ACTS CHAPTER 27.
The Voyage from Caesarea to Melita. Acts 27, 1-44.
From Caesarea to Fair Havens: V.1. 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. V.2. 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. V.3. And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself. v.4. And when we had launched from thence, we sailed under Cyprus, because the winds were contrary. V.5. And when we had sailed over these a of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra. a city of Lycia. V.6. And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy; and he put us therein. V.7. And when we had sailed slowly many days, and scarce were come over against Cnidus, the wind not suffering us, we sailed under Crete, over against Salmone; v.8. and, hardly passing it, came unto a place which is called the Fair Havens; nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea. The hearing before Agrippa, which gave him as well as Festus the conviction that. Paul was innocent of any offense against the empire, had one good result: it ended the uncertainty of the Caesarean imprisonment. It was determined that the trip to Italy, for which several routes were open, should be made entirely by sea. Luke here, as the text shows, again joined the company of Paul. He had probably spent the intervening two years in gathering the material which was later, under the Holy Spirit's guidance, used in his gospel. Paul and certain other prisoners were committed to the charge of a centurion by the name of Julius, an officer of the imperial guard, or cohort, a body of soldiers that bore the emperor's name and was probably used for confidential business between Rome and the provinces. Since they were in somewhat of a hurry, they did not wait for the coming of a large vessel. hut embarked in a ship from Adramyttium, that is, from the port of Adramyttium, a harbor on the coast of Mysia, not far from Troas. This was a coastwise sailboat, engaged in local freight trade, bound for the seaports of Asia Minor. The intention of Julius was to be on the lookout for a larger vessel that was going directly to Italy. An expectation which could hardly fail of fulfillment. Paul not only had Luke as a companion, but also Aristarchus of Thessalonica, one of the men that had come up to Jerusalem with him, chap. 20, 4. The fact that this man later is called a fellow-prisoner of Paul, Col. 4, 10, docs not argue that he made the trip with Paul in that capacity. The chances are that. Luke would have mentioned the fact of his being a prisoner, had this been his condition at the time. By the next day the boat had made a run along the coast of almost seventy miles and put in at Sidon, the former capital of Phenicia, superseded as the commercial metropolis by Tyre. Here Julius gave the first evidence of the respect and friendly feeling which he showed to Paul on the entire voyage: he treated him kindly, having probably received instructions from Festus to that effect and himself being impressed by the personal character and conduct of Paul. Probably with the soldier to whom he was chained, the apostle received permission to go to his friends in the city, the brethren of the local congregation, and to receive their care. He may not exactly hare been in need of medical care, but the kind words of his fellow-Christians at this time were undoubtedly north more to Paul than any mere entertainment for his benefit. After the business of the master of the vessel had been concluded at this port. they put to sea from there and sailed along below Cyprus, under the lee of this large island in the eastern Mediterranean. This made it necessary for the ship to sail around the long peninsula which juts out toward Syria, instead of cutting straight across the Mediterranean south of the island. But the winds were adverse. Having rounded the northeastern extremity of Cyprus, the ship crept along slowly from point to point along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, “using the local land breezes when possible, and the current constantly running to the westward along the southern coast.” in this way they reached the harbor of Myra, on the southern coast of Lycia, one of the great ports in the corn trade between Egypt and Rome. The centurion therefore found here a ship from Alexandria in Egypt, apparently a grain ship bound for Italy, and he transferred his prisoners and their friends to this larger merchant-vessel, put them on board, in the fond belief that the remainder of the voyage could now easily be accomplished. But for quite a number of days they made slow headway, reaching a point off Cnidus, a city on the coast of Caria, only with considerable difficulty, and were unable to enter. The wind still hindering their progress across the Aegean Sea, they turned to the south, to try the course in the lee of the island of Crete, which they reached off Cape Salmone, on the eastern extremity. And even here they sailed along the southern side of the island only with difficulty, until they reached a certain place called Fair Havens, about in the center of the southern coast, the city of Lasea being near it. The start from Caesarea having been made in the late summer or early fall of the year 59 or 60, winter was now approaching, and shipping was becoming dangerous.
