This chapter Acts 9 commences a very important part of the Acts of the Apostles the conversion and labors of Saul of Tarsus. The remainder of the book is chiefly occupied with an account of his labors and trials in the establishment of churches, and in spreading the gospel through the Gentile world. As the fact that the gospel was to be thus preached to the Gentiles was a very important fact, and as the toils of the apostle Paul and his fellow-laborers for this purpose were of an exceedingly interesting character, it was desirable to preserve authentic record of those labors; and that record we have in the remainder of this book.
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,And Saul - See the notes on Acts 7:58; Acts 8:3. He had been engaged be fore in persecuting the Christians, but he now sought opportunity to gratify his insatiable desire on a larger scale.
Yet breathing out - Not satisfied with what he had done, Acts 8:3. The word breathing out is expressive often of any deep, agitating emotion, as we then breathe rapidly and violently. It is thus expressive of violent anger. The emotion is absorbing, agitating, exhausting, and demands a more rapid circulation of blood to supply the exhausted vitality; and this demands an increased supply of oxygen, or vital air, which leads to the increased action of the lungs. The word is often used in this sense in the Classics (Schleusner). It is a favorite expression with Homer. Euripides has the same expression: "Breathing out fire and slaughter." So Theocritus: "They came unto the assembly breathing mutual slaughter" (Idyll. 22:82).
Threatening - Denunciation; threatening them with every breath the action of a man violently enraged, and who was bent on vengeance. It denotes also "intense activity and energy in persecution."
Slaughter - Murder. Intensely desiring to put to death as many Christians as possible. He rejoiced in their death, and joined in condemning them, Acts 26:10-11. From this latter place it seems that he had been concerned in putting many of them to death.
The disciples of the Lord - Against Christians.
Went unto the high priest - See the notes on Matthew 2:4. The letters were written and signed in the name and by the authority of the Sanhedrin, or written and signed in the name and by the authority of the Sanhedrin, or Great Council of the nation. The high priest did it as president of that council. See Acts 9:14, and Acts 22:5. The high priest at that time was Theophilus, son of Ananus, who had been appointed at the feast of Pentecost, 37 a.d., by Vitellius, the Roman governor. His brother Jonathan had been removed from that office the same year (Kuinoel).
And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.And desired of him - This shows the intensity of his wish to persecute the Christians, that he was willing to ask for such an employment.
Letters - Epistles, implying a commission to bring them to Jerusalem for trial and punishment. From this it seems that the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem claimed jurisdiction over all synagogues everywhere.
To Damascus - This was a celebrated city of Syria, and long the capital of a kingdom of that name. It is situated in a delightful region about 120 miles northeast of Jerusalem, and about one 190 miles southeast of Antioch. It is in the midst of an extensive plain, abounding with cypress and palm-trees, and extremely fertile. It is watered by the river Barrady, anciently called "Abana," 2 Kings 5:12. About 5 miles from the city is a place called the "meeting of the waters," where the Barrady is joined by another river, and thence is divided by art into several streams that flow through the plain. These streams, six or seven in number, are conveyed to water the orchards, farms, etc., and give to the whole scene a very picturesque appearance. The city, situated in a delightful climate, in a fertile country, is perhaps among the most pleasant in the world. It is called by the Orientals themselves the "paradise on earth." It is mentioned often in the Old Testament. It was a city in the time of Abraham, Genesis 15:2. By whom it was founded is unknown. It was taken and garrisoned by David A.M. 2992, 2 Samuel 8:6; 1 Chronicles 18:6. It is subsequently mentioned as sustaining very important parts in the conflicts of the Jews with Syria, 2 Kings 14:25; 2 Kings 16:5; Isaiah 9:11. It was taken by the Romans A.M. 3939, or about 60 years before Christ, in whose possession it was when Saul went there. It was conquered by the Saracens 713 a.d. About the year 1250, it was taken by the Christians in the Crusades, and was captured 1517 a.d. by Selim, and has been since under the Ottoman emperors.
The Arabians call this city "Damasch, or Demesch, or Schams." It is one of the most commercial cities in the Ottoman empire, and is distinguished also for manufactures, particularly for steel, hence called "Damascus steel." The population is estimated by Ali Bey at 200,000 (circa 1880's); Volney states it at 80,000; Hassel believes it be about 100,000. About 20,000 are Maronites of the Catholic Church, 5,000 are Greeks, and 1,000 are Jews. The road from Jerusalem to Damascus lies between two mountains, not above 100 paces distant from each other; both are round at the bottom, and terminate in a point. That nearest the great road is called "Cocab, the star," in memory of the dazzling light which is here said to have appeared to Saul.
To the synagogues - See the notes on Matthew 4:23. The Jews were scattered into nearly all the regions surrounding Judea, and it is natural to suppose that many of them would be found in Damascus. Josephus assures us that ten thousand were massacred there in one hour; and at another time 18,000, along with their wives and children (Jewish Wars, book 2, chapter 20, section 2; book 7, chapter 8, section 7). By whom the gospel was preached there, or how they had been converted to Christianity, is unknown. The presumption is, that some of those who had been converted on the day of Pentecost had carried the gospel to Syria. See the notes on Acts 2:9-11.
That if ... - It would seem that it was not certainly known that there were any Christians there. It was presumed that there were, and probably there was a report of that kind.
Of this way - Of this way or mode of life; of this kind of opinions and conduct; that is, any Christians.
He might bring them ... - To be tried. The Sanhedrin at Jerusalem claimed jurisdiction over religious opinions, and their authority would naturally be respected by foreign Jews.
And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:And as he journeyed - On his way, or while he was traveling. The place where this occurred is not known. Irby and Mangles say it is "outside the eastern gate." In the Boat and Caravan it is described as about a mile from the town, and near the Christian burying-ground which belongs to the Armenians. All that we know of it is that it was near to Damascus.
And suddenly - Like a flash of lightning.
There shined round about him ... - The language which is expressed here would be used in describing a flash of lightning. Many critics have supposed that God made use of a sudden flash to arrest Paul, and that he was thus alarmed and brought to reflection. That God might make use of such means cannot be denied. But to this supposition in this case there are some unanswerable objections:
(1) It was declared to be the appearance of the Lord Jesus: Acts 9:27, "Barnabas declared unto them how that he had 'seen the Lord in the way;'" 1 Corinthians 15:8, "And last of all he was seen of me also"; 1 Corinthians 9:1, "Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?"
(2) those who were with Saul saw the light, but did not hear the voice, Acts 22:9. This is incredible on the supposition that it was a flash of lightning near them.
(3) it was manifestly regarded as a message to Saul. The light appeared, and the voice spake to him. The others did not even hear the address. Besides,
(4) It was as easy for Jesus to appear in a supernatural manner as to appear amidst thunder and lightning. That the Lord Jesus appeared is distinctly affirmed, and we shall see that it is probable that he would appear in a supernatural manner.
