Saturday, November 10, 2012

Weathering the Storm

Unit III. - Where Does Faith Take Us? In our lesson review last week we found Paul in the position of having been captured by certain Jews of Asia and taking a stand in his defense that he had not done anything against the Jewish laws, Temple, or customs. In each of the lower tribunal settings, the same conclusion was reached: Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:29), Felix (Acts 24), and Festus (Acts 25:26-27). Festus even had Paul’s case heard again by King Agrippa II (Acts 26:19-32). Each of the lower courts determined Paul to be innocent. He had done nothing to warrant his being either imprisoned or declared put to death. As a citizen of Rome he had the right to appeal to Caesar’s court in Rome, his appeal was granted by Festus, and off to Caesar he must go. King Agrippa II commented “This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed…” Acts 26:32 In today’s lesson we see the event’s that take place as an attempt is made to transport Paul and other prisoners to Rome. The lesson text is recorded at Acts 27:1-2, 33-44. The devotional reading is recorded at Romans 1:13-17.

‘And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus' band. And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us.’ Acts 27:1-2 The Scripture does not state who determined that Paul should sail to Rome, Italy. However, it was Festus, the governor, who granted Paul’s appeal and under whose care he had been imprisoned. It is most probable that Festus delivered Paul to Julius, a centurion of Augustus’ band and captain of one hundred men. There were no passenger ships in the first century. This ship was probably a cargo ship from the city of Adramyttium, a city on the west coast of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). It is unknown whether the sea journey began in Caesarea or another port after Paul had been delivered to Julius. There were other prisoners on board for the journey. Also on the passenger list were the names of two traveling companions, Aristarchus (Acts 19:29) and Luke (writer of the book of Acts). Paul must have been encouraged to have them along on what was to become the most catastrophic sailing event of his life.

The ship left and docked at Sidon, a city approximately 67 miles north of Caesarea, the next day. Julius allowed Paul to go ashore to visit friends, advise of his situation, and refresh himself. Acts 27:3 It is unknown why Julius was kind-hearted to him, but Paul was a man of God and integrity. He did not attempt to escape, but returned to the ship.

When the ship launched again, the seamen were unable to keep a direct course due to the strong, violent winds and had to keep close to the large island of Cyprus. Acts 27:4 The cargo ship made it to Smyrna where the centurion found a large ship docked from Alexandria en route to Rome, Italy. The ship was carrying wheat. Everyone on the ship of Adramyttium transferred to the large ship of Alexandria. Acts 27:5-6 The larger ship sailed slowly many days. The strong, violent winds had continued, and they were unable to keep a direct course in the open seas. They kept as close to the areas of Cnidus, Crete, and Salmone. Acts 27:7 They soon came to an area called Fair Havens. They were looking for a haven, but this was not their haven.

Paul admonished the people on board that they had begun the trip at a time when they believed they would be at their destination before the dangerous weather for sailing and in time for the Day of Atonement annual fast. Because they had encountered the tempestuous winds that had slowed them, he warned them if they set sail from Fair Havens it would be disastrous and would result in much loss, not only of cargo, but also of lives. However, the centurion believed the master and owner of the ship. It was, after all, the profession of the seamen. The centurion failed to believe the man of God. Acts 27:8-11 The majority of persons on board also felt Fair Havens was not a safe harbor for the winter. They preferred to attempt to sail to Phenice, located 40 miles west of Fair Havens, at the southwest tip of Crete. Its harbor opened to the southwest and northwest and would give them more protection during the winter. Acts 27:12 They launched under soft winds sailing close to Crete, having set a new destination of Phenice for the winter.

However, the soft winds turned into tempestuous winds called Euroclydon. This is the only place where this word is mentioned in the Bible. A Euroclydon is a cyclonic tempestuous northeast wind which blows in the Mediterranean.1 Sailors consider it troublesome and dangerous. To understand it, I equated it with a storm similar to the Superstorm Sandy which hit some of the eastern states of the United States on October 29th, 2012. These are different because of the location and nature of the storm. The latter was similar to a Nor’easter. It is a “…type of macro-scale storm along the East Coast of the United States and Atlantic Canada, so named because the storm travels to the northeast from the south and the winds come from the northeast, especially in the coastal areas of New England and Atlantic Canada. This type of storm has characteristics similar to a hurricane.2 With either there is the threat of loss of life as well as possessions.

The ship was now caught up in the tempestuous winds, and the helmsman was unable to steer the ship. They allowed the wind to direct the ship without attempting to control it. They finally reached a small island, Clauda, approximately 20 miles southwest of Crete which would provide some protection. It was all they could do to take up the small boat that was on the side, put it in the large ship, secure the ship to undergird the bottom with strong cables, drop the sail, and launch to keep the ship from being driven into the quick sands. Acts 27:13-17 The ship was tossed to and fro on the waves like a football on a field. They began to lighten the ship, probably of some cargo and unnecessary wares considering their situation. After three days of the ship’s constant tossing by the tempestuous wind, they threw out some of the tackling of the ship, (anchors, sails, cables, heavy artillery, etc.) that were dispensable.

