It being determined that Paul should be sent to Rome, he is delivered to Julius, a centurion, Acts 27:1. They embark in a ship of Adramyttium, and come the next day to Sidon, Acts 27:2, Acts 27:3. They sail thence, and pass Cyprus, Cilicia, and Pamphylia, and come to Myra, Acts 27:4, Acts 27:5. They are transferred there to a ship of Alexandria going to Italy; sail past Cnidus, Crete, Salmone, and come to the Fair Havens, Acts 27:6-8. Paul predicts a disastrous voyage, Acts 27:9-11. They sail from the Fair Havens, in order to reach Crete, and winter there; but, having a comparatively favorable wind, they sail past Crete, and meet with a tempest, and are brought into extreme peril and distress, Acts 27:12-20. Paul's exhortation and prediction of the loss of the ship, Acts 27:21-26. After having been tossed about in the Adriatic Sea, for many days, they are at last shipwrecked on the island of Melita; and the whole crew, consisting of two hundred and seventy-six persons, escape safe to land, on broken fragments of the ship, vv. 27-44.
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 when it was determined, etc. - That is, when the governor had given orders to carry Paul to Rome, according to his appeal; together with other prisoners who were bound for the same place.
We should sail - By this it is evident that St. Luke was with Paul; and it is on this account that he was enabled to give such a circumstantial account of the voyage.
Julius, a centurion of Augustus' band - Lipsius has found the name of this cohort on an ancient marble; see Lips. in Tacit. Hist. lib. ii. The same cohort is mentioned by Suetonius, in his life of Nero, 20.
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.A ship of Adramyttium - There were several places of this name; and in different MSS. the name is variously written. The port in question appears to have been a place in Mysia, in Asia Minor. And the abb Vertot, in his history of the Knights of Malta, says it is now called Mehedia. Others think it was a city and seaport of Africa, whence the ship mentioned above had been fitted out; but it is more probable that the city and seaport here meant is that on the coast of the Aegean Sea, opposite Mitylene, and not far from Pergamos. See its situation on the map.
Aristarchus, a Macedonian - We have seen this person with St. Paul at Ephesus, during the disturbances there, Acts 19:29, where he had been seized by the mob, and was in great personal danger. He afterwards attended Paul to Macedonia, and returned with him to Asia, Acts 20:4. Now, accompanying him to Rome, he was there a fellow prisoner with him, Colossians 4:10, and is mentioned in St. Paul's epistle to Philemon, Plm 1:24, who was probably their common friend. - Dodd. Luke and Aristarchus were certainly not prisoners at this time, and seem to have gone with St. Paul merely as his companions, through affection to him, and love for the cause of Christianity. How Aristarchus became his fellow prisoner, as is stated Colossians 4:10, we cannot tell, but it could not have been at this time.
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.Touched at Sidon - For some account of this place, see the notes on Matthew 11:21; and Acts 12:20.
Julius courteously entreated Paul - At the conclusion of the preceding chapter, it has been intimated that the kind treatment which Paul received, both from Julius and at Rome, was owing to the impression made on the minds of Agrippa and Festus, relative to his innocence. It appears that Julius permitted him to go ashore, and visit the Christians which were then at Sidon, without using any extraordinary precautions to prevent his escape. He was probably accompanied with the soldier to whose arm he was chained; and it is reasonable to conclude that this soldier would fare well on St. Paul's account.
And when we had launched from thence, we sailed under Cyprus, because the winds were contrary.We sailed under Cyprus - See on Acts 4:36 (note).
And when we had sailed over the sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia.Pamphylia - See on Acts 2:10 (note).
