he did not know who or what he was who spoke to him: and it is plain, from Acts 22:14, and other texts, that he did see, amidst this glory, a human form, which yet he might not at first imagine to be that of Jesus, though Stephen had, probably in his hearing, declared that he saw a vision of this kind. See Acts 7:55-56. And he fell to the earth — As did also all those that journeyed with him, according to the relation which he himself gives, Acts 26:14. They all fell prostrate from fear or reverence, supposing the supernatural light which they saw to be an indication of the appearance of some divine person or angel. Thus Saul, when his rage is come to the highest, is taught not to breathe slaughter. And what was wanting in time to confirm him in his discipleship, is compensated by the inexpressible terror he sustained. By this also the suddenly-constituted apostle was guarded against the grand snare in which novices are apt to fall, namely, that of pride and high-mindedness. And — To his great astonishment; he heard a voice — Severe, yet full of grace; saying unto him — In the Hebrew language, (Acts 26:14,) Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? — The persecutions of Christ’s disciples are here represented as the persecutions of Christ himself; because of their union with him by the Holy Spirit, which renders them members of his body; and because of that sympathy which he has with them under all their sufferings. See Hebrews 4:15; Isaiah 63:9. And he said, Who art thou, Lord? — And what is it that I have done against thee? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest — Who can describe the amazement and terror which must have seized Saul on hearing these words? The name of Jesus was not unknown to him; his heart had risen at it in anger and resentment many a time; and gladly would he have buried it in oblivion. He knew it was the name that he persecuted; but little did he expect to hear it from heaven, or from the midst of such glory as now shone round about him. It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks — Thou wilt find it hard for thee to accomplish thy malicious designs against me; nay, all thy fury can only wound thyself, without being able to do me or my cause any real injury. For, as Dr. Hammond rightly observes, this is a proverbial expression, signifying that impotent rage which hurts one’s self, and not the person or thing against which it is levelled.


Verse 6

Acts 9:6. And, trembling and astonished — To find that he whom he had so often affronted and despised, yea, blasphemously and virulently opposed, even Jesus of Nazareth, was such a glorious and powerful person; and yet, that instead of destroying him immediately, as he might have easily done, he had condescended thus compassionately to expostulate with him, he was overwhelmed with confusion and dismay; and in the deepest self-abasement and contrition, said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do — What is thy will concerning me? Can mercy be extended to me? If so, I am prepared for any submission, self-denial, labour, or hardship which may be required of me. These were the first words that grace spoke in and by Saul; and with these began his spiritual life. In these he manifested a serious desire to be instructed by Christ in his duty, and a sincere resignation of himself to Christ’s conduct and government. And the Lord said, Arise, and go into the city, &c. — To which thou art now near; and it shall be told thee what thou must do — Thou shall be instructed in all things which I have appointed concerning thee. It was encouragement enough to Saul, to have further instruction promised him. But, 1st, He must not have it yet: it shall be told him by and by what he must do: but for the present he must pause upon what has been already said to him; and must improve that: let him consider a while what he has done in persecuting Christ and his people, and be deeply humbled for that, and then he shall be told what he has further to do. 2d, He must not have further instructions in this way, by a voice from heaven, for it is what he cannot bear. He trembles and is astonished; he shall be told, therefore, what he must do, by a man like himself, whose terror shall not make him afraid. Observe, Christ declares his mind to his people by degrees; and both what he doth, and what he would have them do, though they know not now, they shall know hereafter.


Verse 7

Acts 9:7. And the men which journeyed with him — Who at first fell to the ground, as Saul did: upon recovering themselves and rising up; stood speechless — With astonishment and terror; hearing a voice ακουοντες μεν της φωνης, hearing indeed the voice; namely, the sound of that voice which had spoken to Saul; but without distinctly understanding the sense of what was said. This seems the most probable way of reconciling this with Acts 22:9; and it is confirmed by John 12:29; where we learn that some present, when the voice from heaven came to Christ, took it for thunder. But seeing no man — Nor perceiving who it was that had been speaking to Saul. So it was with the men who were with Daniel, when he saw the vision, mentioned Daniel 10:7; and the heathen, however they came by the notion, thought their deities often rendered themselves visible to one only, in a company consisting of many.


