God’s Word for You
Acts 27:12-14 The Storm Begins
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, February 26, 2021
12 Since the harbor was not suitable to winter in, the majority were in favor of setting sail from there, hoping to reach Phoenix, a Cretan harbor that faced both southwest and northwest, and winter there.
At least one earthquake has changed the shape of Crete’s western shoreline enough that some commentators rejected the Greek text here, supposing the better harbor of Lutro to have been their destination rather than Phoenix. But in its day, which was Paul’s day, Phoenix had just the geographical details and navigational advantages that Luke describes. It’s interesting that Luke mentions a “majority” in this verse, but he might only be talking about the officers and the Centurion, and not the ordinary sailors. It would be highly unlikely for any captain to ask his ship’s complement for a vote in something so crucial. Discipline aboard ship is different from other places, since those who disagree cannot easily leave, and a captain must know that every order will be obeyed without taking every decision to a vote. This would be a disaster in a crisis. If in fact the captain of the Alexandrian cargo ship offered a vote to every sailor and perhaps even the passengers, then this passage would be a superb example of the foolhardiness of the group over the experience of the ship’s master.
13 When a light south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted. So they weighed anchor and sailed along as closely as possible to the shore of Crete. 14 Before very long, a wind like a hurricane, called the “northeaster,” swept down from the island.
Here Luke reports the sudden change in the weather. A light breeze lasted long enough to tempt the ship out of its anchorage and along the southern shore of the island. Crete is big, about equal in length to, say, the narrower east-west widths of US States like Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Missouri. Traversing the whole length of Crete was not an afternoon’s sailing. During the voyage, an incredibly furious wind, Greek typhoonikos, blasted down from the Cretan mountains. (We get our word “typhoon” from this term.) This “northeaster” began to the north, at least out of the Aegean and perhaps from as far away as the Black Sea, and swept down through the mountains of Greece and western Asia Minor, up and over the highlands of Crete toward the African coast. It was probably drawn down by the passage of a low pressure system that had slowly moved through the region, taking several weeks or even months. Now there came a raging, blasting storm of wind and rough seas. The Alexandrian cargo ship was caught completely offguard with no retreat possible. They were going to have to run before the storm.
In his Psalm, the prophet Habakkuk describes this kind of storm from the view of a ship’s heaving deck: “The mountains saw you and writhed. Torrents of water swept by; the deep roared and lifted its waves on high. Sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows, at the lightning of your flashing spear” (Habakkuk 3:10-11), and again, “You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the great waters” (Habakkuk 3:15). And the sailor’s response? “I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled” (Habakkuk 3:16).
One of the worst storms I have ever witnessed in person was in June or July 1992. I was working as a summer hand on a farm in Wisconsin, painting buildings and helping with milking goats and feeding horses. The owner and children were gone that afternoon, and I was alone, when a severe thunderstorm began. The hail tore down and stung as it hit. I quickly called the horses out of the pasture and into their barn, except for one stallion who never listened and who stayed under a big oak. The hail stopped and the sky turned green as a hot blast of wind came racing out of the west. When I saw the tornado coming up the road it turned and backed toward the south, toward the farm from the northwest. I threw open the storm cellar doors, hoping to save myself and the dog, Bandit. But some of the herd of goats ran up and quickly disappeared down the steps into the storm cellar. The others ran into the barn with the horses. I sent Bandit into the cellar and closed the door, turning the latch so that the doors wouldn’t fly open. Then, with flying debris (mostly sticks and bits of hay) stinging my face and arms, I watched the tornado approach and then suddenly fizzle away into nothing while it was still half a mile from the farm buildings, just touching the edge of the north pasture. The cloud that was its parent was being torn into rags by the wind, but I knew that another minute or two would have brought it right up the field to the barns and on through the house and into the woods beyond. There’s nothing a man can do in a storm like that except hide and pray. I forgot to hide, but I was praying all the while. One of the animals was killed (a sheep) but otherwise there was little or no damage except for some raking to be done.
While we’re in the middle of peril, whether a deadly storm like the one Luke describes or the little wind I stood and gaped at, we’re best off by praying out loud. The people with us will hear and add their voices: “Lord, we’re in trouble. Help us today. Keep us safe, and the people we love. Protect people and animals and property if it’s your will, but let your holy angel watch over us and our lives.”
When Jonah was in the belly of the whale, he prayed bits of Psalms and other passages of the Bible (Jonah 2:2-9). You don’t need to make something up if you can’t stop to think. Just reciting a hymn verse or a few passages would do, or just say what’s most on your mind. The prayer of the tax collector is never out of place, and it’s a good one to repeat every day: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Pastor Timothy Smith