Myra, a city of Lycia - The name of this city is written variously in the MSS., Myra, Murrha, Smyra, and Smyrna. Grotius conjectures that all these names are corrupted, and that it should be written Limyra, which is the name both of a river and city in Lycia. It is certain that, in common conversation, the first syllable, li, might be readily dropped, and then Myra, the word in the text, would remain. Strabo mentions both Myra and Limyra, lib. xiv. p. 666. The former, he says, is twenty stadia from the sea, επι μετεωρου λοφου, upon a high hill: the latter, he says, is the name of a river; and twenty stadia up this river is the town Limyra itself. These places were not far distant, and one of them is certainly meant.
And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy; and he put us therein.A ship of Alexandria - It appears, from Acts 27:38, that this ship was laden with wheat, which she was carrying from Alexandria to Rome. We know that the Romans imported much corn from Egypt, together with different articles of Persian and Indian merchandise.
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;Sailed slowly many days - Partly because the wind was contrary, and partly because the vessel was heavy laden.
Over against Cnidus - This was a city or promontory of Asia, opposite to Crete, at one corner of the peninsula of Caria. Some think that this was an island between Crete and a promontory of the same name.
Over against Salmone - We have already seen that the island formerly called Crete is now called Candia; and Salmone or Sammon, or Samonium, now called Cape Salamon, or Salamina, was a promontory on the eastern coast of that island.
And, hardly passing it, came unto a place which is called The fair havens; nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea.The Fair Havens - This port still remains, and is known by the same name; it was situated towards the northern extremity of the island.
Was the city of Lasea - There is no city of this name now remaining: the Codex Alexandrinus reads Αλασσα, Alassa; probably Lysia, near the port of Gortyna, to the eastward.
Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them,Sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past - It is generally allowed that the fast mentioned here was that of the great day of atonement which was always celebrated on the tenth day of the seventh month, which would answer to the latter end of our September; see Leviticus 16:29; Leviticus 23:27, etc. As this was about the time of the autumnal equinox, when the Mediterranean Sea was sufficiently tempestuous, we may suppose this feast alone to be intended. To sail after this feast was proverbially dangerous among the ancient Jews. See proofs in Schoettgen.
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.I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt, etc. - Paul might either have had this intimation from the Spirit of God, or from his own knowledge of the state of this sea after the autumnal equinox, and therefore gave them this prudent warning.
Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul.The centurion believed the master - Τῳ κυβερνητῃ, the pilot; and owner of the ship, τῳ ναυκληρῳ, the captain and proprietor. This latter had the command of the ship and the crew; the pilot had the guidance of the vessel along those dangerous coasts, under the direction of the captain; and the centurion had the power to cause them to proceed on their voyage, or to go into port, as he pleased; as he had other state prisoners on board; and probably the ship itself was freighted for government. Paul told them, if they proceeded, they would be in danger of shipwreck; the pilot and captain said there was no danger; and the centurion, believing them, commanded the vessel to proceed on her voyage. It is likely that they were now in the port called the Fair Havens.
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 south west and north west.Might attain to Phoenice - It appears that the Fair Havens were at the eastern end of the island, and they wished to reach Phoenice, which lay farther towards the west.
Toward the south-west and north-west - Κατα λιβα και κατα χωρον. The libs certainly means the south-west, called libs, from Libya, from which it blows to. wards the Aegean Sea. The chorus, or caurus, means a north-west wind. Virgil mentions this, Geor. iii. ver. 356.
Semper hyems, semper spirantes frigora cauri.
"It is always winter; and the cauri, the north-westers, ever blowing cold."
Dr. Shaw lays down this, and other winds, in a Greek compass, on his map, in which he represents the drifting of St. Paul's vessel from Crete, till it was wrecked at the island of Melita. Travels, p. 331, 4to. edit.
And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete.When the south wind blew softly - Though this wind was not very favorable, yet, because it blew softly, they supposed they might be able to make their passage.
They sailed close by Crete - Kept as near the coast as they could. See the track on the map.
