In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king
Aretas or Al-Hareth was a king of Arabia, of the family of the Gassanii; among whom were many of this name F18; and who for some hundreds of years ruled over Syria, of which Damascus was the metropolis. The fourth king of that family was of this name, and perhaps is the person here meant; and after him there were four more of the same family so called; it was a name of Arabian kings in other families. The fifteenth king of the Yamanensians was of this name, and so was the "seventeenth" of the Hirensians F19, and the "third" of the kings of Cenda; in the times of Antiochus Epiphanes, there was an Aretas king of the Arabians, mentioned in the Apocrypha F20.
``In the end therefore he had an unhappy return, being accused before Aretas the king of the Arabians, fleeing from city to city, pursued of all men, hated as a forsaker of the laws, and being had in abomination as an open enemy of his country and countrymen, he was cast out into Egypt.'' (2 Maccabees 5:8)Josephus F21 also makes mention of Aretas king of the Arabians, who seems to have been king of Arabia Petraea, since his royal seat was at Petra, to whom Hyrcanus fled by the advice of Antipater, the father of Herod the great; and there was also one of this name in the times of Herod himself, who succeeded Obodas F23; yea, there was an Aretas king of Petraea, in the times of Herod the tetrarch, whose daughter Herod married, and put her away when he took Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, which occasioned a quarrel between him and Aretas, which issued in a battle, in which Herod was beaten F24; and who is thought to be the same king which is here spoken of: the name Aretas or Al-Hareth, as Hillerus F25, observes, signifies the lion; and a lion with the eastern nations was a symbol of royalty and dominion; hence such names were given to persons of illustrious birth and power; so Ali, the son-in-law of Mahomet, was called by the Arabs and Persians the lion of God: now Syria, where Damascus was, and which is called by Pliny F26 Damascus of Syria, had been of long time in the hands of the kings of Arabia; and F1 Josephus makes mention of Aretas, king of Coele Syria, who was called to the government by those who had Damascus in their hands; very probably by Milesius, who was governor of the tower of Damascus, and commanded (twn) (damaskhnwn thn polin) , "the city of the Damascenes", as Josephus calls Damascus, just as it is here in the next clause; in which country of Coele Syria, Ptolomy F2 also places Damascus; and Grotius has proved from Justin Martyr F3 and Terlullian F4, that Damascus formerly belonged to Arabia, though in their times it was reckoned to Syro Phoenicia: here the apostle preached to the confounding of the Jews that dwelt there, which provoked them to enter into a consultation to take away his life; and that he might not escape their hands, they moved to the then governor who was under the king, that the gates might be watched day and night; see ( Acts 9:23-25 ) to which he agreed; and as the apostle here says,
kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison,
or set a guard about it; or as the Arabic version reads it, "he shut up the city"; and placed a watch at the gates of it night and day, or allowed the Jews to do so:
desirous to apprehend me;
in order to deliver him into their hands, who were now his sworn enemies for the Gospel's sake; willing to do them this favour to ingratiate himself into their affections; or perhaps it might be insinuated to him, that he was a seditious person.
F18 Pocock. Specimen Hist. Arab. p. 76, 77, 78.
F19 Pocock. ib. p. 58, 70, 79.
F20 Vid. Joseph. Antiqu. l. 13. c. 13. sect. 3.
F21 Antiqu. l. 14. c. 1. sect. 4. de Bello Jud. l. 1. c. 6. sect. 2.
F23 Joseph. Antiqu. l. 16. c. 9. sect. 4. & c. 10. sect. 8, 9.
F24 Ib. Antiqu. l. 18. c. 6. sect. 1.
F25 Onomasticum Sacrum, p. 116, 748.
F26 Nat. Hist. l. 36. c. 8.
F1 Antiqu. l. 13. c. 15. sect. 1, 2.
F2 Geograph. l. 5. c. 15.
F3 Dialog. cum Tryphone Jud. p. 305.
F4 Adv. Marcion. l. 3. c. 13.