In order to understand this, it may be necessary to make the following remarks:
(1) God was accustomed to appear to the Jews in a cloud; in a pillar of smoke, or of fire; in that special splendor which they denominated the Shechinah. In this way he went before them into the land of Canaan, Exodus 13:21-22; compare Isaiah 4:5-6. This appearance or visible manifestation they called the "glory of" Yahweh, is. Isa 6:1-4; Exodus 16:7, "in the morning ye shall see the glory of the Lord"; Acts 9:10; Leviticus 9:23; Numbers 14:10; Numbers 16:19, Numbers 16:42; Numbers 24:16; 1 Kings 8:11; Ezekiel 10:4. See the notes on Luke 2:9, "The glory of the Lord shone round about them."
(2) the Lord Jesus, in his transfiguration on the mount, had been encompassed with that glory. See the notes on Matthew 17:1-5.
(3) he had spoken of similar glory as pertain that with which he had been invested before his incarnation, and to which he would return; John 17:5, "And now, Father, glorify thou me with the glory which I had with thee before the world was"; Matthew 25:31, "The Son of Man shall come in his glory." Compare Matthew 16:27; Matthew 19:28. To this glory he had returned when he left the earth.
(4) it is a sentiment which cannot be shown to be incorrect, that the various appearances of "the angel of Yahweh," and of Yahweh, mentioned in the Old Testament, were appearances of the Messiah the God who would be incarnate - the special protector of his people. See Isaiah 6:1-13; compare with John 12:41.
(5) if the Lord Jesus appeared to Saul, it would be in his appropriate glory and honor as the ascended Messiah. That he did appear is expressly affirmed.
(6) this was an occasion when, if ever, such an appearance was proper. The design was to convert an infuriated persecutor, and to make him an apostle. To do this, it was necessary that he should see the Lord Jesus, 1 Corinthians 9:1-2. The design was further to make him an eminent instrument in carrying the gospel to the Gentiles. A signal miracle; a demonstration that he was invested with his appropriate glory John 17:5; a calling up a new witness to the fact of his resurrection, and of his solemn investment with glory in the heavens, seemed to be required in thus calling a violent persecutor to be an apostle and friend.
(7) we are to regard this appearance, therefore, as the reappearance of the Shechinah, the Son of God invested with appropriate glory, appearing to convince an enemy of his ascension, and to change him from a foe to a friend.
It has been objected that as the Lord Jesus had ascended to heaven, it cannot be presumed that his body would return to the earth again. To this we may reply, that the New Testament has thrown no light on this. Perhaps it is not necessary to suppose that his body returned, but that he made such a visible manifestation of himself as to convince Saul that he was the Messiah.
From heaven - From above; from the sky. In Acts 26:13, Paul says that the light was above the brightness of the sun at mid-day.
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?And he fell to the earth - He was astonished and overcome by the sudden flash of light. There is a remarkable similarity between what occurred here, and what is recorded of Daniel in regard to the visions which he saw, Daniel 8:17. Also Daniel 10:8, "Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision; and there remained no strength in me, for my comeliness (vigor) was turned into corruption, and I retained no strength." The effect was such as to overpower the body.
And heard a voice - The whole company heard a voice Acts 9:7, but did not distinguish it as addressed particularly to Saul. He heard it speaking to himself.
Saying unto him ... - This shows that it was not thunder, as many have supposed. It was a distinct articulation or utterance, addressing him by name.
Why - For what reason. Jesus had done him no injury; had given him no provocation. All the opposition of sinners to the Lord Jesus and his church is without cause. See the notes on John 15:25, "They hated me without a cause."
Persecutest - See the notes on Matthew 5:11.
And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.And he said, Who art thou, Lord? - The word "Lord" here, as is frequently the case in the New Testament, means no more than "sir," John 4:19. It is evident that Saul did not as yet know that this was the Lord Jesus. He heard a voice as of a man; he heard himself addressed, but by whom the words were spoken was to him unknown. In his amazement and confusion, he naturally asked who it was that was thus addressing him.
And the Lord said - In this place the word "Lord" is used in a higher sense, to denote "the Saviour." It is his usual appellation. See the notes on Acts 1:24.
I am Jesus - It is clear, from this, that there was a personal appearance of the Saviour; that he was present to Saul; but in what particular form - whether seen as a man, or only appearing by the manifestation of his glory, is not affirmed. Though it was a personal appearance, however, of the Lord Jesus, designed to take the work of converting such a persecutor into his own hands, yet he designed to convert him in a natural way. He arrested his attention; he filled him with alarm at his guilt; and then he presented the truth respecting himself. In Acts 22:8, the expression is thus recorded: "I am Jesus of Nazareth," etc. There is no contradiction, as Luke here records only a part of what was said; Paul afterward stated the whole. This declaration was suited especially to humble and mortify Saul. There can be no doubt that he had often blasphemed his name, and profanely derided the notion that the Messiah could come out of Nazareth. Jesus here uses, however, that very designation. "I am Jesus the Nazarene, the object of your contempt and scorn." Yet Saul saw him now invested with special glory.
It is hard ... - This is evidently a proverbial expression. Kuinoel has quoted numerous places in which a similar mode of expression occurs in Greek writers. Thus, Euripides, Bacch., 791, "I, who am a frail mortal, should rather sacrifice to him who is a god, than, by giving place to anger, kick against the goads." So Pindar, Pyth., 2:173, "It is profitable to bear willingly the assumed yoke. To kick against the goad is pernicious conduct." So Terence, Phome., 1, 2, 27, "It is foolishness for thee to kick against a goad." Ovid has the same idea, Tristam, ii. 15. The word translated "pricks" here κέντρον kentron means properly "any sharp point which will pierce or perforate," as the sting of a bee, etc. But it commonly means an ox-goad, a sharp piece of iron stuck into the end of a stick, with which the ox is urged on. These goads among the Hebrews were made very large. Thus, Shamgar killed 600 men with one of them, Judges 3:31. Compare 1 Samuel 13:21. The expression "to kick against the prick" is derived from the action of a stubborn and unyielding ox kicking against the goad. And as the ox would injure no one by it but himself; as he would gain nothing, it comes to denote "an obstinate and refractory disposition and course of conduct, resisting the authority of him who has a right to command, and opposing the leadings of Providence, to the injury of him who makes the resistance." It denotes "rebellion against lawful authority, and thus getting into greater difficulty by attempting to oppose the commands to duty." This is the condition of every sinner. If people wish to be happy, they should cheerfully submit to the authority of God. They should not rebel against his dealings. They should not complain against their Creator. They should not resist the claims of their consciences. By all this they only injure themselves. No man can resist God or his own conscience and be happy. People evince this temper in the following ways:
(1) By violating plain laws of God.
(2) by attempting to resist his claims.
(3) by refusing to do what their conscience requires.
(4) by attempting to free themselves from serious impressions and alarms.
(5) by pursuing a course of vice and wickedness against what they know to be right.
