A. From Caesarea to Fair Havens.
1. (1-8) Paul is taken by ship to the island of Crete.
And when it was decided that we should sail to Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to one named Julius, a centurion of the Augustan Regiment. So, entering a ship of Adramyttium, we put to sea, meaning to sail along the coasts of Asia. Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, was with us. And the next day we landed at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him liberty to go to his friends and receive care. When we had put to sea from there, we sailed under the shelter of Cyprus, because the winds were contrary. And when we had sailed over the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing to Italy, and he put us on board. When we had sailed slowly many days, and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, the wind not permitting us to proceed, we sailed under the shelter of Crete off Salmone. Passing it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.
a. Julius, a centurion of the Augustan Regiment: We don't know much about this specific Augustan Regiment (several held that title), but it was common for Roman soldiers to accompany the transport of criminals, those awaiting trial, and merchant ships filled with grain going from Egypt to Rome.
b. Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, was with us: Paul was accompanied by Aristarchus and Luke (notice the us of verse 2 and beyond) on this voyage. While some have thought that they went "undercover" with Paul as his "slaves," it is just as likely that Aristarchus paid his fare as a passenger and that Luke was on board as the ship's doctor.
c. Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him liberty to go to his friends and receive care: The kindness Paul received reflected both his status as an uncondemned man awaiting an appeal before Caesar, and his evident godly character, giving him favor before man.
i. Paul was different from the other prisoners on board. The other prisoners were probably all condemned criminals being sent to Rome to die in the arena.
d. The ship begins to make its way west, eventually coming to the port called Fair Havens on the south side of the island of Crete.
2. (9-12) The decision is made to sail on, instead of wintering at the city of Fair Havens on the island of Crete.
Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, saying, "Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives." Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul. And because the harbor was not suitable to winter in, the majority advised to set sail from there also, if by any means they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete opening toward the southwest and northwest, and winter there.
a. Sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over: The Fast date in question here was probably October 5, which was the date of the Day of Atonement in AD 59. The idea is that now as winter approaches, the weather will become more dangerous for sailing.
i. "The dangerous season for sailing began about September 14 and lasted until November 11; after the latter date all navigation one the open sea came to an end until winter was over." (Bruce)
b. The name Fair Havens was not entirely accurate - at least not accurate in the winter. The position of the bay made it vulnerable to winter winds and storms. It was not an ideal place to wait out the coming season.
i. There was a risk in staying at Fair Havens; there was a risk in looking for a safer port to winter in. Which way was best? Many of the problems we face in life are like this; there are not easy decisions, just two tough decisions to choose from.
c. Paul advised them: Paul isn't really speaking as a prophet of God, but as an experienced traveler on the waters of the Mediterranean, having logged some 3,500 miles by sea. In his experience as a traveler, Paul advised that they not go on.
i. In addition, Paul had already been in three shipwrecks (2 Corinthians 11:25). He knew what stormy seas were like!
d. Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul: We can't be surprised the centurion had more respect for the opinion of the chief sailor and the owner of the ship, than for Paul's opinion. They both had much to lose if the ship didn't make it to Rome.
i. As well, it may be that the sailors did not want to spend three months wintering in the small town of Lasea, so they opted to try for the larger city of Phoenix on Crete.
B. The stormy journey from Fair Havens to Malta.
1. (13-20) A good start is made from Crete, but the ship quickly encounters great difficulty in a storm.
When the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their desire, putting out to sea, they sailed close by Crete. But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon. So when the ship was caught, and could not head into the wind, we let her drive. And running under the shelter of an island called Clauda, we secured the skiff with difficulty. When they had taken it on board, they used cables to undergird the ship; and fearing lest they should run aground on the Syrtis Sands, they struck sail and so were driven. And because we were exceedingly tempest-tossed, the next day they lightened the ship. On the third day we threw the ship's tackle overboard with our own hands. Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up.
a. Euroclydon: This wind was feared among ancient sailors for its destructive power. The sailors on board knew they were clearly in for a bad time.
b. We secured the skiff with difficulty: The skiff was normally towed behind the boat, but was taken aboard at bad weather - so they brought it in.
i. We secured the skiff with difficulty may be quite literal from Luke's perspective. The doctor was probably pressed into service pulling ropes!
c. Using cables to undergird the ship was a customary practice sometimes called "frapping." It helped prevent the ship from breaking apart in a storm.
d. Fearing they should run aground on the Sytris Sands: The Syrtis Sands were an infamous "graveyard" of ships off the coast of North Africa, feared like a "Bermuda Triangle." At all costs, the sailors wanted to avoid this area.
e. That they saw neither sun nor stars shows just how desperate their plight was, because these were the only tools of navigation they had. No wonder all hope that we would be saved was finally given up.
i. All hope . . . finally given up: Is this a good or a bad place to be? It is a good place if you are convinced there is no way to save yourself. Then you can look to Jesus to save you.
2. (21-26) Paul reveals to the crew what God promised him about their fate.
