Shipwreck and Safety

14 Jul

For fourteen days the vessel carrying Paul and company was adrift on the open sea from the island of Cauda, about 26 miles south and west of Fair Havens on the island of Crete, to the island of Melita,[1] some 476 miles north and east of Cauda (Acts 27:27). Paul had promised safety for all the crew and passengers by telling them of a vision he received from God that although, they would be cast upon some island, their lives would be saved (Acts 27:24-26). Paul placed his trust in God’s word to him and encouraged those who had despaired of life to do the same (Acts 27:20, 25).

The first sign that the ship was near land came on the fourteenth night probably at the sound of waves breaking near land. The seamen hadn’t had a decent mean for the whole two weeks, perhaps taking only a little nourishment as they kept watch (Acts 27:33). Immediately, when they understood land drew near, the crew let cables down to sound the depth of the water and found it to be 20 fathoms or about 120 feet.[2] A short while later they sounded once more and found the waters were shallower still, they set four anchors from the stern (rear) of the ship to keep from running aground during the night. This would also keep the vessel pointing toward land until daybreak (Acts 27:29).

One has to wonder why such experienced seamen, knowing they were close to land and the ship was firmly anchored, why would they want to abandon ship to save their own lives. It seems to me using a dinghy at night would be more hazardous than steering the larger ship by day. But, that is the point, isn’t it? I am not an experienced seaman, but these men were. Paul had predicted from his vision that the ship would be cast on some island (Acts 27:26), and here they were. The danger to the lives of crew and passengers in a shipwreck was well known. In fact, Josephus tells us that he was aboard a vessel carrying 600 when it was shipwrecked in the Adriatic, but only 80 survived.[3]

Paul understood the crew’s intentions and alerted the centurion that they intended to use the dinghy to escape, but their expertise was needed in the morning to guide the ship into the cove and purposely ground the vessel. The centurion, therefore, commanded the soldiers to set the dinghy adrift, so there would be no escape by anyone during the night.

As Jesus was when he faced his crucifixion, so Paul was while facing the danger surrounding shipwreck. This was noticed by the crew and they took heart in Paul’s words that not a hair on their heads would perish (Acts 27:34; cp. Luke 21:18), and all sat down to partake of a meal, following Paul’s example (Acts 27:35-36). After the meal, they no longer needed the rest of the cargo of wheat and dumped it overboard to lighten the load in anticipation of sailing over the shallow waters in the morning.

In the morning the ship was steered into a sand barge prematurely, and because it was where two seas met, implying violence with the waves against the vessel, the stern of the ship was broken up. The soldiers would have killed all the prisoners, but the centurion, no doubt in gratitude for Paul’s role in the whole affair, countered their wishes and calmly ordered the manner in which the rescue would take place (Acts 27:41-43). In the end, all 276 people aboard the ship made it safely to shore, just as Paul said he was promised of the Lord (Acts 27:37, 44).

[1] The islands of Cauda (Acts 27:16) and Melitia (Acts 28:1) are the ancient names of what we know as Gavdos and Malta today.

[2] A fathom was measured from the tip of one’s outstretched middle finger across one’s chest to the tip of one’s other outstretched middle finger or about 6 feet. I didn’t know this, but a little old lady in my Sunday school class (her name is Faith) informed us of this fact when we questioned how this was done. Knots were made in the cable or rope about 6 feet apart. I checked it out and she was correct!

[3] Life of Flavius Josephus, paragraph 3 (verse-15).

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Posted by on July 14, 2013 in Gospel, Kingdom of God, Uncategorized


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