(6) by refusing to submit to the dealings of Providence. And,
(7) In any way by opposing God, and refusing to submit to his authority, and to do what is right.
And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.And he, trembling - Alarmed at what he saw and heard, and at the consciousness of his own evil course. It is not remarkable that a sinner trembles when he sees his guilt and danger.
And astonished - At what he saw.
Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? - This indicates a subdued soul, a humbled spirit. Just before, he had sought only to do his own will; now he inquired what was the will of the Saviour. Just before he was acting under a commission from the Sanhedrin; now he renounced their authority, and asked what the Lord Jesus would have him to do. Just before he had been engaged in a career of opposition to the Lord Jesus; now he sought at once to do his will. This indicates the usual change in the mind of the sinner when he is converted. The great controversy between him and God is, whose will shall be followed. The sinner follows his own; the first act of the Christian is to surrender his own will to that of God, and to resolve to do what he requires. We may further remark here that this indicates the true nature of conversion. It is decided, prompt immediate. Paul did not debate the matter Galatians 1:16; he did not inquire what the scribes and Pharisees would say; he did not consult his own reputation; he did not ask what the world would think. With characteristic promptness - with a readiness which showed what he would yet be, he gave himself up at once, and entirely, to the Lord Jesus, evidently with a purpose to do his will alone. This was the case also with the jailor at Philippi, Acts 16:30. Nor can there be any real conversion where the heart and will are not given to the Lord Jesus, to be directed and moulded by him at his pleasure. We may test our conversion then by the example of the apostle Paul. If our hearts have been given up as his was, we are true friends of Christ.
Go into the city - Damascus. They were near it, Acts 9:3.
And it shall be told thee - It is remarkable that he was thus directed. But we may learn from it:
(1) That even in the most striking and remarkable cases of conversion, there is not at once a clear view of duty. What course of life should be followed; what should be done; nay, what should be believed, is not at once apparent.
(2) the aid of others, and especially ministers, and of experienced Christians, is often very desirable to aid even those who are converted in the most remarkable manner. Saul was converted by a miracle; the Saviour appeared to him in his glory; of the truth of his Messiahship he had no doubt, but still he was dependent on an humble disciple in Damascus to be instructed in what he should do.
(3) those who are converted, in however striking a manner it may be, should be willing to seek the counsel of those who are in the church before them. The most striking evidence of their conversion will not prevent their deriving important direction and benefit from the aged, the experienced, and the wise in the Christian church.
(4) such remarkable conversions are suited to induce the subjects of the change to seek counsel and direction. They produce humility; a deep sense of sin and of unworthiness; and a willingness to be taught and directed by anyone who can point out the way of duty and of life.
And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.And the men which journeyed with him - Why these men attended him is unknown. They might have been appointed to aid him, or they may have been travelers with whom Saul had accidentally fallen in.
Stood speechless - In Acts 26:14, it is said that they all fell to the earth at the appearance of the light. But there is no contradiction. The narrative in that place refers to the immediate effect of the appearance of the light. They were immediately smitten to the ground together. This was before the voice spake to Saul, Acts 26:14. In this place Acts 9:7 the historian is speaking of what occurred after the first alarm. There is no improbability that they rose from the ground immediately, and surveyed the scene with silent amazement and alarm. The word "speechless" ἐννεοὶ enneoi properly denotes "those who are so astonished or stupefied as to be unable to speak." In the Greek writers it means those who are deaf-mutes.
Hearing a voice - Hearing a sound or noise. The word here rendered "voice" is thus frequently used, as in Genesis 3:8; 1 Samuel 12:18; Psalm 29:3-4; Matthew 24:31 (Greek); 1 Thessalonians 4:16. In Acts 22:9, it is said, "They which were with me (Paul) saw indeed the light, and were afraid, but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me." In this place, the words "heard not the voice" must be understood in the sense of "understanding the words," of hearing the address, the distinct articulation, which Paul heard. They heard a "noise"; they were amazed and alarmed, but they did not hear the distinct words addressed to Saul. A similar instance occurs in John 12:28-29, when the voice of God came from heaven to Jesus, "The people who stood by and heard it said it thundered." They heard the sound, the noise; they did not distinguish the words addressed to him. See also Daniel 10:7, and 1 Kings 19:11-13.
And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.When his eyes were opened - He naturally closed them at the appearance of the light, and in his fright kept them closed for some time.
He saw no man - This darkness continued three days, Acts 9:9. There is no reason to suppose that there was a miracle in this blindness, for in Acts 22:11, it is expressly said to have been caused by the intense light. "And when I could not see for the glory of that light," etc. The intense, sudden light had so affected the optic nerve of the eye as to cause a temporary blindness. This effect is not uncommon. The disease of the eye which is thus produced is called "amaurosis," or more commonly "gutta serena." It consists in a loss of sight without any apparent defect of the eye. Sometimes the disease is periodic, coming on suddenly, continuing for three or four days, and then disappearing (Webster). A disease of this kind is often caused by excessive light. When we look at the sun, into a furnace, or into a crucible with fused metal, we are conscious of a temporary pain in the eye, and of a momentary blindness. "In northern and tropical climates, from the glare of the sun or snow, a variety of amaurosis (gutta serena) occurs, which, if it produces blindness during the day, is named nyctalopia; if during the night, it is called hemeralopia. Another variety exists in which the individual is blind all day, until a certain hour, when he sees distinctly, or he sees and is blind every alternate day, or is only blind one day in the week, fortnight, or month" (the Edinburgh Encyclopedia's "Surgery"). A total loss of sight has been the consequence of looking at the sun during an eclipse, or of watching it as it sets in the west. This effect is caused by the intense action of the light on the optic nerve, or sometimes from a disorder of the brain. A case is mentioned by Michaelis (Kuinoel in loco) of a man who was made blind by a bright flash of lightning, and who continued so for four weeks, who was again restored to sight in a tempest by a similar flash of lightning. Electricity has been found to be one of the best remedies for restoring sight in such cases.
And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.And neither did eat nor drink - Probably because he was overwhelmed with a view of his sins, and was thus indisposed to eat. All the circumstances would contribute to this. His past life; his great sins; the sudden change in his views; his total absorption in the vision; perhaps also his grief at the loss of his sight, would all fill his mind, and indispose him to partake of food. Great grief always produces this effect. And it is not uncommon now for an awakened and convicted sinner, in view of his past sins and danger, to be so pained as to destroy his inclination for food, and to produce involuntary fasting. We are to remember also that Paul had yet no assurance of forgiveness. He was arrested, alarmed, convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, and humbled, but he had not found comfort. He was brought to the dust, and left to three painful days of darkness and suspense, before it was told him what he was to do. In this painful and perplexing state, it was natural that he should abstain from food. This case should not be brought now, however, to prove that convicted sinners must remain in darkness and under conviction. Sail's case was extraordinary. His blindness was literal. This state of darkness was necessary to humble him and fit him for his work. But the moment a sinner will give his heart to Christ, he may find peace. If he resists, and rebels longer, it will be his own fault. By the nature of the ease, as well as by the promises of the Bible, if a sinner will yield himself at once to the Lord Jesus, he will obtain peace. That sinners do not sooner obtain peace is because they do not sooner submit themselves to God.
