The Voyage and Shipwreck
last Paul was on his way to Rome. "When it was
determined," Luke writes, "that we should sail into Italy, they
delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a
centurion of Augustus' band. And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we
launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a
Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us."
In the first century of the Christian Era traveling by sea was attended
with peculiar hardship and peril. Mariners directed their course largely
by the position of the sun and stars; and when these did not appear, and
there were indications of storm, the owners of vessels were fearful of
venturing into the open sea. During a portion of the year, safe navigation
was almost impossible.
The apostle Paul was now called upon to endure the trying experiences
that would fall to his lot as a prisoner in chains during the long and
tedious voyage to Italy. One
circumstance greatly lightened the hardship of his lot--he was
permitted the companionship of Luke and Aristarchus. In his letter to the
Colossians he afterward referred to the latter as his "fellow
prisoner" (Colossians 4:10); but it was from choice that Aristarchus
shared Paul's bondage, that he might minister to him in his afflictions.
The voyage began prosperously. The following day they cast anchor in
the harbor of Sidon. Here Julius, the centurion, "courteously
entreated Paul," and being informed that there were Christians in the
place, "gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh
himself." This permission was greatly appreciated by the apostle, who
was in feeble health.
Upon leaving Sidon, the ship encountered contrary winds; and being
driven from a direct course, its progress was slow. At Myra, in the
province of Lycia, the centurion found a large Alexandrian ship, bound for
the coast of Italy, and to this he immediately transferred his prisoners.
But the winds were still contrary, and the ship's progress was difficult.
Luke writes, "When we had sailed slowly many days, and scarce were
come over against Cnidus, the wind not suffering us, we sailed under
Crete, over against Salmone; and, hardly passing it, came unto a place
which is called the Fair Havens."
At Fair Havens they were compelled to remain for some time, waiting for
favoring winds. Winter was approaching rapidly; "sailing was now
dangerous;" and those in charge of the vessel had to give up hope of
reaching their destination before the season for travel by sea should be
closed for the year. The only question now to be decided was, whether
to remain at Fair Havens, or attempt to reach a more favorable place in
which to winter.
This question was earnestly discussed, and was finally referred by the
centurion to Paul, who had won the respect of both sailors and soldiers.
The apostle unhesitatingly advised remaining where they were. "I
perceive," he said, "that this voyage will be with hurt and much
damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives." But
"the master and the owner of the ship," and the majority of
passengers and crew, were unwilling to accept this counsel. Because the
haven in which they had anchored "was not commodious to winter in,
the more part advised to depart thence also, if by any means they might
attain to Phenice, and there to winter; which is an haven of Crete, and
lieth toward the southwest and northwest."
The centurion decided to follow the judgment of the majority.
Accordingly, "when the south wind blew softly," they set sail
from Fair Havens, in the hope that they would soon reach the desired
harbor. "But not long after there arose . . . a tempestuous
wind;" "the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the
Driven by the tempest, the vessel neared the small island of Clauda,
and while under its shelter the sailors made ready for the worst. The
lifeboat, their only means of escape in case the ship should founder, was
in tow and liable to be dashed in pieces any moment. Their first work was
to hoist this boat on board. All possible precautions were then
taken to strengthen the ship and prepare it to withstand the tempest.
The scant protection afforded by the little island did not avail them
long, and soon they were again exposed to the full violence of the storm.
All night the tempest raged, and notwithstanding the precautions that
had been taken, the vessel leaked. "The next day they lightened the
ship." Night came again, but the wind did not abate. The storm-beaten
ship, with its shattered mast and rent sails, was tossed hither and
thither by the fury of the gale. Every moment it seemed that the groaning
timbers must give way as the vessel reeled and quivered under the
tempest's shock. The leak increased rapidly, and passengers and crew
worked continually at the pumps. There was not a moment's rest for any on
board. "The third day," writes Luke, "we cast out with our
own hands the tackling of the ship. And when neither sun nor stars in many
days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be
saved was then taken away."
For fourteen days they drifted under a sunless and starless heaven. The
apostle, though himself suffering physically, had words of hope for the
darkest hour, a helping hand in every emergency. He grasped by faith the
arm of Infinite Power, and his heart was stayed upon God. He had no fears
for himself; he knew that God would preserve him to witness at Rome for
the truth of Christ. But his heart yearned with pity for the poor souls
around him, sinful, degraded, and unprepared to die. As he earnestly
pleaded with God to spare their lives, it was revealed to him that his
prayer was granted.
