Friday, September 6

Acts 27:1-12: Festus, now confident that he can send Paul to Rome with precise instructions to the legal system there, hands him over to guards for the journey. This trip to Rome, which will fill the two final chapters of the book, is the point to which the literary tension of the Acts of the Apostles has been building. This is the journey that matches the Aeneid of Vergil, for Rome is the goal of both books. Paul’s going to Rome is a matter of his destiny (cf. 19:21). Accordingly, Luke’s inclusion of so many nautical details obliges the reader to slow down and savor the significance of the event.

In this final voyage Paul will be accompanied by Aristarchus and Luke (verses 2-3), who had helped him bring the alms to Jerusalem over two years earlier (20:4,6), and who have been with him at Caesarea since that time (Colossians 4:10,14; Philemon 24).

They board a ship whose homeport is Adramyttium, just south of Troas, or Troy, from where Aeneas had set sail for Rome. Luke’s inclusion of this detail is thus significant. Leaving Phoenicia, they cruise along the east and north sides of Cyprus, against strong head winds (verse 4), and then go north to Asia Minor. The ship is obviously returning to its home port. At the city of Myra, on the south coast of Asia Minor, they change to an Alexandrian ship bound for Italy. It was perhaps a grain cargo ship, so many of which brought wheat to Rome at a fraction of the cost of transporting grain overland to Rome from elsewhere in Italy. Still fighting contrary winds, they make their way to Salmone on the northeastern tip of Crete, a port well known to ancient navigators (cf. Strabo, Geography 10.3.20; Pliny, Natural History 4.58.71).

The “Fair Havens” they reach on the south coast of Crete is still known by that name in Greek, Kali Limenes. In verse 9 Luke informs us that the Feast of the Atonement, or Yom Kippur, had already passed. If, as we are justified in suspecting, this was the year 59, then the Day of Atonement was October 5. That is to say, they were approaching the winter season when sailing on the Mediterranean was considered unsafe (November 11 to February 8 [Pliny] or March 10 [Josephus]). Phoenix, where they hope to winter, lies some forty miles further west on the south side of Crete (verse 12).

Judges 1: The Book of Judges begins with the word “and,” indicating that it forms a kind of continuation of the Book of Joshua.

The character known as Adoni Bezek (verses 4-7) had ruled over seventy other kings. This number, when referring to nations, symbolizes international power. Thus, we find seventy nations named in the Bible’s first list of the nations (Genesis 10), and it was for this reason that Jesus, empowering His apostles for universal ministry to the whole world, numbered them at seventy (Luke 10). Hence, the defeat of Adoni Bezek, the ruler over seventy nations, is of a kind of international significance.

Judah, in defeating Adoni Bezek, symbolically frees these seventy nations, a fact of great theological significance. The oppressor of these nations is slain at Jerusalem (verse 8), where God will, in due course, defeat by the power of the Cross those demonic forces of which Adoni Bezek is both an instrument and a symbol.

Saturday, September 7

Acts 27:13-32: When a light wind begins to blow westward, the ship’s crew decides it is just what is needed to take the ship those forty miles west to Phoenix. They weigh anchor and continue the journey, hugging the south coast of Crete. Not long after commencing this maneuver, however, the ship is hit by a “typhoon wind” (anemos typhonikos), a nor’easter blowing down from over Crete and sending the ship out to sea in a southwesterly direction. There is nothing to do but let her ride the storm.

Presently, some twenty-seven miles due south of Phoenix, the very port they had hoped to reach before the storm came, the ship runs under the lee of the island of Cauda (modern Gozzo). The reference to the ship’s dinghy in verse 16 indicates the old custom of towing such craft in order to save deck space. They now take the dinghy on board, lest it become lost at sea. A momentary relief from the storm, as the ship sits under the lee of Cauda, enables the sailors to undergird the ship’s hull with cables, to make the vessel’s planking tighter against the waves. To impede the ship’s wild movement in the storm, the kedge anchor is dropped, because the ship has been drifting south so fast that the crew fears running onto the reef shoals of the African coast at Syrtis (west of Cyrene; cf. Pliny, Natural History 5.4.27). To make the ship ride higher in the water and reduce the chances of her being swamped, the crew jettisons some of the cargo (verse 18), and on the next day they do the same with the ship’s rigging (verse 19).

The situation is clearly desperate. With no way to see the stars, navigation has become impossible, and soon they have no idea where they are or in which direction they are headed. With no sunlight, even the most basic sense of direction will be lost. (Indeed, as we shall presently find the ship in the Adriatic Sea, quite a bit further north, it is clear that a radical wind change takes place during all this darkness and confusion.) Finally, Paul speaks up again. Though he foretells the loss of the ship, he reassures the crew and passengers of their survival. The reason for this certainty, he says, is his own destiny to arrive at Rome. Once again we touch here the theme of Rome as the goal of this entire story. It is a matter of destiny — dei — “it must be” (verses 24,26; cf. 19:21; 23:11).