But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon.A tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon - Interpreters have been greatly perplexed with this word; and the ancient copyists not less so, as the word is variously written in the MSS. and versions. Dr. Shaw supposes it to be one of those tempestuous winds called levanters, which blow in all directions, from N.E. round by the E. to S.E. The euroclydon, from the circumstances which attended it, he says, "seems to have varied very little from the true east point; for, as the ship could not bear, αντοφθαλμειν, loof up, against it, Acts 27:15, but they were obliged to let her drive, we cannot conceive, as there are no remarkable currents in that part of the sea, and as the rudder could be of little use, that it could take any other course than as the winds directed it. Accordingly, in the description of the storm, we find that the vessel was first of all under the island Clauda, Acts 27:16, which is a little to the southward of the parallel of that part of the coast of Crete from whence it may be supposed to have been driven; then it was tossed along the bottom of the Gulf of Adria, Acts 27:27, and afterwards broken to pieces, Acts 27:41, at Melita, which is a little to the northward of the parallel above mentioned; so that the direction and course of this particular euroclydon seems to have been first at east by north, and afterwards, pretty nearly east by south." These winds, called now levanters, and formerly, it appears, euroclydon, were no determinate winds, blowing always from one point of the compass: euroclydon was probably then, what levanter is now, the name of any tempestuous wind in that sea, blowing from the north-east round by east to the south-east; and therefore St. Luke says, there rose against it (i.e. the vessel) a tempestuous wind called euroclydon; which manner of speaking shows that he no more considered it to be confined to any one particular point of the compass, than our sailors do their levanter. Dr. Shaw derives ευροκλυδων from ευρου κλυδων, an eastern tempest, which is the very meaning affixed to a levanter at the present day.
The reading of the Codex Alexandrinus is ευρακυλων, the north-east wind, which is the same with the euro-aquilo of the Vulgate. This reading is approved by several eminent critics; but Dr. Shaw, in the place referred to above, has proved it to be insupportable.
Dr. Shaw mentions a custom which he has several times seen practised by the Mohammedans in these levanters: - After having tied to the mast, or ensign staff, some apposite passage from the Koran, they collect money, sacrifice a sheep, and throw them both into the sea. This custom, he observes, was practised some thousand years ago by the Greeks: thus Aristophanes: -
Αρν', αρνα μελαιναν, παιδες, εξενεγκατε·
Τυφως γαρ εκβαινειν παρασκευαζεται.
Ran. Acts 3.s. 2, ver. 871.
A lamb! boys, sacrifice a black lamb immediately:
For a tempest is about to burst forth.
Virgil refers to the same custom: -
Sic fatus, meritos aris mactavit honores:
Taurum Neptuno, taurum tibi, pulcher Apollo;
Nigram hyemi pecudem, zephyris felicibus albam.
Aen. iii. ver. 118.
Thus he spake, and then sacrificed on the altars the proper eucharistic victims: -
A bull to Neptune, and a bull to thee, O beautiful Apollo;
A black sheep to the north wind, and a white sheep to the west.
And again: -
Tres Eryci vitutos, et tempestatibus agnam,
Caedere deinde jubet.
Aen. v. ver. 772.
Then he commanded three calves to be sacrificed to Eryx, and a lamb to the tempests.
In the days of the Prophet Jonah the mariners in this sea were accustomed to do the same. Then they offered a sacrifice to the Lord, and vowed vows; John 1:16. See Shaw's Travels, 4 to. edit. p. 329-333.
The heathens supposed that these tempests were occasioned by evil spirits: and they sacrificed a black sheep in order to drive the demon away. See the ancient Scholiast on Aristophanes, in the place cited above.
