Acts 9:1-25 . CONVERSION OF SAUL, AND BEGINNINGS OF HIS MINISTRY.
1. Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, &c.--The emphatic "yet" is intended to note the remarkable fact, that up to this moment his blind persecuting rage against the disciples of the Lord burned as fiercely as ever. (In the teeth of this, NEANDER and OLSHAUSEN picture him deeply impressed with Stephen's joyful faith, remembering passages of the Old Testament confirmatory of the Messiahship of Jesus, and experiencing such a violent struggle as would inwardly prepare the way for the designs of God towards him. Is not dislike, if not unconscious disbelief, of sudden conversion at the bottom of this?) The word "slaughter" here points to cruelties not yet recorded, but the particulars of which are supplied by himself nearly thirty years afterwards: "And I persecuted this way unto the death" ( Acts 22:4 ); "and when they were put to death, I gave my voice [vote] against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to [did my utmost to make them] blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange [foreign] cities" ( Acts 26:10 Acts 26:11 ). All this was before his present journey.
2. desired . . . letters--of authorization.
to Damascus--the capital of Syria and the great highway between eastern and western Asia, about one hundred thirty miles northeast of Jerusalem; the most ancient city perhaps in the world, and lying in the center of a verdant and inexhaustible paradise. It abounded (as appears from JOSEPHUS, Wars of the Jews, 2.20,2) with Jews, and with Gentile proselytes to the Jewish faith. Thither the Gospel had penetrated; and Saul, flushed with past successes, undertakes to crush it out.
that if he found any of this way, whether men or women--Thrice are women specified as objects of his cruelty, as an aggravated feature of it ( Acts 8:3 , 22:4 ; and here).
3. he came near Damascus--so Acts 22:6 . Tradition points to a bridge near the city as the spot referred to. Events which are the turning points in one's history so imprint themselves upon the memory that circumstances the most trifling in themselves acquire by connection with them something of their importance, and are recalled with inexpressible interest.
suddenly--At what time of day, it is not said; for artless simplicity reigns here. But he himself emphatically states, in one of his narratives, that it was "about noon" ( Acts 22:6 ), and in the other, "at midday" ( Acts 26:13 ), when there could be no deception.
there shined round about him a light from heaven--"a great light (he himself says) above the brightness of the sun," then shining in its full strength.
4-6. he fell to the earth--and his companions with him ( Acts 26:14 ), who "saw the light" ( Acts 22:9 ).
and heard a voice saying unto him--"in the Hebrew tongue" ( Acts 26:14 ).
Saul, Saul--a reduplication full of tenderness [DE WETTE]. Though his name was soon changed into "Paul," we find him, in both his own narratives of the scene, after the lapse of so many years, retaining the original form, as not daring to alter, in the smallest detail, the overpowering words addressed to him.
why persecutest thou me?--No language can express the affecting character of this question, addressed from the right hand of the Majesty on high to an infuriated, persecuting mortal. (See Matthew 25:45 , and that whole judgment scene).
5. Who art thou, Lord?--"Jesus knew Saul ere Saul knew Jesus" [BENGEL]. The term "Lord" here is an indefinite term of respect for some unknown but august speaker. That Saul saw as well as heard this glorious Speaker, is expressly said by Ananias ( Acts 9:17 , 22:14 ), by Barnabas ( Acts 9:27 ), and by himself ( Acts 26:16 ); and in claiming apostleship, he explicitly states that he had "seen the Lord" ( 1 Corinthians 9:1 , 15:8 ), which can refer only to this scene.
I am Jesus whom thou persecutest--The "I" and "thou" here are touchingly emphatic in the original; while the term "JESUS" is purposely chosen, to convey to him the thrilling information that the hated name which he sought to hunt down--"the Nazarene," as it is in Acts 22:8 --was now speaking to him from the skies, "crowned with glory and honor" (see Acts 26:9 ).
It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks--The metaphor of an ox, only driving the goad deeper by kicking against it, is a classic one, and here forcibly expresses, not only the vanity of all his measures for crushing the Gospel, but the deeper wound which every such effort inflicted upon himself.