Verse 8-9

Acts 9:8-9. And Saul arose from the earth — When Christ bade him; but probably not without help, the vision having made him faint and weak, like Daniel; when, upon receiving a vision, no strength remained in him, Daniel 10:16-17. And when his eyes were open, he saw no man — He was incapable of discerning objects; for his nerves had been so affected with the glory of that light which had shone from the body of Jesus, that he had lost the power of sight, Acts 22:11; but they — That were with him; led him by the hand — For as they had not looked so earnestly and steadfastly, as Saul had done, on the glorious light wherewith the person of Christ was surrounded, but had lain with their faces on the ground, their eye-sight remained. And he was three days without sight — By scales growing over his eyes, not only to intimate to him the blindness of the state he had been in, but to impress him also with a deeper sense of the almighty power of Christ, and to turn his thoughts inward, while he was rendered less capable of conversing with external objects. This was, likewise, a manifest token to others, of what had happened to him in his journey; and ought to have humbled and convinced those bigoted Jews, to whom he had been sent from the sanhedrim. And neither did eat nor drink — This his long-continued fasting was a natural expression of his bitter grief, for having opposed the gospel, and persecuted the disciples of Jesus. With fasting he joined fervent and often-repeated prayer, perhaps, to Jesus; in which he made confession of his sin in persecuting him, and earnest supplication for pardon; all which, being certain signs of his repentance, they are here (Acts 9:11) mentioned as such. During his three days’

blindness and fasting, Saul was instructed by visions and revelations from the Lord, agreeably to what was promised him, that in Damascus it should be told him what he was to do. One vision of this kind is expressly mentioned, in which the restoration of his sight by Ananias was foretold to him. See Acts 9:12. Here it is natural to reflect, that the situation in which Saul now lay, was indeed apparently very melancholy; his sight being lost, his appetite for food gone, and his whole soul wrapt up in deep astonishment, or melted in deep contrition and remorse. But, though he thus sowed in tears, he was soon to reap in joy. Light and gladness were sown for him. He came out of the furnace refined as gold and silver; and these three dark and dismal days are, no doubt, recollected by him in the heavenly world, as the era from whence he dates the first beamings of that divine light in which he now dwells. Let us never be afraid of the pangs of that godly sorrow, which, working repentance to salvation, not to be repented of, will soon be ten thousand times overbalanced by that exceeding weight of glory, and those full transports of eternal joy, for which it will prepare the soul. See Doddridge.


Verses 10-12

Acts 9:10-12. And there was a disciple named Ananias — This Ananias, before his conversion to Christianity, had lived so conformably to the law, that he was much esteemed by all the Jews who dwelt at Damascus, Acts 22:12. And after his conversion, his piety being still more conspicuous, he was a person of great note among the brethren also. To him Jesus appeared in a vision on the third day of Saul’s fast, and ordered him to go into the house of Judas, and inquire for Saul of Tarsus; of whom he needed no longer be afraid, because he was praying, not as he had done formerly, while a Pharisee, in self-confidence and pride, but in humiliation, contrition, and deep penitence, namely, for the pardon of his sin in persecuting the saints; and because Ananias himself had been shown to him in a vision, as sent to cure his sight. He hath seen in a vision, &c. — This vision which Saul had may be considered, 1st, As an immediate answer to his prayer, and the keeping up that communion with God which be had entered into by prayer. He had in prayer spread the misery of his case before God, and God presently manifests himself, and the kind intentions of his grace to him. 2d, As designed to raise his expectations, and make Ananias’s coming more welcome: he would readily receive him as a messenger from God, since he was told beforehand in vision, that such a one would come to him.


