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The Sea Voyage to Rome
Summary —The Centurion in Charge of Paul Embarks with Him for Rome. At Myra Take an Alexandrian Corn Ship. The Weather Tempestuous Paul Advises the Centurion to Go into Harbor for the Winter. Caught by the Euroclydon and Driven. After Fourteen Days of Drifting Paul Assures Them That All Will Escape. The Ship Runs Ashore on the Island of Malta and Is Destroyed. The Men All Saved.
1. When it was determined. When all was settled that Paul should go to Italy, and the time appointed had come. Delivered Paul and certain other prisoners. No information is given concerning these companions in bonds. To a centurion named Julius. All we learn of this Roman officer is favorable. It is remarkable how uniformly Paul commanded the respect of the Roman officials with whom he came in contact. Sergius Paulus, Gallio, Felix, Festus and Julius are examples of this. Of the Augustan band. Rather, “cohort.” Josephus says that this period one of the cohorts stationed at Cæsarea took the name of Augustus (Wars, 2:12, 7 and 2:12, 5).
2. A ship of Adramyttium. This city was on the Asiatic coast of the Ægean Sea. In those days there were no regular lines of passenger ships, and in making a voyage from Judea to Rome several ships might be necessary to complete the voyage. Paul took three before he reached Rome. Aristarchus, a Macedonian. He is named in 19:29 and in 20:4. Luke and Aristarchus are the only fellow-Christians who attended Paul on the journey, as far as we know. In Col. 4:10, written while a prisoner at Rome, Paul calls Aristarchus his fellow-prisoner.
3. The next day we touched at Sidon. The next after sailing. Sidon was about sixty-seven miles north of Cæsarea. Here the centurion suffered Paul to go ashore to see his friends, the disciples in Sidon.
4, 5. Sailed under Cyprus. Near the eastern coast, where, by keeping near the shore, the contrary winds would be less felt, being broken by the highlands of the great island. The wind must have been from the northwest. The geographical details of this voyage are so accurate that they must have been written by an eye-witness. Myra, a city of Lycia. Reached by sailing over the seas of Cilicia and Pamphylia. Myra was a well-known port of that period.
6–8. Found a ship of Alexandria. The object was to meet a vessel on a voyage to Italy. Here 534was found such a ship, one of the great grain ships that sailed from Egypt. These were often large, of from 500 to 1,000 tons burden. Sailed slowly. On account of contrary winds. From Myra to Cnidus was only 137 miles, yet it required “many days.” The language seems to imply that the ship was not able to come into the port of Cnidus, a good harbor, fit for wintering, on the Carian coast. We sailed under Crete. From Cnidus, they ought to have sailed west, but the headwinds compelled them to direct their course to the south, where they took shelter under the lee of Crete. The winds were still evidently from the northwest. With difficulty they reached a place called Fair Havens. On the south coast of Crete. It retains the same name to this day. It is a roadstead, near the city of Lasea. It was supposed that all trace of this city was lost until recently, but it is now known that the natives apply this name to the ruins of an ancient town about five miles from Fair Havens.
9–13. When much time was spent. How long a time had passed since the embarkation cannot be told, but so long that sailing was now dangerous. On account of the season of year. In the winter, not only the storms, but the clouds and darkness, interfered with navigation. Mariners, in the absence of the compass, needed the sun and stars to direct their course. Because the fast was … past. That of the Atonement, which came in October. Sirs, I perceive. Paul's experience taught him the danger of proceeding. It was the stormy and tempestuous season. He therefore volunteered his advice. Centurion gave more heed. The master, or captain, and the owner, were both aboard, and it was but natural that their wishes would prevail with the centurion. The chief argument for proceeding was that Fair Havens was not a good harbor, and they hoped to reach a better one. Phenice. This place, Phoenix in the Revision, was never reached, but would have been a good place for wintering, for the excellent harbor there remains to this day. When the south wind blew. When this wind arose, they supposed they could attain their purpose, and sailed along the southern shore of Crete to reach, if possible, Phoenix.
14–20. Rose a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon. “Euraquilo” in the Revision; a 535terrible northeast gale. The word and the description imply a hurricane. When the ship was caught. Seized by the wind and hurled out of her course. All that could be done was to drift before it. The ship was powerless. Running under a certain island. Getting in the shelter of it. Here they tried to put the ship in better shape for the storm. Called Clauda. Now named Gozo. It lies a little south of Crete. Come by the boat. Drew it up on deck. It had been in tow when they set out with the gentle wind. Used helps. The hull showed signs of giving way, and was undergirded, by ropes or chains, that were dropped so as to pass under the hull, and then were tightened with levers. The process is still common in wooden vessels in times of great peril. The British call it “frapping.” Should fall into the quicksands. The Syrtis, or quicksands, on the African coast to the southwest of Crete, were greatly feared by ancient sailors. The fact that they expected to be driven there shows that the storm, at first, came from the northeast. Strake sail. Nautical men say that this language implies that most of their sails were furled, only a small sail remaining set. The ship was “laid to,” endeavoring to ride out the storm. So were driven. A ship “laid to” will drift. “Laid to,” she would not drift directly before the wind, but if the wind was from the northeast, and her bow laid to the north, she would drift to the west. Their aim was to keep from being driven into the quicksands (the Great Syrtis). Next day they lightened the ship. Cast heavy things overboard, in order that it might ride the waves better. The third day. On this, the third day of the storm, the Christians aided to cast off the tackling, the spars, etc. It is evident that the situation was dangerous. Neither sun nor stars in many days appeared. Hence they could neither tell where they were nor direct their course. No such thing as the compass was then known. All hope. All hope of saving the ship or cargo was gone, and the mariners despaired of their own safety.