Sir George Staunton (Embassy to China, vol. ii. p. 403) mentions a similar custom among the Chinese, and gives an instance of it when the yachts and barges of the embassy were crossing the Yellow River: -
"The amazing velocity with which the Yellow River runs at the place where the yacht and barges of the embassy were to cross it rendered, according to the notions of the Chinese crews, a sacrifice necessary to the spirit of the river, in order to insure a safe passage over it. For this purpose, the master, surrounded by the crew of the yacht, assembled upon the forecastle; and, holding as a victim in his hand a cock, wrung off his head, which committing to the stream, he consecrated the vessel with the blood spouting from the body, by sprinkling it upon the deck, the masts, the anchors, and the doors of the apartments; and stuck upon them a few of the feathers of the bird. Several bowls of meat were then brought forward, and ranged in a line across the deck. Before these were placed a cup of oil, one filled with tea, one with some ardent spirit, and a fourth with salt; the captain making, at the same time, three profound inclinations of his body, with hands uplifted, and muttering a few words, as if of solicitation to the deity. The loo, or brazen drum, was beaten in the meantime forcibly; lighted matches were held towards heaven; papers, covered with tin or silver leaf, were burnt; and crackers fired off in great abundance by the crew. The captain afterwards made libations to the river, by emptying into it, from the vessel's prow, the several cups of liquids; and concluded with throwing in also that which held the salt. All the ceremonies being over, and the bowls of meat removed, the people feasted on it in the steerage, and launched afterwards, with confidence, the yacht into the current. As soon as she had reached the opposite shore, the captain returned thanks to heaven, with three inclinations of the body.
"Besides the daily offering and adoration at the altar erected on the left or honorable side of the cabin in every Chinese vessel, the solemn sacrifices above described are made to obtain the benefit of a fair wind, or to avert any impending danger. The particular spot upon the forecastle, where the principal ceremonies are performed, is not willingly suffered to be occupied or defiled by any person on board."
And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive.And when the ship was caught - Συναρπασθεντος δε του πλοιου. The ship was violently hurried away before this strong levanter; so that it was impossible for her, αντοφθαλμειν, to face the wind, to turn her prow to it, so as to shake it out, as I have heard sailors say, and have seen them successfully perform in violent tempests and squalls.
We let her drive - We were obliged to let her go right before this tempestuous wind, whithersoever it might drive her.
And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat:A certain island - called Clauda - Called also Gaudos; situated at the south-western extremity of the island of Crete, and now called Gozo, according to Dr. Shaw.
Much work to come by the boat - It was likely to have been washed overboard; or, if the boat was in tow, at the stern of the vessel, which is probable, they found it very difficult to save it from being staved, or broken to pieces.
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.Undergirding the ship - This method has been used even in modern times. It is called frapping the ship. A stout cable is slipped under the vessel at the prow, which they can conduct to any part of the ship's keel; and then fasten the two ends on the deck, to keep the planks from starting: as many rounds as they please may be thus taken about the vessel. An instance of this kind is mentioned in Lord Anson's Voyage round the World. Speaking of a Spanish man-of-war in a storm: "They were obliged to throw overboard all their upper-deck guns, and take six turns of the cable round the ship, to prevent her opening." P. 24, 4to. edit. The same was done by a British line-of-battle ship in 1763, on her passage from India to the Cape of Good Hope.
The quicksands - Εις την συρτιν, Into the syrt. There were two famous syrts, or quicksands, on the African coast; one called the syrtis major, lying near the coast of Cyrene; and the other, the syrtis minor, not far from Tripoli. Both these, like our Goodwin Sands, were proverbial for their multitude of ship-wrecks. From the direction in which this vessel was driven, it is not at all likely that they were in danger of drifting on any of these syrts, as the vessel does not appear to have been driven near the African coast through the whole of her voyage. And as to what is said, Acts 27:27, of their being driven up and down in Adria, διαφερομενων εν τῳ Αδριᾳ, it must mean their being tossed about near to Sicily, the sea of which is called Adria, according to the old Scholiast upon Dionysius's Periegesis, ver. 85: το Σικελικον τουτο το πελαγος Αδριαν καλουσι· they call this Sicilian sea, Adria. We are therefore to consider that the apprehension, expressed in Acts 27:17, is to be taken generally: they were afraid of falling into some shoals, not knowing in what part of the sea they then were; for they had seen neither sun nor stars for many days; and they had no compass, and consequently could not tell in what direction they were now driving. It is wrong therefore to mark the course of this voyage, as if the vessel had been driven across the whole of the Mediterranean, down to the African coast, and near to the syrts, or shoal banks; to which there is scarcely any reason to believe she had once approximated during the whole of this dangerous voyage.