Verse 13-14

Acts 9:13-14. Then Ananias — Astonished to hear such a name mentioned in such a connection; answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man — What a malicious enemy he is to thy gospel: all those who were scattered upon the late persecution, many of whom are come to Damascus, tell how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem — That he was the most virulent, violent persecutor of all the rest; what havoc he has made of the church: nay, and his errand to Damascus at this time is to persecute us Christians; for here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name — To treat thy disciples as the worst of criminals. Now, why doth Ananias thus object? Does he say, Therefore I do not owe him so much service? Why should I do him a kindness, who has designed and done us so much unkindness? No, Christ had taught him another lesson, namely, to render good for evil, blessing for cursing, and to pray for persecutors. But if he be such a persecutor of Christians, 1st, Will it be safe for Ananias to go to him? Will he not by so doing throw himself like a lamb into the mouth of a lion? And if he thus bring himself into trouble, will he not be justly blamed for his indiscretion?

2d, Will it be to any purpose to go to him? Can such a hard heart be ever softened? or such an Ethiopian ever change his skin?


Verse 15-16

Acts 9:15-16. But the Lord said, Go thy way — Do not tell me how bad he has been; I know it well; but go with all speed, and execute that message of mercy with which I have charged thee; for — How great and aggravated soever his former transgressions may have been, I assure thee he is a chosen vessel — Or instrument; unto me, to bear my name — That is, to testify of me, and bear witness of my truth; before the Gentiles ενωπιον εθνων, before nations, namely, heathen nations; and kings — King Agrippa and Cesar himself; and the children of Israel — To thousands of whom, as well in the Gentile countries as in Judea, he shall testify the gospel of my grace. Beza justly observes, that an instrument of building, agriculture, &c., is often, in Greek, called οκευος, here rendered vessel, because in him the gospel treasure was to be lodged, in order to the conveyance of it to many; and a chosen vessel, because he was destined for eminent services, for which, doubtless, some persons are chosen and set apart from their mother’s womb, as Paul says he was, Galatians 1:15. For I will show him how great things he must suffer — He that hath been a persecutor, shall be himself persecuted. Christ’s saying he would show him this, was intended to signify his giving him notice of these sufferings beforehand, that they might be no surprise to him. Observe, reader, those that bear Christ’s name must expect to bear the cross for his name; and those that do most for Christ are often called to suffer most for him. Saul, that was designed for eminent services, was also designed for eminent sufferings.


Verses 17-19

Acts 9:17-19. And Ananias went his way — With all readiness and joy undertook the message, not presuming to object any further; and entered into the house — To which he had been so particularly directed; and putting his hands on him — According to Christ’s direction, Mark 16:18; said, Brother Saul — So he terms him, because he was made a partaker of the grace of God, though not yet baptized; and his readiness to own Saul as a brother intimated to him God’s readiness to own him as a son, though he had been a blasphemer of God, and a persecutor of his children. The Lord, even Jesus — That same Jesus that appeared unto thee in the way — And convinced thee of thy sin in persecuting him; hath sent me — To thee, to comfort thee: his light struck thee blind, but he hath sent me that thou mightest receive thy sight — For his design was not ultimately to blind the eyes of thy body, but to open the eyes of thy soul; and that thou mightest be filled with the Holy Ghost — Which shall be poured out upon thee, not only in his sanctifying graces, but in his miraculous gifts, before I leave this place. See a further account of what passed between Ananias and Saul on this occasion, Acts 22:14-16. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales ωσει λεπιδες, something like scales, an emblem of the darkness and prejudice which before had veiled his eyes; and their falling off intimated the clear views of divine things which he should henceforth enjoy. And he received his sight forthwith — That is, immediately on the scales falling from his eyes: the cure was sudden, to show that it was miraculous. And he arose and was baptized — And thereby submitted himself to the government of Christ, and cast himself upon his grace. Saul is now a disciple of Christ, and not only ceases to oppose him, but devotes himself entirely to his service and honour. Happy change! a change for which he himself, and myriads of immortal beings, will bless God through the never-ending ages of eternity. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened —

Recovered that bodily strength which had been impaired by his long fast, as well as by what had happened to him in the way; and that strength it was his immediate care to employ in the service of his new Master, now associating with the disciples at Damascus, whom he had come to persecute. In this miraculous manner was Saul, in the very height of his rage against the saints, converted, and made an apostle of Jesus Christ, and called to preach that very faith which he had been so zealous to destroy. Luke has not mentioned any date by which we can with certainty fix either Saul’s age at his conversion, or the particular year in which that remarkable event took place; nevertheless, from some circumstances mentioned in his history, learned men have gathered that it happened about the end of the third year after the death of Christ, or the beginning of the fourth, and when Saul was about thirty-four years of age. It may not be improper to observe here, that this conversion of Saul “added great lustre to the evidence of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. He had persecuted all who preached that miracle; wherefore, when he himself went over to the persecuted party, and published Christ’s resurrection with greater earnestness and diligence than any of them, every impartial person must have been sensible that such an alteration of sentiment and conduct, in a person of Saul’s good sense, learning, and zeal, and that at the very time he was breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, could not possibly have happened, unless he had actually received that unquestionable evidence of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, which he affirmed had been given him, by Christ’s appearing to him personally as he went to Damascus, and by conferring upon him the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is true, the appearing of Jesus might seem to many an improbable story; yet, as by the miracles which Saul performed, he gave convincing proofs that Christ had bestowed on him the gift of the Holy Ghost, no reasonable person, after that, could doubt of his having appeared to him, as Saul constantly affirmed.” — Macknight.


Verses 20-22

Acts 9:20-22. And straightway — That is, immediately after his conversion; he preached Christ in the synagogues — Some writers have given it as their opinion, (see Dr. Wells on the place, and Script. Geog., vol. 3. p. 375,) that as soon as Saul had strength to go anywhere abroad, he retired into the desert of Arabia, and there was favoured with a full revelation of Christianity, and spent some considerable time in devotion; and that after this he returned to Damascus and preached, which they argue from Galatians 1:16-17. But this opinion seems inconsistent with what is here said of his preaching, ευθεως, immediately. It seems, therefore, probable, that by his going into Arabia, to which Damascus now belonged, we are to understand his making excursions from that city into the neighbouring parts of that country, which he might do, perhaps, between the time in which he began to preach in Damascus, and his quitting it, after repeated labours there, to go to Jerusalem. That he is the Son of God — Foretold Psalms 2.; which he knew and proved Christ to be by incontestable arguments. But all that heard him were amazed — As well they might be; and said, Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name — And now doth he call on this name himself, and persuade others to call upon it, and strengthen the hands of those that do! Nay, and did he not come hither for that intent — To seize all the Christians he could find; and bring them bound to the chief priests? — Who would have thought then that he should preach Christ as he doth? No doubt this was looked upon by many to be, what indeed it was, a great confirmation of the truth of Christianity, that a person who had been such a notorious persecutor of it, should come on a sudden to be such an intelligent and strenuous preacher of it. This miracle upon the mind of such a man outshone the miracles upon men’s bodies, and the giving Saul such another heart was more than giving men to speak with other tongues. But Saul increased the more in strength Became more intimately acquainted with the gospel of Christ, and his pious affections became more strong, his faith and hope firm, and his love to Christ and his disciples, and to all mankind, more fervent. He also became more bold and resolute in the defence of the gospel: and confounded the unbelieving Jews, proving that this Jesus of Nazareth is the very Christ — The true Messiah, the Son of God. He answered their objections to the satisfaction of all indifferent persons, and pressed them with arguments to which they could make no reply. And we can have no reason to doubt that he was instrumental in converting many to the faith of Christ, and therefore of building up the church at Damascus, which he had come thither to destroy.