6. And he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said--(The most ancient manuscripts and versions of the New Testament lack all these words here [including the last clause of Acts 9:5 ]; but they occur in Acts 26:14 and Acts 22:10 , from which they appear to have been inserted here). The question, "What shall I do, Lord?" or, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" indicates a state of mind singularly interesting conviction that "Jesus whom he persecuted," now speaking to him, was "Christ the Lord." (2) As a consequence of this, that not only all his religious views, but his whole religious character, had been an entire mistake; that he was up to that moment fundamentally and wholly wrong. (3) That though his whole future was now a blank, he had absolute confidence in Him who had so tenderly arrested him in his blind career, and was ready both to take in all His teaching and to carry out all His directions. (For more,
Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee,
7. the men . . . stood speechless--This may mean merely that they remained so; but if the standing posture be intended, we have only to suppose that though at first they "all fell to the earth" ( Acts 26:14 ), they arose of their own accord while Saul yet lay prostrate.
hearing a--rather "the"
voice--Paul himself says, "they heard not the voice of Him that spake to me" ( Acts 22:9 ). But just as "the people that stood by heard" the voice that saluted our Lord with recorded words of consolation and assurance, and yet heard not the articulate words, but thought "it thundered" or that some "angel spake to Him" ( John 12:28 John 12:29 )--so these men heard the voice that spake to Saul, but heard not the articulate words. Apparent discrepancies like these, in the different narratives of the same scene in one and the same book of Acts, furnish the strongest confirmation both of the facts themselves and of the book which records them.
8. Saul arose . . . and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man--after beholding the Lord, since he "could not see for the glory of that light" ( Acts 22:11 ), he had involuntarily closed his eyes to protect them from the glare; and on opening them again he found his vision gone. "It is not said, however, that he was blind, for it was no punishment" [BENGEL].
9. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink--that is, according to the Hebrew mode of computation: he took no food during the remainder of that day, the entire day following, and so much of the subsequent day as elapsed before the visit of Ananias. Such a period of entire abstinence from food, in that state of mental absorption and revolution into which he had been so suddenly thrown, is in perfect harmony with known laws and numerous facts. But what three days those must have been! "Only one other space of three days' duration can be mentioned of equal importance in the history of the world" [HOWSON]. Since Jesus had been revealed not only to his eyes but to his soul the double conviction must have immediately flashed upon him, that his whole reading of the Old Testament hitherto had been wrong, and that the system of legal righteousness in which he had, up to that moment, rested and prided himself was false and fatal. What materials these for spiritual exercise during those three days of total darkness, fasting, and solitude! On the one hand, what self-condemnation, what anguish, what death of legal hope, what difficulty in believing that in such a case there could be hope at all; on the other hand, what heartbreaking admiration of the grace that had "pulled him out of the fire," what resistless conviction that there must be a purpose of love in it, and what tender expectation of being yet honored, as a chosen vessel, to declare what the Lord had done for his soul, and to spread abroad the savor of that Name which he had so wickedly, though ignorantly, sought to destroy--must have struggled in his breast during those memorable days! Is it too much to say that all that profound insight into the Old Testament, that comprehensive grasp of the principles of the divine economy, that penetrating spirituality, that vivid apprehension of man's lost state, and those glowing views of the perfection and glory of the divine remedy, that beautiful ideal of the loftiness and the lowliness of the Christian character, that large philanthropy and burning zeal to spend and be spent through all his future life for Christ, which distinguish the writings of this chiefest of the apostles and greatest of men, were all quickened into life during those three successive days?
11. go into the street . . . called Straight--There is still a street of this name in Damascus, about half a mile in length, running from east to west through the city [MAUNDRELL].
and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus--There is something touching in the minuteness of these directions. Tarsus was the capital of the province of Cilicia, lying along the northeast coast of the Mediterranean. It was situated on the river Cydnus, was a "large and populous city" (says XENOPHON, and see Acts 21:39 ), and under the Romans had the privilege of self-government.
behold, he prayeth--"breathing out" no longer "threatenings and slaughter," but struggling desires after light and life in the Persecuted One. Beautiful note of encouragement as to the frame in which Ananias would find the persecutor.
12. And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias, &c.--Thus, as in the case of Cornelius and Peter afterwards, there was a mutual preparation of each for each. But we have no account of the vision which Saul had of Ananias coming unto him and putting his hands upon him for the restoration of his sight, save this interesting allusion to it in the vision which Ananias himself had.
13. Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, &c.--"The objections of Ananias, and the removal of them by the Lord, display in a very touching manner the childlike relation of the believing soul to its Redeemer. The Saviour speaks with Ananias as a man does with his friend" [OLSHAUSEN].
how much evil he hath done to thy saints--"Thy saints," says Ananias to Christ; therefore Christ is God [BENGEL]. So, in Acts 9:14 , Ananias describes the disciples as "those that called on Christ's name." and compare 1 Corinthians 1:2 .
14. here he hath authority, &c.--so that the terror not only of the great persecutor's name, but of this commission to Damascus, had travelled before him from the capital to the doomed spot.
15. Go thy way--Do as thou art bidden, without gainsaying.
he is a chosen vessel--a word often used by Paul in illustrating God's sovereignty in election ( Romans 9:21-23 , 2 Corinthians 4:7 , 2 Timothy 2:20 2 Timothy 2:21 [ALFORD]. Compare Zechariah 3:2 ).