Still drifting in the darkness, the men on the ship do not know where they are or in which direction they are drifting. Still afraid of crashing in darkness on the shoals of Africa, they will only afterwards learn that the direction of the wind has unexpectedly shifted toward the north, driving them up to the southern reaches of the Adriatic Sea. The storm lasts two weeks.

At midnight on the fourteenth day, still unable to see or navigate, they think they hear breakers pounding on a shore to the west and realize that they may be coming to land. This impression is confirmed when they take repeated soundings of their depth. Not knowing where they are, but fearing that the ship may crash onto rocks that they cannot see, some panicking sailors rather imprudently plot to escape in the ship’s dinghy, which they lower off the bow. At Paul’s warning, however, the centurion orders the boat cut loose to float away into the night.

Sunday, September 8

Acts 27:33-44: The situation during the night is tense, and no one has eaten very much during the past two weeks of storm. Finally it begins to grow light, and Paul suggests that breakfast would be a capital idea. Accordingly, he says grace. Everyone takes heart and begins to eat.

Afterwards they throw the rest of the ship’s cargo overboard in order to make the ship ride higher in the waves as it approaches land. (That is to say, a lighter ship can be beached closer to the land.) They cut away the four anchors at the stern and endeavor, under foresail, to beach the ship on the shore of a bay. (This inlet, on the northeast coast of Malta, is still known locally as St. Paul’s Bay.) The ship, once its bow runs aground on a spar, begins to break up from the violence of the pooping waves. They all scramble for shore as best they can, and everyone arrives safely. It has been a very rough two weeks, and no one is sad that it is over.

Psalms 103 (Greek & Latin 102): One observes in this psalm a great effort to take into one’s own heart God’s manifold acts of mercy all through the history of the Bible. This is the God “who made His ways known to Moses, His deeds to the children of Israel.” This is the historical God of the covenant and the commandments: “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on them that fear Him, and His righteousness unto children’s children; to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them.” It is to this interiorization of the commandments, this “remembrance” of the everlasting covenant, that this psalm summons the soul: “Forget not all His benefits; He forgives all your iniquities.”

This inner knowledge of the forgiving mercy of God is the substance of the covenant that we have with God in Christ: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts. . . For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:33, 34; Heb. 8:10, 12). This knowledge of the true God is inseparable from the forgiveness of our sins: “ . . . To give knowledge of salvation to His people / By the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:77).

In Psalm 103, then, the soul is called to the contemplation of God’s infinite, forgiving mercy: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. . . He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” Indeed not, for “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Monday, September 9

Acts 28:1-10: Arriving on Malta, perhaps in mid-November, Paul and his companions must winter there until sailing again becomes possible in the spring, three months later (28:11). The apostle’s run-in with the snake, though regarded by the Maltese as miraculous, need not be interpreted that way. The Greek word here translated as “viper” (echidna) normally refers to non-poisonous snakes and is different from the word used in Mark 16:18. Paul’s healing of Publius’s father, however, certainly is miraculous and leads to further healings on the island.

Judges 4: Early in the history of the chosen people’s occupation of the promised land appears the matriarchal and prophetic Deborah, the only woman listed among the “Judges” that guided Israel’s various tribes during the two centuries or so between the Conquest and the rise of Saul. Most of what we know of Deborah comes from Judges 4-5, an historical account followed by a canticle showing signs of great antiquity. This material, prior to its incorporation into the literary sources of the Book of Judges, was probably preserved for long time in Ephraim’s narrative traditions at the shrine of Bethel, not far from which stood the palm tree under which Deborah was known to sit and deliver oracular guidance to the people. Although we are not explicitly told so, the reference to forty years of peace in Judges 5:31 has suggested to some readers that this was the length of Deborah’s ministry.

St. Augustine wrote of Deborah: “The Spirit of God was active through her, because she was a prophetess. Her prophecy, on the other hand, is less than clear, nor could I, without an overly long exposition, demonstrate that it pertained to Christ”—per illam Dei Spiritus id agebat; nam etiam prophetissa erat, cuius prophetia minus aperta est, quam ut possimus eam sine diuturna expositione de Christo demonstrare prolatam” (The City of Gpd 18.15).