And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.A certain disciple - A Christian. Many have supposed that he was one of the 70 disciples. But nothing more is certainly known of him than is related here. He had very probably been some time a Christian Acts 9:13, and had heard of Saul, but was personally a stranger to him. In Acts 22:12, it is said that he was a devout man according to the Law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there. There was wisdom in sending such a Christian to Saul, as it might do much to conciliate the minds of the Jews there toward him.
Said the Lord - The Lord Jesus is alone mentioned in all this transaction. And as he had commenced the work of converting Saul, it is evident that he is intended here. See the notes on Acts 1:24.
In a vision - Perhaps by a dream. The main idea is, that he revealed his will to him in the case. The word "vision" is often used in speaking of the "communications" made to the prophets, and commonly means that future events were made to pass in review before the mind, as we look upon a landscape. See the notes on Isaiah 1:1; compare Genesis 15:1; Numbers 12:6; Ezekiel 11:24; Acts 10:3; Acts 11:5; Acts 16:9; Daniel 2:19; Daniel 7:2; Daniel 7:1-2, Daniel 7:26; Daniel 10:7. See the notes on Matthew 17:9.
And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,Into the street which is called Straight - This street extends now from the eastern to the western gate, about three miles, crossing the whole city and suburbs in a direct line. Near the eastern gate is a house, said to be that of Judah, in which Paul lodged. There is in it a very small closet, where tradition reports that the apostle passed three days without food, until Ananias restored him to sight. Tradition also says that he had here the vision recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:2. There is also in this street a fountain whose water is drunk by Christians, in remembrance of what, they suppose, the same fountain produced for the baptism of Paul (Robinson, Calmet).
Of Tarsus - This city was the capital of Cilicia, a province of Asia Minor. It was situated on the hanks of the Cydnus River. It was distinguished for the culture of Greek philosophy and literature, so that at one time in its schools, and in the number of its learned men, it was the rival of Athens and Alexandria. In allusion to this, perhaps, Paul says that he was "born in Tarsus, a citizen of no mean city," Acts 21:39. In reward for its exertions and sacrifices during the civil wars of Rome, Tarsus was made a free city by Augustus. See notes on Acts 16:37; Acts 21:39; Acts 22:28. It still exists as "Tersous," with a population of about 20,000, but is described as "filthy and ruinous."
Behold, he prayeth - This gives us a full indication of the manner in which Saul passed the three days mentioned in Acts 9:9. It is plain, from what follows, that Ananias regarded Saul as an enemy to Christianity, and that he would have been apprehensive of danger if he were with him, Acts 9:13-14. This remark, "Behold, he prayeth," is made to him to silence his fears, and to indicate the change in the feelings and views of Saul. Before, he was a persecutor; now, his change is indicated by his giving himself to prayer. That Saul did not pray before is not implied by this; for he fully accorded with the customs of the Jews, Philippians 3:4-6. But his prayers were not the prayers of a saint. They were the prayers of a Pharisee (compare Luke 18:10, etc.), now they were the prayers of a broken-hearted sinner; then he prayed depending on his own righteousness, now depending on the mercy of God in the Messiah. We may learn here:
(1) That one indication of conversion to God is real prayer. A Christian may as well be characterized by that as by any single appellation - "a man of prayer."
(2) it is always the attendant of true conviction for sin that we pray. The convicted Sinner feels his danger, and his need of forgiveness. Conscious that he has no righteousness himself, he now seeks that of another, and depends on the mercy of God. Before, he was too proud to pray; now, he is willing to humble himself and to ask for mercy.
(3) it is a sufficient indication of the character of any man to say, "Behold, he prays." It at once tells us, better than volumes would without this, what is his real character. Knowing this, we know all about him. We at once confide in his piety, his honesty, his humility, his willingness to do good. It is at the same time the indication of his state with God, and the pledge that he will do his duty to people. We mean, of course, real prayer. Knowing that a man is sincere, and humble, and faithful in his private devotions, and in the devotions of his family, we confide in him; and are willing to trust to his readiness to do all that he is convinced that he ought to do. Ananias, apprised of this in Saul, had full evidence of the change of his character, and was convinced that he ought to lay aside all his former prejudices, and to seek him, and to acknowledge him as a brother.
And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.And he hath seen in a vision ... - When this was shown to Saul, or how, is not recorded. The vision was shown to Saul to assure him when Ananias came that he was no impostor. He was thus prepared to receive consolation from this disciple. He was even apprised of his name, that he might be the more confirmed.
Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:I have heard by many ... - This was in the vision, Acts 9:10. The passage of such a train of thoughts through the mind was perfectly natural at the command to go and search out Saul. There would instantly occur all that had been heard of his fury in persecution; and the expression here may indicate the state of a mind amazed that such a one should need his counsel, and afraid, perhaps, of entrusting himself to one thus bent on persecution. All this evidently passed in the dream or vision of Ananias, and perhaps cannot be considered as any deliberate unwillingness to go to him. It is clear, however, that such thoughts should have been banished, and that he should have gone at once to the praying Saul. When Christ commands, we should suffer no suggestion of our own thoughts, and no apprehension of our own danger, to interfere.
By many - Probably many who had fled from persecution, and had taken refuge in Damascus. It is also evident Acts 9:14 that Ananias had been apprised, perhaps by letters from the Christians at Jerusalem, of the purpose which Saul had in view in now going to Damascus.
To thy saints - Christians; called saints ἅγιοι hagioi because they are holy, or consecrated to God.
And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:Go thy way - This is often the only answer that we obtain to the suggestion of our doubts and hesitations about duty. God tells us still to do what he requires, with an assurance only that his commands are just, and that there are good reasons for them.
A chosen vessel - The usual meaning of the word "vessel" is well known. It commonly denotes a "cup or basin," such as is used in a house. It then denotes "any instrument which may be used to accomplish a purpose, perhaps particularly with the notion of conveying or communicating." In the Scriptures it is used to denote the "instrument" or "agent" which God employs to convey his favors to mankind, and is thus employed to represent the ministers of the gospel, 2 Corinthians 4:7; 1 Thessalonians 4:4. Compare Isaiah 10:5-7. Paul is called "chosen" because Christ had "selected" him, as he did his other apostles, for this service. See the notes on John 15:16.
To bear my name - To communicate the knowledge of me.
Before the Gentiles - The nations; all who were not Jews. This was the principal employment of Paul. He spent his life in this, and regarded himself as especially called to be the apostle of the Gentiles, Romans 11:13; Romans 15:16; Galatians 2:8.
