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:
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(32) In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king . . .—The question meets us at the outset whether the fact that follows is brought in as being the first instance of suffering endured for the sake of Christ, and therefore the natural opening to what was intended to have been a long, connected narrative of all such sufferings, or as being connected in some special manner with his “infirmities.”, On the whole, the evidence—especially the context of 2Corinthians 11:30—seems in favour of the latter view, as far, at least, as the selection of the incident is concerned. There was, we can well imagine, an element of the ludicrous—something that gave occasion to jests and sneers—in the way in which the Apostle’s escape had been effected. There was, so to speak, something undignified in it. Those who mocked at the stunted growth and weakness of his bodily presence would find good matter for their mirth in this.

On the historical facts connected with this incident, see Notes on Acts 9:24-25. The additional details which we learn from St. Paul are—(1) that Damascus was under the immediate control, not of the Governor of Syria, but of a governor or an ethnarch; (2) that the ethnarch was appointed, not by the Roman emperor, but by Aretas (the name was hereditary, and was the Greek form of the Arabic Haret), the King of the Nabathæan Arabs, who had his capital at Petra, who was the father of the first wife of Herod Antipas (see Note on Matthew 14:1); (3) that the ethnarch lent himself to the enmity of the Jews, and stationed troops at each gate of the city to prevent St. Paul’s escape. “Ethnarch,” it may be noted, was about this time the common title of a subordinate provincial governor. It had been borne by Judas Maccabæus (1 Maccabees 14:47; 1 Maccabees 15:1-2) and by Archelaus (Jos. Wars, ii. 6, § 3).

2 Corinthians 11:32-33. In Damascus, &c. — As if he had said, I must be permitted to add one circumstance more to illustrate the dangers to which I was exposed, as soon as I engaged in the Christian cause, and the remarkable interposition of Divine Providence for my preservation: the governor under Aretas — King of Arabia and Syria, of which Damascus was a chief city, willing to oblige the Jews, kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison — That is, setting guards at all the gates, day and night; desirous, or, determining, to apprehend me — And to deliver me to them. And in such a danger, where even the form of a trial was not to be expected, what could I do but flee? Through a window — Therefore, of a house which stood on the city wall; I was let down in a basket — With ropes; and escaped his hands — The assistance of good men co-operating with the care of God. Now, who that considers and credits the above brief account, though of but a part of the labours and sufferings which the apostle voluntarily sustained, that he might testify to mankind the gospel of the grace of God, can for a moment question his certain knowledge of the truth and importance of that gospel; especially as he neither reaped, nor could expect to reap, any worldly benefit whatever from preaching it? Did he do and suffer all these things to spread a doctrine which, for any thing he knew to the contrary, might be false; or if true, was not important to the salvation of the human race? Surely no man can suppose it, without first supposing that the apostle was destitute of common sense. Consider this, reader, and remember, at the same time, how the Lord sanctioned and confirmed his testimony, by signs and wonders, and divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will, and then think how thou shalt escape if thou reject or neglect such a gospel, or the great salvation revealed in and by it.

11:22-33 The apostle gives an account of his labours and sufferings; not out of pride or vain-glory, but to the honour of God, who enabled him to do and suffer so much for the cause of Christ; and shows wherein he excelled the false apostles, who tried to lessen his character and usefulness. It astonishes us to reflect on this account of his dangers, hardships, and sufferings, and to observe his patience, perseverance, diligence, cheerfulness, and usefulness, in the midst of all these trials. See what little reason we have to love the pomp and plenty of this world, when this blessed apostle felt so much hardship in it. Our utmost diligence and services appear unworthy of notice when compared with his, and our difficulties and trials scarcely can be perceived. It may well lead us to inquire whether or not we really are followers of Christ. Here we may study patience, courage, and firm trust in God. Here we may learn to think less of ourselves; and we should ever strictly keep to truth, as in God's presence; and should refer all to his glory, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed for evermore.In Damascus - This circumstance is mentioned as an additional trial. It is evidently mentioned as an instance of peril which had escaped his recollection in the rapid account of his dangers enumerated in the previous verses. It is designed to show what imminent danger he was in, and how narrowly he escaped with his life. On the situation of Damascus, see the note, Acts 9:2. The transaction here referred to is also related by Luke Act 9:24-25, though without mentioning the name of the king, or referring to the fact that the governor kept the city with a garrison.