Verses 23-25

Acts 9:23-25. And after many days were fulfilled — In which several events took place, which are elsewhere hinted at; and particularly after he had made an excursion into Arabia, as is mentioned Galatians 1:16-18, probably to spread the gospel there, or, as some suppose, that he might have opportunity, in privacy and retirement, for studying the Jewish Scriptures more carefully than he had done, by the help of the new light which had been bestowed on him, and for prayer and meditation, and attending to such further revelations as Christ should be pleased to make to him; and after he had returned again to Damascus, the Jews took counsel to kill him — Finding it impossible to answer his arguments, or to damp his zeal, they resolved to silence him by putting an end to his life. Here we cannot but reflect on the astonishing malignity and obstinacy of these blinded Jews! How amazing it is, that when so great a persecutor of the Christians was, by a voice and appearance from heaven, converted to Christianity, they should be so far from following his example, that they should attempt even to take away his life! In this design they were assisted by the governor of the city, under Aretas, king of Arabia, who, after having been conquered by the Romans under Pompey, had by some means got possession of it. This governor guarded the city night and day with the greatest strictness, persons being appointed to keep watch at all the gates to prevent his escaping; and the Jews, in the mean time, lying in wait to seize and murder him. Their designs, however, were known to Saul, God graciously discovering them to him, so that he kept himself concealed, and gave them no opportunity of executing their purpose. Then the disciples — Who were in Damascus, anxious to preserve a life of so much value; took him by night — When they were not observed, either by the Jews or the governor’s garrison; and let him down by the wall in a basket — As Rahab did the spies, Joshua 2:15; and Michal did David, 1 Samuel 19:12; the providence of God directing and assisting them in this undertaking, so that, as he himself says, (2 Corinthians 11:32-33,) he escaped out of their hands.


Verses 26-30

Acts 9:26-30. And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, &c. — It must be observed here, that the history of Paul’s preaching at Damascus, going into Arabia, and visiting Jerusalem, is somewhat intricate, and interpreters differ much about it. But the series of it seems most probably to be as Dr. Whitby has stated it; namely, 1st, That, “after his conversion, he constantly preached in the synagogues of Damascus, that Jesus was the Son of God. 2d, That, going thence into Arabia, between two and three years after, he returned to Damascus, (Galatians 1:17,) of which journey, however, Luke, not being with him, gives no account. 3d, That, at his return, being increased in wisdom and strength, he continued many days in Damascus, proving that Jesus was the Christ. 4th, That, after three years, escaping from Damascus, he came to Jerusalem, and was by Barnabas brought to the apostles Peter and James, and continued there fifteen days, Galatians 1:18-19. 5th, There Christ appeared to him in a vision; commanding him to depart out of Jerusalem; and he accordingly went thence to Cesarea Philippi in Cœlo-Syria, and to Tarsus in Cilicia, Acts 9:30; Galatians 1:21.”