And the children of Israel - The Jews. This was done. He immediately began to preach to them, Acts 9:20-22. Wherever he went, he preached the gospel first to them, and then to the Gentiles, Acts 13:46; Acts 28:17.
For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.For I will show him ... - This seems to be added to encourage Ananias. He had feared Saul. The Lord now informs him that Saul, hitherto his enemy, would ever after be his friend. He would not merely profess repentance, but would manifest the sincerity of it by encountering trials and reproaches for his sake. The prediction here was fully accomplished, Acts 20:23; 2 Corinthians 11:23-27; 2 Timothy 1:11-12.
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.Putting his hands on him - This was not "ordination," but was the usual mode of imparting or communicating blessings. See the notes on Matthew 19:13; Matthew 9:18.
Brother Saul - An expression recognizing him as a fellow-Christian.
Be filled with the Holy Ghost - See the notes on Acts 2:4.
And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.As it had been scales - ὡσεὶ λεπίδες hōsei lepides. The word ὡσεὶ hōsei, "as it had been," is designed to qualify the following word. It is not said that scales literally fell from his eyes, but that an effect followed as if scales had been suddenly taken off. Evidently, the expression is deigned to mean no more than this. The effect was such as would take place if some dark, imperious substance had been placed before the eyes, and had been suddenly removed. The cure was as sudden, the restoration to sight was as immediate, as if such an interposing substance had been suddenly removed. This is all that the expression fairly implies, and this is all that the nature of the case demands. As the blindness had been caused by the natural effect of the light, probably on the optic nerve (Acts 9:8-9, note), it is manifest that no literal removing of scales would restore the vision. We are therefore to lay aside the idea of literal scales falling to the earth. No such thing is affirmed, and no such thing would have met the case. The word translated "scales" is used nowhere else in the New Testament. It means properly "the small crust or layer which composes a part of the covering of a fish, and also any thin layer or leaf exfoliated or separated, as scales of iron, bone, or a piece of bark, etc." (Webster). An effect similar to this is described in Tobit 11:8, 13. It is evident that there was a miracle in the healing of Saul. The "blindness" was the natural effect of the light. The "cure" was by miraculous power. This is evident:
(1) Because there were no means used that would naturally restore the sight. It may be remarked here that "gutta serena" has been regarded by physicians as one of the most incurable of diseases. Few cases are restored, and few remedies are efficacious (See the Edinburgh Encyclopedia's "Surgery" on Amaurosis.)
(2) Ananias was sent for this very purpose to heal him, Acts 9:17.
(3) the immediate effect shows that this was miraculous. Had it been a slow recovery, it might have been doubtful; but here it was instantaneous, and it was thus put beyond a question that it was a miracle.
And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.Had received meat - Food. The word "meat" has undergone a change since our translation was made. It then meant, as the original does, food of all kinds.
With the disciples - With Christians, compare Acts 2:42.
Order? certain days with the disciples? - Certain days: How long is not known. It was long enough, however, to preach the gospel, Acts 9:22; Acts 26:20. It might have been for some months, as he did not go to Jerusalem under three years from that time. He remained some time at Damascus, and then went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus, and then went to Jerusalem, Galatians 1:17. This visit to Arabia Luke has omitted, but there is no contradiction. He does not affirm that he did not go to Arabia.
We have now passed through the account of one of the most remarkable conversions to Christianity that has ever occurred that of the apostle Paul. His conversion has always been justly considered as a strong proof of the Christian religion. Because:
(1) This change could not have occurred by any lack of fair prospects of honor. He was distinguished already as a Jew. He had had the best opportunities for education that the nation afforded. He had every prospect of rising to distinction and office.
(2) it could not have been produced by any prospect of wealth or fame by becoming a Christian. Christians were poor; and to be a Christian then was to be exposed to contempt, to persecution, and to death. Saul had no reason to suppose that he would escape the common lot of Christians.
(3) he was as firmly opposed to Christianity before his conversion as possible. He had already distinguished himself for his hostility. Infidels often say that Christians are prejudiced in favor of their religion. But here was a man, at first a bitter infidel, and a deadly foe to Christianity. All the prejudices of his education, all his prospects, all his former views and feelings, were opposed to the gospel of Christ. He became, however, one of its most firm advocates and friends, and it is for infidels to account for this change. There must have been some cause, some motive for it; and is there anything more rational than the supposition that Saul was convinced in a most striking and wonderful manner of the truth of Christianity?
(4) his subsequent life showed that the change was sincere and real. He encountered danger and persecution to evince his attachment to Christ; he went from land to land, and exposed himself to every peril and every form of obloquy and scorn, always rejoicing that he was a Christian, and was permitted to suffer as a Christian, and has thus given the highest proofs of his sincerity. If such sufferings and such a life were not evidences of sincerity, then it would be impossible to fix on any circumstances of a man's life that would furnish proof that he was not a deceiver.
(5) if Paul was sincere; if his conversion was genuine, the Christian religion is true. Nothing else but a religion from heaven could produce this change. There is here, therefore, the independent testimony of a man who was once a persecutor; converted in a wonderful manner; his whole life, views, and feelings revolutionized, and all his subsequent career evincing the sincerity of his feelings and the reality of the change. He is just such a witness as infidels ought to be satisfied with; a man once an enemy; a man whose testimony cannot be impeached; a man who had no interested motives, and who was willing to stand forth anywhere, and avow his change of feeling and purpose. We adduce him as such a witness; and infidels are bound to dispose of his testimony, or to embrace the religion which he embraced.
(6) the example of Saul does not stand alone. Hundreds and thousands of enemies; persecutors, and slanderers have been changed, and every such one becomes a living witness of the power and truth of the Christian religion. The scoffer becomes reverent; the profane man learns to speak the praise of God; the sullen, bitter foe of Christ becomes his friend, and lives and dies under the influence of his religion. Could better proof be asked that this religion is from God?
And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.And straightway - Immediately. It was an evidence of the genuineness of his conversion that he was willing at once to avow himself to be the friend of the Lord Jesus.
He preached Christ - He proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ. See Acts 9:22. Many manuscripts read here Jesus instead of Christ. Griesbach has adopted this reading. Such is also the Syriac, the Vulgate, and the Ethiopic. The reading accords much better with the subject than the common reading. That Christ, or the Messiah, was the Son of God, all admitted. In the New Testament the names Christ and Son of God are used as synonymous. But the question was whether Jesus was the Christ, and was therefore the Son of God, and this Paul showed to the Jews. Paul continued the practice of attending the synagogues; and in the synagogues anyone had a right to speak who was invited by the officiating minister. See Acts 13:15.
That he is the Son of God - That he is the Messiah.
But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?Were amazed - Amazed at his sudden and remarkable change.
That destroyed - That opposed; laid waste; persecuted. Compare Galatians 1:13.
For that intent - With that design, that he might destroy the church at Damascus.
But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.Increased the more in strength - His conviction of the truth of the Christian religion became stronger every day, and hence his moral strength or boldness increased.