The governor - Greek, ὁ ἐθνάρχης ho ethnarchēs, "The ethnarch;" properly a ruler of the people, a prefect, a ruler, a chief. Who he was is unknown, though he was evidently some officer under the king. It is not improbable that he was a Jew, or at any rate he was one who could be influenced by the Jews, and he was doubtless excited by the Jews to guard the city, and if possible to take Paul as a malefactor. Luke informs us Acts 9:23-24 that the Jews took counsel against Paul to kill him, and that they watched the gates night and day to effect their object. They doubtless represented Paul as an apostate, and as aiming to overthrow their religion. He had come with an important commission to Damascus and had failed to execute it; he had become the open friend of those whom he came to destroy; and they doubtless claimed of the civil authorities of Damascus that he should be given up and taken to Jerusalem for trial. It was not difficult, therefore, to secure the cooperation of the governor of the city in the case, and there is no improbability in the statement.

Under Aretas the king - There were three kings of this name who are particularly mentioned by ancient writers. The first is mentioned in 2 Macc. 5:8, as the "king of the Arabians." He lived about 170 years before Christ, and of course could not be the one referred to here. The second is mentioned in Josephus, Antiquities 13, xv, section 2. He is first mentioned as having reigned in Coele-Syria, but as being called to the government of Damascus by those who dwelt there, on account of the hatred which they bore to Ptolemy Meneus. Whiston remarks in a note on Josephus, that this was the first king of the Arabians who took Damascus and reigned there, and that this name afterward became common to such Arabian kings as reigned at Damascus and at Petra; see Josephus, Antiquities 16, ix, section 4. Of course this king reigned some time before the transaction here referred to by Paul. A third king of this name, says Rosenmuller, is the one mentioned here. He was the father-in-law of Herod Antipas. He made war with his son-in-law Herod because he had repudiated his daughter, the wife of Herod. This he had done in order to marry his brother Philip's wife; see the note, Matthew 14:3. On this account Aretas made war with Herod, and in order to resist him, Herod applied to Tiberius the Roman emperor for aid. Vitellius was sent by Tiberius to subdue Aretas, and to bring him dead or alive to Rome. But before Vitellius had embarked in the enterprise, Tiberius died, and thus Aretas was saved from ruin. It is supposed that in this state of things, when thus waging war with Herod, he made an incursion to Syria and seized upon Damascus, where he was reigning when Paul went there; or if not reigning there personally, he had appointed an ethnarch or governor who administered the affairs of the city in his place.

Kept the city ... - Luke Act 9:24 says that they watched the gates day and night to kill him. This was probably the Jews. Meantime the ethnarch guarded the city, to prevent his escape. The Jews would have killed him at once; the ethnarch wished to apprehend him and bring him to trial. In either case Paul had much to fear, and he, therefore, embraced the only way of escape.

With a garrison - The word which is used here in the original (φρουρέω phroureō) means simply to watch; to guard; to keep. Our translation would seem to imply that there was a body of people stationed in order to guard the city. The true idea is, that there were men who were appointed to guard the gates of the city and to keep watch lest he should escape them. Damascus was surrounded, as all ancient cities were, with high walls, and it did not occur to them that he could escape in any other way than by the gates.

