Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along.Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.
Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.But we must run aground on some island.”
When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms.And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 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 ship’s boat and let it go.
As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.”And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea.
Now when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to run the ship ashore. So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. But striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf.The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Paul and the rest were in Fair Haven, a minor port. It was not safe for the ship to winter there. The ship’s owner did not want to stay there. Julius the centurion was not willing to let them leave without him and his prisoners. Paul advised against going. Predicting the loss of the ship, the cargo, and everyone on board. As we read here the ship and cargo were lost but there was no loss of life. But, Paul expressed an opinion. It was not a word from God.
Paul’s opinion did not matter. He was a prisoner. If Julius said they were going to leave, they were going to leave. He would trust the wisdom of professional mariners over some Jewish preacher.
The south winds turned gentle. This caused the ship’s crew to think they had caught a break. They believed they could make it to a better port to winter. So they set sail.
They stayed close to shore for safety. They were on the leeward side of the island. This provided them some added safety. They were not fool-hearty. They were prudent. They needed to get to a better port for winter and this was a good opportunity.
No sooner had they set sail when the weather changed. They were caught in hurricane-force winds. They tried to turn the ship into the wind. But they could not. Since they could not face the ship so the bow would take the force of the waves. They allowed the ship to drift at the mercy of the wind.
The crew tried everything to save themselves and the ship. Most of us are not mariners. So we do not understand the behavior of the ship’s crews. So let’s take a brief look at managing a ship in a storm. It is all about managing energy.
You may remember the from high school. Energy (E) is one-half mass (M) multiplied by the velocity squared. (E= ½ MV2.) The more energy the ship absorbed the more the likelihood it would breakup. So the goal was to manage the energy. They tried to lessen it. And they tried to dissipate it.
Uncontrolled energy destroys ships in a storm. The first thing to do is to reduce speed. Traveling at a high speed, even in the direction of the wind, can damage the ship. The ship could hit a void. That is a space where the ship is no longer suspended by water. When that happens the ship comes crashing down into the waves. The ship then absorbs the energy of the impact.
They needed to position the ship so it was exposed to the least amount of energy. First, they “heaved to.” “Heaving to” is a way of slowing a ship’s forward progress. It fixes the helm. The sails are positioned so that the ship does not have to be steered.
Energy management explains why they threw everything overboard. It reduced the mass. It explains why they let the ship drift with the waves and the wind. That reduced velocity. It also explains why they tried, but failed, to turn the ship into the wind. The bow would dissipate the energy.
They brought the ship’s boat on board. The ship’s boat was a smaller boat used to maneuver the ship in port and ferry from ship to shore. While at sea it was pulled behind the ship. After they secured the boat they used supports to undergird the ship. Ancient vessels carried ropes to strengthen the hull during storms. They tied the ropes around the ship sideways in an emergency. They also lowered a sea anchor to further slow the ship.
Imagine this scene. All these men are working and straining to save their lives. They had not eaten in almost 2 weeks. They are tired. They’re hungry. They are weak. They are wet. They are cold. The wind is blowing. Their footing is unsure. They are in fear of falling overboard. Everyone is afraid and discouraged. They have lost all hope. In the middle of all this Paul stands up and says. “I told you so. You should have listened to me.” I would have been tempted to punch him in the mouth.
Maybe someone started walking towards him to do just that. But Paul continued. “Don’t be discouraged no one is going to die. We’ll lose the ship. But no one will die. How do I know? An angel from God told me last night.” Words that opened with “I told you so” ended with encouragement.
There is no situation so bad it cannot be made worse with panic. Fatigue allows fear to run wild. These men were tired and afraid. Panic was setting in. Paul’s words of encouragement calmed the crew, soldiers, and prisoners. They gave encouragement. They now had hope.
Paul said the angel told him God had granted him the lives of all those on board. This shows Paul prayed not only for himself but for everyone. He prayed that no one would drown. And God answered his prayer. No one would die.
