This Week's Focus Passage

Acts 27:21 ‘Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have set sail from Crete.’

This Week’s Focus Passage: Acts 27:21

‘Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have set sail from Crete.’

     This involves Luke’s record of the voyage of himself and Paul, along with, as we are informed in the first verses of this twenty-seventh chapter of the book of Acts, Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica. The beginning of this voyage, recorded by Luke in those few verses, tells us;

And when it was determined that we should set sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners to a centurion named Julius, of the Augustan band. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail unto the places on the coast of Asia, we put to sea, Aristarchus being with us. 

We learned the cause, the reason and ground, of this journey, in earlier chapters of this book. Indeed, in chapter twenty-one, there is the account of the prophecy of one Agabus, through which, we are given to learn, from the passage, while Paul, and Luke (presumably), were abiding with Philip the evangelist, one of the seven:

And as we tarried there some days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And coming to us, and taking Paul’s girdle, he bound his own feet and hands, and said, Thus saith the Holy Spirit, so shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.—Acts 21:10-11.

Following this of Acts 21, we learn, from Acts 23:11, the direction given to Paul; in that verse God speaks, not through Agabus, but directly to Paul himself:

And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer: for as thou hast testified concerning me at Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.

We must needs bear these things in mind in order to better understand how it is that the apostle, in our text, is now bound for Rome. Truly, it is not immediately because of the Jews or the Romans, but it is entirely of the design of the God whom Paul serves. That is the reason that we find him, in our focus passage, on a ship bound for Rome. One particular commentator has written of the beginning of said voyage:

“After the Roman governor had decided that Paul and his party (here described again in the first person plural) should be sent to Rome, arrangements were made for him and other prisoners to be taken in the custody of a Roman centurion, along with a small body of soldiers. The description of Paul and his party being sent to Rome is loose in style; in reality it is only Paul who is under duress, unless the same is true of Aristarchus (verse 2). We are not told where Luke had been since the last occurrence of the ‘we’ form of narration (21:18), but it is often supposed that he stayed in Palestine.”—I. Howard Marshall. 


    Let us return to our ‘saga on the sea.’ Keeping in our minds the instructions that the Lord had given His apostle, which of course, intimates to ourselves the understanding that Paul had regarding the purposes of God, even in his now being on a ship bound for Rome. He knew that it was, all of it, because of the express, and expressed, will of God. And, moreover, it would be carried out by the sovereign and glorious Providence of God. His plan for Paul was being carried out by whatever means the Lord was pleased to use. And this takes us back to our focus passage, with Paul saying, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have set sail from Crete. To what does Paul here refer? He has reference to the initial concern expressed for the continued safety of this voyage. Going back to vss. 9-10, we are able to read:

And when much time was spent, and the voyage was now dangerous, because the Fast was now already gone by, Paul admonished them, and said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the lading and the ship, but also of our lives.

When he then says, in verse 21, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, he is, in some ways, saying, ‘I told you so,’ although not in a disrespectful manner, but only as a matter of fact, ‘we should not have set sail from Crete; conditions were most unfavorable.’ Writers point out their concern regarding the apparent contradiction here between verses 9-10 and verse 21. In one place, Paul had given them the clear warning, that I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the lading and the ship, but also of our lives. Now, he stands to tell them that there stood by me this night an angel of the God whose I am, telling him that there would be no loss of life. Which is it, loss of like, or no loss of life? 

    Most writers have seen a distinction, and rightly so, between the first word of the apostle, admittedly with only the qualification, that he perceived. He did not, in that utterance, claim any word from the Lord, as he did with regard to the second utterance, where he boldly declared that an angel of the Lord stood by him with that message. Yet the real issue surfaces when the account continues into the 30th verse;

And as the sailors were seeking to flee out of the ship, and had lowered the boat into the sea, under color as though they would lay out anchors from the foreship, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.—Acts 27:30-31.

Here is the more interesting dilemma; a seriously apparent contradiction; Paul had said that there would be no loss of life, while in his angelic vision, it was otherwise. In that vision, there was to be no loss of life. Then, how is it that he now says to the centurion and his soldiers, about these fleeing sailors, that, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved? Julius and his obedient soldiers removed our wondering what would happen if they had allowed the sailors to abandon ship. For they cut away the ropes of the boat. How do we reconcile these two utterances of Paul? Are they in need of reconciliation? After all, the sailors remained, and there was no loss.

    In some ways, it seems that this is something of a parallel with the matter labored over by multitudes of writers, with respect to 2 Samuel, chapter 7, where the prophet Samuel tells David, when he expresses his desire to build a house unto the Lord. Samuel tells him, it would seem in no uncertain terms, Go, do all that is in thy heart; for Jehovah is with thee. In the very same night, Jehovah speaks His mind to His prophet, telling him to tell David, Moreover Jehovah telleth thee that Jehovah will build thee a house. Jehovah added to that word, as recorded in 1 Kings 8:17ff, as Solomon utters his prayer of dedication for the house of Jehovah, he speaks thus;

Now it was in the heart of David my father to build a house for the name of Jehovah, the God of Israel. But Jehovah said unto David my father, whereas it was in thy heart to build a house for my name, thou didst well that it was in thy heart: nevertheless thou shalt not build the house, but thy son that shall come forth out of thy loins, he shall build the house for my name.

We close this commentary with some remarks upon Providence, in general, by an eminent divine of the Scottish Secession Church. John Dick (1764-1833) has written:

    “Providence is not an occasional interference, but a constant agent of the Creator, directing and controlling events in subservience to His own designs, and at the same time preserving inviolate the nature of His creatures. The hearts of men are in the hand of the Lord, who turns them as the rivers of water, without infringing their liberty. None of His purposes, therefore, can be defeated, because the means of carrying them into effect are provided, and will be brought into operation, in the proper season.”


David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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