21. But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss.
Now a long time has passed since they first were caught in this storm, and during this time the men on board the ship have been doing much fasting. Perhaps it is the extreme rolling and tossing of the ship in the wind and the waves, or perhaps it is how busy they have been trying to keep afloat, or perhaps it is their great fear for their lives, but the sailors and passengers have simply not been eating. This does not necessarily mean they have not eaten anything, but they have been fasting for much of this time. Now, Paul sees that it is necessary for him to step in and say something, and this he does.
Now Paul reminds them of his advice to them before they sailed away from Crete. He had warned them not to do this, and that the loss would be great, but they had not listened to him. Now as we know no one likes someone who says “I told you so,” but Paul is not just saying this to rub it in that he was right and they were wrong. He is saying this for a very important purpose. He is about to instruct them what to do, and so these men need to realize that his advice is sound, and learn to trust his word. The best way for them to do this is to remember that he was right before. That is why Paul brings this up here, not just to say “I told you so.”
22. And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.
Now, Paul urges them to take heart. This was the very opposite of what they had been doing, for as we just read, these men had given up to despair. However, Paul assures them that there will be no loss of life among them, but only loss of the ship. Of course, no one could have said such a thing in such a situation had God not communicated this to Paul. The circumstances gave every indication that all hands would be lost with the ship. But God was with Paul, and so the word he spoke here was true, as unlikely as it seemed.
23. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve,
He reveals why he is so confident that they will all survive. He reveals to his shipmates the fact that the night before, a messenger of the God to whom he belongs and whom he serves stood by him. There can be little doubt but that this messenger was a heavenly being, but remember that the word “angel” just means “messenger,” and does not have to mean a member of that race of beings we usually call “angels.” This visit was nothing unusual for Paul, but must have seemed a spectacular thing to these Roman soldiers, prisoners, and men of the sea.
We do not know how much his shipmates knew about Paul. They knew he was a prisoner, certainly. Whether or not they had found out what he was accused of is hard to say. But Paul here informs them that he belongs to a God and serves this God. This communicated much to them that they needed to know. We too would love to say that we belong to God, and we can say this if we are in Christ through faith in His name. And we too can say we serve Him if, indeed, we do what He said and follow the worthy walk laid out for us in His Word. Let us copy Paul here and serve the God to whom we all belong by our faith.
24. saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’
Paul repeats for them what the messenger from God told him. The angel urged him not to be afraid. He must be brought before Caesar. Why must he? Rome said he had to, but Rome could do little about it if he was lost at sea. No, the reason he had to is that this appearance was in the plans of God. God wanted him to appear before Caesar, so no storm or death could intervene before that was accomplished. So because God had plans for him, he was not going to die in this storm, and so he could be brave and not fear.
Now the angel also assures him that God has granted to him all those who sail with him. This is in direct contrast to what Paul had told the centurion before they set sail, that “this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives.” That is what would have happened had God not stepped in, for certainly this storm could easily have killed most of them. Yet God has been gracious, not for the sake of the rest of the men in the ship, but for Paul’s sake. Because of his relationship with Paul, He is not only going to spare him, but also give him the lives of all those who are sailing with him. Certainly, Paul would have prayed for his companions Luke and Aristarchus that they would be spared. But perhaps Paul had prayed that all those sailing with him would be saved, and God has answered his prayer. At any rate, God is gracious, and reverses what Paul earlier had said. Though the ship will be lost, none of those traveling on board will die. This was God’s gracious gift to His man Paul.
25. Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me.
In light of what this angel said, Paul encourages them to take heart. They can believe as they like, but Paul assures them that he believes God, and is certain that it will be just as God told him it would be. Thus he offers himself as the example, that they might have faith as he did.
Paul’s complete assurance in the word of God is a good example for us as well. It is good if we too can testify that “I believe God.” It is good if we too are certain that just as God has said, so it shall be. May we in all things do as Paul did. Let us believe God.