Strake sail - Χαλασαντες το σκευος. What this means is difficult to say. As to striking or slackening sail, that is entirely out of the question, in such circumstances as they were; when it is evident they could carry no sail at all, and must have gone under bare poles. Some think that lowering the yards, and taking down the top-mast, is what is intended; but in such a perilous situation this would have been of little service. Others think, letting go their main or sheet anchor, is what is meant; but this seems without foundation, as it would have been foolishness in the extreme to have hoped to ride out the storm in such a sea. Passing by a variety of meanings, I suppose cutting away, or by some means letting down the mast, is the action intended to be expressed here; and this would be the most likely means of saving the vessel from foundering.
And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship;Lightened the ship - Of what, we know not; but it was probably cumbrous wares, by which the deck was thronged, and which were prejudicial to the due trim of the vessel.
And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship.The tackling of the ship - Την σκευην; All supernumerary anchors, cables, baggage, etc.
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.Neither sun nor stars in many days appeared - And consequently they could make no observation; and, having no magnetical needle, could not tell in what direction they were going.
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.After long abstinence - Πολλης δε ασιτιας ὑπαρχουσης. Mr. Wakefield connects this with the preceding verse, and translates it thus: Especially as there was a great scarcity of provisions. But this by no means can agree with what is said, Acts 27:34-38. The vessel was a corn vessel; and they had not as yet thrown the wheat into the sea, see Acts 27:38. And we find they had food sufficient to eat, but were discouraged, and so utterly hopeless of life that they had no appetite for food: besides, the storm was so great that it is not likely they could dress any thing.
Have gained this harm and loss - It seems strange to talk of gaining a loss, but it is a correct rendering of the original, κερδησαι, which expresses the idea of acquisition, whether of good or evil. Those who wish it, may see this use of the term well illustrated by Bp. Pearce, in his note on this verse. The harm was damage to the vessel; the loss was that of the merchandise, furniture, etc.
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.There shall be no loss of - life - This must be joyous news to those from whom all hope that they should be saved was taken away: Acts 27:20.
For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve,The - God, whose I am, and whom I serve - This Divine communication was intended to give credit to the apostle and to his doctrine; and, in such perilous circumstances, to speak so confidently, when every appearance was against him, argued the fullest persuasion of the truth of what he spoke; and the fulfillment, so exactly coinciding with the prediction, must have shown these heathens that the God whom Paul served must be widely different from theirs.
Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.God hath given thee all them that sail with thee - Two hundred and seventy-six souls saved for the sake of one man! This was a strong proof of God's approbation of Paul; and must at least have shown to Julius the centurion that his prisoner was an injured and innocent man.
Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.
Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.We must be cast upon a certain island - The angel which gave him this information did not tell him the name of the island. It turned out to be Melita, on which, by the violence of the storm, they were wrecked some days after.
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;Driven up and down in Adria - See the note on Acts 27:17.
Deemed that they drew near to some country - They judged so, either by the smell of land, which those used to the sea can perceive at a considerable distance, or by the agitation of the sea, rippling of the tide, flight of sea-birds, etc.
And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms.And sounded - Βολισαντες, Heaving the lead.
Twenty fathoms - Οργυιας εικοσι, About forty yards in depth. The οργυια is thus defined by the Etymologicon: Σημαινει την εκτασιν των χειρων, συν τῳ πλατει του Ϛηθους· It signifies the extent of the arms, together with the breadth of the breast. This is exactly the quantum of our fathom.
Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day.Cast four anchors out of the stern - By this time the storm must have been considerably abated; though the agitation of the sea could not have subsided much. The anchors were cast out of the stern to prevent the vessel from drifting ashore, as they found that, the farther they stood in, the shallower the water grew; therefore they dropped the anchor astern, as even one ship's length might be of much consequence.
And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship,The shipmen - The sailors - let down the boat. Having lowered the boat from the deck into the sea, they pretended that it was necessary to carry some anchors ahead, to keep her from being carried in a dangerous direction by the tide, but with the real design to make for shore, and so leave the prisoners and the passengers to their fate. This was timely noticed by the pious and prudent apostle; who, while simply depending on the promise of God, was watching for the safety and comfort of all.
Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved - God, who has promised to save your lives, promises this on the condition that ye make use of every means he has put in your power to help yourselves. While, therefore, ye are using these means, expect the co-operation of God. If these sailors, who only understand how to work the ship, leave it, ye cannot escape. Therefore prevent their present design. On the economy of Divine Providence, see the notes on Acts 23:35.
Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off.The soldiers cut off the ropes - These were probably the only persons who dared to have opposed the will of the sailors: this very circumstance is an additional proof of the accuracy of St. Luke.
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.While the day was coining on - It was then apparently about day-break.
This day is the fourteenth day that ye have - continued fasting - Ye have not had one regular meal for these fourteen days past. Indeed we may take it for granted that, during the whole of the storm, very little was eaten by any man: for what appetite could men have for food, who every moment had death before their eyes?
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.A hair fall from the head - A proverbial expression for, ye shall neither lose your lives nor suffer any hurt in your bodies, if ye follow my advice.
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.Gave thanks to God - Who had provided the food, and preserved their lives and health to partake of it. Some think that he celebrated the holy eucharist here: but this is by no means likely: he would not celebrate such a mystery among ungodly sailors and soldiers, Jews and heathens; nor was there any necessity for such a measure.
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.They lightened the ship - They hoped that, by casting out the lading, the ship would draw less water; in consequence of which, they could get nearer the shore.
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.They knew not the land - And therefore knew neither the nature of the coast, nor where the proper port lay.
A - creek with a shore - Κολπον, Sinum, a bay, with a shore; a neck of land perhaps on either side, running out into the sea, and this little bay or gulf between them; though some think it was a tongue of land, running out into the sea, having the sea on both sides, at the point of which these two seas met, Acts 27:41. There is such a place as this in the island of Malta, where, tradition says, Paul was shipwrecked; and which is called la Cale de St. Paul. See Calmet.
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.Taken up the anchors - Weighed all the anchors that they had cast out of the stern. Some think the meaning of the word is, they slipped their cables; and so left the anchors in the sea.
Loosed the rudder bands - Or, the bands of the rudders; for large vessels in ancient times had two or more rudders, one at the side, and another at the stern, and sometimes one at the prow. The bands, ζευκτηριας, were some kind of fastenings, by which the rudders were hoisted some way out of the water; for, as they could be of no use in the storm, and, should there come fair weather, the vessel could not do without them, this was a prudent way of securing them from being broken to pieces by the agitation of the waves. These bands being loosed, the rudders would fall down into their proper places, and serve to steer the vessel into the creek which they now had in view.
Hoisted up the mainsail - Αρτεμονα is not the mainsail, (which would have been quite improper on such an occasion), but the jib, or triangular sail which is suspended from the foremast to the bowspirit; with this they might hope both to steer and carry in the ship.
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.Where two seas meet - The tide running down from each side of the tongue of land, mentioned Acts 27:39, and meeting at the point.
Ran the ship aground - In striving to cross at this point of land, they had not taken a sufficiency of sea-room, and therefore ran aground.