And confounded - See Acts 2:6. The word here means "confuted." It means also occasionally "to produce a tumult or excitement," Acts 19:32; Acts 21:31. Perhaps the idea of producing such a tumor is intended to be conveyed here. Paul confuted the Jews, and by so doing he was the occasion of their tumultuous proceedings, or he so enraged them as to lead to great agitation and excitement - a very common effect of close and conclusive argumentation.
Proving that this - This Jesus.
Is very Christ - Greek: that this is the Christ. The word "very" means here simply in the Greek: ὁ Χριστός ho Christos. It means that Paul showed by strong and satisfactory arguments that Jesus of Nazareth was the true Messiah. The arguments which he would use may be easily conceived, but the evangelist has not seen fit to record them.
And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:And after that many days ... - How long a time elapsed before this is not recorded in this place, but it is evident that the writer means to signify that a considerable time intervened. There is, therefore, an interval here which Luke has not filled up; and if this were the only narrative which we had, we should be at a loss how to understand this. From all that we know now of the usual conduct of the Jews toward the apostles, and especially toward Paul, it would seem highly improbable that this interval would be passed peaceably or quietly. Nay, it would be highly improbable that he would be allowed to remain in Damascus many days without violent persecution. Now it so happens that by turning to another part of the New Testament, we are enabled to ascertain the manner in which this interval was filled up. Turn then to Galatians 1:17, and we learn from Paul himself that he went into Arabia, and spent some time there, and then returned again to Damascus. The precise time which would be occupied in such a journey is not specified, but it would not be performed under a period of some months.
In Galatians 1:18, we are informed that he did not go to Jerusalem until three years after his conversion; and as there is reason to believe that he went up to Jerusalem directly after escaping from Damascus the second time Acts 9:25-26, it seems probable that the three years were spent chiefly in Arabia. We have thus an account of the "many days" here referred to by Luke. And in this instance we have a striking example of the truth and honesty of the sacred writers. By comparing these two accounts together, we arrive at the whole state of the case. Neither seems to be complete without the other. Luke has left a chasm which he has nowhere else supplied. But that chasm we are enabled to fill up from the apostle himself, in a letter written long after, and without any design to amend or complete the history of Luke - for the introduction of this history into the Epistle to the Galatians was for a very different purpose - to show that he received his commission directly from the Lord Jesus, and in a manner independent of the other apostles.
The two accounts, therefore, are like the two parts of a tally; neither is complete without the other; and yet, being brought together, they so exactly fit as to show that the one is precisely adjusted to the other. And as the two parts were made by different individuals, and without design of adapting them to each other, they show that the writers had formed no collusion or agreement to impose on the world; that they are separate and independent witnesses; that they are honest men; that their narratives are true records of what actually occurred; and the two narratives constitute, therefore, a strong and very valuable proof of the correctness of the sacred narrative. If asked why Luke has not reherded a full account of this in the Acts , it may be replied that there are many circumstances and facts omitted in all histories from the necessity of the case. Compare John 21:25. It is remarkable here, not that he has not recorded this, but that he has left a chasm in his own history which can he so readily filled up.
Were fulfilled - Had elapsed.
Took counsel ... - Laid a scheme, or designed to kilt him. Compare Acts 23:12; Acts 25:3. His zeal and success would enrage them, and they knew of no other way in which they could free themselves from the effects of his arguments and influence.
But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.But their laying await - Their counsel; their design.
Was known of Saul - Was made known to him. In what way this was communicated we do not know. This design of the Jews against Saul is referred to in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33, where it is said, "In Damascus, the governor under Aretas the king kept the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me; and through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands."
And they watched the gates - Cities were surrounded by high walls, and of course the gates were presumed to be the only places of escape. As they supposed that Saul, apprised of their designs, would make an attempt to escape, they stationed guards at the gates to intercept him. In 2 Corinthians 11:32, it is said that the governor kept the city for the purpose of apprehending him. It is possible that the governor might have been a Jew, and one, therefore, who would enter into their views. Or if not a Jew, the Jews who were there might easily represent Saul as an offender, and demand his being secured, and thus a garrison or guard might be furnished them for their purpose. See a similar attempt made by the Jews recorded in Matthew 28:14.
Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.Took him by night ... - This was done through a window in the wall, 2 Corinthians 11:33.
In a basket - This word is used to denote commonly "the basket in which food was carried," Matthew 15:37; Mark 8:8, Mark 8:20. It was in this way that Rahab let down the spies Joshua 2:15, and so David escaped from Saul, 1 Samuel 19:12. Probably this occurred in an unguarded part of the wall, where some overhanging houses, as is usual in Eastern cities, opened into the outer country. This conduct of Saul was in accordance with the direction of the Lord Jesus Matthew 10:23, "When they persecute you in one city, flee ye into another," etc. Saul was certain of death if he remained; and as he could secure his life by flight without abandoning any principle of religion, or denying his Lord, it was his duty to do so. Christianity requires us to sacrifice our lives only when we cannot avoid it without denying the Saviour, or abandoning the principles of our religion.
And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.Was come to Jerusalem - He did not go to Jerusalem immediately after he escaped from Damascus. He first went into Arabia, where he spent a considerable part, or the whole of three years. For the reasons why he went there, and why this fact is omitted by Luke in the Acts , see the notes on Galatians 1:18.
He assayed - He attempted; he endeavored.
To join himself - To become connected with them as a fellow-Christian.
But they were all afraid of him - Their fear, or suspicion, was excited probably on these grounds:
(1) They remembered his former violence against Christians. They had an instinctive shrinking from him, and suspicion of the man that had been so violent a persecutor.
(2) he had been absent three years. If they had not heard of him during that time, they would naturally retain much of their old feelings toward him. If they had, they might suspect the man who had not returned to Jerusalem; who had not before sought the society of other Christians; and who had spent that time in a distant country, and among strangers. It would seem remarkable that he had not at once returned to Jerusalem and connected himself with the apostles. But the sacred writer does not justify the fears of the apostles. He simply records the fact of their apprehension. It is not unnatural, however, to have doubts respecting an open and virulent enemy of the gospel who suddenly professes a change in favor of it. The human mind does not easily cast off suspicion of some unworthy motive, and open itself at once to entire confidence. When great and notorious sinners profess to be converted - people who have been violent, artful, or malignant - it is natural to ask whether they have not some unworthy motive still in their professed change. Confidence is a plant of slow growth, and starts up, not by a sudden profession, but is the result of a course of life which is worthy of affection and of trust.
A disciple - A sincere Christian.
But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.But Barnabas - See the notes on Acts 4:36. Barnabas was of Cyprus, not far from Tarsus, and it is not improbable that he had been before acquainted with Saul.
To the apostles - To Peter and James, Galatians 1:18-19. Probably the other apostles were at that time absent from Jerusalem.