Paul’s prophecy about the ship served to underscore Paul’s credibility. He was an agent of God. But notice the difference between this and Paul’s previous warning. In the previous warning, Paul expressed his opinion. “I perceive.” Here Paul states this is not his opinion. This is from God.
They suspected they were approaching land. So they took a sounding. That is they measured the depth of the water below the ship. The first time they took the sounding they found it was twenty-four fathoms. The second time it was fifteen fathoms.
A fathom is a term for measuring the depth of water. It is about 6 feet. Originally it was the length of a man’s outstretched arms.
So it appeared they were approaching land. Nearing land could mean the ship could get caught in rocks and break apart. So they lowered the four anchors from the stern. Under the pretense of lowering the anchors from the bow, the ship’s crew attempted to abandon ship. They had lost hope. They attempted to flee under the pretext of helping. While Paul’s words were encouraging, not everyone believed. The ship’s crew thought they needed to save themselves. And to do that, they were fine with sacrificing everyone else.
Paul alerted the centurion to what was happening. He told Julius that if the ship’s crew left the rest would die. But wait a minute! Did not the angel of the Lord tell Paul God was going to spare their lives? Let them go. Big deal. God promised everyone would all survive.
The crew did not have the power to void God’s promise. Paul knew that. There is a difference between God’s will and the means God uses. God did not reveal His grace to Paul so Paul could be lazy and careless. God did not reveal His will so Paul could be rash.
In Isaiah God promised Hezekiah He would deliver the city. (Isaiah 37:6-35). Hezekiah did not show he trusted God by throwing open the city gates to the enemy.
Rather God decrees both the means and the ends. The means are what we do. That does not mean God requires our help. But God commands we obey. We show our love and trust in Him through obedience. We trust God by working toward the ends God decrees. The saying, “let go and let God” is flat out wrong. We are to obey God’s commandments. We are responsible for obedience. God provides the results. We do not know the hidden will of God. That is why we call it hidden. So we are responsible for doing our best in all things at all times. That is how we obey. Anything less then our complete effort best is unworthy of God’s blessing.
So the soldiers now listen to Paul and cut the ropes to the ship’s boat and it drifts away.
When daylight arrives Paul encourages the men. First, he reminded them that they were all going to survive. God had promised. There was no better guarantee. Second He encouraged them to eat. It had been 2 weeks since they had eaten. The adrenaline had kept them going but adrenaline would not keep them going. They needed food. They needed to eat.
Paul blessed the food. He gave thanks to God. This may seem strange to some. They were in a storm. Their lives were in danger. They were weak and tired. And Paul gave thanks? Yes. God was gracious to them as He is to us. It is by the grace of God we draw our next breath. All we have is a gift. It was right to thank God.
Paul modeled the behavior for them and us. Paul, a prisoner, took the leadership role. Luke and Paul’s entourage followed his example. The lesson here is not that we should all assume a leadership role. But when I was an active duty Marine there was a saying. Lead, follow or get the heck out of the way. (I cleaned it up) There are times that you need to lead. There are times that require you to follow. But don’t impede the mission. Luke and the rest behaved as they should, by following. In following they obeyed God’s will. They modeled Paul’s behavior and encouraged the rest.
When they finished eating they continued to lighten the ship.
When daylight broke they could see land. They did not know where they were. They did not recognize the area. But it was land! Then they noticed a bay and headed for it. Finally, there was hope. But the ship struck a reef. They had run the ship aground. The waves now beat the stern of the ship. And it started to break apart. What was hope, disappeared. The only thing to do was abandon the ship.
The soldiers prepared to kill the prisoners. They feared the prisoners would escape. This was a standard operating procedure. The punishment for allowing a prisoner to escape was death. So as they saw it, it self preservation. But Julius, the centurion, prevented the execution. He wanted to spare Paul’s life.
Those who could swim swam to shore. Those who could not swim grab planks from the ship that was breaking up and came to shore.
God’s fulfilled His promise. He had granted Paul’s request. None of them lost their lives. He had preserved them all.