Paul's defence before the council of the Jews. (1-5) Paul's defence. He receives a Divine assurance that he shall go to Rome. (6-11) The Jews conspire to kill Paul, Lysias sends him to Cesarea. (12-24) Lysias's letter to Felix. (25-35)
Verses 1-5 See here the character of an honest man. He sets God before him, and lives as in his sight. He makes conscience of what he says and does, and, according to the best of his knowledge, he keeps from whatever is evil, and cleaves to what is good. He is conscientious in all his words and conduct. Those who thus live before God, may, like Paul, have confidence both toward God and man. Though the answer of Paul contained a just rebuke and prediction, he seems to have been too angry at the treatment he received in uttering them. Great men may be told of their faults, and public complaints may be made in a proper manner; but the law of God requires respect for those in authority.
Verses 6-11 The Pharisees were correct in the faith of the Jewish church. The Sadducees were no friends to the Scripture or Divine revelation; they denied a future state; they had neither hope of eternal happiness, nor dread of eternal misery. When called in question for his being a Christian, Paul might truly say he was called in question for the hope of the resurrection of the dead. It was justifiable in him, by this profession of his opinion on that disputed point, to draw off the Pharisees from persecuting him, and to lead them to protect him from this unlawful violence. How easily can God defend his own cause! Though the Jews seemed to be perfectly agreed in their conspiracy against religion, yet they were influenced by very different motives. There is no true friendship among the wicked, and in a moment, and with the utmost ease, God can turn their union into open enmity. Divine consolations stood Paul in the most stead; the chief captain rescued him out of the hands of cruel men, but the event he could not tell. Whoever is against us, we need not fear, if the Lord stand by us. It is the will of Christ, that his servants who are faithful, should be always cheerful. He might think he should never see Rome; but God tells him, even in that he should be gratified, since he desired to go there only for the honour of Christ, and to do good.
Verses 12-24 False religious principles, adopted by carnal men, urge on to such wickedness, as human nature would hardly be supposed capable of. Yet the Lord readily disappoints the best concerted schemes of iniquity. Paul knew that the Divine providence acts by reasonable and prudent means; and that, if he neglected to use the means in his power, he could not expect God's providence to work on his behalf. He who will not help himself according to his means and power, has neither reason nor revelation to assure him that he shall receive help from God. Believing in the Lord, we and ours shall be kept from every evil work, and kept to his kingdom. Heavenly Father, give us by thy Holy Spirit, for Christ's sake, this precious faith.
Verses 25-35 God has instruments for every work. The natural abilities and moral virtues of the heathens often have been employed to protect his persecuted servants. Even the men of the world can discern between the conscientious conduct of upright believers, and the zeal of false professors, though they disregard or understand not their doctrinal principles. All hearts are in God's hand, and those are blessed who put their trust in him, and commit their ways unto him.
Acts 23:1-10 . PAUL'S DEFENSE BEFORE THE SAMHEDRIM DIVIDES THE RIVAL FACTIONS, FROM WHOSE VIOLENCE THE COMMANDANT HAS THE APOSTLE REMOVED INTO THE FORTRESS.
1. Paul, earnestly beholding the council--with a look of conscious integrity and unfaltering courage, perhaps also recognizing some of his early fellow pupils.
I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day--The word has an indirect reference to the "polity" or "commonwealth of Israel," of which he would signify that he had been, and was to that hour, an honest and God-fearing member.
2. the high priest . . . commanded . . . to smite him on the mouth--a method of silencing a speaker common in the East to this day [HACKET]. But for a judge thus to treat a prisoner on his "trial," for merely prefacing his defense by a protestation of his integrity, was infamous.
3, 4. God shall smite thee--as indeed He did; for he was killed by an assassin during the Jewish war [JOSEPHUS, Wars of the Jews, 2.17.9].
thou whited wall--that is, hypocrite ( Matthew 23:27 ). This epithet, however correctly describing the man, must not be defended as addressed to a judge, though the remonstrance which follows--"for sittest thou," &c.--ought to have put him to shame.
5. I wist not . . . that he was the high priest--All sorts of explanations of this have been given. The high priesthood was in a state of great confusion and constant change at this time (as appears from JOSEPHUS), and the apostle's long absence from Jerusalem, and perhaps the manner in which he was habited or the seat he occupied, with other circumstances to us unknown, may account for such a speech. But if he was thrown off his guard by an insult which touched him to the quick, "what can surpass the grace with which he recovered his self-possession, and the frankness with which he acknowledged his error? If his conduct in yielding to the momentary impulse was not that of Christ Himself under a similar provocation ( John 18:22 John 18:23 ), certainly the manner in which he atoned for his fault was Christ-like" [HACKET].
6-9. when Paul perceived--from the discussion which plainly had by this time arisen between the parties.
that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out--raising his voice above both parties.
I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee--The true reading seems to be, "the son of Pharisees," that is, belonging to a family who from father to son had long been such.
of the hope and resurrection of the dead--that is, not the vague hope of immortality, but the definite expectation of the resurrection.