He assayed to join himself to the disciples — The despised, persecuted followers of Jesus, who were now in his eyes the excellent of the earth, and with whom he desired to be united in Christian fellowship. But they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he — Who had signalized himself so much by his rage against the church; was indeed a disciple — But suspected that his professing to be such was a mere artifice whereby he endeavoured to insinuate himself into their confidence, in order that he might thus have it in his power to detect and ruin a great number of them. It may seem strange that so remarkable an event as Saul’s conversion should be concealed so long from the Christians at Jerusalem; but it is to be considered, that there were not then such conveniences of correspondence between one place and another as we now have, and the war then subsisting between Herod Antipas and Aretas, (Jos. Antiq., Acts 18:5,) might have interrupted that between Damascus and Jerusalem. Now might Paul be tempted to think himself in an ill case, when the Jews had abandoned and persecuted him on the one hand, and the Christians, on the other, would not receive and entertain him. But Barnabas took him — Probably having been informed of his conversion by Ananias, or some of the brethren of Damascus; and brought him to the apostles — Namely, to Peter and James, the rest, it seems, being then absent from Jerusalem, for Paul himself tells us, (Galatians 1:19,) that, on his going to Jerusalem at this time, he saw no other of the apostles but these two. And declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way — To Damascus, and that he had spoken to him in a manner that had conquered all his former prejudices against the gospel; and how — In consequence of the change which was then made in his views, and in his heart; he had preached boldly at Damascus — Even at the apparent hazard of his life. So that he gave sufficient proof that he was a new creature, changed in principle and practice. And he was with them — With the Christians, who, on receiving such information from Barnabas, gladly admitted him into communion with them, and even into their most intimate friendship, so that he was coming in and going out among them — That is, frequently conversing and associating with them, for fifteen days, Galatians 1:18. And he spake boldly in the name of Jesus — Even in Jerusalem, and that not only to such Jews as were natives of Judea; but disputed against the Grecians

Or Hellenists, namely, the foreign Jews, who used the Greek language, and came out of other parts to worship at Jerusalem. For Saul seems to have earnestly desired that they might carry along with them the knowledge of Christ into their own countries. But they went about to slay him — As they did Stephen, when they could not resist the Spirit by which he spake: so enraged were they at this unexpected opposition from one, on whose zeal for the Jewish religion, and against Christianity, they had had so great a dependance. Which when the brethren knew — Remembering how the putting Stephen to death, upon his disputing with the Hellenists, had been the beginning of a sore persecution, and being afraid of seeing such a tragedy acted over again, they hastened Paul out of the way; they brought him down to Cesarea — Namely, Cesarea Philippi, (for he went through the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and therefore went by land, Galatians 1:21,) and from thence sent him forth — Doubtless with proper recommendations; to Tarsus — The capital of Cilicia, and his native place, where they hoped he might proceed in his work with more safety than at Jerusalem, and, perhaps, might meet with protection, and some support from his relations and friends. Yet it was also by direction from heaven, as he himself tells us, (Acts 22:17-18,) that he left Jerusalem at this time, Christ ordering him to go out of it quickly, because he must be sent to the Gentiles. Observe, reader, those by whom God has work to do, shall be protected from all the designs of their enemies against them till it be done; for Christ’s witnesses cannot be slain till they have finished their testimony.


Verse 31

Acts 9:31. Then had the churches — The whole body of Christian believers, with all their congregations, wherever they were dispersed; throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, rest ειρηνην, peace; their bitterest persecutor being converted. So some. But the peace they now enjoyed, Dr. Doddridge, with many others, thinks, “is by no means to be ascribed merely or chiefly to Saul’s conversion, who, though a great zealot, was but one young man, and whose personal danger proves the persecution, in some measure, to have continued, at least, three years after it. The period spoken of, therefore, seems to be that which commenced at, or quickly after, his setting out for Cilicia; and, as Dr. Lardner observes, this repose of the Christians might be occasioned by the general alarm which was given to the Jews, when Petronius, by the order of Caligula, attempted to bring the statue of that emperor among them, and set it up in the holy of holies; a horrid profanation, which the whole people deprecated with the greatest concern, in the most solicitous and affectionate manner. How long this peace, or rest, continued, we do not certainly know: probably till Herod interrupted it, as we shall see, chap. 12. And were edified — In faith and holiness. The word οικοδομουμεναι, thus rendered, is a figurative expression, properly a term of architecture, signifying the erecting or constructing the whole superstructure of a building upon a foundation. In this place it must signify, by analogy, that the churches were further instructed in the great truths of the gospel, and advanced in all the branches of piety and virtue; and walking — That is, speaking and acting; in the fear of the Lord — That is, under the influence of that principle; and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost — In the consolations afforded by his agency; were multiplied — By an accession of new members, whereby the damage sustained in the late persecution was abundantly repaired.


