Today’s readings are from Genesis 28, Matthew 27, Esther 4 and Acts 27.
Isaac sends Jacob away to Paddan-Aram (Haran), to find a wife. He didn’t want Jacob to “take a wife from the Canaanite women” (Genesis 28:1). He sends him away with a repetition of the covenant God made with Abraham (28:3).
Esau (28:6-9) observes Isaac telling Jacob not to take a wife from among the Canaanites, so he marries again (cf. 26:34-35). He marries one of one of Abraham’s descendants (a granddaughter, who was Ishmael’s daughter “Mahalath”). “Mahalath” (“Dance,” v. 9) is evidently another name for, and the same woman as, “Basemath,” Ishmael’s daughter (36:2).
Meanwhile, Jacob went to Laban’s house in Haran. Traveling up the Way of the Patriarchs he slept for the night and he had a dream of a ladder, with angels ascending and descending on it (vv. 11-12) and there God covenanted with Jacob…
13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Impressed by the dream and God’s presence (vv. 16-17), he took his stone pillow, make a pillar (v. 18) upon which he poured oil in worship and named the place Bethel. This place already had a history of significance for the family of Abraham.
- Near Bethel, Abraham built one of the first altars mentioned in the Bible, and there he “invoked the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 12:8)
- After Abraham had fled to Egypt to escape a famine in the Holy Land, he returned to the same place near Bethel, and once again invoked the name of the Lord. (Genesis 13:1-4)
- Laterm, after Jacob’s return to the Holy Land, Bethel was the second place where he and his family settled. There he set up an altar to God, and God spoke to him. (Genesis 35:1-15)
In response to God’s promises to Jacob, Jacob says…
20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”
Jacob is trying to bargain with God. He’s still trying to do it his own way, not yet living by faith. Jacob’s life is in chaos, not unlike ours when the Spirit calls us.
Matthew 27 recounts the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus is led away to Pilate (27:1-2).
David’s citadel, where Pilate might have met with Jesus, or possibly…
Judas regrets his decision to betray Jesus (27:3-4) and throws the money away. Judas’ remorse was incomplete. It was like what Paul expresses in 2 Corinthians 7:9-11…
9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.
The Valley of Hinnom, where Judas hanged himself
After Jesus’ initial answer to Pilate’s first question, Jesus remained silent. Pilate asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” After that, Jesus was silent. That is contrasted later in the passage with the shouts of the crowd.
Only Luke reported that now Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas for questioning (Luke 23:6-12). Herod then returned Jesus to Pilate. Pilate then tried to substitute another prisoner for Jesus, Barabbas (vv. 15-21. The religious leaders would not hear of it. Then Pilate’s wife warned him to have nothing to do with Jesus because of a dream she had (v. 19).
The crowds shouted “Crucify him!” (vv. 22-23), so Pilate symbolically washed his hands of the whole matter (vv. 24-25). Pilate tried to claim innocence (v. 26) and the Jewish people gladly accepted their guilt (v. 27). Neither of them knew what they were talking about.
Jesus was first scourged (v. 28) and sent to be crucified.
The whip (flagrum or flagellum) consisted of several single or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals.
As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim’s back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. The extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive on the cross.
During the 12 hours between 9 PM Thursday and 9 AM Friday, he had suffered great emotional stress (as evidenced by hematidrosis), abandonment by his closest friends (the disciples), and a physical beating (after the first Jewish trial). Also, in the setting of a traumatic and sleepless night, had been forced to walk more than 2.5 miles (4.0 km) to and from the sites of the various trials. These physical and emotional factors may have rendered Jesus particularly vulnerable to the adverse hemodynamic effects of the scourging.
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.
Thomas Constable explains:
The Sanhedrin and or its servants had abused Jesus as a false Messiah (26:67-68). Now Pilate’s soldiers abused Him as a false king. Ironically, Jesus was everything He was mocked for being: Messiah and King of Israel. The “scarlet robe” (Gr. chlamys) they put on Jesus (v. 28) was probably the reddish purple cloak that Roman military and civil officials wore. Perhaps the thorny spikes that the soldiers wove into a circle (“crown of thorns”) resembled the one on Tiberius Caesar’s head, on Roman coins, that consisted of palm branches.
The imperfect tense of the Greek verb translated “beat” means they beat Jesus on the head repeatedly (cf. Isa. 52:14).
Of course, this robe, which was later torn off, would have been stuck to Jesus’ body by the drying blood. This would have been worse than body waxing!
31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. 32 As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross.
