God’s Word for You
Acts 27:5-7 Out of our hands
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, February 24, 2021
5 We sailed across the open sea down along Cilicia and Pamphylia, and we put in at Myra in Lycia. 6 The centurion found an Alexandrian ship there sailing for Italy, and he sent us on board. 7 For many days we had slow sailing, and we had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When we could not go any farther because of the wind we sailed to the lee of Crete along Salmone.
This passage is the historical account of Paul’s voyage from Asia Minor to Crete. Luke recalls the events as an eyewitness, but the Holy Spirit uses Luke’s travelogue to proclaim three things: (1) A warning to ships’ masters (and other pilots and drivers) to put the safety of their passengers above greed or the desire to earn a bonus, (2) a comfort to Christians to trust in God when matters are effectively out of our hands, and (3) a gospel comfort that God works out all things for the good of his people.
Open navigation on the Mediterranean was inadvisable (and rarely possible) after mid-November until spring. For about ten weeks prior to that (August, September and the first two weeks of November) ships tried to finish their last run of the year and find a safe harbor in which to weather the gales of winter.
Verse 5 recalls the voyage along the coast of Asia Minor. The little coaster would have taken about two weeks to make this voyage. Myra on the border between Pamphylia and Lysia was the last harbor that offered any protection against westerly winds. The port at Myra (Andriake) was one of the chief ports in the Imperial grain service. It was at this harbor that Julius saw a big Alexandrian grain ship bound for Italy and used his credentials to transfer Paul and the other prisoners and passengers. He was one of the officers in charge of the grain shipments from Egypt into the Empire, and he may have been expecting a ship just like this one to be somewhere along the route they were taking.
It might have been safer to have stayed with the small coaster, since its captain would not have bet the safety of his ship over against the uncertain weather. But the Centurion Julius wanted to get to Rome.
The big cargo ship moved further west to Cnidus, but Luke reports that they had difficulty there, and they may not even have dropped anchor. Instead, they made the only run open to them against the westerly winds, which was south to the eastern coast of Crete. There is a long bay there once called Salmone. Luke says that they sailed “in step” (Greek kata) with this bay, which probably means that they crept alongside the coast while the winds appear to have changed dramatically.
Meteorologists familiar with the central Mediterranean report that it is typical for a low pressure system to pass from west to east through the region followed by a severe stormfront to come out of the northeast, down the Aegean past Greece toward the northwest African coast. This was in process of taking place at this very moment as Paul and his companions were about to find out.
Some readers might be quick to judge the scene: Why would they imperil themselves, why not find a safe harbor? Why run the risk? We in the northern Midwest have all made similar decisions about going out in snowstorms. And it should also be said that not all ships bear up the same in a storm. A wide beam, a shallow draft, or fragile sails can all play a part in how poorly a vessel will handle once it’s out to sea. “When the sea was calm all boats alike showed mastership in floating” (Shakespeare, Coriolanus 4:1). But the weather is in the hands of God. “The LORD spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves” (Psalm 107:25). “His thunder announces the coming storm” (Job 36:33). But as we pointed out above, when we have no control over the weather or our circumstances, we need to trust in the Lord and leave things in his hands. “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands” (John 3:35). That includes our safety and our well-being. “In God I trust, I will not be afraid” (Psalm 56:11). His eyes are always on us. He does not forget us. His mercy endures forever.
Pastor Timothy Smith