And declared unto them ... - It may seem remarkable that the apostles at Jerusalem had not before heard of the conversion of Saul. The following considerations may serve in some degree to explain this:
(1) It is certain that contact between different countries was then much more difficult than it is now. There were no posts; no public conveyances; no mails; no telegraphs; nothing that corresponded with our modes of contact between one part of the world and another.
(2) there was at this time a state of animosity amounting to hostility subsisting between Herod and Aretas. Herod the tetrarch had married the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia, and had put her away (Josephus, Antiq., book 18, chapter 5, section 1, 2). The result of this was a long misunderstanding between them, and a war; and the effects of that war might have been to interrupt the communication very much throughout all that country.
(3) though the Jews at Jerusalem might have heard of the conversion of Saul, yet it was for their interest to keep it a secret, and not to mention it to Christians. But,
(4) Though the Christians who were there had heard of it, yet it is probable that they were not fully informed on the subject; that they had not had all the evidence of his conversion which they desired; and that they looked with suspicion on him. It was therefore proper that they should have a full statement of the evidence of his conversion; and this was made by Barnabas.
And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.And he was with them ... - That is, he was admitted to their friendship, and recognized as a Christian and an apostle. The time during which he then remained at Jerusalem was, however, only fifteen days, Galatians 1:18.
And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him.And spake boldly - He openly defended the doctrine that Jesus was the Messiah.
In the name ... - By the authority of the Lord Jesus.
Against the Grecians - See the word "Grecians" explained in the notes on Acts 6:1. It means that he not only maintained that Jesus was the Christ in the presence of those Jews who resided at Jerusalem, and who spoke the Hebrew language, but also before those foreign Jews who spoke the Greek language, and who had come up to Jerusalem. They would be as much opposed to the doctrine that Jesus was the Christ as those who resided in Jerusalem.
They went about - They sought to slay him; or they formed a purpose to put him to death as an apostate. See Acts 9:23.
Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.To Cesarea - See the notes on Acts 8:40.
And sent him forth to Tarsus - This was his native city. See the notes on Acts 9:11. It was in Cilicia, where Paul doubtless preached the gospel, Galatians 1:21, "Afterward I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia."
Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.Then had the churches rest - That is, the persecutions against Christians ceased. Those persecutions had been excited by the opposition made to Stephen Acts 11:19; they had been greatly promoted by Saul Acts 8:3; and they had extended doubtless throughout the whole land of Palestine. The precise causes of this cessation of the persecution are not known. Probably they were the following:
(1) It is not improbable that the great mass of Christians had been driven into other regions by these persecutions.
(2) he who had been most active in exciting the persecution; who was, in a sort, its leader, and who was best adapted to carry it on, had been converted. He had ceased his opposition; and even he was now removed from Judea. All this would have some effect in causing the persecution to subside.
(3) but it is not improbable that the state of things in Judea contributed much to turn the attention of the Jews to other matters. Dr. Lardner accounts for this in the following manner: "Soon after Caligula's accession, the Jews at Alexandria suffered very much from the Egyptians in that city, and at length their oratories there were all destroyed. In the third year of Caligula, 39 a.d., Petronius was sent into Syria, with orders to set up the emperor's statue in the temple at Jerusalem. This order from Caligula was, to the Jews, a thunderstroke. The Jews must have been too much engaged after this to mind anything else, as may appear from the accounts which Philo and Josephus have given us of this affair. Josephus says 'that Caligula ordered Petronius to go with an army to Jerusalem, to set up his statue in the temple there; enjoining him, if the Jews opposed it, to put to death all who made any resistance, and to make all the rest of the nation slaves. Petronius therefore marched from Antioch into Judea with three legions and a large body of auxiliaries raised in Syria. "All were hereupon filled with consternation, the army being come as far as Ptolemais." See Lardner's Works, vol. i, pp. 101, 102, London edition, 1829.
Philo gives the same account of the consternation as Josephus (Philo, DeLegat. a.d. Cai., pp. 1024, 1025). He describes the Jews "as abandoning their cities, villages, and open country; as going to Petronius in Phoenicia, both men and women, the old, the young, the middle-aged; as throwing themselves on the ground before Petronius with weeping and lamentation," etc. The effect of this consternation in diverting their minds from the Christians can be easily conceived. The prospect that the images of the Roman emperor were about to be set up by violence in the temple, or, that in case of resistance, death or slavery was to be their portion, and the advance of a large army to execute that purpose, all tended to throw the nation into alarm. By the providence of God, therefore, this event was permitted to occur to divert the attention of bloody-minded persecutors from a feeble and bleeding church. Anxious for their own safety, the Jews would cease to persecute the Christians, and thus, by the conversion of the main instrument in persecution, and by the universal alarm for the welfare of the nation, the trembling and enfeebled church was permitted to obtain repose. Thus ended the first general persecution against Christians, and thus effectually did God show that he had power to guard and protect his chosen people.
All Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria - These three places included the land of Palestine. See the notes on Matthew 2:22. The formation of churches in Galilee is not expressly mentioned before this; but there is no improbability in supposing that Christians had traveled there, and had preached the gospel. Compare Acts 11:19. The formation of churches in Samaria is expressly mentioned, Acts 8.
And walking - Living. The word is often used to denote "Christian conduct, or manner of life," Colossians 1:10; Luke 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 1 John 2:6. The idea is that of travelers who are going to any place, and who walk in the right path. Christians are thus travelers to another country, an heavenly.
In the fear of the Lord - Fearing the Lord; with reverence for him and his commandments. This expression is often used to denote "piety" in general, 2 Chronicles 19:7; Job 28:28; Psalm 19:9; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10; Proverbs 13:13.
Were multiplied - Were increased.
And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.To the saints - To the Christians.
Which dwelt at Lydda - This town was situated on the road from Jerusalem to Caesarea Philippi. It was about 10 or 12 miles southeast from Joppa, and belonged to the tribe of Ephraim. It was called by the Greeks Diospolis, or city of Jupiter, probably because a temple was at some period erected to Jupiter in that city. It is now so entirely ruined as to be a miserable village. Since the Crusades, it has been called by the Christians George, on account of its having been the scene of the martyrdom of a saint of that name. Tradition says that in this city the Emperor Justinian erected a church.
And there he found a certain man named AEneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy.Eneas - This is a Greek name; and probably he was a Hellenist. See the notes on Acts 6:1.
Sick of the palsy - See the notes on Matthew 4:24.
And Peter said unto him, AEneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately.Maketh thee whole - Cures thee. Peter claimed no power to do it himself. Compare Acts 3:6, Acts 3:16; Acts 4:10.
And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.And all - The mass, or body of the people. The affliction of the man had been long, and was probably well known; the miracle would be celebrated, and the effect was an extensive revival of religion.