16. I will show him--(See Acts 20:23 Acts 20:24 , 21:11 ).
how great things he must suffer for my name--that is, Much he has done against that Name; but now, when I show him what great things he must suffer for that Name, he shall count it his honor and privilege.
17-19. Ananias went his way, and putting his hands on him, said, Brother Saul--How beautifully childlike is the obedience of Ananias to "the heavenly vision!"
the Lord, even Jesus--This clearly shows in what sense the term "Lord" is used in this book. It is JESUS that is meant, as almost invariably in the Epistles also.
who appeared unto thee in the way--This knowledge by an inhabitant of Damascus of what had happened to Saul before entering it, would show him at once that this was the man whom Jesus had already prepared him to expect.
and be filled with the Holy Ghost--which Ananias probably, without any express instructions on that subject, took it for granted would descend upon him; and not necessarily after his baptism [BAUMGARTEN, WEBSTER and WILKINSON]--for Cornelius and his company received it before theirs ( Acts 10:44-48 )--but perhaps immediately after the recovery of his sight by the laying on of Ananias' hands.
18. there fell from his eyes as it were scales--"This shows that the blindness as well as the cure was supernatural. Substances like scales would not form naturally in so short a time" [WEBSTER and WILKINSON]. And the medical precision of Luke's language here is to be noted.
was baptized--as directed by Ananias ( Acts 22:16 ).
19. when he had received meat, he was strengthened--for the exhaustion occasioned by his three days' fast would not be the less real, though unfelt during his struggles.
Then was Saul certain days with the disciples at Damascus--making their acquaintance, in another way than either he or they had anticipated, and regaining his tone by the fellowship of the saints; but not certainly in order to learn from them what he was to teach, which he expressly disavows ( Galatians 1:12 Galatians 1:16 ).
20-22. preached Christ . . . that he is the Son of God--rather, "preached Jesus," according to all the most ancient manuscripts and versions of the New Testament (so Acts 9:21 , "all that call on this name," that is, Jesus; and Acts 9:22 , "proving that this Jesus is very Christ").
23. And after many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him--Had we no other record than this, we should have supposed that what is here related took place while Saul continued at Damascus after his baptism. But in Galatians 1:17 Galatians 1:18 we learn from Paul himself that he "went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus," and that from the time of his first visit to the close of his second, both of which appear to have been short, a period of three years elapsed; either three full years, or one full year and part of two others. and be filled up in Galatians, is not more remarkable than that the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, their stay there, and their return thence, recorded only by Matthew, should be so entirely passed over by Luke, that if we had only his Gospel, we should have supposed that they returned to Nazareth immediately after the presentation in the temple. (Indeed in one of his narratives, Acts 22:16 Acts 22:17 , Paul himself takes no notice of this period). But wherefore this journey? Perhaps (1) because he felt a period of repose and partial seclusion to be needful to his spirit, after the violence of the change and the excitement of his new occupation. (2) To prevent the rising storm which was gathering against him from coming too soon to a head. (3) To exercise his ministry in the Jewish synagogues, as opportunity afforded. On his return, refreshed and strengthened in spirit. he immediately resumed his ministry, but soon to the imminent hazard of his life.
24, 25. they watched the gates night and day to kill him--The full extent of his danger appears only from his own account ( 2 Corinthians 11:32 ): "In Damascus, the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me"; the exasperated Jews having obtained from the governor a military force, the more surely to compass his destruction.
25. Then the disciples . . . by night let him down--"through a window" ( 2 Corinthians 11:33 ).
by the wall--Such overhanging windows in the walls of Eastern cities were common, and are to be seen in Damascus to this day.
Acts 9:26-31 . SAUL'S FIRST VISIT TO JERUSALEM AFTER HIS CONVERSION.
26. And when Saul was come to Jerusalem--"three years after" his conversion, and particularly "to see Peter" ( Galatians 1:18 ); no doubt because he was the leading apostle, and to communicate to him the prescribed sphere of his labors, specially to "the Gentiles."
he assayed to join himself to the disciples--simply as one of them, leaving his apostolic commission to manifest itself.
they were all afraid of him, &c.--knowing him only as a persecutor of the faith; the rumor of his conversion, if it ever was cordially believed, passing away during his long absence in Arabia, and the news of his subsequent labors in Damascus perhaps not having reached them.
27. But Barnabas . . . brought him to the apostles--that is, to Peter and James; for "other of the apostles saw I none," says he fourteen years after ( Galatians 1:18 Galatians 1:19 ). Probably none of the other apostles were there at the time ( Acts 4:36 ). Barnabas being of Cyprus, which was within a few hours' sail of Cilicia, and annexed to it as a Roman province, and Saul and he being Hellenistic Jews and eminent in their respective localities, they may very well have been acquainted with each other before this [HOWSON]. What is here said of Barnabas is in fine consistency with the "goodness" ascribed to him ( Acts 11:24 ), and with the name "son of consolation," given him by the apostles ( Acts 4:36 ); and after Peter and James were satisfied, the disciples generally would at once receive him.
how he had seen the Lord . . . and he--the Lord.
had spoken to him--that is, how he had received his commission direct from the Lord Himself.
