Online Bible Commentary
Holding on to Hope
Acts 27:11 Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to winter in, the majority advised to set sail from there also, if by any means they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete opening toward the southwest and northwest, and winter there. 13 When the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their desire, putting out to sea, they sailed close by Crete. 14 But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon. 15 So when the ship was caught, and could not head into the wind, we let her drive. 16 And running under the shelter of an island called Clauda, we secured the skiff with difficulty. 17 When they had taken it on board, they used cables to undergird the ship; and fearing lest they should run aground on the Syrtis Sands, they struck sail and so were driven. 18 And because we were exceedingly tempest-tossed, the next day they lightened the ship. 19 On the third day we threw the ship's tackle overboard with our own hands. 20 Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up. (NKJV)
The time is October, 59 A.D. Paul is on board a ship headed to Rome. He has asked for a trial in front of Emperor Nero, even though he is innocent of any charges. Bogus charges by the Jews in Jerusalem have resulted in a two year, four month house arrest of Paul in Caesarea.
So, Paul, along with other prisoners, is on board a wheat ship based from Alexandria, Egypt. Paul’s fellow disciples Luke, the writer of Acts, and Aristarchus have accompanied Paul on the voyage.
Winter is approaching and the weather on the high seas of the Mediterranean is turning ugly. Strong winds have slowed sailing to a stop. The cargo ship is steered to a port on the south coast of the island of Crete, named Fair Havens.
Sailing is now dangerous and Paul is worried. He forecasts peril saying "Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives" (v. 10).
In this passage, we see that Paul’s warning is not heeded. The owner and the “helmsman” of the ship persuade Julius, the Roman centurion in charge of the voyage, to continue the voyage (v. 11).
They choose to set out for the next port on the island, Phoenix, some forty miles west of Fair Havens (v. 12a). Their reasoning is that it would be better to “winter” there because it is located on the west side of the island instead of the south side where Fair Havens is located (v. 12b).
So, when the winds die down, the ship heads out for Phoenix (v. 13). “But not long after” a northeaster, “called Euroclydon”, arises (v. 14). The strong winds from the northeast come over the cliffs on the coast stopping the ship again. Thus the decision is made to let the ship “drive” with the wind (v. 15a).
The ship is driven southwest to the small island of Clauda, about twenty five miles away (v. 15b). With the island somewhat sheltering them from the wind, “with difficulty” they bring “the skiff” on board that they were towing, (vv. 16-17a). They then wrap cables around the hull of the ship to strengthen it in hopes of keeping the ship from being torn apart by the seas (v. 17b).
They are afraid “lest they should run aground on the Syrtis Sands,” (v. 17c). The Syrtis Sands refers to a dangerous gulf south of the ship on the coast of North Africa. Once a heavy cargo ship entered that gulf it would hit bottom and be stranded, still at least three days from shore and not able to escape the gulf.
So, in order to avoid the Syrtis Sands, “they struck sail and so were driven” (v. 17d). To strike sail means to lower the sails suddenly. This would prevent the strong winds from pushing the ship into the gulf.
After a day of drifting in the storm, they “lightened the ship” by throwing some cargo overboard (v. 18a). They are “exceedingly tempest-tossed”, taking on a lot of water, and need to keep the ship from sinking (v. 18b). They continue to lighten the ship two days later by throwing the “ship's tackle overboard” (v. 19).
The storm tosses the ship around “for many days”, blocking out the sun and the stars and making it impossible for them to get their bearings (v. 20a). It is at this point that the men on board the ship give up “all hope” of being saved (v. 20b).
Even though Luke and Paul may have given up hope of earthly survival, they have not given up hope. Their hope is in Jesus Christ, which means that they always have hope.
Christians have the hope, the assurance from Jesus Christ, of eternal life in Heaven. In spite of our circumstances, even when facing death, we hold on to our hope. We are just passing through this life. Heaven is our destination.