Verses 32-35

Acts 9:32-35. And as Peter passed through all quarters — Where the disciples that were dispersed had planted churches; he came to the saints that were at Lydda — A town of Phœnicia, situated in the tribe of Ephraim, one day’s journey from Jerusalem. It stood in the plain or valley of Sharon, which extended from Cesarea to Joppa, and was noted for its fruitfulness; and there — The providence of God so ordering it, for the greater confirmation of the gospel; he found a certain man named Eneas — His name is mentioned for the greater assurance of the fact here recorded; which had kept his bed eight years — In so deplorable a state as to be quite incapable of rising from it, or any way helpful to himself, because of the palsy wherewith he was afflicted; and Peter — Being moved with compassion for him, and concerned to relieve his misery, as well as to confirm the gospel which he preached, said, Eneas, Jesus Christ — In whose name I preach and act, maketh thee whole — Operates while I now speak to strengthen and restore thy weakened frame. The great difference there is between the manner in which this miracle is wrought by Peter, and that in which Christ performed his works of divine power and goodness, is very observable; and the different characters of the servant and the Son, the creature and the God, are strikingly apparent. Arise, and make thy bed — Depending entirely upon his almighty agency. And he arose immediately — The palsy instantly leaving him, and the disabled man being all at once strengthened. It deserves notice here, also, that no faith on the part of the person to be healed was required; and the like is observable in many other cases, where persons, perhaps ignorant of Christ, were surprised with an unexpected cure. But where persons petitioned themselves for a cure, a declaration of their faith was often required, that none might be encouraged to try experiments out of curiosity, in a manner which would have been very indecent, and have tended to many bad consequences. And all that dwelt in Lydda and Saron — That is, many of the inhabitants of those places; turned to the Lord — That is, did so as soon as they saw him restored to health and strength, whom they before knew to be weak and helpless, and when they had had an opportunity of being informed in the particulars of so unparalleled a fact.


Verses 36-38

Acts 9:36-38. There was at Joppa — A noted seaport in the neighbourhood, lying on the Mediterranean sea, about forty miles from Jerusalem, and the nearest maritime town to it. It is mentioned in the Old Testament by the name of Japho, (see Joshua 19:46,) and was the place to which the materials for building Solomon’s temple were brought in floats by sea, and carried from thence by land to Jerusalem. It was here that Jonah took ship for Tarshish, (Jonah 1:3,) and, as it lay between Azotus and Cesarea, it was probably one of the cities where Philip preached the gospel in his progress. There are still some remains of it under the name of Jaffa. A certain disciple, named Tabitha, by interpretation, Dorcas — She was probably a Hellenist Jewess, known among the Hebrews by the Syriac name, Tabitha; while the Greeks called her, in their own language, Dorcas. They are both words of the same import, and signify a roe, or fawn. These circumstances of places and persons are recorded to evidence the certainty of the history. This woman was full of good works and alms-deeds — Which upon all proper occasions she performed; thus showing her faith by her works. And it came to pass in those days — While Peter was at Lydda; that she was sick and died — Removed by Divine Providence in the midst of her usefulness, probably to give Peter occasion, by another and still more remarkable miracle than that just mentioned, of confirming the gospel, and awakening men’s attention to it; whom, when they had washed — According to the custom prevailing among the Hebrews, Greeks, and Latins; and still in use among us; they laid her in an upper chamber — In her grave-clothes. And as Lydda was nigh to Joppa — Being only six miles distant; and the disciples had heard that Peter was there — And that he had lately raised Eneas by a miracle from a bed of affliction; they sent two men Two, to render the message more solemn and respectful; desiring that he would not delay to come — They do not mention the reason for which they desired his coming. But it is probable that it was not merely that he might give them advice and comfort in their great sorrow for the loss of so good and useful a woman: it is likely they had also some expectation of his restoring her to life: which, if they had, it was certainly a remarkable instance of the greatness of their faith, as it does not appear that any of the apostles had, before this, raised any one from the dead. Were we to have been judges, perhaps we should have thought it better that Stephen should have been raised than Dorcas; but it is our happiness and duty to submit our reasonings on what we think fittest and best, to the infinitely wiser determination of Providence.