But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, "Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.' Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. However, we must run aground on a certain island."
a. The long abstinence from food probably had nothing to do with fasting, but instead with the poor condition of the food during such a storm and the prevalence of seasickness among everyone!
b. Men, you should have listened to me: Paul can't resist - and rightly so - an "I told you so" in this situation.
c. There will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship: The promise that there would be no loss of life, only the destruction of the ship, would sound like a bad deal in our materialistic age.
d. There stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve: The angel of God who appeared to Paul did more than assure Paul's survival. Paul already knew that he would survive, because God promised he would appear before Caesar (Acts 19:21 and 23:11). But the angel also promised something worth telling the passengers and the crew: God has granted you all who sail with you.
i. The angel told Paul, do not be afraid. This must mean there was a reason why Paul needed to heart those words. He struggled with fear in such circumstances like any man.
e. I believe God that it will be just as it was told me is the essence of what it means to put our faith in God and His Word. Paul's unshakable confidence in God made him a leader among these people, even though he was a prisoner of Rome.
i. Take note of what Paul said: "I believe God." He didn't say, "I believe in God." Every demon in hell agrees with the existence of God. Paul declared his total confidence in God's promise.
ii. Paul believed God when there was nothing else to believe. He couldn't believe the sailors, the ship, the sails, the wind, the centurion, human ingenuity or anything else - only God and God alone. This was not a fair-weather faith; he believed God in the midst of the storm, when circumstances were at their worst. Paul would say along with Job: Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him (Job 13:15). His terrible situation was real, but God was more real to Paul than the dreadful circumstances.
iii. Paul was not ashamed to say that he believed God. "I would to God that all Christians were prepared to throw down the gauntlet and to come out straight; for if God be not true let us not pretend to trust him, and if the gospel be a lie let us be honest enough to confess it." (Spurgeon)
f. Therefore, take heart, men: Paul used his belief to strengthen the hearts of others. Most all of the people on this ship were not Christians, yet Paul still cared enough to strengthen their hearts by telling them about his belief in God. If Paul had the attitude of some people today, he would have thought, "Hey, they're all going to hell anyway - who cares?" But Paul loved more than that.
g. On a certain island means that God did not tell Paul everything about what was going to happen. Paul had to trust that God knew which island they would run aground on!
3. (27-38) On the fourteenth night of the storm, Paul ministers to the passengers and crew.
Now when the fourteenth night had come, as we were driven up and down in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors sensed that they were drawing near some land. And they took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and when they had gone a little farther, they took soundings again and found it to be fifteen fathoms. Then, fearing lest we should run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come. And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, when they had let down the skiff into the sea, under pretense of putting out anchors from the prow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, "Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved." Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the skiff and let it fall off. And as day was about to dawn, Paul implored them all to take food, saying, "Today is the fourteenth day you have waited and continued without food, and eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take nourishment, for this is for your survival, since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you." And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat. Then they were all encouraged, and also took food themselves. And in all we were two hundred and seventy-six persons on the ship. So when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship and threw out the wheat into the sea.
a. The sailors sensed that they were drawing near some land: Sensing land was near (probably by hearing the breakers in the distance) the sailors took proper precautions against being crashed against some unknown rocks (they dropped four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come).
b. Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, "Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved." Paul knew two reasons why they had to stay together. First, the ship's passengers desperately needed the crew's expertise, and it would be fatal if the crew abandoned the passengers. Second, Paul probably sensed that God's promise to give him the lives of the whole ship's company assumed that they would stay together.
c. Since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you: Paul had a word of faith and confidence from the Lord for the frightened crew and passengers. But this word only benefited those who believed it.
i. God has scores of promises of His comfort and care for us in desperate times, but they only benefit us if we believe them.
d. And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat. Then they were all encouraged: There are hints that Paul regarded this meal as communion at the Lord's table for the Christians present.
e. They lightened the ship: Throwing out the wheat into the sea reflected their great desperation. This was the essential cargo of the ship, and they were throwing away all chance of making a profit or breaking even on the trip. This was a pure struggle for survival.
4. (39-44) The ship runs aground and all are safe, in fulfillment of God's promise through Paul.
When it was day, they did not recognize the land; but they observed a bay with a beach, onto which they planned to run the ship if possible. And they let go the anchors and left them in the sea, meanwhile loosing the rudder ropes; and they hoisted the mainsail to the wind and made for shore. But striking a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the violence of the waves. And the soldiers' plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim away and escape. But the centurion, wanting to save Paul, kept them from their purpose, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, and the rest, some on boards and some on parts of the ship. And so it was that they all escaped safely to land.
a. They did not recognize the land: They did not know it at first, but they came to an island called Malta. The place where the ship came aground is now called St. Paul's Bay.
i. "Only the rarest conjunction of favorable circumstances could have brought about such a fortunate ending to their apparently hopeless situation . . . all these circumstances are united in St. Paul's Bay." (Ramsay, cited by Bruce)
b. "If they missed Malta, there would have been nothing for it but to hold on for 200 miles until they struck the Tunisian coast, and no one could have expected the ship to survive that long." (Bruce)
c. And the soldiers' plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim away and escape: To the soldiers, it made sense to kill the prisoners, because Roman military law decreed that a guard who allowed his prisoner to escape was subject to the same penalty the escaped prisoner would have suffered - in the case of most of these prisoners, death.
d. But the centurion, wanting to save Paul, kept them from their purpose: God gave Paul favor in the eyes of this Roman centurion, and that favor kept Paul and all the prisoners alive – in fulfillment of the word spoken to Paul, God has granted you all those who sail with you (Acts 27:24). God's word never fails!