The start from Fair Havens: V.9. Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them v.10. and said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives. V.11. Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship more than those things which were spoken by Paul. V.12. And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to depart thence also, if by any means they might attain to Phenice, and there to winter, which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the southwest and northwest. V.13. And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete. Due to the adverse winds and the extremely slow progress, the season was now very far advanced, and navigation had become perilous. The great fast day of the Jewish calendar was even past, that of the Day of Atonement, which was held on the tenth of Tishri (corresponding roughly to our October). In those days, navigation ceased with the coming of the stormy season, not to be resumed till spring. Paul, therefore, whether on his own initiative or by request of the centurion, issued a warning admonition that, so far as he could see, the voyage was destined to proceed only with great injury and much damage, not only of the cargo and of the ship, but also of their own lives. There would surely be injury inflicted to them and the ship by the elements, especially by the violence of the tempest; and the event fully justified Paul’s advice. But the centurion was persuaded by the master and by the owner of the ship rather than by anything Paul could say. According to some commentators, the two men were the pilot and the captain of the ship, and their interest in opposing Paul’s advice was grounded in mercenary motives, the provisions being eagerly expected in Rome and providing for the keep of a large crew during a long stay at Fair Havens being a considerable item. Then there was another factor, namely, that the harbor was not altogether suitable for wintering, not so much on nautical grounds, but for the reason that there was no large city near by, and that the sailors would suffer for want of suitable occupation. So the majority finally proposed to set sail from there with the intention, if they could make it, of wintering at Phoenix, which was a harbor of Crete fronting toward the southwest and northwest. Their opinion seemed to be sustained by the weather, for instead of the disagreeable and contrary wind from the west a moderate breeze from the south began to blow, which seemed altogether favorable to their intention of running along the coast a matter of some sixty miles. Believing, therefore, that they could carry out their intention, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete to the west, closer inshore even than before, hugging the coast. It was a perilous undertaking at best, but they were willing to risk it, just as many people to-day will endanger life and limb a thousand times in the hope of gaining a few dollars.
The hurricane: V.14. But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon. V.15. And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive. V.16. And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat; v.17. which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, strake sail, and so were driven. V.18. And we, being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship; v.19. and the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship. V.20. and when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away. The gentle breeze seems to have been only a lull while the storm shifted, for not long after they had started from Fair Havens, and probably before they had rounded the cape, where their course would turn toward the northwest, a tempestuous wind, a hurricane, beat down from Crete and its mountains. Its name is given as Euroclydon, or East-northeast, now known as a “Levanter,” and its force was such, after the ship had been caught by it, as to make it impossible to face the wind. So the sailors gave way to the wind, they gave the ship up to the mercy of the hurricane and were driven along. Steadily toward the southwest they were beaten until they ran under the lee of a small island called Clauda. Here the force of the storm was not quite so great as out in the open, and so the sailors were enabled to take three precautions. With some difficulty they got hold of the boat, or skiff, which usually floated at the stern, but which was now in danger of being dashed to pieces against the sides of the vessel: this they hoisted to the deck. They next undergirded, or frapped, the ship by passing cables around the hull, undoubtedly the long way in this instance, to secure the whole plankage of the ship and to break the force of the waves. The tightening was done by means of the capstan, thus affording some safety against the parting of the timbers, And finally, since the sailors were afraid that they would be driven into the dreaded Syrtis, the great banks of quicksands near the coast of Africa, they lowered the gear, the rigging of the sails, or set it so that it offered the least possible resistance to the wind, and so were driven. Their precautions seem at least to have had so much effect that the course of the ship was changed from southwest to west. The next day the tempest raged with unabated vigor, and since they were tossed about and suffered great distress because of the storm, they jettisoned, they threw overboard the cargo, or such parts of it as were loose. On the third day they threw overboard the rigging and the tackling of the ship, including all the spars and cordage. The suffering and distress of all men on board was greatly increased by the fact that they were dependent upon the stars for steering the course of the vessel, and since now neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the tempest was raging with unabated force, they finally gave up all hope of being saved. That was the result of courting danger without necessity, of pure presumptuousness.