Verses 39-41

Acts 9:39-41. Then Peter arose and went with them — Doubtless God inclined him so to do, intending to work an extraordinary miracle by him, for the manifestation of his truth and glory. And when he was come — To Tabitha’s house; they brought him into the upper chamber — Where she was laid out. And all the widows — Who had been relieved by her benevolence; stood by him weeping, showing the coats, &c. — Here was no need of mourning women to be hired: the death of this woman was a common loss; these coats were made by her in her life-time, to clothe the poor and naked therewith. But Peter put them all forth — That he might with the more freedom pour out his soul before God in prayer on this occasion, and not be disturbed with their mournful lamentations. And he kneeled down and prayed — In his healing Eneas there was an implicit prayer; but in this greater work he addressed himself to God in solemn prayer, as Christ did when he raised Lazarus; but Christ’s prayer was with the authority of a Son, who quickens whom he will; Peter’s with the submission of a servant, who is under direction, and therefore he kneeled down when he offered it. And then rising, and turning to the body, he said — As with the voice of authority, in the name and presence of his great Lord, the Sovereign of life and death; Tabitha, arise — Words which were immediately accompanied with a divine power, so that she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, sat up — Showing that she was really and truly alive. And when he had called the saints and widows — Who were all in sorrow for her death, and were near the chamber, waiting impatiently for the event; he presented her alive — And in perfect health, as all were that were miraculously cured. Who can imagine the surprise of Dorcas, when called back to life? or of her friends, when they saw her alive? For the sake of themselves, and the poor, there was cause of rejoicing; and much more for such a confirmation of the gospel. Yet to herself it was matter of resignation, not joy, to be called back to these scenes of vanity: but, doubtless, her remaining days were still more zealously spent in the service of her Saviour and her God. Thus was a richer treasure laid up for her in heaven, and she afterward returned to a more exceeding weight of glory, than that from which so astonishing a providence had recalled her for a season.


Verse 42-43

Acts 9:42-43. And it was known, &c. — The report of this wonderful miracle was immediately spread throughout all Joppa — And it being a town of seafaring men, the story of it would soon be carried from thence to many other countries; and though some would not regard it, many, there is reason to suppose, would be influenced by it so as to make those inquiries which would issue in their conversion to the true God, and the true religion. Accordingly it is here said, many believed in the Lord — Namely, upon the credit of this signal miracle; many, not only at Joppa, but in other places. So that the great end for which the miracle was wrought was answered; this, and all other miracles that were done, being chiefly performed to cause the gospel to be believed, of the truth and importance of which they were undeniable proofs. And he tarried many days — Willing to improve so favourable an occasion as was now afforded him, of spreading the knowledge of Christ and his gospel. The miracle had only prepared the people to receive his doctrine, which he stayed some time to instruct them in; sowing the seed of the word in the ground prepared to receive it. And he tarried not in the house of Tabitha, (where, doubtless, he would have been hospitably entertained and comfortably accommodated,) lest he should seem to seek his own glory; but he took up his lodgings with an ordinary tradesman, whose business is here mentioned, perhaps, that it might appear the apostle was not elevated, by the dignity of the late miracle, above mean persons and things; and to teach us, in imitation of his example, to condescend to men of low estate. And though Peter might seem to be buried in obscurity in the house of a poor tanner by the sea- side, yet God fetched him thence to a noble piece of service, as we find in the next chapter; for they that humble themselves shall be exalted.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 9:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/acts-9.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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