Saron - This was the champaign, or open country, usually mentioned by the name of "Sharon" in the Old Testament, 1 Ch ct 9:16; Acts 27:29; Ca. Acts 2:1; Isaiah 33:9. It was a region of extraordinary fertility, and the name was almost proverbial to denote "any country of great beauty and fertility." Compare Isaiah 33:9; Isaiah 35:2; Isaiah 65:10. It was situated south of Mount Carmel, along the coast of the Mediterranean, extending to Caesarea and Joppa. Lydda was situated in this region.
Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.At Joppa - This was a seaport town situated on the Mediterranean, in the tribe of Dan, about 30 miles south of Caesarea, and 45 northwest of Jerusalem. It was the principal seaport of Palestine; and hence, though the harbor was poor, it hind considerable celebrity. It was occupied by Solomon to receive the timber brought for the building of the temple from Tyre 2 Chronicles 2:16, and was used for a similar purpose in the time of Ezra, Ezra 3:7. The present name of the town is Jaffa. It is situated on a promontory jutting out into the sea, rising to the height of about 150 feet above its level, and offering on all sides picturesque and varied prospects. "It owes its existence to the low ledge of rocks which extends into the sea from the extremity of the little cape on which the city stands, and forms a small harbor. Insignificant as it is, and insecure, yet there being no other on all this coast, it was sufficient to cause a city to spring up around it even in the earliest times, and to sustain its life through numberless changes of dynasties, races, and religions down to the present hour. It was, in fact, the only harbor of any notoriety possessed by the Jews throughout the greater part of their national existence. To it the timber for both the temples of Jerusalem was brought from Lebanon, and no doubt a lucrative trade in cedar and pine was always carried on through it with the nations who had possession of the forests of Lebanon. Through it also nearly all the foreign commerce of the Jews was conducted until the artificial port of Caesarea was built by Herod. Here Jonah came to find a ship in which to flee from the presence of the Lord, and from it he sailed for Tarshish.
"Twenty-five years ago the inhabitants of city and gardens were about 6000; now there must be 15,000 at least, and commerce has increased at even a greater ratio. Several sources of prosperity account for the existence and rapid increase of Jaffa. It is the natural landing-place of pilgrims to Jerusalem, both Christians and Jews, and they have created a considerable trade. The Holy City itself has also been constantly rising in importance during the present generation. Then there are extensive soap factories, not only here, but in Ramleh, Lydd, Nablus, and Jerusalem, much of which is exported from this port to all the cities along the coast, to Egypt, and even to Asia Minor through Tarsus. The fruit trade from Jaffa is likewise quite considerable, and lately there have been large shipments of grain to Europe. Add to this that silk is now being cultivated extensively along the river 'Aujeh, and in the gardens about the city, and the present prosperity of Jaffa is fully explained.
"Jaffa is celebrated in modern times for her gardens and orchards of delicious fruit more than for anything else. They are very extensive, flourishing, and profitable, but their very existence depends upon the fact that water to any amount can be procured in every garden, and at a moderate depth. The entire plain seems to cover a river of vast breadth, percolating through the sand en route to the sea. A thousand Persian wheels working night and day produce no sensible diminution, and this exhaustible source of wealth underlies the whole territory of the Philistines down to Gaza at least, and probably much further south.
"The fruits of Jaffa are the same as those of Sidon, but with certain variations in their character. Sidon has the best bananas, Jaffa furnishes the best pomegranates. The oranges of Sidon are more juicy and of a richer flavor than those of Jaffa; hut the latter hang on the trees much later, and will bear to be shipped to distant regions. They are therefore more valuable to the producer. It is here only that you see in perfection fragrant blossoms encircling golden fruit. In March and April these Jaffa gardens are indeed enchanting. The air is overloaded with the mingled spicery of orange, lemon, apple, apricot, quince, plum, and china trees in blossom. The people then frequent the groves, sit on mats beneath their grateful shade, sip coffee, smoke the argela, sing, converse, or sleep, as best suits their individual idiosyncrasies, until evening, when they slowly return to their homes in the city. To us of the restless West, this way of making kaif soon wearies by its slumberous monotony, but it is Elysium to the Arabs.
"I have been strolling along the streets, or rather street of Jaffa, for there seems to be but one, and a more crowded thoroughfare I never saw. I had to force my way through the motley crowd of busy citizens, wild Arabs, foreign pilgrims, camels, mules, horses, and donkeys. Then what a strange rabble outside the gate, noisy, quarrelsome, ragged, and filthy! Many are blind, or at least have some painful defect about their eyes, and some are leprous. The peasants hereabout must be very poor, to judge by their rags and squalid appearance. I was reminded of Dorcas and the widows around Peter exhibiting the coats and garments which that benevolent lady had made, and I devoutly hoped she might be raised again, at least in spirit, for there is need of a dozen Dorcas societies in Jaffa at the present time. "The Land and the Book" (Thomson), vol. 2, pp. 271-281.
Tabitha - This word is properly Syriac, and means literally the "gazelle" or "antelope." The name became an appellation of a female, probably on account of the beauty of its form. "It is not unusual in the East to give the names of beautiful animals to young women" (Clark). Compare Sol 2:9; Sol 4:5.
Dorcas - A Greek word signifying the same as Tabitha. Our word "doe" or "roe" answers to it in signification.
And almsdeeds - Acts of kindness to the poor.
And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber.Whom, when they had washed - Among most people it has been customary to wash the body before it is buried or burned. They prepared her in the usual manner for interment.
In an upper chamber - See the notes on Acts 1:13. There is no evidence that they expected that Peter would raise her up to life.
And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.Was neigh to Joppa - See the notes on Acts 9:32.
They sent unto him ... - Why they sent is not affirmed. It is probable that they desired his presence to comfort and sustain them in their affliction. It is certainly possible that they expected he would restore her to life; but as this is not mentioned; as the apostles had as yet raised up no one from the dead; as even Stephen had not been restored to life, we have no authority for assuming, or supposing, that they had formed any such expectation.
Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.Then Peter arose - See the notes on Luke 15:18.
And all the widows - Whom Dorcas had benefited by her kindness. They had lost a benefactress; and it was natural that they should recall her kindness, and express their gratitude, by enumerating the proofs of her beneficence. Each one would therefore naturally dwell on the kindness which had been shown to herself.
But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up.But Peter put them all forth - From the room. See a similar case in Matthew 9:25. Why this was done is not said. Perhaps it was because he did not wish to appear as if seeking publicity. If done in the presence of many persons, it might seem like ostentation. Others suppose it was that he might offer more fervent prayer to God than he would be willing they should witness Compare 2 Kings 4:33.
Tabitha, arise - Compare Mark 5:41-42.
And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.He presented her alive - He exhibited, or showed her to them alive. Compare 1 Kings 17:23.
And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.And many believed ... - A similar effect followed when Jesus raised up Lazarus. See John 12:11.
This was the first miracle of this kind that was performed by the apostles. The effect was that many believed. It was not merely a work of benevolence, in restoring to life one who contributed largely to the comfort of the poor, but it was a means of extending and establishing, as it was designed doubtless to do, the kingdom of the Saviour.
And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.