Summary: The Apostle Paul is thrown into (literally) a very tough spot while on his way to possible execution in Rome. Why does God allow turmoil upon turmoil in our lives and how can he use it for His (and our) good?
Recently Margaret and I had the opportunity to spend some time at sea. At times all you could see was ocean. There were no islands or land of any kind in sight. All you had was the rolling waves. I thought what it must have been like for the Apostle Paul—on his way to Rome where he would most likely lose his life. I wondered what he might have been thinking. I doubt he could have known about what he was about to face—not a Roman emperor but a violent storm and shipwreck. When we are obeying God, even to our own detriment, does it surprise and perhaps even anger us when trouble gets piled on top of trouble? Let’s see how Paul responds and uses the situation to the glory of God.
1 – 2
Luke once again joins Paul on this journey, not as a prisoner, but to support him and perhaps act as personal physician. Julius is just one example of Roman centurions who showed kindness to Jesus or to believers. (Luke 7, 23, Acts 10). Julius belonged to a special unit of the Roman army, called the speculators that specialized in transporting prisoners and in police type duties.
The vessel they boarded in Caesarea was from the Mysian city of Adramyttium (northern Turkey). Aristarchus, if you remember, was the guy who was dragged into the theater during the Ephesian riots (19). He was like Paul’s personal assistant. Paul wasn’t just an ordinary prisoner. He had attendants and had appealed to the emperor. Aristarchus apparently went all the way to Rome with Paul, and sent greetings from Rome in Col 4:10 and Philemon 24.
Paul must have made quite an impression on this soldier for this amount of freedom. It’s amazing to me that Christians, even when placed in positions that are unflattering, can shine with the character of Jesus Christ. I’m reminded of what Peter said:
1 Peter 4:12-16 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
4 – 8
They were basically going against the wind, unlike an earlier voyage where they sailed in the opposite direction and had no problems. Local breezes and currents helped them along. They stop Myra they changed ships for the longer voyage to Italy. This is important because what is most important on this ship is the commercial interests of the owners—taking grain to market. The ship was from Egypt and in that day grain from Egypt was a staple in Italy.
Sailing in this part of the Mediterranean is always dangerous at this time of year so the crew has to make some adjustments in their course in order to find protection from the northern winds that blow down the length of the Aegean sea.
9 – 12
Between September 14 and November 11th, travel was difficult. After the 11th it was considered impossible until mid February. Yom Kippur had already passed (late Sept to early Oct) so Paul, not a navigator but just a generally smart guy, states the obvious that the clock is ticking and the more time we wait the more peril awaits us potentially. By this time he had already written 2 Corinthians where he indicates surviving three shipwrecks (11:25). It was obvious they were not going to make Italy before winter so they needed a place to stay—but the owner didn’t want to anchor the ship in the open bay of Fair Havens, but instead try for a larger port with more accommodations—a fateful decision. During the 40 mile journey, Crete takes an abrupt turn to the north which exposes ships to the gales that come out of the north.
13 – 20
The journey should have taken them only a few hours. Sailors call the wind Euroquilo (literally “northeaster”). They are helpless before it and are driven 23 miles southwest to Cauda. They tried their best to keep the ship from being driven all the way to North Africa where it would strike the sand bars. They were unable to see stars or sun because of the intense storm. The “tackle” probably referred to extra sails or yard arms. At this very dark point, literally, Paul, the prisoner, stands up as a leader.