Jesus was able to carry the crossbeam of His cross until He passed through the city gate (cf. Mark 15:21; John 19:17). Normally crucifixions took place outside the city wall (cf. Lev. 24:14; Num. 15:35-36; 1 Kings 21:13; Acts 7:58), which symbolized additional rejection (cf. Heb. 13:13).
Evidently some women offered Jesus some wine to drink, to which they had added myrrh to decrease His pain (Mark 15:23). Jesus refused it after tasting it, because He chose to endure the cross fully conscious.
It would be appropriate to read Isaiah 53 here.
The Romans normally tied or nailed the victim to the crossbeam of his cross. In Jesus’ case they did the latter.
They would then hoist the crossbeam and the prisoner up onto the upright member of the cross. Next they would fasten the crucified person’s feet to the upright, by tying with a rope, or nailing them with a large spike.
The Romans constructed crosses in various shapes: an X, a T, or, as in Jesus’ case, the traditional T with the upright extending above the crossbeam (v. 37). Sometimes the victim was only a few inches off the ground, but Jesus appears to have been a few feet higher (v. 48; John 19:29).
35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots.
Normally victims would be crucified naked, except for a loincloth. The four executioners took the criminal’s clothes for themselves. These would have been his shoes, his turban, his girdle, his inner garment, and his outer cloak or robe. In Jesus’ case, they cast “lots” for His robe (“garments”), fulfilling Psalm 22:18 (cf. John 19:23-24). This happened in the late morning on Friday (Mark 15:25; John 19:14).
The Romans reserved crucifixion for the worst criminals from the lowest classes of society. Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion unless Caesar himself ordered it. For the Jews, crucifixion was even more horrible because it symbolized a person dying under God’s curse (Deut. 21:23). Israel’s leaders hung up those who had died under God’s curse for others to see and learn from. Jesus bore God’s curse for the sins of humankind, so that people would not have to experience that curse (Galatians 3:13).
Jesus was mocked by the soldiers (vv. 37-38), by passersby (vv. 39-40), the religious leaders (vv. 41-43) and then the thiefs (v. 44), one of whom later stopped mocking and asked to be remembered. Matthew did not record that anyone spoke in Jesus’ defense.
45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.
From noon to 3 p.m. an abnormal darkness covered the land. No matter how it happened, it symbolized judgment–first on Jesus as the sin-bearer, but also upon the Jews. At this time Jesus “cried out” the words of Psalm 22:1, because He felt like His Father was abandoning Him when He “(became) sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21) and bore God’s full wrath against sin.
Separation from the Father must have been the worst part of the Cross for Jesus who had never before experienced anything but intimate fellowship with His Father.
Since Jesus was God, I do not believe that He experienced actual separation from God the Father. However, when the Father poured out His wrath on His Son—who took upon Himself the sins of the world—and for that moment and for that reason the relationship between the Father and the Son became different. Jesus became the focal point of God’s judgment on mankind’s sin (cf. Rom. 3:21-26; 2 Cor. 5:21). It was terrible and terrifying for Jesus.
The crowd thought Jesus was calling out to Elijah (vv. 47-49) and Jesus “cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit” (v. 50).
51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.
The curtain spoken of here is the curtain which separated the Holy of Holies from the other portion of the Temple known as the Holy Place. It was 40 cubits (60 feet) long, and 20 (30 feet) wide, of the thickness of the palm of the hand (Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 2:611; idem, Sketches of Jewish Social Life, p. 197).
The tearing happened at 3:00 p.m., the time of the evening incense offering. A priest would normally have been standing in the holy place offering incense when it tore (cf. Luke 1:8-10). Some early non-biblical Jewish sources also report unusual phenomena in the temple 40 years before its destruction in A.D. 70, one of which is the temple curtain tearing. (Robert L. Plummer, “Something Awry in the Temple? The Rending of the Temple Veil and Early Jewish Sources that Report Unusual Phenomena in the Temple around AD 30,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48:2 (June 2005):301-16)
“The fact that this occurred from top to bottom signified that God is the One who ripped the thick curtain. It was not torn from the bottom by men ripping it” (Barbieri, Forty Days with the Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, p. 90.)
This was a supernatural act that symbolized the opening of access to God and the termination of the Mosaic system of worship. This event marked the end of the old Mosaic Covenant and the beginning to the New Covenant (cf. 26:26-29). Jesus Himself now replaced the temple (cf. 26:61). He also became the Great High Priest of His people. The rent veil also prefigured the physical destruction of the temple, a necessary corollary to its spiritual uselessness from then on.
Then we have these two strange verses:
52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
The resurrection of these “saints” (OT believers?) happened “after his resurrection” but are likely mentioned here to show the incredible power of the crucifixion and its connection to the resurrection. Who they were is unclear. Were they raised “like Lazarus” to die again?
