God’s Word for You
Acts 27:16-18 Jettison and Live
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, March 2, 2021
16 As we passed under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we just managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s lifeboat. 17 After the men had hoisted it aboard, they passed ropes under the ship’s hull to help hold it together.
The island of Cauda is about forty miles from Fair Havens, some thirty miles south of the harbor of Phoenix (Acts 27:12). After they passed the island they found some protection from the wind still howling out of the northeast. Luke’s use of “we” in verse 16 suggests to me that he personally took part in the difficult task of hoisting the ship’s longboat on board, which up to now they had been towing behind.
At this point they also passed ropes under the ship’s hull. This was possible by looping a rope under the bow (the front or nose of the ship) and then pulling it along from both sides to a point farther back. By doing this several times, they had lashed several ropes to keep the planks of the ship more secure.
When my great-grandmother was coming to America in a sailing schooner in the 19th century, their vessel struck a reef or (more likely) an iceberg in the North Atlantic. She relayed the account to her little daughter later, my grandmother, who thought that “Mama” had said that they hung big bedsheets over the side of the boat to scare away the whales. I think that what they were describing was a fothered sail. Fothering a sail is taking ropes and weaving them in and out of a sail to make a very heavy, very strongly reinforced mat. This is lowered over the side with ropes in a similar way that Luke describes here, except that the mat is moved into place by a swimming sailor (imagine the cold stormy water and the fear!) to cover a hole made by an impact, like that of an iceberg (or a cannonball). The fothered mat keeps most of the seawater out so that the ship’s pumps or buckets can keep her afloat until they can make repairs in a dock later on. Luke doesn’t mention a sail, but the ropes would have been maneuvered into place in a similar way. The ship’s first mate may have had to dive in to get the ropes into just the right places.
Afraid that they would run aground on Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. 18 We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard.
There is a very large gulf or inlet on the north African coast. The shore runs just about north to south at one point between Hippo in the north and Tripoli in the south. This was exactly where Paul’s ship was heading, driven west and south by the storm. Because of the great length of the shallow shore and the prevailing currents of the Mediterranean, the shoreline is studded with sandbars. These sandbars of Syrtis were a menace to ships for three reasons. First, a slow-moving ship could easily run aground on one, far from any possible help. Second, a fast-moving ship (for example, one driven along by a fierce storm) could be smashed to pieces if it struck on one at high speed. Third, if a vessel could somehow manage to get past the sandbars heading west, it could be almost impossible to escape from them to continue the voyage north or even to return to the east.
At this point, with the lifeboat safely stowed, they were able to send out a sea anchor, which we described earlier. The hope with this action was that they might slow down the ship in a race against time with the storm. If the wind died down a little, they might be able to set some sail and steer the ship northward again out of immediate danger.
The following day the ship was laboring so much in the heavy sea that the sailors began jettisoning, that is, throwing the cargo overboard. Every ton of Egyptian grain was precious to the Roman Empire, but the grain was lost no matter what they did. There was no “either / or” here except either jettison the grain or die. With at least one mast still standing and a pulley, they would be able to hoist the grain bags out of the hold and throw them overboard quickly.
This scene, entirely historical and true, might be useful as an illustration of Jesus’ words: “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). It was better for the sailors to abandon their cargo than to go down with it in the storm. This is an illustration of what things tempt us. If something tempts me, I should avoid the thing, or the place. If a certain checkout aisle at the store has candy bars displayed, and I have a habit of stealing one, I should discipline myself by always going to another aisle were there are no candy bars, so that I won’t be tempted. If it is, say, my brother and a topic of our conversation that lures me into a sin, I don’t necessarily need to avoid my brother, but we should talk about that topic and avoid it, and we will both be the better off for it. If something I do causes my brother to sin, I should avoid the Something, not necessarily my brother (1 Corinthians 8:13). But when I struggle against a temptation that I have fallen into, I must pray and ask for God’s help, so that I won’t be tempted, so that I will serve God with the things I say and do, and so that I will give him glory by showing that I trust in him above even myself when it comes to avoiding temptations of all kinds. Pray, and God will answer your prayer. And if two or three of you struggle with the same temptation (gossip, or cruelty, or whatever it might be), pray together. The Lord will smile on your request, on your words, and on you.
Pastor Timothy Smith