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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Acts 27

 

 

Verses 1-44

WHILE AT EPHESUS Paul had ‘purposed in the spirit saying, I must also see Rome” (Acts 19:21); and, what is more important still, it was the Lord’s purpose for him— “so must thou also bear witness at Rome” (Acts 23:11). We have just been tracing God’s ways behind the scenes bringing to pass that “it was determined that we should sail into Italy.” Again Luke uses “we,” showing that he was now again a companion of Paul as they started on this journey, which was to be so full of disaster, and yet have so miraculous an ending.

Looking at second causes, Paul might have bitterly regretted his appeal to Caesar, when Agrippa declared that but for it he might have been set at liberty. Looking to God, all was clear, and Paul with other prisoners started on the voyage. Yet though the journey was thus ordered of God, it did not follow that everything moved with ease and smoothness. The very opposite; for it is put on record from the beginning that “the winds were contrary” (v. Acts 27:4). The fact that circumstances are against us is no proof that we are out of the way of God’s will, nor do favouring circumstances necessarily mean that we are in the way of His will. We cannot safely deduce from circumstances what may or may not be His will for us.

Circumstances continued contrary and progress was tedious, “the wind not suffering us” (v. Acts 27:7), and the dangerous time of year arrived when it was customary to suspend voyages in some safe harbour. The place called Fair Havens was reached, which in spite of its name was not a suitable spot, and here a conflict of opinion developed. The skipper was desirous of reaching Phenice, while Paul counselled that they were about to run into disaster and loss, not only for ship and cargo but also to their lives. The Roman centurion, in charge of the party of prisoners, held the casting vote, and having listened to the voice of worldly wisdom and nautical skill on the one hand, and that of spiritual understanding on the other, he decided in favour of the advice of the skipper.

Any ordinary person, without a doubt, would have decided as did the centurion and when suddenly the wind veered and blew gently from the south, it looked as though God was favouring the centurion’s decision. But again we see that circumstances furnish no true guidance; for they set sail only to be caught in the dreaded Euroclydon, which upset all their plans. They proceeded by sight and not by faith, and all ended in disaster. They took all possible measures to work out their own salvation, but without effect, so that ultimately all hope was abandoned. It is easy to see that all this may be effectively used as a kind of allegory; representing the soul’s struggles for deliverance, whether from the guilt or the power of sin. Nothing was right until God intervened, first by His word through Paul, and then by His power in the final shipwreck.

It was when they were nearly starved and quite hopeless that the angel of God appeared to Paul. Nearly a fortnight had passed since the storm began, and until this point Paul had not had anything authoritative to say. But now the word of God had reached him, stating that he must appear before Caesar, and that he and all sailing with him were to be saved. God having spoken Paul could speak with authority and the utmost assurance. After a fortnight’s tossing on the wild seas the feeling of one and all must have been deplorable and depressing. But what had feelings to do with the matter? God had spoken, and Paul’s attitude was, “I believe God,” in spite of all the feelings in the world.

All the probabilities of the situation also would have given a negative to what the angel had said. That a small sailing vessel, packed with 276 people, should be wrecked and destroyed, in days when there were no friendly lifeboats, and yet every one of the 276 be saved, was so highly improbable as to be pronounced impossible. But God had said it, so Paul laughed at the impossibility and said, “It shall be done.” Moreover so strong was his faith that not only did he say this in his heart but he also said it aloud in the way of testimony to the other 275 people on board. His exact words were, “It shall be even as it was told me.” The salvation of all had not yet happened, but he was as sure of it as if it had.

Faith has very simply been defined as “Believing what God says, because God says it,” and this is well supported by Paul’s words, “I believe God.” In this case feelings, reason, experience, the probabilities of the situation, all would have contradicted the Divine statement, but faith accepted what God said, though all else denied it. Faith in our hearts will speak in just the same way. The Divine testimony to us deals with matters far greater than a salvation for time only, and it reaches us not from the mouth of an angel but through the holy and inspired Writings, which we now have in print in our own tongue; but our reception of it is to be equally definite. We simply believe God, and thus set to our seal that God is true.

Verses Acts 27:34-36 show us that Paul’s attitude and actions corroborated his brave words of faith. Thus we see him exemplifying what James so stresses in his epistle: faith, if it is alive, must express itself in works. If, having uttered words of faith, he had remained depressed and dejected like the rest, no one would have paid much attention to his words. But rather, having announced words of good cheer, he was himself most evidently of good cheer. He gave thanks to God, he partook of food, and exhorted the others to do the same. His works thus attesting the reality of his faith, all were impressed by it. They too were of good cheer and took food. As yet the circumstances were not altered, but they were altered as the confidence of faith found a place in their hearts, for it furnished them with “the substantiating of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1. N. Trans.). The whole episode is an excellent illustration of what faith is and how faith works.

It illustrates also how faith is vindicated. God was as good as His word, and every soul was saved. His promise was fulfilled literally and exactly, and not approximately and with tolerable accuracy, as is so common amongst men. We may take Him at His word with absolute certainty. Yet this does not mean that we can become fatalistic, and ignore ordinary measures of prudence. This also is illustrated in our story. After Paul had announced that all should be saved, he did not permit the sailors to flee out of the ship, since their presence was needed; and later, when all had eaten enough, they lightened the ship still further by casting the wheat into the sea. They did not fold their arms and do nothing as fatalism would have decreed, but took the ordinary measures of prudence, while trusting in God’s word. The ending was really miraculous. In one way or another all were saved.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Acts 27:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/acts-27.html. 1947.

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