God’s Word for You
Acts 13:50-52 Leaving Antioch
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, June 25, 2020
50 But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them from their district.
The phrase “God-fearing women” means that the women in question were not Jews. They were Gentiles, but they were also converts to Judaism, and they and their husbands had a high social standing in the community. This may have meant that they were of the ruling class, or that their husbands were among the most successful merchants or professionals, or both. The women were converts, which meant that they were very interested in their new faith, and they would have been attending the synagogue and perhaps other religious study groups; they were certainly under the influence of the jealous Jews who were going to be stirring things up against Paul and Barnabas. The rabbis incited the women, and the women incited their men, and soon there was a big outcry against the Christians. After some kind of persecution (or, according to some witnesses, “great suffering and persecution”) which probably involved Paul being whipped or worse, the Jews drove Paul and Barnabas “from their district.”
The district or region (Greek horion) that our missionaries were driven from was Pisidia, which is the southern and westernmost corner of Galatia in central Asia Minor. If you can imagine Galatia as an elongated S-shaped area, this would be the left-hand side of the bottom loop of the “S.”
51 So they shook the dust from their feet against them, and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
From Antioch, they made their way east-southeast to Iconium. A good ancient road would have taken them near a large body of water, Lake Caralis. A two-hour drive today, it would have taken more than a week to walk to Iconium, and we should remember that the ‘persecution’ may have left the travelers beaten, wounded, and exhausted.
As they left Antioch, Luke tells us that Paul and Barnabas also “shook the dust from their feet.” Before we explain what this means, we need to point out (based on one reader’s good question) what it doesn’t mean. This is not related to Isaiah 52:2, “Shake off your dust, rise up, O Jerusalem.” That verse and others like it are references to shaking off the dust of mourning or grieving (see also Isaiah 47:1). Here, “shaking off the dust” refers to the Jewish custom of shaking the dust off one’s feet when a Jewish traveler left a heathen city. It is as if to say, “I don’t even want to carry your dust with me, nor anything else that has to do with you.” Jesus commanded his disciples to do this even to Jewish towns if the people rejected them. “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town” (Matthew 10:14). So although Paul and Barnabas had some success with the gospel and left behind a small Christian congregation, they shook off the dust to show the rest of the Jews that they had rejected God when they rejected Christ; they had set themselves outside of God’s kingdom.
Verse 52 closes the chapter on Pisidian Antioch, and despite the persecution and the departure of Paul, the verse tells us that the Christians in Antioch (the verse cannot grammatically refer yet to the people of Iconium ) were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. The gospel had come to them, and no one could take it away. They put their faith in Jesus and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s what life in Christ means in this lifetime. The Spirit enables us to turn away from temptations and sins and presses us to the means of grace (the gospel in word and sacrament) to be built up in our faith through the gracious word of truth.
Pastor Timothy Smith