The forepart stuck fast - Got into the sands; and perhaps the shore here was very bold or steep, so that the stem of the vessel might be immersed in the quicksands, which would soon close round it, while the stern, violently agitated with the surge, would soon be broken to pieces. It is extremely difficult to find the true meaning of several of the nautical terms used in this chapter. I have given that which appeared to me to be the most likely; but cannot absolutely say that I have everywhere hit the true meaning.
And the soldiers' counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape.The soldiers' counsel was to kill the prisoners - What blood-thirsty, cowardly villains must these have been! Though, through the providence of God, those poor men had escaped a watery grave, and had borne all the anxiety and distresses of this disastrous voyage, as well as the others, now that there is a likelihood of all getting safe to land that could swim, lest these should swim to shore, and so escape, those men, whose trade was in human blood, desired to have them massacred! We have not many traits in the histories of the most barbarous nations that can be a proper counterpart to this quintessence of humano-diabolic cruelty.
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:Willing to save Paul, etc. - Had one fallen, for the reasons those cruel and dastardly soldiers gave, so must all the rest. The centurion saw that Paul was not only an innocent, but an extraordinary and divine man; and therefore, for his sake, he prevented the massacre; and, unloosing every man's bonds, he commanded those that could to swim ashore and escape. It is likely that all the soldiers escaped in this way, for it was one part of the Roman military discipline to teach the soldiers to swim.
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.And the rest - That could not swim: some on boards, planks, spars, etc., got safe to land; manifestly by an especial providence of God; for how otherwise could the sick, the aged, the terrified, besides women and children, (of which, we may naturally suppose, there were some), though on planks, get safe to shore? - where still the waves were violent, Acts 27:41, and they without either skill or power to steer their unsafe flotillas to the land? It was (in this case, most evidently) God who brought them to the haven were they would be.
1. Paul had appealed to Caesar; and he must go to Rome to have his cause heard. God admitted of this appeal, and told his servant that he should testify of him at Rome; and yet every thing seemed to conspire together to prevent this appeal, and the testimony which the apostle was to bear to the truth of the Christian religion. The Jews laid wait for his life; and when he had escaped out of their hands, and from their territories, then the winds and the sea seemed to combine to effect his destruction. And God suffered all this malice of men, and war of elements, to fight against his servant, and yet overruled and counterworked the whole, so as to promote his own glory, and bring honor to his apostle. Had it not been for this malice of the Jews, Festus, Felix, Agrippa, Berenice, and many Roman nobles and officers, had probably never heard the Gospel of Christ. And, had it not been for Paul's tempestuous voyage, the 276 souls that sailed with him could not have had such displays of the power and wisdom of the Christians' God as must have struck them with reverence, and probably was the cause of the conversion of many. Had the voyage been smooth and prosperous, there would have been no occasion for such striking interferences of God; and, had it not been for the shipwreck, probably the inhabitants of Malta would not so soon have heard of the Christian religion. God serves his will by every occurrence, and presses every thing into the service of his own cause. This is a remark which we have often occasion to make, and which is ever in place. We may leave the government of the world, and the government of the Church, most confidently to God; hitherto he has done all things well; and his wisdom, power, goodness, and truth, are still the same.
2. In considering the dangers of a sea voyage, we may well say, with pious Quesnel, To what perils do persons expose themselves, either to raise a fortune, or to gain a livelihood! How few are there who would expose themselves to the same for the sake of God! They commit themselves to the mercy of the waves; they trust their lives to a plank and to a pilot; and yet it is often with great difficulty that they can trust themselves to the providence of God, whose knowledge, power, and goodness, are infinite; and the visible effects of which they have so many times experienced.
3. What assurance soever we may have of the will of God, yet we must not forget human means. The life of all the persons in this ship was given to St. Paul; yet he does not, on that account, expect a visible miracle, but depends upon the blessing which God will give to the care and endeavors of men.
4. God fulfils his promises, and conceals his almighty power, under such means and endeavors as seem altogether human and natural. Had the crew of this vessel neglected any means in their own power, their death would have been the consequence of their inaction and infidelity.