21–26. After long abstinence. Anxiety and necessity would enforce abstinence. The fires were all put out, the provisions watersoaked, the men constantly employed, their fear too great to prepare regular meals. If there was eating at all, it would be by snatches. Paul stood forth. He chose some place on deck where all could hear him. Ye should have hearkened. He reminds them of his advice, not to taunt, but to secure confidence for what he shall now say. The vessel and cargo shall be lost, but no man's life. An angel. He gives the grounds of his hope. An angel of God, the God he served, Jehovah, stood by him and declared it. Whose I am, and whom I serve. This short 536sentence is a sermon. It is the key-note of all Paul's ministry. Fear not. They were in the midst of terrible peril, in a ruined ship, on an unknown sea, tossed by the storm, surrounded by angry waves beneath, and angry heavens above. But God had not forgotten his servant. God hath given thee all, etc. Paul had then prayed for his fellow-voyagers. Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island. Their safety and wreck on a certain island were assured; the details were not yet revealed.
27–32. Driven up and down in Adria. The central basin of the Mediterranean, between Sicily on the west and Greece on the east, was called by the old geographers “Adria,” or the Adriatic Sea. The name is now confined to the Gulf of Venice. The shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country. They probably heard the awful roar of the breakers. Sounded, and found it twenty fathoms. One hundred and twenty feet. The shallowness showed that they approached a coast, especially as it grew shallower every time the lead was cast. Fearing … rocks. It was night, and they could hear the sound of the breakers. By day they might avoid the rocks. Hence they cast anchor, and “wished for day.” Four anchors. Because so many were needed to hold the ship. As the shipmen were about to flee. The sailors were about to take the boat, under false pretence, and abandon the ship. For the safety of all it was needful that they remain, in order to manage the ship when it was run ashore. Hence the centurion, at Paul's request, cut off the boat and let it drift away.
33–38. Paul besought them all to take meat. At dawn of day. He seems to have really had charge in this hour of peril. They needed the strength of the food for the work before them. Having taken nothing. The thought is, that for fourteen days they had had no regular meals. This is for your 537health. Essential to your welfare and safety. There shall not a hair, etc. A promise of absolute safety. He took bread and gave thanks. As Paul was wont to do before eating; as Christ himself did (Matt. 14:19; John 6:11). Began to eat. To encourage them by his example. It had its effect, for “they were all of good cheer, and they also took meat.” We were … two hundred threescore and sixteen souls. It can be seen from this fact that merchant vessels of that period were of large size. They lightened the ship. It was needful to beach it in just as shallow water as possible, and hence the cargo was thrown overboard. As might be expected in an Alexandrian ship, the cargo was wheat. Egypt was then the granary of Rome.
39–44. They discovered a certain creek with a shore. Rather, “A certain bay with a beach,” as in the Revision; a sloping beach. Into this they determined to try to thrust the ship, because here the force of the waves would be broken, the water shallow, and the beach favorable for the men's lives. Taken up the anchors (see verse 29). The Revision says, “Cast off their anchors.” Cut the ropes and let them go. Loosed the rudder bands. When anchored by the stern (verse 29), the rudder was lifted up out of the water by rudder bands to keep it out of the way of the anchor cables. Now it was let down again in order to steer the vessel. A place where two seas met. Where two bodies of water joined. This was due to a small island on the coast of the larger, Salmonetta on the coast of Malta. When they moved into the bay, they did not see the inlet coming in on the other side of Salmonetta, but when they saw it, they saw that “two seas met.” Ran the ship aground. This was what they purposed, but the violence of the waves was such as to break the stern in pieces. The soldiers' counsel was to kill the prisoners. We have here an illustration of the extreme brutality of the rank and file of the Roman 538army. They would rather kill the prisoners than to run the risk of their escape. The centurion. The interference of the centurion was in harmony with all we have stated of him. Commanded. The centurion took command. Those that could swim, cast themselves into the sea. Others floated on any buoyant object that could be secured, and thus all came to shore. This was not Paul's first shipwreck. Compare 2 Cor. 11:25, which was written at an earlier period of his life.
Luke's description of the management of the ship in the storm and shipwreck is pronounced by scholars the best description of ancient nautical methods extant. 538
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