God’s Word for You
Acts 27:33-38, 276 souls
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, March 9, 2021
33 As dawn was about to break, Paul urged them all to eat some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been on watch continuously without food, eating nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to eat some food. It will give you strength…
Why did Paul become the center of things? Could it possibly be that the sailors, disgraced by the soldiers who cut away the lifeboat, were sulking or angry? The actions of the soldiers may have appeared to have been mutinous, but since it was not really a mutiny, Paul realized that no one was in command. He began to encourage them with common sense.
Paul’s faith is a great example of practical Christianity. They were going to survive; this was the promise from God. But did that mean that they shouldn’t still use what was available to them? There was still some food left, the galley’s remaining supply of bread or ship’s biscuit, or someone private supply or rations—but on account of verse 38, we must assume that there was a considerable weight of grain left, perhaps several tons. They were going to need their strength for the crisis of the wreck itself, which was surely about to happen. So it was time to eat, and right now!
...for not one hair is to perish from the head of any of you.”
This saying seems to have already been a proverb in Israel when the army rose up to defend Jonathan from his father King Saul. Saul had made a rash command, forbidding anyone to eat anything before nightfall one day, before he had avenged himself on his enemies (1 Samuel 14:24). But his son Jonathan didn’t know about the order, and he ate some honey in the woods. When he was told about his father’s command, he said this was trouble for them because a little food would have helped everyone recover their strength for battle (1 Samuel 14:30). But when Saul found out and threatened to kill Jonathan, the army rose up and said, “Not a hair of his head will fall to the ground!” (1 Samuel 14:45). This saying was quoted by David to the wise woman from Tekoa when he was rebuked for his treatment of his rebellious son Absalom (2 Samuel 14:11) and by Solomon as an oath to his rebellious brother Adonijah before their father David died (1 Kings 1:52). Is it significant that all three of these are used in connection with the sons of kings of Israel? Then Jesus quotes it in the New Testament to his apostles (Matthew 10:30; Luke 21:18). Paul’s use of this expression shows God’s fatherly concern for them all; it was a little gospel comfort to shed light on the Father’s open arms to all who put their trust in him.
35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in front of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged, and they ate some food.
This was not, as some readers might think, the Lord’s Supper, even though the language is of course similar to that of Matthew 26:26 (“Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke it…”) or similar verses. This is simply a meal prayer and the passing out of the ship’s remaining bread.
37 (In all, we were 276 souls in the ship). 38 When they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship by throwing out the grain into the sea.
We should not read any spiritual significance into the number 276. It only tells us that if Paul and Luke were not there, there would have been 274. The practice of reading significance into numbers (numerology) is not compatible with our worship of the true God, and it violates the First Commandment since it sets the creation above the Creator. There are two reasons for mentioning the number of souls aboard. There might have been a count made as they distributed the rations, but it’s more likely that they were making a head count before the final crisis came, so that they could account for everyone once they left the ship, which was going to happen in a hurry and in a chaos of pounding water and disintegrating ship’s planking. When my children were younger, we used to do a head count before we ever left a place, just to be sure. The principle is the same.
Daylight was approaching. As they began to see land (verse 39) they were happier about disposing of the last of the cargo. The higher the ship could ride in the water, the better chance they had of sailing closer to the shore before they grounded.
For those who are reading this as part of a series of daily devotions, I will point out that as of tomorrow (the day when Paul’s ship will finally strike ground and be wrecked) it will have been about fourteen days since the voyage in the Alexandrian ship and the beginning of the storm. This was done on purpose, to give the idea of just how long these men were in this ship, lost at sea, their lives in danger, without food and almost without hope. How many meals and snacks have you eaten in that time? How obsessed have you been with your personal safety, with a lack of water, or of starving to death during these two weeks? Those men, all 276 of them, had all of those worries and more. You and I don’t need to feel guilty about this; that’s not the point. The point is that God was concerned about them the whole time, enough that “not one hair was going to perish from their heads.” They were safe in God’s hands. He promises: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11-12). And this is true of your soul. You are safe in God’s hands, no matter what might happen to your body, because you set your faith in Jesus. “From the Lord comes deliverance” (Psalm 3:6). Trust in him, because he will never let go of you. You are his own dear child, whether there is only one of you in your household, or just you and your cat, or 276. Your soul is safe with Jesus.
Pastor Timothy Smith