Taking advantage of a lull in the tempest, Paul stood forth on the deck
and, lifting up his voice, said: "Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto
me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss.
And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of
any man's life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this
night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not,
Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all
them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe
God, that it shall be even as it was told me. Howbeit we must be cast upon
a certain island."
At these words, hope revived. Passengers and crew roused from their
apathy. There was much yet to be done, and every effort within their power
must be put forth to avert destruction.
It was on the fourteenth night of tossing on the black, heaving
billows, that "about midnight" the sailors, hearing the sound of
breakers, "deemed that they drew near to some country; and sounded,
and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they
sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms. Then fearing," Luke
writes, "lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four
anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day."
At break of day the outlines of the stormy coast were dimly visible,
but no familiar landmarks could be seen. So gloomy was the outlook that
the heathen sailors, losing all courage, "were about to flee out of
the ship," and feigning to make preparations for casting
"anchors out of the
foreship," they had already let down the lifeboat, when Paul,
perceiving their base design, said to the centurion and the soldiers,
"Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved." The
soldiers immediately "cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall
off" into the sea.
The most critical hour was still before them. Again the apostle spoke
words of encouragement, and entreated all, both sailors and passengers, to
take some food, saying, "This day is the fourteenth day that ye have
tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing. Wherefore I pray you
to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not a hair
fall from the head of any of you."
"When he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in
presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat."
Then that worn and discouraged company of two hundred and seventy-five
souls, who but for Paul would have become desperate, joined with the
apostle in partaking of food. "And when they had eaten enough, they
lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea."
Daylight had now fully come, but they could see nothing by which to
determine their whereabouts. However, "they discovered a certain
creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were possible,
to thrust in the ship. And when they had taken up the anchors, they
committed themselves unto the sea, and loosed the rudder bands, and
hoisted up the mainsail to the wind, and made toward shore. And falling
into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the fore
part stuck fast, and remained unmovable,
but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves."
Paul and the other prisoners were now threatened by a fate more
terrible than shipwreck. The soldiers saw that while endeavoring to reach
land it would be impossible for them to keep their prisoners in charge.
Every man would have all he could do to save himself. Yet if any of the
prisoners were missing, the lives of those who were responsible for them
would be forfeited. Hence the soldiers desired to put all the prisoners to
death. The Roman law sanctioned this cruel policy, and the plan would have
been executed at once, but for him to whom all alike were under deep
obligation. Julius the centurion knew that Paul had been instrumental in
saving the lives of all on board, and, moreover, convinced that the Lord
was with him, he feared to do him harm. He therefore "commanded that
they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get
to land: and the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the
ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land."
When the roll was called, not one was missing.
The shipwrecked crew were kindly received by the barbarous people of
Melita. "They kindled a fire," Luke writes, "and received
us everyone, because of the present rain, and because of the cold."
Paul was among those who were active in ministering to the comfort of
others. Having gathered "a bundle of sticks," he "laid them
on the fire," when a viper came forth "out of the heat, and
fastened on his hand." The bystanders were horror-stricken; and
by his chain that Paul was a prisoner, they said to one another,
"No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the
sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live." But Paul shook off the
creature into the fire and felt no harm. Knowing its venomous nature, the
people looked for him to fall down at any moment in terrible agony.
"But after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to
him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god."
During the three months that the ship's company remained at Melita,
Paul and his fellow laborers improved many opportunities to preach the
gospel. In a remarkable manner the Lord wrought through them. For Paul's
sake the entire shipwrecked company were treated with great kindness; all
their wants were supplied, and upon leaving Melita they were liberally
provided with everything needful for their voyage. The chief incidents of
their stay are thus briefly related by Luke:
"In the same quarters were possessions of the chief man of the
island, whose name was Publius; who received us, and lodged us three days
courteously. And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a
fever and of a bloody flux: to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid
his hands on him, and healed him. So when this was done, others also,
which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed: who also honored
us with many honors; and when we departed, they laded us with such things
as were necessary."
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