God’s Word for You
Acts 23:23-24 The blessings of government
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, January 26, 2021
23 Then he called a certain pair of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy cavalry and two hundred led horses to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24 Provide mounts for Paul and bring him safely to Governor Felix.”
The size of this detachment is not surprising. If Paul’s nephew was aware of at least forty men plotting against Paul, then the full number might well have been much larger. When we take this into consideration, then two hundred regular soldiers (with their centurions and officers) plus seventy mounted cavalry was an adequate force, and about a quarter of the force on hand.
I have translated the rare word dexiolabos as “led horses.” This is the earliest occurrence of this word that we know of in all of Greek literature, and the suggestion “spearmen” comes from seven hundred years later. If these were spare horses, then the two hundred regular soldiers could have ridden the first leg of the journey, and they would have traveled easily from Jerusalem to Antipatris, forty miles away, in a single night (see verse 32).
The order to “provide mounts for Paul” is one of two things: additional animals for Paul’s guards (he was probably chained to them), or additional animals for Paul’s companions, especially Luke and Aristarchus and possibly Mark (see Acts 27:2; Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 1:24). It might have meant both of these things. A commanding officer with a certain type of personality might have made Paul’s companions fend for themselves, but that doesn’t mean that it was out of the question for horses to have been provided for a couple of Paul’s friends.
Here we see the lawful government thwarting the plot of a local faction with a simple regular function of government: the transport of a prisoner from one location to a more secure one. By providing adequate protection, the Colonel insured Paul’s safety and also created a situation that would discourage any violent attempt on the part of the citizens. By doing what he did, the Colonel was making sure that nobody got hurt, no matter what their political or religious views.
This is the correct function of the third estate of mankind (church, home, and state). The church is concerned primarily with the spiritual well-being of people, the state is concerned with the physical well-being of people, and the home (the family) is concerned with both. But the government (the state), while separate from the church, is not separate from God or God’s people. God established the government for four basic purposes:
- To commend those who do good (Romans 11:3)
- To be a terror to those who do wrong (Romans 11:1-4)
- To punish those who do wrong (this may include the death penalty) (Romans 11:4)
- To collect taxes it considers necessary to do its work (Romans 11:6-7)
And since God has established the government, we owe it, as God’s servant, at least these three things:
If the government does something wicked, God does not remove our duty of respect. If the government does something ungodly with our taxes, God does not remove our compulsion to pay them (Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25). If the government becomes utterly pagan and begins to persecute Christians, we must still pray on their behalf. Even if our prayers are chiefly for their repentance, we should still pray for the safety and health of those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Paul urged: “Pray for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Paul prayed this even about the government that executed him for his faith (2 Timothy 4:6). The early Christian pastor Ignatius wrote about his own obedience to execution at the hands of the Roman government: “Let them come upon me! Fire and cross, packs of wild beasts, cutting, tearing apart, crushing bones, mangling limbs, grinding my whole body—the cruel torture of the devil—if only I may attain to Jesus Christ” (Ignatius to the Romans 5:3).
Whether the government is friendly to the church or hostile, it is God’s servant. He will use the government for his own purpose, which is so often beyond our imagination or understanding. “Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths” (Psalm 25:4). Praise God for his plan, and live out your faith day by day by day.
Pastor Timothy Smith