God’s Word for You
Acts 27:19-20 No hope of rescue
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, March 3, 2021
19 On the third day, they threw the ship’s equipment overboard with their own hands. 20 Neither sun nor stars appeared for many days. The storm raged without letting up. Finally we gave up all hope of being rescued.
They had been battered by this storm for three days now. There was no way to cook any food; they had to eat whatever was edible as it was, and since they had thrown out the cargo, there wasn’t much left, although we will soon find out that this “third day” was hardly the end of their odyssey. It was still only beginning, but the last important change in their status happened here: the crew threw the rest of the loose equipment overboard. If many tons of grain had helped, then another half ton of hammocks, chairs, barrels and luggage might have helped some as well.
Many of our modern translations have “tackle” in verse 19 where I have translated “equipment.” The Greek term is the feminine skeue (σκευή), related to the neuter skeuos (σκεῦος) which we translated “sea anchor” in verse 17. The neuter word can be used in many ways, “weapon” (Genesis 27:3), “tool” (1 Samuel 13:20), “possession” (2 Chronicles 36:19), “merchandise” (Mark 11:16), “jar” (John 19:29), and, more famously, “(weaker) vessel / partner” (1 Peter 3:7). The change to the feminine gender can dramatically change the definition of a word, as it does here, but this is the only instance of the feminine skeue in the New Testament, and there are none in the Greek translations of the Old Testament or the Apocryphal books. It means “ship’s gear” of some kind, but whether this was a mast, a spar, loose equipment, or something else must be determined from the context. Since the crew would let down four anchors and the ship’s lifeboat in later verses, it seems more likely that here we have either the loose things like extra luggage, or (as F.F. Bruce maintains) a spar or mast.
Another significant expression is “with their own hands.” Whatever was thrown overboard was precious to the crew. Yet over it went. They had to make choices, and now the only choice was life or death.
“Many days” in verse 20 is no exaggeration. More than a week went by. Judging from the distances and time references that we have, we must note that the “northeaster” veered somewhat, and the storm was now blowing the ship west and a little north. In thirteen days (verse 27 puts them at the fourteenth night) they traveled 480 miles, from Fair Havens to Malta, which means that the ship was driven along at an average speed of about 1.3 knots (1½ miles per hour). With no sails set at all, this was a remarkable speed and distance. Try blowing a bathtub toy the length of the bathtub with the breath from your lungs and imagine keeping it up for hours, days, and even two weeks. It was a fierce gale!
Luke and Paul and their shipmates confess: They had given up all hope of being rescued. How we react in such a situation says something about us. I have been at deathbeds where someone whose body was failing was delighted to be surrounded by family and a few friends. Others who were fine Christians in life panicked a little when facing death. Some face death the way Richard II is portrayed: “Mount, mount my soul; thy seat is up on high!” (Richard II 5:5). Others scramble to the very end, looking for a way out, like Richard III: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” (Richard III 5:4). We don’t know how we will personally react to death’s approach until we truly face the end ourselves. I might laugh, or I might cry. Martin Luther was attended by friends when his final crisis took place, but there were enemies in the room who wanted to hear whether he might, fearing for his soul, recant everything he had said and done. But when asked whether he still firmly believed everything he had taught in the Reformation, Luther breathed a hearty, “Jah!” The Reformer also quoted Psalm 68:19, “Blessed be the Lord who daily bears us up. God is our Salvation.” And he quoted one last Bible verse, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life.” When we face that moment in life where there is no longer any rescue for our bodies, pray God that we will remember the dear promise that there is rescue, recovery, and salvation for both body and soul in the resurrection. “Let me die the death of the righteous” (Numbers 23:10), and let my soul be carried straight to the feet of God my Savior.
Pastor Timothy Smith