“I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes.” If Charles Spurgeon is right, then the Lord’s “fingerprints” are all over Paul’s escape from the Jews’ plot to kill him.
“The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. They went to the chief priests and elders and said, ‘We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here’” (Acts 23:13-15).
Paul, a Roman citizen, remains in Roman “protective custody”, because twice Jews in the temple tried to kill him. They’re not done yet. “More than forty men” take a “curse oath” (Greek, anathematize—“bring under a curse”) “not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul.” They arrange for the Sanhedrin to request the Roman commander bring Paul before them for more information. They will kill him on the way.
These men may appear as fanatics. But they honestly believed the rumors that Paul had forbidden Jews to follow Moses. Furthermore, they were sure he had defiled the temples by bringing a Gentile into the holy Court of Israel. God’s holiness must be upheld by the death of the transgressor!
Paul would have met a violent death had it not been for what happened next . . .
“But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul. Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, ‘Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.’ So he took him to the commander. The centurion said, ‘Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.’ The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, ‘What is it you want to tell me?’ He said: ‘The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.’ The commander dismissed the young man and cautioned him, ‘Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me’” (Acts 23:16-22).
With all our information about Paul, we know nothing of his family life. Well, almost nothing. He had a sister, who had a son. Where did she live? If not Jerusalem, why was her son there? Author Luke doesn’t say. Just that the young man hears somehow of the Jews’ plot and tells Uncle Paul—an act of God’s providence. Paul is accessible to the young man, because he’s in “protective custody”, not imprisoned. And since the soldiers almost flogged a Roman citizen, they’re apparently eager to keep Paul reasonably happy. The commander believes Paul’s nephew and warns him to say nothing about their meeting.
“Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, ‘Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix’” (Acts 23:23,24).
A military force that large shows the Romans took the Jewish threat seriously and considered Paul an important prisoner. One man in “protective custody” riding in the middle of 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen!
“He wrote a letter as follows: Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings. This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him” (Acts 23:25-30).
The commander is not only getting Paul out of Jerusalem; he’s transferring Paul to a higher authority than himself—Governor Felix. The governor was once a slave, but was set free either by Mark Antony’s daughter or Emperor Claudius (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 20.137). His administration was marked by violent disturbances, his brutal reactions only turning the Jews more passionately against him. Tacitus (1st century Roman historian) said that Ananias “practiced every kind of cruelty and lust, wielding the power of [a] king with all the instincts of a slave” (Histories 5.9). To that governor Paul is now taken . . .
“So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, he said, ‘I will hear your case when your accusers get here.’ Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace” (Acts 23:31-35).
The military force leaves about 9 p.m. on what seems a forced march, and travels 35 miles through the Judean hill country at night without incident. They reach a trade-route crossroads on the border of Judea and Samaria—Antipatris. The threat of Jewish ambush lies behind; ahead lies a flat coastal plain inhabited by Gentiles. The infantry and spearman return home, while the calvary takes Paul the last 25 miles to Caesara. There the officers “delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him.”
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If Spurgeon is right (and the Scriptues teach God is sovereign over all things: he “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”–Ephesians 1:11), then over Paul and the might of Rome’s legions was the hand of Providence. As he rode in that military contingent, I imagine his mind drifted back to the Jerusalem night when the Lord appeared and said . . .
“ . . . just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem,
you must bear witness also in Rome” (Acts 23:11).
That memory must have encouraged Paul, surrounded by Rome’s military power.
I’m not a prized Roman prisoner. The Lord hasn’t appeared and told me the purpose for my suffering. But, because God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”, I believe the same hand of Divine Providence hovers over me. To that hand I cling.