There was a confession by the centurion who, with awe, said that “Truly this was the Son of God.” (v. 54). Joseph was given permission to take and bury the body of Jesus (vv. 57-61). A guard was set upon the tomb “lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,'” (v. 64).
Low in the grave He lay—
Jesus my Savior!
Waiting the coming day—
Jesus my Lord!
When Mordecai heard about the decree he reacted strongly, possibly because he felt responsible for it!
Notice that Mordecai put on sackcloth, wept aloud and fasted (v. 1). There is no mention of prayer, but that does not definitely mean that he did not pray. Jews around the provinces did the same (v. 2)
Esther finds out about Mordecai’s mourning, and becomes distressed herself (4:4).
Mordecai told Hathach what had happened with Haman and gave him a text of the annihilation decree, which Hathach reported to Esther (4:5-9).
Esther then sent work back to Mordecai that she would seek a time and way to approach the king (4:10-11).
Mordecai encouraged her not to shirk her responsibility to be involved in delivering her people (4:12-14). Here he utters those challenging words: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (4:14)
We too get a choice to rise up to the situation in faith or slink back in fear and remain silent. Will we obey the voice of God and speak and act for His glory or remain mute and motionless hoping that no one will notice? If God is calling you to something and you remain silent, God will find another way… but you will miss out on how God wanted to use you for His purpose and lose the reward that would have been yours.
She responds to Mordecai’s challenge by asking for fasting (and we assume prayer) and then swallows her fears and says, “If I perish, I perish.” (4:15-17).
Finally Esther begins to see the depth of the problem and the need to follow Mordecai’s instructions no matter what the cost. And it could potentially cost. We shouldn’t underestimate the step that Esther took here and so it isn’t surprising that all the Jews in Susa are asked to fast for three days concerning Esther’s next move. At the end of that time, Esther will do something that was not lawful to do (even for the Queen!) – she will go before the king unannounced. If all goes well, he will extend the golden sceptre to her and she will find favour in his sight. If the king is in the wrong mood, she will die. It is a huge step of faith but one she is resolved to do! ‘If I perish, I perish’ are the words on her lips as she takes each step of the journey.
John Gill comments on Esther’s abandonment to God’s will saying: “and if I perish, I perish; signifying, that she readily and cheerfully risked her life for the good of her people; and if such was the pleasure of God, that she should lose it, she was content, and acquiesced in his will, leaving herself entirely in his hands, to dispose of her as he thought fit.”
Again, the lack of references to God, or even prayer, indicate that God works behind the scenes to fulfill His promises even when people are far from Him and disobedient.
Acts 27 recounts Paul’s voyage to Rome, a true adventure. Luke gives us an amazing amount of detail in this chapter, exhibiting it’s historical accuracy.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century a group of Scottish unbelievers decided to expose errors in the Bible. They designated one of their number to visit all the places Luke mentioned that Paul visited with a view to proving the record in Acts inaccurate. The man chosen was Sir William Ramsay who, after thorough study of the matter, concluded that Luke was accurate in every detail. [Note: Ironside, Lectures on . . ., pp 618-19.] Ramsay became a Christian and wrote several books on Acts and Paul in defense of God”s Word.
The circumstances of Paul’s Voyage to Rome were far different than for his earlier travels. Before, he was a free man; this time, he was a prisoner of the Romans (Acts 21:27-26:32).
The Journey to Rome began in early fall of about 60 AD and ended the following spring of about 61 AD after a shipwreck near Malta. The entire voyage is recorded in Acts chapters 27 and 28.
Paul sails from Caesarea to Crete in vv. 1-8.
Most likely Paul sailed from Caesarea. His ship originated from the port of Adramyttium just south of Troas opposite the island of Lesbos. It was a coastal vessel that docked at most ports along the northeastern Mediterranean shoreline. Sidon (v. 3) stood about 70 miles north of Caesarea. So far, so good.
Prevailing winds in the Mediterranean during spring and fall usually blow from west to east and often from the northwest. Consequently this ship sailed north up the east side of the island of Cyprus (cf. Acts 21:3). Proceeding north it came to the coast of Cilicia and turned west passing Pamphylia and landing at Myra in Lysia, the southernmost region in the province of Asia. This was a 14-day journey by ship that spanned about 500 miles. [Note: Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, 2:1266.]
Harbor of Andriake, Ferrell Jenkins
6 There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone.
This was a grain ship (Acts 27:38) that had accommodations for at least 276 passengers (Acts 27:37). There were no ships devoted exclusively to passenger travel at this time. (Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, p. 759.)
