The Shipwreck: Part 5 of 6 (series: Lessons on Acts)
by John Lowe
30 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,
Such is the natural cowardice and selfishness of the human heart. Times of great peril often bring out the best in men, when they rise to great heights of heroism and sacrifice, but they can also bring about the very worst, and such was the case here.
The sailors decided to try to save their own lives at all costs. They pretended that they had to make the ship more secure by laying out anchors from the bow. To do that, they said, they would need the ship's launch. Such a move would have added nothing whatever to the safety of the ship. These boats were not meant to serve as lifeboats and were only capable of carrying a handful of people. The officers could not have been deceived by the ploy, so they must have been parties to the scheme; but there was one man on board who immediately saw through it—Paul. He had been to sea too many times and had taken far too keen an interest in sailors and their trade to be deceived by this excuse of the sailors made to conceal an attempt to abandon ship. He saw through it at once and spoke up.
31 Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.
32 Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat (already lowered), and let her fall off (drift away).
We have throughout this entire narrative an interesting blend of mystical faith and practical common sense. All would be saved; Paul had God’s word for that. That was knowledge supernaturally bestowed. Paul, faced with the defection of the ship’s officers and men, did not shrug his shoulders and look for some divine miracle to intervene. He saw at once the obvious fact that without a crew that ship would never make it to shore. Their skilled help was needed for the dangerous maneuver of beaching. God does not do for us what we can do for ourselves. So Paul with down-to-earth wisdom appealed to the one man on board able to do something about what was happening—the centurion. Moreover, Paul put the matter bluntly and in terms of everyone’s very obvious self-interest: “Don’t let those men get away if you want to be saved.” The angel of God had told Paul that he and the men would be saved. But they couldn’t be saved their way. They must be saved God’s way. God’s way was for them to stay with the ship.
There was no indecision on the part of the centurion and his men. They did not argue the point as to whether or not, in actual fact, the sailors were going to secure some more anchors, nor did they discuss the advisability of cutting the ships one lifeboat adrift. The centurion had learned his lesson well. When Paul spoke, he listened and responded. So at a nod from their commander, the soldiers descended in a body on the sailors, pushed them aside, and with a slash of the sword cut the boats 10hawsers and let her be carried away by the waves. Any angry reaction by the sailors would have been quickly silenced by the wrath, determination, and armed might of the soldiers. Thus a dangerous and regrettable incident passed.
The crew went back to their duties, and the soldiers mounted a watchful guard against any further treachery.
33 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.
34 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.
Paul knew that every man on board needed his strength for the grueling work of keeping the ship afloat and escaping to shore, therefore, he assembled as many as possible and told them, “This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing.” There are several reasons for going without food for so long—the difficulty of cooking during a storm,
spoiling of food by seawater, seasickness, fear, and discouragement causing a loss of appetite, etc.
“Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health.” The ugly incident might soon have bred resentment and revenge on board. Something needed to be done to distract people’s attention from what had happened, so Paul, always practical, suggested a meal. The suggestion cheered everyone up. Suddenly all on board remembered how hungry they were. There is nothing like the thought of a meal, especially to a starving man, to take one’s mind off of other things.
Paul gave some practical advice: one has to have food for human survival (Deuteronomy 8:3); Jesus, the bread of life (John 6:35) for spiritual survival.
Then, to allay the panic of the sailors and to calm the dismay some must have felt at seeing the only lifeboat swept away, Paul spoke again using a common Jewish saying denoting absolute protection:“For there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.” “You’ve nothing to fear,” he said. “You are all going to be saved. You will arrive on shore completely unharmed.” God is in control of the minutest detail of the individual’s life (Luke 21:18).
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.
Though this sounds like an observance of the Lord’s Table, it probably was not. Most of those 276 people were not Christians. Rather it was a public testimony by Paul of his faith in the God and Father of the Lord Jesus as well as practical grounds for eating—in order to muster strength for the ordeal ahead.
To Paul, even the simplest action, such as eating a meal, was sanctified by prayer and by the acknowledgment of God’s goodness, provision, and care.
36 Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat.
37 And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen souls.
All of a sudden the fear, the suspicion, the hate, the anger died away. Everyone cheered up. Food was brought. People began to eat. A new spirit of optimism and good fellowship prevailed. A buzz of conversation arose. People began to peer through the gloom with new heart and new hope. Paul’s promise of safety somehow seemed more real. He had just been talking to his God in a personal and intimate way. Somehow, Paul’s God seemed very near, very real, very much alive, and very personal indeed.
What a result from a simple prayer of thanks for a humble crust of bread! It was not that Paul was parading his religion. To him, it was as natural as breathing to acknowledge God and his nearness in even the most commonplace functions of life. That is what produced the result—the unselfconscious, unpretentious act of showing devotion to God.
38 And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea.
Now came the time for further practical measures. If the ship was to have a chance of surviving, or at least of making the maximum distance over shallow seas, she must be lightened. Everything not needed must be jettisoned and as much water as possible bailed from the hold, so that she would ride high on the waves. So overboard went all the remaining stores. Again we see the same mixing of the ordinary and the miraculous. It is an axiom of life that God does not do for us what we can do for ourselves. He expects us to take all possible and prudent steps that may suggest themselves in a situation.
There was one very serious problem unique to a grain ship. Once wet, grain would also pose a hazard to the ship, since the grain could swell to twice its original volume and split the hull. Many suggest that they would have retained some of the cargo as ballast (heavy material kept in the hold of a ship to steady it); whether or not this is the case, such ships carried hundreds of tons of wheat, so they could not have finished the job began in 27:18; yet they again cast grain into the sea in hopes of making some small difference. An Alexandrian ship’s cargo would be wheat.