The Sign: Tongues Part 7
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
By the New Testament period, when communities of Jews were widely scattered over the Gentile world, many Gentiles came into contact with Judaism. They found worship of one God and its wholesome ethical teaching attractive. Tired of pagan gods and heathen immorality, the Gentiles came to the synagogues to learn of the one true God and of His call to holiness, justice, and mercy. Many of them accepted the religion, morality, and lifestyle of the Jews. Not all Gentile sympathizers went so far as to be circumcised, but by New Testament times proselytes were nevertheless a significant part of Judaism, as the references to them in the Book of Acts (2:10; 6:5; 13:43) make clear.
These “halfway proselytes” proved to be a rich mission field for the early church. Unable to accept the binding requirements of the Jewish law, many of them turned to Christianity. This new faith welcomed all people, regardless of their background, culture, or religious tradition.
This universal appeal of Christianity was largely the result of the pioneering work of the apostle Paul. He taught that Gentiles did not have to become Jews—or submit to circumcision—in order to embrace the truths of the gospel. With this barrier removed, many proselytes who were attracted to Judaism turned instead to the Christian faith.
11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
CRETE kreet — an island in the Mediterranean Sea where a ship on which the apostle Paul was sailing was struck by a storm. Crete is about 258 kilometers (160 miles) long and varies between 11 and 49 kilometers (7 and 30 miles) wide (Acts 27:7, 12–13, 21). It is probably to be identified with CAPHTOR (Deut. 2:23; Amos 9:7), the place from which the Philistines (Caphtorim) originated. A number of legends are associated with Crete, particularly those involving King Minos and the Minotaur (the half-bull, half-man monster).
The island was captured by the Romans in 68–66 B.C. and made a Roman province.
During his voyage to Rome, Paul’s ship touched at Fair Havens, a harbor on the south coast of Crete (Acts 27:8). Not heeding Paul’s advice about the weather, the Roman soldier who held Paul in custody agreed with the captain and set sail for Crete’s large harbor at Phoenix. The result was a shipwreck at Malta (Acts 27:9–28:1).
ARABIA uh RAY bih uh — the large peninsula east of Egypt, between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf (see Map 1, C–3). About 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) wide and 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) long, Arabia is nearly one-third the size of the United States. It has almost no rainfall except along the coast, where it measures about 51 centimeters (20 inches) per year. There is only one river and one lake in the entire peninsula. Although a sudden shower may create a short-lived stream, most of the water in Arabia comes from deep wells or desert oases. Consequently, there is little agricultural activity on the peninsula.
The Arabian peninsula is a sandy, rocky desert with high mountain ranges on the western and southern coasts. The western mountains reach a height of 3,660 meters (12,000 feet) and show some evidence of past volcanic activity. Because of this volcanic activity, a few scholars have suggested that Mount Sinai was located in the western region of this mountain range. However, the traditional site at the southern end of the Sinai Peninsula is much more likely. Much of the sandy interior of Arabia is uninhabited, although there is barely enough grass on the lower mountain slopes to support its nomadic population. In addition to its lack of water, the desert was known for its sandstorms driven by violent winds (Job 1:19; 27:20–21).
The queen of Sheba came from Arabia, bringing gold, spices, and precious stones to Solomon (1 Kin. 10:2, 10, 14; 2 Chr. 9:1, 9, 14). Solomon and other kings sent their ships to Ophir in Arabia to bring back gold (1 Kin. 9:28; 2 Chr. 9:10). Ophir, Raamah, and Sheba were famous for their gold, silver, and precious stones (Job 22:24; Is. 13:12; Ezek. 27:22).
The people who lived in Arabia included the children of Joktan (Gen. 10:26–30), Cush (Gen. 10:7), the sons of Abraham and Keturah (Gen. 25:1–6), and Esau (Gen. 36). The “country of the east” (Gen. 25:6) is probably a reference to Arabia. The early history of many of these peoples is unknown. Israel’s earliest contacts with the inhabitants of Arabia probably came through their camel caravans. Some of them oppressed the Israelites during the time of the judges, but God delivered Israel from them by raising up the judge Gideon (Judg. 6:11).