Paul comforts crew and passengers: V.21. But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. V.22. and now I exhort you to be of good cheer; for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship. V.23. for there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am and whom I serve, v.24. saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar; and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. V.25. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer; for I believe God that it shall be even as it was told me. V.26. Howbeit, we must be cast upon a certain island. For fourteen days and fourteen nights the vessel was tossed by the waves of the Mediterranean like a nutshell, during which time crew and passengers were in too great distress to think of eating; they abstained entirely. But when Paul, on one of these days, stepped into their midst and stood before them, they were willing to listen with greater respect to one whose judgment had been sounder than that of the great majority, if not of all of them. Without the slightest trace of malice in his attitude, but with the frankness which characterized him at all times, Paul told them that they should hare permitted themselves to he persuaded by him and not have sailed from Crete. By not having put to sea, as he had advised, they would not hare suffered this loss, they would hare saved themselves both distress and injury or loss of property. But now he earnestly admonished them to be of good cheer, since there would he no loss of life in the case of any of them, unless it be of the ship. The ship would, in the events which were get to transpire, prove a total loss, but all lives would be spared. And this admonition Paul supported by the evidence of a vision or dream. In the night that had just come to a close the angel of the Lord, whose own he was and whom he served, had stood by him and told him not to fear, since it must happen that he would be placed before Caesar, be arraigned before the emperor, and God had granted him the lives of all that were sailing with him. They were his as a present, a gift, from God, with the implication that without such gift they all mould hare perished. And so Paul again urges the men to be of good cheer, for he had absolute trust in the words of God that things would come to pass in exactly that way which had been told him. And in a spirit of prophecy the apostle adds: On a certain island, however, we are to be stranded. It was not a part of the angel's message to him, but he had this information through the Spirit of God. Note: Every true Christian considers himself as belonging to the Lord, as being His own: and every Christian spends his life in the service of his Lord, even as Paul did. Mark also: God often spares the unbelievers and scoffers for the sake of the Christians, who are then to carry out, the work of the Lord with double vigor.
In sight of land: V.27. But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country, V.28. and sounded, and found it twenty fathoms; and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms. V.29. Then, fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern and wished for the day. V.30. And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under color as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, v.31. Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. V.32. Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off. About this time the ship, a mere plaything of the waves, was being tossed about in the Adria, in the Ionian Sea between Sicily and Greece, being driven in a uniform, continuous motion toward the west, and the fourteenth night had descended upon them. It was about in the middle of the night when the sailors surmised, not because they were able to distinguish anything in the dense darkness, but because the sound of the waves, the rolling of the breakers, seemed to indicate as much, that same land was approaching them, just as it appears to a traveler from the deck of a ship. So they quickly took soundings and found the depth to be twenty fathoms (a fathom, six feet); however, after they had traversed but a little more space and had again cast out the sounding-lead, they measured fifteen fathoms. The conclusion which they drew from these soundings made the crew fear, together with the passengers, that they would be cast on rocky ground, either on the shore or on submerged reefs. So they let down four anchors from the stern of the ship and heartily wished that day would dawn. Anchorage from the stern in this case, not knowing what was a score of feet away from them, enabled the sailors to manage the ship far more easily and would keep her under the control of the helm, in case it would prove feasible to run her ashore in the morning. Paul was on deck; as were most of the passengers, and so he was enabled to thwart a treacherous plan of the crew. For the sailors desired earnestly to flee from the ship, to escape and leave soldiers, passengers, and prisoners to their fate; they lowered the small boat into the sea with the plea that they wanted to let down anchors from the bow, or prow, of the ship as well. They pretended that they must take the anchors the full cable length away. But Paul, noticing their deception, told the centurion and the soldiers that, unless these men remained in the ship, they all could not be saved. The soldiers thereupon made short work of the matter. They simply chopped off the ropes that held the boat and let her fall down, the waves at once carrying the skiff away. Thus Paul again saved the lives of all the people on the ship, for it stood to reason that neither the soldiers nor the passengers would be able to handle the vessel in an emergency like the present one. A Christian will at all times have the welfare of all men at heart and, so far as lies in his power, will advise, help, and protect them in every bodily need.
