This chapter describes an exciting sailing adventure. The narrative describes God’s control by fulfilling his plans for both Paul and the Gospel. God’s purposes cannot by thwarted by people or nature. What is more, the stature of Paul grew in the eyes of his fellow seafarers. His advice was rejected in Acts 27:11 but heeded in verses 21-26 and verses 33-34. Paul was the shown the favor of God. He was God’s faithful witness. Those who heard and received God’s message through Paul experienced deliverance. The story in Acts 27 beings under normal circumstances.
When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.—27:1-2
There were no passenger ships at the time, so Paul and his group obtained passage on a cargo ship. Paul’s escort by a cohort of soldiers demonstrates his importance. The imperial Regiment is know to have been in the area from two surviving inscriptions. Because the title was honorific, this was not a run-of-the mill unit. By utilizing these soldiers, Festus was taking no chances. The ship would skirt the coast, visiting ports until its destination, and then group would find another ship headed to Rome.
The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.—27:3-8
At the end of the first day (after covering about 69 nautical miles or about 79.4 statute miles), the ship docked at Sidon. Paul was allowed to visit friends, likely Christians, in the area. He probably received money, supplies or other goods from them—and perhaps all three. Because of contrary winds, the ship sailed north of Cyprus and docked at Myra (in southern Asia Minor), a trip of about 500 miles (about 434.5 nautical miles). At Myra they booked a grain ship headed to Rome; this one had Alexandria as its home port. Still skirting along the coast, the ship sailed west toward Cnidus (about 150 miles (about 130.3 nautical miles), but hostile winds slowed the journey. Because of the winds, the ship ultimately sailed to the southern coast of Crete. They reached a port called Fair Havens, which still exists today.
Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement. So Paul warned them, “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.
When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along.—27:9-15
The mention of the Day of Atonement sets the time between October 5 and October 15. Ancient sailors considered the period from late September to mid-March (early fall to the end of winter) to be unsafe to sail. Paul predicted damage and great loss of both ship and lives if they continued. The warning was likely a bit of common sense rather than Spirit-empowered prophecy (later no lives are reported lost). Paul later was shown to be generally correct. The advice went unheeded. The majority (the shipowner and the centurion) hoped to reach Phoenix to winter the ship there. The gentle breeze turned into a Northeaster, and the ship was caught and eventually did not make the 50 mile trip. The wind was so violent that they attempted to turn the ship into the wind to reduce the surface area being buffeted and then drop anchor. Ultimately, though, they had to go where the wind blew them.
Just a brief note on this storm. The text identifies it as a “Northeaster,” which is the name given to an extratropical cyclone in the western North Atlantic. And are most prominent between the months of November and March. However, as we already stated this journey took place in early to mid-October and it was in the Mediterranean Sea not the Atlantic Ocean. Ultimately this means this storm should accurately be described as a Mediterranean tropical-like cyclone, with wind speeds exceeding 38 mph and possibly exceeding 70 mph, which is why this wind is described as being hurricane force.
As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.—27:16-20
With the protection of a little island called Cauda, the sailors were able (barely!!!) to gain control of the lifeboat that was normally towed behind the ship. This was the first of three operations that had to happen to secure the safety of the ship. The second operation was to reinforce the hull by girding the ship with cables. The third operation was to drop vessels (likely drift anchors) to keep them off a large zone of sandbars. The next day, fear led them to start jettisoning things overboard, still hoping to arrive safely. Growing more desperate the next day, they started throwing the ship’s tackle overboard. For days the ship was at the mercy of the storm, and they gradually lost hope. But fortunately as we will see tomorrow these storm driven travelers still had one source of hope and that was the fact that God’s plan was for Paul to arrive safely in Rome.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Job 37-39, 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:10, Psalm 44:9-26 and Proverbs 22:13
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