28, 29. And he was with them, coming in and going out at Jerusalem--for fifteen days, lodging with Peter ( Galatians 1:18 ).
29. disputed against the Grecians--(See on Ac 6:1 ); addressing himself specially to them, perhaps, as being of his own class, and that against which he had in the days of his ignorance been the fiercest.
they went about to slay him--Thus was he made to feel, throughout his whole course, what he himself had made others so cruelly to feel, the cost of discipleship.
30. they brought him down to Cæsarea--on the coast another reason than his own apprehension for quitting Jerusalem so soon. "While he was praying in the temple, he was in a trance," and received express injunctions to this effect.
and sent him forth to Tarsus--In Galatians 1:21 he himself says of this journey, that he "came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia"; from which it is natural to infer that instead of sailing direct for Tarsus, he landed at Seleucia, travelled thence to Antioch, and penetrated from this northward into Cilicia, ending his journey at Tarsus. As this was his first visit to his native city since his conversion, so it is not certain that he ever was there again. probably was now that he became the instrument of gathering into the fold of Christ those "kinsmen," that "sister," and perhaps her "son," of whom mention is made in Acts 23:16 , &c. Romans 16:7 Romans 16:11 Romans 16:21 [HOWSON].
Acts 9:31 . FLOURISHING STATE OF THE CHURCH IN PALESTINE AT THIS TIME.
31. Then had all the churches rest--rather, "the Church," according to the best manuscripts and versions. But this rest was owing not so much to the conversion of Saul, as probably to the Jews being engrossed with the emperor Caligula's attempt to have his own image set up in the temple of Jerusalem [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 18.8.1, &c.].
throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria--This incidental notice of distinct churches already dotting all the regions which were the chief scenes of our Lord's ministry, and that were best able to test the facts on which the whole preaching of the apostles was based, is extremely interesting. "The fear of the Lord" expresses their holy walk; "the comfort of the Holy Ghost," their "peace and joy in believing," under the silent operation of the blessed Comforter.
Acts 9:32-43 . PETER HEALS ENEAS AT LYDDA AND RAISES TABITHA TO LIFE AT JOPPA.
The historian now returns to Peter, in order to introduce the all-important narrative of Cornelius ( Acts 10:1-48 ). The occurrences here related probably took place during Saul's sojourn in Arabia.
32-35. as Peter passed throughout all quarters--not now fleeing from persecution, but peacefully visiting the churches.
to the saints which dwelt at Lydda--about five miles east of Joppa.
35. all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron--(or "Sharon," a rich vale between Joppa and Cæsarea).
saw him, and turned to the Lord--that is, there was a general conversion in consequence.
36-39. at Joppa--the modern Jaffa, on the Mediterranean, a very ancient city of the Philistines, afterwards and still the seaport of Jerusalem, from which it lies distant forty-five miles to the northwest.
Tabitha . . . Dorcas--the Syro-Chaldaic and Greek names for an antelope or gazelle, which, from its loveliness, was frequently employed as a proper name for women [MEYER, OLSHAUSEN]. Doubtless the interpretation, as here given, is but an echo of the remarks made by the Christians regarding her--how well her character answered to her name.
full of good works and alms-deeds--eminent for the activities and generosities of the Christian character.
37. when they had washed--according to the custom of civilized nations towards the dead.
in an--rather, "the"
upper chamber--(compare 1 Kings 17:19 ).
38. the disciples sent unto Peter--showing that the disciples generally did not possess miraculous gifts [BENGEL].
39. all the widows--whom she had clad or fed.
stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas had made--that is, (as the tense implies), showing these as specimens only of what she was in the habit of making.
40-43. Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down--the one in imitation of his Master's way ( Luke 8:54 ; and compare 2 Kings 4:33 ); the other, in striking contrast with it. The kneeling became the lowly servant, but not the Lord Himself, of whom it is never once recorded that he knelt in the performance of a miracle.
opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up--The graphic minuteness of detail here imparts to the narrative an air of charming reality.
41. he gave her his hand, and lifted her up--as his Lord had done to his own mother-in-law ( Mark 1:31 ).
43. with one Simon a tanner--a trade regarded by the Jews as half unclean, and consequently disreputable, from the contact with dead animals and blood which was connected with it. For this reason, even by other nations, it is usually carried on at some distance from towns; accordingly, Simon's house was "by the seaside" ( Acts 10:6 ). Peter's lodging there shows him already to some extent above Jewish prejudice.