David subdued some of the Arabian tribes that were close to Israel (2 Sam. 8:3–14), and Solomon established extensive trade relations with more distant tribes in Arabia to obtain their gold for his building projects (1 Kin. 9:28; 10:2, 11). Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, received rams and goats from the Arabians as tribute (2 Chr. 17:10–12), but after his death, they revolted and refused to pay tribute to his son Jehoram. Instead, they invaded Jerusalem and carried away Jehoram’s wealth, his wives, and all but his youngest son (2 Chr. 21:16–17).
Most of the tribes of southern and eastern Arabia were not well-known to Israel. Joel referred to the slave-trading Sabeans Shebaites as a people who lived far away (Joel 3:8). Isaiah pictured the Arabians wandering as far east as Babylon (Is. 13:19, 20. Tribes that lived closer—those at Tema, Dedan, and Kedar—were included in Isaiah’s prophecies of judgment against the foreign nations (Is. 21:13–17). Jeremiah also announced God’s judgment upon Dedan, Tema, Buz, Kedar, Hazor, and all the kings of Arabia (Jer. 25:23–24; 49:28–33).
Although most of Israel’s knowledge of the Arabians and their habits (Jer. 3:2) was due to a passing association with their caravan traders (Ezek. 27:21), some Arabians eventually settled in Palestine. While attempting to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah struggled against Geshem the Arab, who scorned and despised the Jews (Neh. 2:19). When this tactic failed to discourage the work on Jerusalem’s walls, the Arabs, Ammonites, Ashdodites, and others planned to attack the city by force (Neh. 4:7–13). When this strategy also failed, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab set a trap to lure Nehemiah out of the city and kill him (Neh. 6:1–7). Nehemiah prayed for guidance, and God delivered him from this plot.
It is likely that Job was from Arabia. Uz, the home of Job (Job 1:1), appears to be named after a descendant of Esau and the Edomites (Gen. 36:28; Lam. 4:21). Eliphaz, one of Job’s comforters, was from Teman, a city in Arabia (Job 2:11). Bands of Sabeans Shebaites and Chaldeans were close enough to attack Job’s cattle (Job 1:15, 17). A great desert wind destroyed the house of Job’s children (Job 1:19). The dialogue between Job and his comforters is filled with desert imagery and animals (Job 39).
we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
“In our tongues” means "Our own languages." Here were people from three continents. Certainly, they spoke diverse languages and dialects. They each heard these Galileans speak in an understandable dialect. May I say, these were not unknown tongues. They were languages that were understood.
The languages spoken by the apostles could not have been less than seven or eight, besides different dialects of the same languages. It is not certain that the Jews present from foreign nations spoke those languages perfectly, but they had no doubt used them well enough to make them the common tongue in which they conversed. No miracle could be more certain than this. There was no way in which the apostles could deceive them, and make them believe they spoke foreign languages if they really did not; because these foreigners were definitely able to determine that. It may be said, that this miracle had more important effects than that witnessed on the day of Pentecost. The gospel would be carried by those who were converted to all the places from which they had come, and the way would be prepared for the ministry of the apostles there. Accordingly, Christian churches were established afterward in most of these places, and they became celebrated for the conversion of great multitudes to the Christian faith.
“The wonderful works of God” were things such as the incarnation of Christ; his various miracles, preaching, death, resurrection, and ascension; and the objective of God to save the world through Him. From this one circumstance, we may learn that all the people named above were either Jews or proselytes; and that there was probably not any among them that could be, strictly speaking, called heathens. It may appear strange that there could be Jews found in so many different countries, some of which were very remote from Jerusalem; but there is a passage in Philo's Embassy to Caius which throws considerable light on the subject. In a letter sent to Caius by King Agrippa, he speaks of the holy city of Jerusalem, not merely as the metropolis of Judea, but of many other regions, because of the colonies of Jews which were led out of Judea at different times, not only into neighboring countries, such as Egypt, Phoenicia, Syria, and Coelosyria, but also into those that are remote, such as Pamphylia, Cilicia, and the chief parts of Asia as far as Bithynia, and the innermost parts of Pontus; also in the regions of Europe, Thessaly, Boeotia, Macedonia, Aetolia, Attica, Argos, Corinth, and the principal parts of Peloponnesus. Not only are the continents and provinces (he says) full of Jewish colonies, but also the isles of Euboea, Cyprus, and Crete, not to mention the countries beyond the Euphrates. All these are inhabited by Jews.