Devotional # 63. 12/2/13. The assassination plot of Paul and his journey to Felix.
This week’s Reading: Acts 23:1-35.
Introduction Last week we talked about Paul being brought before the Sanhedrin. Now we start to hear what he says to the Israeli’s who are plotting to kill him. Keep in mind how you would be handling these situations if you were Paul. Would you be asking, ‘why are you doing this to me God?’ or saying ‘God, You know more than me, I trust that this will bring more people to salvation, thank you.’
vv. 1-5. Last week we talked about Paul being brought before the Sanhedrin. Now we get to hear what he says to the Israeli’s who are plotting to kill him. Paul starts by saying he is not sorry for anything he has said or done since he became a Christian. His conscience is clear before God. And Ananias, the high priest demands the men standing closer to Paul smack him in the mouth. Why did Ananias command that? According to J. Vernon McGee the high priest was upset that Paul would dare talk without being given permission (Source 1). When they hit Paul in the mouth it was unfair & unlawful (Source 1). Paul’s angry response to being hit was to basically tell Ananias that God would strike him down for being a hypocrite. The men around Paul are surprised that he answered the high priest harshly, without respecting the office. Paul apologizes saying he didn’t know it was the high priest. Paul didn’t mean he didn’t recognize that Ananias was the high priest (after all he had just spent 7 days in the temple and his specific response shows Paul knew who he was). Matthew Henry explains that what Paul meant was that he spoke before thinking, in other words, “I did not just then think of the dignity of his place, or else I would have spoken more respectfully to him’’ (Source 2). Did Paul have any right to have answered angrily? Yes. 1. According to Whitby, Ananias was “a usurper; [who] came to the office by bribery and corruption, and the Jewish rabbin say that he who does so is neither a judge nor to be honoured as such” then quotes several applicable verses (Is.1:10, 23 and Job 34:18)” (Source 2); 2. The Holy Spirit was speaking prophetically through Paul and Jews back then “acknowledged that prophets might use a liberty in speaking of rulers which others might not…” (Source 2) and 3. According to Roman law (and as a Roman citizen) he was not allowed to be struck until judgment had been passed.
Notice that Paul apologizes. But why and to who? He doesn’t apologize to Ananias because Ananias deserved what was said about him but Paul does apologize to his “brethren.” He apologized to them because he didn’t want to be a stumbling block (Source 2) to his other Israeli brothers and sisters.
vv. 6-9. Paul wisely notices the mob is made up of Pharisees and Sadducees and applies to the Pharisees since he was once part of them. He explains that he is being harassed because he was preaching that resurrection was real, since the Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection from the dead. Paul’s plan worked and the Pharisees start yelling that he should be released.
vv. 10-11. The crowd gets out of hand and the Roman commander (named Lysias) sends his soldiers to grab Paul otherwise he would literally have his arms and legs ripped off! So Paul is taken as a prisoner to the barracks where the soldiers sleep. He stays there an entire day but that night Jesus appears to Paul and encourages him. Jesus tells Paul that he has given testimony of Jesus in Jerusalem but he must also do so in Rome. This means Paul will not die here! It also was a wish of Paul’s to go to Rome for a long time (see Acts 19:21-22 [Devotional # 59] and Romans 1:10-15). Isn’t it awesome that Jesus comforted and gave Paul hope? But notice that it didn’t happen right away. It was in the perfect timing of God. We can hypothesize that by the second night Paul was starting to be scared or discouraged but only God knows why He chose to wait to personally encourage Paul. We know God will never allow us to be tempted with more than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13) and that He will give us the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) so we can take encouragement from Paul’s story.
vv. 12-15. We learn of 40 men who take an oath not to eat or drink until they kill Paul. They tell the chief priests and elders about their plan. It never says that the priests and elders confirm this plan but it certainly sounds like they didn’t stop it. Can you believe how far the religious leaders drifted from what God set up in Old Testament times!?
vv. 16-22. This is a really cool part. Somehow Paul’s nephew found out about the assassination plot and went and told Paul. Paul immediately sends his nephew to tell the commander. I find it interesting that Paul’s nephew went to see Paul. Not that he was allowed in, since Paul was in protective custody not under arrest he could receive visitors (Source 3), but that Paul’s nephew would want to warn Paul of the threat. In verse 17 Paul calls him a “young man” which in the Greek is neanias (G#3494) (Source 4), the same word as was used in Acts 20:9 (Devotional 60) for a 7-14 year old. So he could have gone and told his family what he heard and they may have sent him to warn Paul. It is also possible that he was sympathetic to his uncle and went in on his own. It is also interesting that Paul would send this young boy in front of the commander. Aside from his own safety you wouldn’t think they would pay him any mind. But they do, thank God!
vv. 23-30. Lysias (the commander) is serious about protecting Paul’s life and preventing a potentially explosive situation and sends almost half of his garrison to his superior, Felix (Source 3). The letter he writes explains what has transpired and what Felix can expect to follow in Paul’s wake.
vv 30-35. So the soldiers take Paul to Antipatris, about 25 miles away, then go back to the barracks. This was because that first 25 miles was perfect for ambush and was inhabited by Israeli’s but everything past there was flat and had Gentiles living there (Source 5). So Paul is taken to Felix and “kept in Herod’s Praetorium.” Do you remember when we talked about the Praetorium in Mark 15:16-20 (Devotional 40) which was where Jesus was beaten before being taken to the cross? Something that popped into my head was what happened to the 40 guys who took an oath to kill Paul? Did they keep it and die? Did they break it and incur persecution for their stupid decision? Either way, here Paul sits until next week when we learn what happens when his accusers come down to Caesarea. Do you think Paul was scared or depressed during this time?
Conclusion: We saw Paul start to give his side of the story in front of the Sanhedrin but abruptly stopped, protected and then threatened with an assassination plot and moved to the Praetorium. At the beginning of this devotional and at the end I asked how you would handle these difficulties if you were Paul. What would be going through your mind? Would you be scared or depressed? I don’t think Paul was scared because he trusted in the promise that Jesus had given him in verse 11. You have been given that same promise. Do you trust it? Do you treasure it? Does it help you through the sleepless nights? What about the pain? If we turn our eyes inward and keep having pity parties for ourselves we may fool ourselves that we’re trusting God. In fact we may actually trust enough to not have any fear but sadly that’s just scratching the surface of God’s promises. He doesn’t just give them to make you feel better. He gives them to you so He can pick you off the ground and you can go help someone else. We’ll see how Paul takes advantage of this situation to share salvation with others in the coming chapters.
Source 1: J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible: Acts, Volume II, p. 264.
Source 2: Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Act/Act_023.cfm?a=1041001.
Source 3: John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible, pp. 1677-79.
Source 4: BlueLetterBible.org, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3494&t=KJV
Source 5: David Guzik, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Act/Act_23.cfm?a=1041017