According to a contemporary description, these large ships were usually 180 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 44 feet deep from the deck to the hold. [Note: Lionel Casson, Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World, pp. 158-59.]
Still good sailing, so far.
They figured the lee (south) side of the island of Crete would give them protection from the strong northeasterly winds. They were wrong.
8 Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.
Fair Havens, Ferrell Jenkins
Evidently the captain waited for some time for the weather to improve in Fair Havens. The “Fast” refers to the day of Atonement that fell in the fall each year, sometimes as late as early October. People considered it dangerous to travel by sea between mid-September and mid-November, and the harbors closed for the winter from mid-November to mid-February.
Paul, a seasoned sea-traveler, had already experienced shipwreck three times (2 Cor. 11:25). He recommended staying through the winter at Fair Havens.
Verse 9-26 describe the storm at sea.
The centurion had the final word. Grain ships of this kind were part of a fleet that was under the control of the Roman government even though private individuals owned the ships. The pilot (captain) and the owner (rather than captain) carried more influence with the centurion than Paul did. Fair Havens was suitable for wintering but not as desirable as Phoenix (modern Phineka, or possible Lutro).
“Euroquilo” means northeastern. The wind changed from a mild southerly breeze to a violent northeasterly gale. This wind drove Paul”s ship southwest away from Crete and the harbor at Phoenix.
15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along.
The small island of Clauda (modern Gavdos or Gozzo) lay south of Crete about 23 miles. There appears to have been no adequate harbor there. However this island did provide enough temporary shelter for the sailors to haul the trailing rowboat (dinghy) on board. Another safety measure was to feed ropes over the bow and hold them up against the ship”s hull from each side. Drawn up tight under the ship these ropes helped to reinforce the internal braces of the hull.
The “shallows of Syrtis” (v. 17) might refer to areas of quicksand off the northern coast of Africa, or possibly shallow seas choked by seaweed.
The Greek word translated “sea anchors” (or “gear,” v. 17) simply means equipment and can refer to any gear, perhaps some of the sails and rigging here (cf. Acts 27:40). With no stars they couldn’t navigate. They were truly “at the mercy of the winds.”
Evidently the ship was taking on so much water that the captain decided to jettison the wheat on board as well as other cargo and all but the most essential tackle (cf. Jonah 1:5). He kept some wheat on board probably for ballast as well as for food (Acts 27:38).
” All hope of our being saved was at last abandoned” (v. 20). Now, I can remember one person saying, years ago, is that the reason for this comes from the KJV of verse 15 “we let her drive.”
Paul presumably mentioned his former advice at Fair Havens not to gloat, but to encourage his fellow travelers to believe what he was about to tell them. What he had predicted had taken place, and what he was about to predict would also. An angelic visitor now confirmed God’s former assurance to Paul that he would reach Rome (Acts 23:11). He told Paul that all on board would reach land safely by running aground.
The winds and currents had carried Paul”s ship in a northwesterly direction from the south-central Mediterranean (vv. 27-28). The sailors may have smelled the land, which sailors can do, or they may have heard the waves breaking on shore.
Shipwreck (vv. 27-44). As they neared land, the crew (probably the first to suspect landfall) attempted to abandon ship. They were caught, however, and the ship’s boat was cut away. These men would be the only hope for everyone else were they to land the ship.
All on board needed to eat to gain strength for the work of getting ashore that lay ahead. Paul gave thanks to God publicly for the food (cf. 1 Tim. 4:4-5). This would have helped all present to connect their deliverance with God.
They lightened their load (v. 38) and eventually landed on a sandy beach (the second-best possible place to dock a boat!). Although English versions say “reef” (v. 41), the Greek word does not specify it as a coral reef, but more like a sand bar. Everyone, all 276 of them, eventually made it to shore safely.
Thomas Constable notes:
A British yachtsman and scholar who was familiar with the parts of the Mediterranean Sea that Paul covered on this journey retraced Paul”s route in the first part of the nineteenth century. His book relates his experiences and findings. It is fascinating reading and confirms the accuracy of Luke”s references in this chapter. [James Smith, The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul.]
This unusually dramatic and vivid chapter stresses God”s sovereign control over circumstances to bring His will to pass, specifically that Paul should minister in Rome. It reminds us of Jesus” ability to control the winds and the waves of Galilee to accomplish His will and to communicate His identity. He had sent His disciples into a storm (Luke 8:22-25)) just as He had sent Paul.
Jesus had predicted that He would build His church and that Hades” gates would not overwhelm it (Matthew 16:18). This chapter shows to what lengths God will go to remain faithful to His promises.