I am called in question--By this adroit stroke, Paul engages the whole Pharisaic section of the council in his favor; the doctrine of a resurrection being common to both, though they would totally differ in their application of it. This was, of course, quite warrantable, and the more so as it was already evident that no impartiality in trying his cause was to be looked for from such an assembly.
8. the Sadducees say . . . there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor
the scribes . . . of the Pharisees' part . . . strove, saying, We find no evil in this man, but--as to those startling things which he brings to our ears.
if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him--referring, perhaps, to his trance in the temple, of which he had told them ( Acts 22:17 ). They put this favorable construction upon his proceedings for no other reason than that they had found him one of their own party. They care not to inquire into the truth of what he alleged, over and above their opinions, but only to explain it away as something not worth raising a noise about. (The following words, "Let us not fight against God," seem not to belong to the original text, and perhaps are from Acts 5:39 . In this case, either the meaning is, "If he has had some divine communication, what of that?" or, the conclusion of the sentence may have been drowned in the hubbub, which Acts 23:10 shows to have been intense).
10. the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled to pieces . . . commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force, &c.--This shows that the commandant was not himself present, and further, that instead of the Sanhedrim trying the cause, the proceedings quickly consisted in the one party attempting to seize the prisoner, and the other to protect him.
Acts 23:11-35 . IN THE FORTRESS PAUL IS CHEERED BY A NIGHT VISION--AN INFAMOUS CONSPIRACY TO ASSASSINATE HIM IS PROVIDENTIALLY DEFEATED, AND HE IS DESPATCHED BY NIGHT WITH A LETTER FROM THE COMMANDANT TO FELIX AT CÆSAREA, BY WHOM ARRANGEMENTS ARE MADE FOR A HEARING OF HIS CAUSE.
11. the night following--his heart perhaps sinking, in the solitude of his barrack ward, and thinking perhaps that all the predictions of danger at Jerusalem were now to be fulfilled in his death there.
the Lord--that is, Jesus.
stood by him . . . Be of good cheer, Paul; for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou . . . also at Rome--that is, "Thy work in Jerusalem is done, faithfully and well done; but thou art not to die here; thy purpose next to 'see Rome' ( Acts 19:21 ) shall not be disappointed, and there also must thou bear witness of Me." As this vision was not unneeded now, so we shall find it cheering and upholding him throughout all that befell him up to his arrival there.
12-14. bound themselves under a curse . . . that they would neither eat . . . fill they had killed Paul--Compare 2 Samuel 3:35 , 1 Samuel 14:24 .
15. Now . . . ye with the council signify to the chief captain . . . as though, &c.--That these high ecclesiastics fell in readily with this infamous plot is clear. What will not unscrupulous and hypocritical religionists do under the mask of religion? The narrative bears unmistakable internal marks of truth.
or ever he come near--Their plan was to assassinate him on his way down from the barracks to the council. The case was critical. but He who had pledged His word to him that he should testify for Him at Rome provided unexpected means of defeating this well-laid scheme.
16-22. Paul's sister's this time residing at Jerusalem for his education, like Paul himself, he may have got at the schools those hints of the conspiracy on which he so promptly acted.
17. Then Paul called one of the centurions--Though divinely assured of safety, he never allows this to interfere with the duty he owed to his own life and the work he had yet to do.
19. took him by the hand--This shows that he must have been quite in his boyhood, and throws a pleasing light on the kind-hearted impartiality of this officer.
21. and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee--Thus, as is so often the case with God's people, not till the last moment, when the plot was all prepared, did deliverance come.
23, 24. two hundred soldiers--a formidable guard for such an occasion; but Roman officials felt their honor concerned in the preservation of the public peace, and the danger of an attempted rescue would seem to require it. The force at Jerusalem was large enough to spare this convoy.
the third hour of the night--nine o'clock.
24. beasts . . . set Paul on--as relays, and to carry baggage.
unto Felix, the governor--the procurator.
26-30. Claudius--the Roman name he would take on purchasing his citizenship.
Lysias--his Greek family name.
the most excellent governor--an honorary title of office.
27. came I with an army--rather, "with the military."
29. perceived to be accused of questions of their law, &c.--Amidst all his difficulty in getting at the charges laid against Paul, enough, no doubt, come out to satisfy him that the whole was a question of religion, and that there was no case for a civil tribunal.
30. gave commandment to his accusers . . . to say before thee--This was not done when he wrote, but would be before the letter reached its destination.
31, 32. brought him . . . to Antipatris--nearly forty miles from Jerusalem, on the way to Cæsarea; so named by Herod in honor of his father, Antipater.
32. On the morrow they--the infantry.
left the horsemen--themselves no longer needed as a guard. The remaining distance was about twenty-five or twenty-six miles.
34, 35. asked of what province he was--the letter describing him as a Roman citizen.
35. I will hear thee--The word means, "give thee a full hearing."
to be kept in Herod's judgment hall--"prætorium," the palace built at Cæsarea by Herod, and now occupied by the Roman procurators; in one of the buildings attached to which Paul was ordered to be kept.