Online Bible Commentary
Cut the Ropes
Acts 27:21 But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, "Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. 22 And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, 24 saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.' 25 Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. 26 However, we must run aground on a certain island." 27 Now when the fourteenth night had come, as we were driven up and down in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors sensed that they were drawing near some land. 28 And they took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and when they had gone a little farther, they took soundings again and found it to be fifteen fathoms. 29 Then, fearing lest we should run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come. 30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, when they had let down the skiff into the sea, under pretense of putting out anchors from the prow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, "Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved." 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the skiff and let it fall off. (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.
Despite Paul’s warnings to stay in port the decision is made to sail around to the west side of the island to winter in the port of Phoenix. During this forty mile journey the ship hits a huge storm and is taken out to sea. After many days of turbulence in the storm the ship is lost and those aboard believe that they will not survive.
Now, in this passage, we see that the men on board have not eaten for a “long” time (v. 21a). Then Paul stands up and informs his shipmates of a visit from an angel: "Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.' Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. However, we must run aground on a certain island" (vv. 21b-26).
The reference to “Caesar” is a reference to the current Roman Emperor Nero. It was customary for emperors to adopt the name of Caesar, the Roman general and politician Julius Caesar who was instrumental in establishing the Roman Empire. The reference to “a certain island” refers to the island of Malta.
Next, at midnight on the “fourteenth night” since they had been pushed out into the Mediterranean by the storm, the ship is being “driven up and down” (v. 27a). They are in an area called “the Adriatic Sea”, even though it is some distance south of the Adriatic Sea as we know it (v. 27b).
“The sailors”, perhaps hearing the waves hitting the nearby shore, believe that they are near shore and measure the water depth by dropping a rope with a stone tied to it (v. 28a). The first measurement found the ship to be at twenty fathoms (120 feet) and the second measurement found them to be at fifteen fathoms (90 feet) of depth (v. 28b), showing that they were rapidly approaching shore.
“Fearing” that they would “run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern, and prayed” for daylight (v. 29). “The sailors”, seeking to escape, lowered the skiff into the water while claiming that they were only dropping another anchor (v. 30). Paul, sensing the truth, told the Roman centurion in charge and his soldiers "Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved" and the soldiers aboard cut the ropes allowing the skiff to drift away (vv. 31-32).
It is remarkable that the Roman centurion and soldiers put such confidence in Paul’s angelic account. Cutting the ropes to the skiff may have meant cutting their only lifeline.
Obviously, God had his hand on the situation. The Holy Spirit directed the centurion and soldiers to make the right decision, even though they were not Christians.
God uses men, good and bad, to accomplish what he has ordained. In this case He called for them to cut the ropes, because He had something better in store for them. Sometimes, we also must cut the ropes in order to get God’s best for us.