When I was doing historical research for my novel on the Ancient Roman Empire and the first century Christian church, I learned a lot about sea travel in the Mediterranean in that era. The Romans considered the Mediterranean, their lake. They conquered and ruled over the lands all around it. They dominated the sea-trade routes. They also respected the seasons and weather patterns of the Mediterranean. The time for sea travel was the spring, summer and early fall. Once October and November came, sea travel was too treacherous due to storms and high winds.
Also, there weren’t passenger ships, per se. Cargo ships often took on passengers for the extra money. Though some had nicer accommodations for nobility, most passengers, rode along with the cargo. One of the main types of cargo was wheat from Egypt which shipped out of the port of Alexandria to Rome regularly.
It was their custom to travel close to the shore, hopping from one port to another especially if they were sailing in the fall or winter. That’s what makes our seafaring story of Paul’s trip to Rome as a prisoner, so interesting. Notice that Luke went along for the ride. This is an eyewitness story. Check out this map…
When the time came, we set sail for Italy. Paul and several other prisoners were placed in the custody of a Roman officer (centurion) named Julius, a captain of the Imperial Regiment. 2 Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was also with us. We left on a ship whose home port was Adramyttium on the northwest coast of the province of Asia; it was scheduled to make several stops at ports along the coast of the province.
3 The next day when we docked at Sidon, Julius was very kind to Paul and let him go ashore to visit with friends so they could provide for his needs. 4 Putting out to sea from there, we encountered strong headwinds that made it difficult to keep the ship on course, so we sailed north of Cyprus between the island and the mainland. 5 Keeping to the open sea, we passed along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, landing at Myra, in the province of Lycia. 6 There the commanding officer found an Egyptian ship from Alexandria that was bound for Italy, and he put us on board.
7 We had several days of slow sailing, and after great difficulty we finally neared Cnidus. But the wind was against us, so we sailed across to Crete and along the sheltered coast of the island, past the cape of Salmone. 8 We struggled along the coast with great difficulty and finally arrived at Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea. 9 We had lost a lot of time. The weather was becoming dangerous for sea travel because it was so late in the fall, and Paul spoke to the ship’s officers about it.
10 “Men,” he said, “I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on—shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to our lives as well.” 11 But the officer in charge of the prisoners listened more to the ship’s captain and the owner than to Paul. 12 And since Fair Havens was an exposed harbor—a poor place to spend the winter—most of the crew wanted to go on to Phoenix, farther up the coast of Crete, and spend the winter there. Phoenix was a good harbor with only a southwest and northwest exposure.
The Storm at Sea
13 When a light wind began blowing from the south, the sailors thought they could make it. So they pulled up anchor and sailed close to the shore of Crete. 14 But the weather changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (called a “northeaster”) burst across the island and blew us out to sea. 15 The sailors couldn’t turn the ship into the wind, so they gave up and let it run before the gale.
16 We sailed along the sheltered side of a small island named Cauda, where with great difficulty we hoisted aboard the lifeboat being towed behind us. 17 Then the sailors bound ropes around the hull of the ship to strengthen it. They were afraid of being driven across to the sandbars of Syrtis off the African coast, so they lowered the sea anchor to slow the ship and were driven before the wind.
18 The next day, as gale-force winds continued to batter the ship, the crew began throwing the cargo overboard. 19 The following day they even took some of the ship’s gear and threw it overboard. 20 The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone.
21 No one had eaten for a long time. Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss. 22 But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. 23 For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, 24 and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ 25 So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. 26 But we will be shipwrecked on an island.”
27 About midnight on the fourteenth night of the storm, as we were being driven across the Sea of Adria, the sailors sensed land was near. 28 They dropped a weighted line and found that the water was 120 feet deep. But a little later they measured again and found it was only 90 feet deep. 29 At this rate they were afraid we would soon be driven against the rocks along the shore, so they threw out four anchors from the back of the ship and prayed for daylight.
30 Then the sailors tried to abandon the ship; they lowered the lifeboat as though they were going to put out anchors from the front of the ship. 31 But Paul said to the commanding officer and the soldiers, “You will all die unless the sailors stay aboard.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes to the lifeboat and let it drift away.
33 Just as day was dawning, Paul urged everyone to eat. “You have been so worried that you haven’t touched food for two weeks,” he said. 34 “Please eat something now for your own good. For not a hair of your heads will perish.” 35 Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it. 36 Then everyone was encouraged and began to eat— 37 all 276 of us who were on board. 38 After eating, the crew lightened the ship further by throwing the cargo of wheat overboard.
39 When morning dawned, they didn’t recognize the coastline, but they saw a bay with a beach and wondered if they could get to shore by running the ship aground. 40 So they cut off the anchors and left them in the sea. Then they lowered the rudders, raised the foresail, and headed toward shore. 41 But they hit a shoal and ran the ship aground too soon. The bow of the ship stuck fast, while the stern was repeatedly smashed by the force of the waves and began to break apart.
42 The soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners to make sure they didn’t swim ashore and escape. 43 But the commanding officer wanted to spare Paul, so he didn’t let them carry out their plan. Then he ordered all who could swim to jump overboard first and make for land. 44 The others held on to planks or debris from the broken ship. So everyone escaped safely to shore.Acts 27 NLT
Points to Ponder
- Knowing the weather is usually bad in the fall and winter, why do you think they left so late in the season? In verse 9, Luke mentions “the fast”. That’s the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. This is usually in late September or early October. They couldn’t sail until after.
- Why would Paul save everyone on board? Consider this…if all Jews and Romans on board had perished but Paul and his companions, Paul would have been a free man. However, Paul had a mission to complete. Remember, in yesterday’s post, Jesus came to Paul in prison in Caesarea and told him that he would go to Rome to appeal before Caesar Nero.
- This was a big ship. Besides being a cargo ship full of wheat, it carried 276 crew and passengers.
- Imagine being lost at sea with no form of navigation. During the storm, they couldn’t see the sun nor the stars. Back then, that was their only form of knowing where they were, especially if they lost sight of the shoreline.
- Here we see the power, mercy, goodness and favor of God. They all survived like Paul said. If we miss a turn in the road of life — hey, we all make mistakes! — God will reroute us to where He wants us to go. We can try to resist Him. I know I did for many years. Clearly, God’s will wins in the end. (Check out my testimony at the bottom.)
When All Hope Seems Lost, Trust God
None of us knows what 2021 will bring. Whatever storm you’re going through right now, know that your only hope is to trust God. Keep in mind, too, that this world we see now is temporary and that our home is the Kingdom of Heaven.
If you’re not sure if you’re saved or not, if you truly want to be born again and have the assurance of salvation, receive the Holy Spirit, and get a 1-way, non-stop ticket to Heaven after you die, or that you won’t be left behind at the Rapture, this is what you have to do…
In the Eye of the Storm
Soli Deo Gloria! To God Alone Be the Glory!
Top image from Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleImages.com (CC BY-SA 3.0)