26. However, we must run aground on a certain island.”
Paul gives them one more fact about what is about to happen to prove to them that his words are no guess. He has specific knowledge of what is going to happen. They will all live, yet the ship will be destroyed, and they will run aground on a certain island. This was not all good news, but it was certainly better than these men had hoped for, who had given up on life itself.
27. Now when the fourteenth night had come, as we were driven up and down in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors sensed that they were drawing near some land.
Now the fourteenth night of their journey has come. Remember, this was supposed to be a short little jaunt down the coast from one possible port to winter in to another. Now all has come to disaster because they refused to listen to God’s warning through His messenger Paul. This night the storm is still raging, and they are being driven up and down in the Adriatic Sea. The Greek name “Adrias” means “Without Wood.” What is apparently referred to here is the sea between Greece and Italy. Today only the upper part of this is called the Adriatic Sea, and the lower part is called the Ionian Sea. Yet without doubt what Luke means is that they are being driven back and forth in the lower part of the sea between Greece and Italy.
Now as it is about midnight, the sailors sense that they are drawing near to some land. How they could tell this we cannot say, but from many years at sea they probably had a good instinct for such a thing. While this was good in some ways, for it meant they were not simply lost out in the middle of the sea, in many ways this just compounded their troubles, for their ship was still driving completely out of control, and the proximity to land meant any number of things could go wrong to sink the ship.
28. And they took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and when they had gone a little farther, they took soundings again and found it to be fifteen fathoms.
To find out if they are right in what they are thinking, they take soundings. Today this is done literally by sending a sound down into the water and seeing how long it takes to bounce back. Of course, they had no such equipment. They sounded by lowering a line with a weight on the end and seeing how much of the line would play out before it struck the bottom. The first time they tried this, they found it to be twenty fathoms deep. The Greek word for this is orguia, and seems to mean a distance from the tip of the middle finger of one hand to the tip of the middle finger of the other hand when the arms are outstretched. Of course, this measurement would depend on the height of the man using the cord, but would generally be between five and six feet. Thus, the water here was about 100 to 120 feet deep. They go a little farther, and then sound again. This time, the measurement is fifteen fathoms, or 75 to 90 feet deep. Clearly, they are near to land, and are heading toward it at a rapid pace.
29. Then, fearing lest we should run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come.
The sailors are naturally fearful that the depth will continue to decrease until the ship runs aground on the rocks surrounding the land, and so they drop four anchors out of the stern of the ship to stop its forward progress. Then, all they can do is pray for the day to come. It seems that the nearness of death is enough to make even the worst of these men into prayers. Of course, they were probably praying to any number of imaginary deities. Only perhaps Paul and his party, and any who might have been inspired to it by his example of faith, are praying to the true God of heaven.
30. And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, when they had let down the skiff into the sea, under pretense of putting out anchors from the prow,
The sailors at this point decide to try a desperate and selfish move. They have let down the skiff into the sea, pretending that they are going to put more anchors out from the prow. The reality, however, is that they are planning to escape from the ship, leaving the passengers, including the Roman centurion, his men, and his prisoners, to die alone on the ship. Obviously they had given the ship up for lost, perhaps even due to Paul’s words that it would run aground. Too bad they did not believe all of his words, and trust in the fact that none of them would be lost! But fearful men often thus believe only the worst parts of the word of God, and refuse to believe the whole. Imagining they will be more likely to slip through the rocks in the skiff, therefore, they formulate this plan, and go about seeking to carry it out.
31. Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”
The centurion and his fellow soldiers are easily fooled by the experienced shipmen. Not so Paul. He is God’s apostle and has the Spirit of God informing him of the intentions of these men, and what the outcome will be. Thus, he warns the centurion and his fellow soldiers that if these men do not stay in the ship, then the soldiers cannot be saved. Like most soldiers, these men knew nothing about sailing a ship. Though the experienced seamen may be able to get the ship close enough to land so that they can be saved, without the seamen, these soldiers will be clueless. They would doubtless try to work the ship and do their best, but their best would not be good enough. Only with the sailors onboard will they be saved.