For many days there was neither sun nor stars. They did not have a compass and could not make any observations. They had lost hope they would be saved. Acts 27:18-20 Paul then began to encourage all aboard. The ship had plenty of food aboard to eat, but the people had lost their appetite or hope. Paul tells them they would not have been in their situation if they had heeded his warning. However, he continued to say, they must be of good cheer because he had had an angelic visit in the night from the God he served and believed. All of those aboard would be saved, as long as they remained with him. This was God’s promise to him. He must be delivered to Rome to witness before Caesar. The ship would be lost, but they would be survivors on a certain island. He did not have any specifics, but he believed in God. Acts 27:21-26

After fourteen nights in the storm in the Adriatic Sea, they sensed they were close to land. They probably heard the sea birds, the sound of waves against the shore, etc., and dropped the line twice discovering they were getting closer. In fear that the ship might cast against the rocks, they dropped four anchors and awaited the daylight. Then there were some shipmen who determined, under pretense, it was necessary to put the small boat over the side of the large ship to take anchors out of the ship. Paul noticed and brought it to the attention of Julius. The expertise of the seamen would be indispensable in helping all those aboard. The seamen then cut the rope to the little boat. They no longer had a means of escape and had to stay aboard with Paul and the others. Acts 27:27-32

‘And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing. Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.’ Acts 27:33-34 Paul is not the captain of the ship, but he has taken charge of the ship. He once again reminds the frightened men they had been fourteen days at sea in ill weather and encouraged them strongly, but gently, to eat. To be in good health was required because God had promised him they would be saved.

‘And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat. Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat. And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen souls. And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea.‘ Acts 27:35-38 In all situations we find ourselves, we must remain thankful. (Ps 107:1; Matt 26:27; Philip 4:6) God had provided the food and preserved their lives to be able to eat it. There was much to be thankful, even though there were was a storm raging about them. Paul was not ashamed to bless the food in front of those who did not worship the same God he worshipped. He believed they were to be saved and needed to eat for strength in this deliverance. After thanking God for providing them with the food, he divided it among all aboard. They could have refused, but they were encouraged. When Paul began to eat after fasting, they began to eat and were in better spirits. There were a total of two hundred seventy-six (276) persons aboard the large ship. After their bellies were full, they felt it was necessary to lighten the load of the ship even more. They threw out the wheat into the sea.

‘And when it was day, they knew not the land: but they discovered a certain creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship. And when they had taken up the anchors, they committed themselves unto the sea, and loosed the rudder bands, and hoised up the mainsail to the wind, and made toward shore.’ Acts 27:39-40 The seaman had dropped four anchors during the night to await the daylight in the belief they were close to land. (vs. 29) It is now day, and they are neither familiar with the land nor able to make any observation. They discovered a creek, which probably did not have high rocks or it appeared convenient for landing. So they determined themselves to land the ship. It is unknown whether the seamen destroyed the four anchors or took time to haul them up to keep for later use on shore. The Scripture simply states they took up the anchors. They also placed the rudder bands in position along with the main sail to move the ship toward the shore.

‘And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmoveable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves.‘ Acts 27:41 They headed toward the shore, but the ship was drove aground at a place where two seas met. The forepart (bow) stuck fast in the sand and was not moveable. The hinder part (stern) began to break apart with the violence of the waves. God’s Word must come true. In his angelic visit Paul was told the ship would be lost. (vs. 22)

‘And the soldiers' counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape.’ Acts 27:42 What God did these soldiers’ serve that they would counsel their commander to kill the prisoners to keep them from escaping? Or perhaps they were fearful of the Roman military system which would mean death for any soldier who lost a prisoner while under his command. Obviously they did not receive an understanding of the blessing they were to receive simply by being in the company of Paul. They did not understand God’s mercy in keeping them alive.

‘But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose; and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land: And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.’ Acts 27:43-44 Julius was willing to forego the Roman military system. He had developed a good relationship with Paul. Julius had treated him with kindness (vs. 3) and watched his conduct aboard the ship (vs. 10, 22-26, 31, 33-35). He did not want the soldiers to accidently kill Paul. He commanded everyone aboard the ship who could swim to shore to jump into the sea first. Next he ordered the remainder to make their way to the land by way of planks or broken pieces of the ship. In this manner, the entire two hundred seventy-six persons aboard escaped safely to land. Only one, Paul, had truly believed they would each make it alive. He had faith in God and acted calmly throughout the storm. Do you have the faith to weather the storms, seen and unseen?


Written by Deborah C. Davis

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