The Deborah story is mainly an account of God’s deliverance of Israel from her oppressing enemies (“And the Lord routed Sisera” — Judges 4:15), and it stands within a lengthy series of such stories united mainly by this common theme. Indeed, if the several traditions within Judges, drawn from quite diverse local settings and tribal traditions, are joined by any element beyond mere chronology, the motif of God’s deliverance is certainly that element. The Book of Judges is essentially a detailed account of God’s repeated deliverance of His people through the agency of charismatic figures prior to the rise of the monarchy. The key to understanding Deborah, surely, is through that general consideration.

Tuesday, September 10

Acts 28:11-16: When the time comes to depart, they once again sail an Alexandrian grain ship, which has wintered at Malta. Luke includes the detail that its prow is adorned with carved statues of Castor and Pollux, astral gods revered by the sailors who call upon them in times of storm. They sail to Syracuse, on the east coast of Sicily, where they remain three days while the crew unloads old cargo and takes on new. They then cross over to a port on the Calabrian coast, Rhegium (modern Reggio), on the very toe of the Italian boot. Taking advantage of a southerly wind, they then sail up to Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli) on the Bay of Naples, where they find a congregation of Christians.

Some of these Christians immediately rush north to Rome, 125 miles away, to inform the Christians in the capital that Paul is on the way. The apostle and his company, meanwhile, spend a whole week at Puteoli, before continuing their journey overland. Eighty miles later they come to Appian Forum, and, ten miles further, to Three Taverns; in both places they are met by Christians who had been forewarned of Paul’s coming by the Christians from Puteoli. They are all glad to see him, of course. They may be thinking of the letter that he wrote them three years earlier from Corinth.

Because he told them he was coming to see them (Romans 15:24), the Christians at Rome had had high hopes for his arrival. That was three years earlier, however, and those hopes had been lowered considerably by the rumor that Paul was languishing in prison in Caesarea (Acts 24:22).

Psalms 45 (Greek & Lain 44): This psalm anticipates and most descriptively foretells future royal wedding, about which Jesus declared, “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son” (Matt. 22:2).
It describes the “bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2): “The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace; her clothing is woven with gold. She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors; the virgins, her companions who follow her, shall be brought to You. With gladness and rejoicing they shall be brought; they shall enter the King’s palace.”

There is even more description of the King’s Son, however, that Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world: “You are fairer than the sons of men. Grace is poured out upon Your lips. Therefore God has blessed You forever. Gird Your sword upon Your thigh, O Mighty One, with Your glory and Your majesty. And in Your majesty ride victorious because of truth, humility and righteousness.” This Son’s riding forth in victory is similarly described in the Bible’s final book: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. . . . And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11, 12, 16).

Wednesday, September 11

Acts 28:17-31: Because the events at Caesarea the previous autumn, culminating in Paul’s appeal to a higher court at Rome, had transpired so late in the year–precariously close to the winter, when sea travel and communication were no longer undertaken–apparently no one in Rome had learned of those distant events. We do know that the Jews in Rome knew nothing about them (28:21), so they gain their first information on the matter three days after Paul’s arrival in the city.

He invites local Jewish leaders to meet at his lodging, where he is under house arrest (28:16-17). It is significant to Luke’s literary and theological purpose to record Paul’s last rejection by the Jews — the last of so many that he has recounted — in that very city which was the capital of the Gentile world, the city towards which the dynamism of this narrative has been directed. Paul is at last in the capital of the Roman Empire, the city so closely tied to his and Peter’s destinies. It is precisely here that Paul declares to the unbelieving Jews that “this salvation has been sent to the Gentiles” (28:18).

Psalms 49 (Greek & Latin 48): In this psalm the inspired poet/sage reflects on the irony that some individuals become so powerful and famous that regions of the world are called by their names. Whatever claim these folk make upon the earth, he says, the earth will eventually make its own claim on them: “Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places from generation to generation.”

Worldly power takes itself very seriously and throws its weight around, but no amount of prestige or riches can save a man from his appointed fate. So God’s servant does not fear what such people may do to him. In contrast to the wealthy presumptuous man who “cannot redeem his soul,” he sings out: “God will redeem my soul from the hand of Hades, when He receives me.” This latter verb is the same used for God’s “receiving” such just men as Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kin. 2:9–11).

This is a psalm, then, about the sad fate of those who substitute honor and wealth for the godly understanding of life and reality. Having taken their wealth and honor seriously, “like sheep they are herded in Hades; death becomes their shepherd.”

This psalm is one of those places where the wisdom tradition of the Bible touches universal philosophy, mankind’s perennial quest for understanding. Not once in this melodic poem does the psalmist refer to God’s special revelation to the Chosen People. No appeal is made to the divine words spoken on Sinai or to the Prophets. Here we find, rather, the God-inspired thought of biblical man addressing the human mind on its own terms. This psalm is one of those places where the Bible forsakes, as it were, the greater heights of divine truth in order to concentrate man’s attention on the lower steps to its ascent.

