God’s Word for You
Acts 12:6-7 Whack, shove, or poke?
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, April 27, 2020
6 When Herod was about to bring him to trial, just the night before, Peter was bound with two chains, sleeping between two soldiers. There were sentries standing guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone brightly in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quickly, get up!” he said, and the chains fell from Peter’s wrists.
There are some specific things to comment on here.
1. Herod’s plans. The plans of men are nothing compared to the will of God. Whatever sinful man hopes to do, it will do nothing but serve the will of God, or it will not come about at all (Proverbs 16:9). Herod was like the scoundrel of Proverbs 6 (Proverbs 6:12-15). He had murdered James, and like any bully, he was thrilled by the reaction of the crowd, so he thought he would do it again, this time with Peter. He thought he would be careful and keep Peter waiting until after the Passover, but just the night before the trial and execution (there was no question of a fair trial, of course), the Lord turned everything around for his own purpose with the simple expedition of the angel.
2. Peter’s untroubled and secure sleep as opposed to Herod’s un-secure prison, chains, guards, and sentries. Why could Peter sleep so soundly? He had the comfort of Jesus’ own words. When Jesus reinstated Peter as his apostle, he assured him: “When you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go,” and John tells us that Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God (John 21:18-19). But Peter, John says, “would glorify God” with his death. He would not slip into denying Christ again. So whatever the morning would bring, life or death, execution or release, Peter could sleep, comforted by knowing that he was living or dying according to the will of God.
Now Peter slept as if living inside the text of the Fourth Psalm: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). And in the Third: “I lie down in sleep; I wake up again because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side” (Psalm 3:5-6). Our sleep can be like his. Even when time seems to run away from me, I know that I am doing what I can to serve my God. Yesterday I preached the Gospel, made sure my sons were fed at noon and at dinner time, I washed clothes, washed dishes, did a little mending, studied for a Bible class on Tuesday, translated, wrote (and lost!) some of today’s devotion, paid bills, and went to bed when I was too tired to do any more. But I can sleep content, knowing that God is with me, as he was with Peter, and as he is with you.
3. The angel’s mission. Angels are living beings of spirit, not of flesh, who were created by God to be his servants and to be “ministering spirits to all who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). Their number is immense (“ten thousand times ten thousand,” Daniel 7:10, meaning a very large number), and their number does not change. Angels do not die, cannot be destroyed, and do not procreate or have offspring (those who claim that the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-2 are angels contradict the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:30). This angel was sent to rescue Peter, and he did what was necessary to do so. First, he showed himself to be a servant of God by appearing with a brightly shining light in Peter’s cell. The chains that bound Peter’s hands or wrists simply fell away. The guards were unharmed by the angel (evil angels often try to harm us, Mark 9:22), but the angel had to strike Peter on the side to wake him up. The verb patasso (πατάσσω) can mean to strike a blow (the Lord doing the striking) that causes a plague or some other disaster (Numbers 14:12; 2 Maccabees 9:5), or for anyone to strike a blow causing death (Matthew 26:31; Zechariah 13:7), to strike with force (to hit, or strike with a sword, Luke 22:50), or just to touch someone or something (Shepherd of Hermas Hs 9,6,4). Did the angel give Peter a whack, or a nudge? While there might be some comedy in the angel giving Peter a good swift kick, that would be going too far. We should say that the angel physically touched Peter, but whether this was a poke or a nudge or a shaking, the way any of us would wake someone else up, we cannot say with certainty. Even my Greek lexicon lists this passage under two of the above categories without apologizing.
The angel accomplished his mission so far with the means available to him. This is what we should do, too, with whatever mission or task we have to do today. Most of us need to avoid human contact in this time of quarantine and social distancing. But God has blessed us with many means to communicate. For that we praise him, and we go on looking after one another as best we can. Give God glory, even when he needs to give you a shove or a poke, and do every task before you with him in mind and in your heart.
Pastor Timothy Smith