Summary: The jailer’s decision was not any easy one. But despite the difficulties that lay ahead, he realized that the God who would bring him to those difficulties would also bring him through them.
Jobs were hard to come by. He was a grown man, with a wife and children to provide for. He had been an OK farmer when they lived in the country — even managed to put away a little money for them to live on after the move to the big city.
But he had no marketable skills to speak of.
He wasn’t very good with people, so being a merchant was out. Besides, he just didn’t have the patience for haggling over prices each day at the market.
He wasn’t very good at fishing, and besides, who wants to drag all that fishing gear around before sunrise each morning to sit in a cold, wet boat hoping for enough hungry fish to pay the bills that day?
He wasn’t much of a carpenter either — his wife had made that pretty clear to him a few months ago when he made that door that didn’t quite fit into the doorway right. So what if a little breeze came through the doorjamb? It’s not like winters were all that cold there anyway.
However, she had a point. He wouldn’t be able to make much profit selling doors that didn’t fit right, so carpentry was out as a career option as well.
He did have some relatives who knew some people in the city government. They had mentioned a position being available running the local jail. He knew how that position had become available though, and didn’t really want to be the next guy in that slot. The risks seemed pretty high; but he needed the money.
So he applied for the job. Not surprisingly, there were no other applicants, so he was immediately accepted as the city’s new jailer. He was given the standard warnings about security, and understood the penalty associated with any escaped prisoners.
Under the new rules — which the Romans set up soon after they took over the city — if a prisoner escaped, the jailer took his place and his punishment. That was the more euphemistic way of phrasing it.
Since most crimes there were punishable by severe whippings and death, an escaped prisoner pretty much guaranteed the jailer would have no more home-cooked meals for the rest of his soon-to-be-shortened life.
So the first thing he did was inspect the jail cells. Nice strong stone walls with heavy iron bars. With the gates locked, no one would be able to break through or dig out of their cells. He was determined not to end up like his predecessor.
Things were going quite smoothly for him now. No one had escaped, and the local magistrates seemed to be impressed with his performance— after all, they kept bringing him new business. And so far business was good.
As he was daydreaming, a commotion was getting started outside. Travelers from some new sect of Judaism had been going around the city telling people to stop doing this and that, and to follow the teachings of some Jewish prophet they claimed “rose from the dead.”
And that annoying slave girl who belonged to one of the merchants downtown — the strange local girl who told people’s fortunes all the time — she was following them around for days shouting that those men were from “the most high God,” and that they were telling everyone how to be saved.
The jailer double-checked the locks on the cells again and stepped outside to see what all the noise was about.
According to a local physician named Luke, who traveled with those two upstarts and wrote about their exploits, the one named Paul got really annoyed with the girl and ordered the spirit to come out of her. At that moment the spirit left her.
Normally, having a spirit leave someone would be a good thing, but this particular spirit had been providing a means for the slave girls owners to make a lot of money — and now their investment had dried up. So the owners grabbed the two visitors and dragged them into the town square.
A crowd formed, and started beating the two men with their fists, shoes, sticks, whatever was handy, as the town magistrates led them toward the jail. One of the magistrates jogged ahead to meet the jailer and fetch a whip. Apparently there was some flogging to be done.
The jailer handed him his favorite whip, one with a number of leather strands with pieces of bone and lead attached. As every jailer knows, a good, hearty flogging reduces the risk of prisoner escape. After all, prisoners are hardly in any shape to run away by the time the flogging is finished. Usually they can’t do much more than lay on the floor in their cell for a few days.
When they were handed over to the jailer, he recorded their names as Paul and Silas. He also noticed the magistrates warned him to guard them carefully.