Thursday, September 12

Luke 5 5:27-32: All three Synoptic Gospels treat the call of the tax collector as a centerpiece bracketed between two stories about sinners: the paralytic being forgiven his sins and Jesus having dinner with notorious sinners. Thus set
between these two events, the call of the tax collector represents above all the evangelical summons to repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

The dialogue connected with the meal at his house illustrates this meaning of the tax collector’s call. Jesus, criticized for his association with sinners on this occasion, explains that “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” In thus addressing sin through the metaphor of sickness, the Lord strikes again the note recently sounded by His healing the paralytic as proof of His authority to forgive the man’s sins (2:5–12).

Furthermore, summoning sinners to repentance and salvation is not just one of the things Jesus happens to do. There is a sense in which this is the defining thing that Jesus does, the very reason He came into this world. This truth is affirmed at the meal at the tax collector’s house, where He proclaims, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Again, it is in the context of the call of yet another tax collector, Zacchaeus, that Jesus says, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Colossians 1:1-18: Timothy, listed as a co-author of this epistle, was with Paul at Caesarea at the time of its composition (verse 1; Philemon 1). He had accompanied the Apostle to Jerusalem in May of A.D. 57, assisting in the transport of the collection made for the saints in the mother church (Acts 20:4). Timothy did not accompany Paul on his subsequent journey to Rome in the autumn of 59 (cf. 2 Timothy 4:21).

The problems at Colossae, addressed in this epistle, had to do with Jewish syncretistic theories popular in the religious circles of Phrygia and Lydia. Paul evidently learned of these heresies from Epaphras (verses 7-8), a Colossian Christian who had somehow gotten himself arrested and was in prison with Paul at Caesarea (4:12; Philemon 23). Because of this condition, this epistle will be borne to Colossae by Tychicus (4:7; Ephesians 6:21), who had also accompanied Paul to Jerusalem, bearing the offering for the mother church (Acts 20:4).

Paul tells the Colossians that he prays for them always (verse 8), and in this chapter he provides an example of such prayer. Its basic form is thanksgiving (verses 3,12), and its outline is structured on the triad of faith, hope, and charity (verses 4-5; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 5:8; 1 Corinthians 13:13).

Friday, September 13

Judges 8: This chapter records the incident in which Gideon, leading his three hundred exhausted and hungry warriors in pursuit of fifteen thousand escaping Midianites, requested loaves of bread from the cities of Succoth and Penuel. This request was entirely reasonable. Gideon’s small force, by routing the Midianite army by the hill of Moreh (7:19-22), had effectively delivered all Israel, including Succoth and Penuel, from seven years of oppression (6:1). Now there remained only a modest mopping-up operation to subdue the last vestiges of the fleeing Midianite force, led by Zeba and Zalmunna. Providing Gideon’s little army with a bit of bread was the very least to be expected from those cities which benefited from that army’s victory.

Yet, the leaders of Succoth and Penuel refused Gideon’s petition. The Sacred Text tells us why: “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?” (8:6) That is to say, the men of those two cities, Succoth and Penuel, were afraid to take the chance. If they were to give bread to Gideon’s forces and then Gideon should lose the battle to Zebah and Zalmunna, the Midianites would retaliate against the cities that had provided the requested assistance. (One recalls the vengeance of Saul against the priests of Nob, who honored an identical request from David; see 1 Samuel 21:1-7; 22:6-19.) In short, until the battle was actually over, the men Succoth and Penuel decided to play it safe. No bread, then, for Gideon’s men.

This story illustrates the difference between those who play it safe and those who play for keeps. By boldly marching his three hundred men into the massive Midianite camp (“as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude”), Gideon had played for keeps. This story emphasizes the fortitude of his army by its contrast to the cowardice of Succoth and Penuel. Gideon won that battle, because the Lord took his side. In some of the battles that men fight on this earth, you see, God does take sides. Never, however, does He take the side of the coward.

This story also illustrates why the virtue of fortitude is necessary for all the other virtues, as a condition and catalyst. The history of moral philosophy insists that no other virtue is possible without the virtue of fortitude, certainly not justice nor charity.

The man deficient in fortitude will not measure up in anything else. In the words of Ambrose of Milan, “In the mediocre soul there is no fortitude, which alone defends the adornment of all the virtues” (De Officiis 1.39). ). For this reason, the man least deserving of our trust, on any matter whatever, is the coward. Thus, the leaders of Succoth and Penuel, falling short in fortitude, failed in an elementary duty of justice and charity.