32. governor—Greek, "Ethnarch": a Jewish officer to whom heathen rulers gave authority over Jews in large cities where they were numerous. He was in this case under Aretas, king of Arabia. Damascus was in a Roman province. But at this time, A.D. 38 or 39, three years after Paul's conversion, A.D. 36, Aretas, against whom the Emperor Tiberius as the ally of Herod Agrippa had sent an army under Vitellius, had got possession of Damascus on the death of the emperor, and the consequent interruption of Vitellius' operations. His possession of it was put an end to immediately after by the Romans [Neander]. Rather, it was granted by Caligula (A.D. 38) to Aretas, whose predecessors had possessed it. This is proved by our having no Damascus coins of Caligula or Claudius, though we do have of their immediate imperial predecessors and successors [Alford]. Ver. 32,33. Luke hath shortly given us the history of this danger, Acts 9:23-25. Soon after Paul was converted from the Jewish to the Christian religion, he, disputing with the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, confounded them by his arguments, proving Jesus was the Christ, as we read there, Acts 9:21. This so enraged them, as that they sought to kill him, Acts 9:23. And (as we learn from this text) to effect their design, they had by some acts or other brought over the governor to favour their design; which, governor was a substitute under Aretas the king, who was father-in-law to Herod; for (as Josephus tells us) Herod put away his wife, the daughter of this Aretas, when he took Herodias. The Jews had got this deputy heathen governor so much on their side, that he shut up the gates, keeping his soldiers in arms. But (as St. Luke tells us, Acts 9:24) Paul coming to the knowledge of this design, though they watched the gates day and night, yet he found a way of escape by the help of those Christians, who at that time were in Damascus; Acts 9:25: The disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket. Two questions are started upon this passage of Paul’s life:

1. Whether it was lawful for him to flee? But besides the particular licence our Lord, in this case, had given his first ministers, Matthew 10:23, Paul did in this case no more than what divines make lawful for a more ordinary minister, viz. to flee, when the persecution was directed against him in particular, leaving sufficient supply behind him.

2. The second question raised is: Whether, it being against human laws to go over the walls of a city or garrison, Paul did not sin in this escape? But that is easily answered; for:

a) This was lawful in some cases.

b) God’s glory, and the good of souls, were more concerned in Paul’s life, than to have it sacrificed to a punctilio of obedience to a human law made upon a mere politic consideration.

In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king,.... Aretas or Al-Hareth was a king of Arabia, of the family of the Gassanii; among whom were many of this name (r); and who for some hundreds of years ruled over Syria, of which Damascus was the metropolis. The fourth king of that family was of this name, and perhaps is the person here meant; and after him there were four more of the same family so called; it was a name of Arabian kings in other families. The fifteenth king of the Yamanensians was of this name, and so was the "seventeenth" of the Hirensians (s), and the "third" of the kings of Cenda; in the times of Antiochus Epiphanes, there was an Aretas king of the Arabians, mentioned in the Apocrypha (t).

"In the end therefore he had an unhappy return, being accused before Aretas the king of the Arabians, fleeing from city to city, pursued of all men, hated as a forsaker of the laws, and being had in abomination as an open enemy of his country and countrymen, he was cast out into Egypt.'' (2 Maccabees 5:8)

Josephus (u) also makes mention of Aretas king of the Arabians, who seems to have been king of Arabia Petraea, since his royal seat was at Petra, to whom Hyrcanus fled by the advice of Antipater, the father of Herod the great; and there was also one of this name in the times of Herod himself, who succeeded Obodas (w); yea, there was an Aretas king of Petraea, in the times of Herod the tetrarch, whose daughter Herod married, and put her away when he took Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, which occasioned a quarrel between him and Aretas, which issued in a battle, in which Herod was beaten (x); and who is thought to be the same king which is here spoken of: the name Aretas or Al-Hareth, as Hillerus (y), observes, signifies the lion; and a lion with the eastern nations was a symbol of royalty and dominion; hence such names were given to persons of illustrious birth and power; so Ali, the son-in-law of Mahomet, was called by the Arabs and Persians the lion of God: now Syria, where Damascus was, and which is called by Pliny (z) Damascus of Syria, had been of long time in the hands of the kings of Arabia; and (a) Josephus makes mention of Aretas, king of Coele Syria, who was called to the government by those who had Damascus in their hands; very probably by Milesius, who was governor of the tower of Damascus, and commanded , "the city of the Damascenes", as Josephus calls Damascus, just as it is here in the next clause; in which country of Coele Syria, Ptolomy (b) also places Damascus; and Grotius has proved from Justin Martyr (c) and Terlullian (d), that Damascus formerly belonged to Arabia, though in their times it was reckoned to Syro Phoenicia: here the apostle preached to the confounding of the Jews that dwelt there, which provoked them to enter into a consultation to take away his life; and that he might not escape their hands, they moved to the then governor who was under the king, that the gates might be watched day and night; see Acts 9:23 to which he agreed; and as the apostle here says,

kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, or set a guard about it; or as the Arabic version reads it, "he shut up the city"; and placed a watch at the gates of it night and day, or allowed the Jews to do so:

desirous to apprehend me; in order to deliver him into their hands, who were now his sworn enemies for the Gospel's sake; willing to do them this favour to ingratiate himself into their affections; or perhaps it might be insinuated to him, that he was a seditious person.

(r) Pocock. Specimen Hist. Arab. p. 76, 77, 78. (s) Pocock. ib. p. 58, 70, 79. (t) Vid. Joseph. Antiqu. l. 13. c. 13. sect. 3.((u) Antiqu. l. 14. c. 1. sect. 4. de Bello Jud. l. 1. c. 6. sect. 2.((w) Joseph. Antiqu. l. 16. c. 9. sect. 4. & c. 10. sect. 8, 9. (x) Ib. Antiqu. l. 18. c. 6. sect. 1.((y) Onomasticum Sacrum, p. 116, 748. (z) Nat. Hist. l. 36. c. 8. (a) Antiqu. l. 13. c. 15. sect. 1, 2.((b) Geograph. l. 5. c. 15. (c) Dialog. cum Tryphone Jud. p. 305. (d) Adv. Marcion. l. 3. c. 13.

In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me:
2 Corinthians 11:32-33. Paul now actually begins his καυχᾶσθαι τὰ τῆς ἀσθενείας αὐτοῦ, and that by relating the peril and flight which took place at the very commencement of his work. Unfortunately, however (for how historically important for us would have been a further continuation of this tale of suffering!), yet upon the emergence of a proper feeling that the continuation of this glorying in suffering would not be in keeping with his apostolic position, he renounces the project, breaks off again at once after this first incident (2 Corinthians 12:1), and passes on to something far higher and more peculiar—to the revelations made to him. The expositors, overlooking this breaking off (noted also by Hilgenfeld), have suggested many arbitrary explanations as to why Paul narrates this incident in particular (he had, in fact, been in much worse perils!),[348] and that with so solemn asseveration and at such length. Billroth, e.g. (comp. Flatt), says that he wished to direct attention to the first danger pre-eminently by way of evidence that everything said from 2 Corinthians 11:23 onward was true (2 Corinthians 11:31). In that case he would doubtless have written something like ἤδη γὰρ ἐν Δαμασκῷ, or in such other way as to be so understood. Olshausen contents himself with the remark that Paul has only made a supplementary mention of the event as the first persecution; and Rückert even conjectures that it was by pure accident that Paul noted by way of supplement and treated in detail this story occurring to his recollection! Osiander thinks that he singled it out thus on account of its connection (?) in subject-matter and time with the following revelation, and, as it were, by way of further consecration of his official career. Comp. also Wieseler on Gal. p. 595, who likewise considers the narrative as simply a suitable historical introduction to the revelation that follows. But we do not see the purpose served by this detailed introduction,—which, withal, as such, would have no independent object whatever,—nor yet, again, the purpose served by the interruption in 2 Corinthians 12:1. According to Hofmann, the mention of this means of rescue, of which he had made use, and which many a one with merely natural courage would on the score of honour not have consented to employ, is intended to imply a confession of his weakness. The idea of weakness, however, is not at all here the opposite of the natural courage of honour, but rather that of the passive undergoing of all the παθήματα of Christ, the long chain of which, in Paul’s case, had its first link historically in that flight from Damascus. Calvin correctly names this flight the “tirocinium Pauli.”