Notice that Paul significantly says “you,” not “we.” Paul would be saved regardless, for God had further plans for him. Also, he says nothing about his own companions, who probably also would be saved regardless due to their identification with Paul. For the soldiers, however, the matter is now up in the air. If they believe the words of God spoken through Paul, they will not allow these sailors off the ship, and they will be saved. If they will not believe God’s words through Paul, however, they will be lost.
32. Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the skiff and let it fall off.
Apparently, the centurion and his men have learned their lesson. They did not listen to Paul the first time, preferring the word of the experienced seamen, and the result was all this fear and trouble. Now, they know that Paul speaks for God, and so they listen to his words. Not only do they prevent the sailors from entering the skiff as they planned, but they also cut the ropes and let it fall off, ensuring that there will be no possibility of the sailors sneaking aboard it at some later time. By doing this, notice, they not only cut off the sailors’ escape, but also their own. This shows us just how much these men, or their centurion at least, had come to trust in the word of God through Paul.
33. And as day was about to dawn, Paul implored them all to take food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day you have waited and continued without food, and eaten nothing.
At last this terrible night is about to end and the day is about to dawn. Now Paul takes action again, speaking to all the men. In Greek, the word is parakaleo, which means he acted like a paraclete, coming alongside them to help them. He reminds them that they have been so busy working and in such terror of the storm, that they have been waiting fourteen days without eating any food. This is a long time indeed to fast! But they had doubtless been well-fed at the Fair Havens, and these men were in very good shape. However, even for them this must now be taking its toll. No one can go this long without food and still be functioning as well as he would if he ate.
34. Therefore I urge you to take nourishment, for this is for your survival, since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you.”
In light of this long fast, Paul now urges them to eat something, assuring them that this will aid in their own survival. The word is actually soteria, which means “salvation.” When the ship is lost as Paul has told them it will be, they will have to swim to shore, which will take a lot of effort. Things will go much better for them if they have eaten and given themselves the strength food will bring than if they continue to weaken through fasting. The extra energy they get from eating will save them when the time comes.
Paul offers them yet more reason to eat and not fast, assuring them that a hair will not fall from the head of any of them. This is a figure of speech, of course, since no one would really be worried if a few hairs fell off his head. The falling out of hairs and the replacing of them with new ones is a natural process. What is meant by this figure is that none of them will be injured even in the slightest. This is a promise no one but God could make, of course, but He has made it, and this is exactly how it is going to come to pass.
35. And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat.
After saying this, Paul backs up his words with actions. He takes bread and gives thanks to God in front of them all. Certainly there can be no greater sign of confidence in God than to give thanks even in the midst of the most dangerous and life-threatening circumstances. Then, having shown thankfulness to his God, Paul breaks this bread and begins to eat, leading by example in what he is encouraging them all to do.
This passage is the one that gives the most definite proof as to the meaning of the phrase, “breaking bread.” Some have taken this phrase and applied to it a bread and wine ritual, which is otherwise called “Eucharist” or “communion” or “the Lord’s supper.” Then, having called it instead “breaking of bread,” they take this phrase every time they find it in Scripture and assume it is talking about the ceremony they have created and participate in! Yet this passage gives the lie to this interpretation. Surely Paul was not performing some kind of Christian rite or ritual before these sailors after urging them to eat. Breaking bread just speaks of the eating of the common meal, and that is exactly what Paul was doing here.
36. Then they were all encouraged, and also took food themselves.
The passengers and crew are all encouraged by Paul’s attitude and actions. No one could watch a man display such faith in the words that had been spoken to him by God and not at least have his spirits lifted a bit by it. So they take Paul’s advice and partake in a meal together.
37. And in all we were two hundred and seventy-six persons on the ship.
Luke now informs us of the number of souls aboard the ship as 276. This is what the original Greek reads, “souls” or psuche, not “persons” as the New King James makes it. The translators have interpreted this (rather than just translating it) as meaning persons, which is in fact what this means. To count souls is just to count persons, not some invisible aspect of a person. The souls here are the people themselves.