Paul again encourages his shipmates: V.33. And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take me at, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing. V.34. Wherefore I pray you to take some me at, for this is for your health; for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you. V.35. 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. V.36. Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat. V.37. And we were in all in the ship two hundred three score and sixteen souls. V.38. And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea. That the events of the last two weeks, the terrible buffeting by wind and waves, the constant danger of death, the absence of sun and stars, had had a demoralizing effect upon all men on board, is easily understood. In spite of Paul’s cheering and reassuring words when the storm was at its height, the strain had not permitted either crew or passengers to eat. The man with the greatest calmness and self-possession on the entire vessel was the apostle; he was now easily the leading spirit in the whole ship’s company. Since about midnight the ship had been straining at her anchors, in constant danger that some unusually heavy sea might cause the cables to part and throw them all on the rocky reefs. And now, finally, came the late dawn of a lowering November day. But just as day was about to break. Paul earnestly urged all men on board to take some food, reminding them that it was now the fourteenth day since they had been on the watch, on the lookout for help and deliverance, during all of which time they had been without food and had eaten nothing, had taken no regular meal. Now and then one of them might have snatched a hasty bite, but not enough to keep up sufficient strength for any emergency. "Paul suggests to the whole company to take food, in order to strengthen themselves for the escape from the ship. This was a wise and necessary act. It was forced on Paul by the situation; yet he was the only one that preserved sufficient coolness and courage to think of preparing for the immediate future." 92) Paul thus begged them to take some food and to make a good square meal of it, since this was necessary for their safety and for the work which they would have to perform to obtain deliverance from their present peril. And he again assures them that not a hair of their heads would perish; they would neither lose their lives nor suffer any serious hurt in their bodies. After these words Paul himself set a good example: he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and, breaking the bread, began to eat. Note that Paul, even in the time of greatest peril, did not neglect to say grace and thank God, who had provided the food; nor did the presence of heathen hinder him from following his usual custom in this respect. The courage of Paul was infectious, for now the entire company was of good cheer; all men on board felt the need of showing more trust and manliness, and so they also themselves took some meat, partook of food, a large number, as Luke notes, a total of two hundred and seventy-six souls: they all were inspired by his confidence. When they had then eaten to their satisfaction, every one making a full meal of it, this restored them to such calmness and strength that they afterwards lightened the ship by throwing the grain, which seems to have made up a large part of her cargo, into the sea. The purpose was to have the vessel ride as high as possible in the water, thus diminishing her draught sufficiently to lift her over banks and shoals and to bring her as near to the land as possible. Note: It is always to the advantage and profit of the children of this world that Christians live in their midst. More than once, in days of great danger and distress, the advice and the prayers of the Christians have brought help.
The escape from the ship: V.39. 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. V.40. 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. V.41. And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmovable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves. V.42. And the soldiers’ counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out and escape. V.43. 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, v.44. 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. When it was day, when it became light enough to distinguish objects plainly, the sailors tried to get their bearings, but they did not recognize the land. They may have been at the island before, but this particular section on the northeastern shore was not familiar to them. From where they were anchored, near a rocky point, they perceived, or noticed, a small bay or inlet with a sandy beach, which looked much more inviting than the reefs farther out. Into this small bay, therefore, they wished, if possible, to drive the ship; they wanted to run her ashore on the beach. Having therefore loosed the anchors by slipping the cables which held them inside the vessel, they left them, they abandoned them in the sea. At the same time they unlashed the bands, the fastening of the rudders, of the two paddle-rudders with which the ships of those days were supplied, for they now needed them to steer the ship. And finally, they hoisted the foresail, spread its full extent to the breeze, and made for the, flat beach. But as the vessel entered into the channel, it suddenly struck a submerged bank, ridge, shoal, or reef, the bow cutting deeply into the mud or sand and jamming fast, while the stern began to break up from the force of the waves. It was an extremely dangerous situation and one which almost caused the soldiers to lose their self-control and common sense. For their plan now was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them escape by swimming. Just as though there had been much danger of that. In the rocky island! But here Julius, the centurion, again showed his good will. He wanted to bring Paul through safely, and therefore hindered them in their plan, put a stop to their intention. He gave the command that all those that were able to swim should jump overboard first and thus reach the land. And afterwards, when the sea about the hulk was clear of the swimmers, the rest, some on planks and some on pieces of wreckage, were to do the same thing. It was no easy task, with a heavy sea rolling and the waves sweeping high up on the shore, to reach a place beyond danger; but finally all the men that had been on the vessel, crew, soldiers, passengers, prisoners, came through in safety, according to the prediction of Paul. It was a miraculous escape. If only they had all acknowledged that it was due to the God of the Christians to whom they owed life and all blessings!
Summary. The Voyage to Rome is begun at Caesarea in an Adramyttine ship, continued at Myra on an Alexandrine vessel, through the southern Aegean Sea and along the south side of Crete, where a terrible storm overtakes the ship and drives it westward to be wrecked o n the island of Melita.