"The Shipwreck" Page 6 of 6 (Lessons on Acts)
by John Lowe
39 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.
40 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.
We know exactly where the ship was now positioned on the coastline of Malta. The sailors, however, had no idea where they were. They had long since given up any attempt at navigation. Travelers tell us that the shore here is skirted with rocky crags that tower out of the sea. The ship would have been dashed to pieces on those precipices if she had not been prudently anchored the night before. Dawn revealed the forbidding headland.
But, to everyone’s intense relief, there was a creek with a Sandy Beach visible. That Sandy Shore seemed to the storm-tossed souls on board a blessed place of refuge from the storm. God Himself had steered that ship to such a sliver of shore.
Final preparations were now made to run the ship, if possible, onto that sandy beach. The anchors were 11weighed and the lashings (ropes) securing the 12rudders (one on each quarter of the ship) were loosed (untied), so that they could direct the ship into the bay. A helmsman would pull and push a tiller, or handle, to control two steering paddles (oars) connected as rudders. The sailors had apparently bound the rudders to prevent unwelcome movement but now they needed to steer. It was also necessary to expose some sail to the wind so as to give her headway and allow the steersman to operate the rudders. Accordingly the foresail was hoisted, and the doomed ship committed irrevocably to its last brief voyage to shore.
41 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.
It was a short bumpy ride. The ship was driven, it seems, to the west side of the bay, which, although rocky, had two creeks with beckoning beaches. Driven by the wind to the west side of the bay, the ship’s bow ran firmly onto a bottom of tenacious clay, where it was held fast. The stern, exposed to the violence of the waves, soon began to disintegrate under the heavy pounding of the sea. Paul had not been promised that the ship would be saved—just the contrary—but that the lives of all on board would be saved. The miraculous good fortune of being able to bring the vessel so close to a hospitable shoreline to which the people on board could flee was God’s provision for them all.
42 And the soldiers' counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape.
At times truth is stranger than fiction, and everyday life just as exciting as a story. Here Paul, saved from the sea, is now imperiled by the soldiers.
The stern code under which Roman soldiers lived made them personally responsible for their prisoners. If one prisoner escaped, their lives were forfeit (we remember the Philippians jailer’s reactions, 16:27). It was therefore natural that they would want to execute the prisoners then and there. A dead prisoner could be accounted for.
43 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:
According to strict justice, if they killed any prisoners, they would have to kill Paul as well. Probably Julius felt that would be the height of ingratitude to put to death the man who, under God’s guidance, had been so helpful in their deliverance thus far.
Paul had made such a deep impression on the centurion, that he was determined to save him at all costs, and his word overruled that of the soldiers. Before any developing rebellion could take root, he gave the immediate order for those under his care and command to abandon ship—that would include the prisoners. Chained prisoners cannot swim; unchained prisoners can escape. Guards were responsible for the prisoner’s safe custody. They would be less liable for their charges if the prisoners “died at sea” than if they escaped. In any case, most of these prisoners were likely going to be fed to animals for public entertainment in Rome.
The restraints were removed from the prisoners, and all on board began to hurl themselves into the sea; those who could swim naturally leading the way. The centurion was not too concerned about losing his prisoners. There would not be much chance
of any of them getting very far under the circumstances, and, in any case, he was in command, and the responsibility was his. Thus he showed his gratitude, courage, and common sense. Julius might have had a hard time later explaining how he spared one prisoner (Paul) and not others, so he spares all.
44 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.
Those who could not swim soon found practical means to reach the shore. The wooden ship was breaking up fast, so on bits and pieces of the wreckage, one and all in desperation threw themselves into the sea. And God’s promise held true. Not a single person on board that ill-fated vessel failed to make it to land. We can picture the scene; the cries, the wild waves picking up the debris and rubbish of people and wreckage alike and hurling it all on shore. We can see the curling of the waves, the foaming of the sea. We can see the struggling people plunged beneath the water, and then emerging a little nearer to land. We can hear their cries of fear give way to a note of hope as at last their feet touch the sandy bottom. Then another wave picks them up again, overwhelms them, but throws them farther toward the beach. Finally the strong would wade back into the breakers to give a hand to the weak.
Special Notes 1
Cohort is defined as one of the ten divisions in an ancient Roman legion, numbering from 300 to 600 soldiers.2
A centurion (in the ancient Roman army) was the commander of a hundred men.3
Julius—A Roman centurion on special assignment; taking Paul to Rome as his prisoner.4
Adramyttium.An ancient city of Mysia in the Roman Province of Asia. The only reference in the New Testament to it is in Acts 27:2 which says that Paul, while being taken a prisoner from Caesarea to Rome, embarked upon a ship belonging to Adramyttium. The city, with a good harbor, stood at the head of the Gulf of Adramyttium facing the island of Lesbos, and at the base of Mt. Ida.5
Asia. An ancient Roman province, the first and westernmost Roman province in Asia Minor, stretching at its greatest extent from the Aegean coast in the west to a point beyond Philomelium (modern Akşehır) in the east and from the Sea of Marmara in the north to the strait between Rhodes and the mainland in the south. The province was first constituted when Attalus III, king of Pergamum, bequeathed his dominions to the Romans in 133 bc. At that time the province contained many different communities at different stages of development.6
Aristarchus, or Aristarch was "a Greek Macedonian of Thessalonica" (Acts 27:2), a Christian mentioned in a few passages of the New Testament. He accompanied Saint Paul on his journey to Rome. Along with Gaius, another Macedonian, Aristarchus was seized by the mob at Ephesus and taken into the theater (Acts 19:29). Later, Aristarchus returned with Paul from Greece to Asia (Acts 20:4). At Caesarea, he embarked with Paul on a ship of Adramyttium) bound for Myra in Lycia (Acts 27:2); whether he traveled with him from there to Rome is not recorded. Aristarchus is described as Paul's "fellow prisoner" and "fellow laborer" in Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 1:24, respectively.7
A bight is a bend or curve in a coastline, river, or other geographical feature. It typically indicates a large, open bay, often only slightly receding. It is distinguished from a sound by being shallower.8
A yard is a spar on a mast from which sails are set. Although some types of fore and aft rigs have yards, the term is usually used to describe the horizontal spars used on square sails.9
The tackling of the ship—the anchors, sails, cables, baggage, etc. That is, everything that was not indispensable to its preservation.10
Hawser refers to a large rope for towing or tying up a ship.11
Weighing anchor literally means raising the anchor of the vessel from the sea floor and hoisting it up to be stowed on board the vessel. But in their current situation they may have simply cut the anchor ropes, and left the anchors in the sea.12
The word rudders literally describe the blades of oars and refer to paddle rudders extending from the sides of the ship. These were tied while the ship was at anchor.13
The opinion of commentators is split as to whether the owner and master are the same person or two different people.14
Eurolclydon (sometimes called “a northeasterner”) is a strong, dangerous wind storm greatly feared by those who sailed the Mediterranean Sea.