This number would include the crew, the soldiers, the prisoners, and any other passengers on board. Some have found this number too much to believe, yet it is not really so unbelievable as they make out. Their ships were not large at this time, but still it was not uncommon for them to pack such ships to the gills with men and cargo. Josephus actually claimed there were 600 on the ship in which he was wrecked! The point Luke is making here is that the sheer number of people on board the ship made it even more difficult for Paul’s words regarding the salvation of all of them to come true. What would be the chances, without the intervention of God, that at least one of them would not suffer some accident in the shipwreck and be lost? Just the possibility of knocking yourself on the head with something when jumping into the water and thus drowning would be great enough that it should have caught someone. The fact that they all escaped was nothing short of miraculous. The fact that they all escaped was nothing short of the work of God.
38. So when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship and threw out the wheat into the sea.
When they all had eaten enough, they decided that they had no more use for the food. Therefore, they threw it all out into the sea, doing so to lighten the ship. They probably figured that every little bit counts, and even this small amount might be enough to increase their chances of survival. They were not all totally trusting in God at this point, anyway.
39. When it was day, they did not recognize the land; but they observed a bay with a beach, onto which they planned to run the ship if possible.
When day arrives, they can finally see the land that they have sailed so close to. They do not recognize the place, but they observe a bay with a beach there. This immediately suggests to them a plan. If they can just run the ship into this bay, it will be possible to save both it and themselves. No doubt, their hopes now raised, they moved quickly to attempt to put this plan into action.
40. And they let go the anchors and left them in the sea, meanwhile loosing the rudder ropes; and they hoisted the mainsail to the wind and made for shore.
Now they loose the anchors one last time and leave them in the sea, not wanting their mass on board to weigh down the ship. They are hoping to slip into this natural harbor, yet they have no idea how shallow the water might be there. Every little bit of weight they can lose makes it more likely they will be able to make it into the bay without running aground. Then, they loose the rudder rope, hoist the mainsail to the wind, and head for shore. For the first time they are sailing once again, not just letting the wind take them wherever it will. Rescue and escape at last are close, just in front of them.
41. But striking a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the violence of the waves.
However, the word of God is not to be defeated, either for the better or for the worse. Thus, the ship runs into a place where two seas meet and have thrown up a sand bar. The prow of the ship sticks fast in this place and cannot budge. The rest of the ship, however, is still subject to the beating of the waves, and so the whole ship from the stern begins to be broken into pieces by the pounding of the storm-tossed waters.
42. And the soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim away and escape.
Upon realizing that they are all about to have to abandon ship, the soldiers plan to kill all their prisoners. This might seem needlessly cruel to us, yet we must understand that a soldier’s life was bound up with the prisoner he was assigned to guard. If that prisoner was allowed to escape for any reason, the soldier would either have to hunt him down and bring him back to justice, or else his own life would be forfeit for the man he had allowed to escape. Rather than risking any of the prisoners getting away, therefore, the soldiers are ready to kill them to see that they all are accounted for and none can swim away and make his escape.
43. But the centurion, wanting to save Paul, kept them from their purpose, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land,
The centurion puts a stop to this plan, however. He would not be excited about what would happen to him if his prisoners escaped either, but we read that the reason he saved them was Paul. He knew that Paul too was a prisoner, and did not want to see him put to death with the rest. Thus, all these prisoners owed their lives to the faithfulness of one man named Paul!
Now, the centurion begins to take charge of the escape from the sinking craft. He orders those who could swim overboard first, advising them to do what they can to make it to dry land.
44. and the rest, some on boards and some on parts of the ship. And so it was that they all escaped safely to land.
Once those who can swim are gone, then the others are to jump in, taking with them boards or other parts of the ship to hang on to. By doing this, they will greatly increase their chances to make it to shore without drowning. This plan of the centurion’s was well-thought-out, and was certainly part of what God used to save all these men alive and fulfill His Word. Thus, it is effective, and every last one of them escapes to land safely. So God’s word was fulfilled, as it always is. Paul escaped the shipwreck, as did all those with him. Not a one of them was injured. What God said came to pass exactly as He said it would.