] stands as an anacoluthon. When Paul wrote it, having already in view a further specification of place for an incident to follow, he had purposed to write, instead of the unsuitable ΤῊΝ ΔΑΜΑΣΚΗΝῶΝ ΠΌΛΙΝ, something else (such as ΤᾺς ΠΎΛΑς), but then left out of account the ἘΝ ΔΑΜΑΣΚῷ already written. It is a strange fancy to which Hofmann has recourse, that Τ. ΔΑΜΑΣΚ. ΠΌΛΙΝ is meant to be a narrower conception than ἘΝ ΔΑΜΑΣΚῷ.

] prefect (Josephus, Antt. xiv. 7. 2; 1Ma 14:47; 1Ma 15:1; Strabo, xvii. p. 798; Lucian, Macrob. 17), an appellation of Oriental provincial governors. See in general, Joh. Gottlob Heyne, de ethnarcha Aretae, Witeb. 1755, p. 3 ff. The incident itself described is identical with that narrated in Acts 9:24 f. No doubt in Acts the watching of the gates is ascribed to the Jews, and here, to the ethnarch; but the reconciliation of the two narratives is itself very naturally effected through the assumption that the ethnarch caused the gates to be watched by the Jews themselves at their suggestion (comp. Heyne, l.c. p. 39). “Jewish gold had perhaps also some effect with the Emir,” Michaeli.

τὴν Δαμασκ. πόλιν] namely, by occupying the gates so that Paul might not get out. Regarding the temporary dominion over Damascus held at that time by Aretas, the Arabian king, and father-in-law of Herod Antipas, see on Acts, Introd. § 4, and observe that Paul would have had no reason for adding ἈΡΈΤΑ ΤΟῦ ΒΑΣΙΛΈΩς, if at the very time of the flight the Roman city had not been exceptionally (and temporarily) subject to Aretas—a state of foreign rule for the time being, which was to be brought under the notice of the reader. Hofmann thinks that the chief of the Arabian inhabitants in the Roman city was meant; but with the less ground, since Paul was a Jew and had come from Jerusalem, and consequently would not have belonged at all to the jurisdiction of such a tribal chief (if there had been one). He went to Arabia (Galatians 1:17) only in consequence of this inciden.

διὰ θυρίδος] by means of a little door (Plato, Pol. ii. p. 359 D; Lucian, Asin. 45). It was doubtless an opening high up in the city wall, closed, perhaps, with a lid or lattic.

ἐν σαργάνῃ] in a wickerwork, i.e. basket (Lucian, Lexiph. 6). Comp. Acts 9:25 : ἐν σπυρίδι.

On the description itself Theodoret rightly remarks: ΤῸ ΤΟῦ ΚΙΝΔΎΝΟΥ ΜΈΓΕΘΟς Τῷ ΤΡΌΠῼ Τῆς ΦΥΓῆς ΠΑΡΕΔΉΛΩΣΕ.

Arbitrary explanations are already given by Chrysostom (comp. Bengel, Ewald, and others): because the incident was older and less known; and by Pelagius: because in Damascus the Jews had stirred up etiam principes gentium against Paul.

2 Corinthians 11:32. ἐν Δαμασκῷ ὁ ἐθν. κ.τ.λ.: in Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king guarded the city of the Damascenes, sc.; by placing a watch at the gates, to take me; and through a window (i.e., an aperture in the city wall, or the window of a house overhanging the wall) was I let down in a basket (σαργάνη is anything twisted, and so here probably a rope basket; σφυρίς is the word used in Acts 9:25) by the wall, and escaped his hands. The incident took place on St. Paul’s return to Damascus from Arabia (Galatians 1:17) and is narrated in Acts 9:23-25. The date of it is important in the chronology of the Apostle’s life. It could not have been before A.D. 34, for coins of Tiberius prove Damascus to have been under direct Roman administration in that year. Tiberius was unlikely to have handed Damascus over to Aretas (fourth of the name), the hereditary chief (cf. 2Ma 5:8) of the Nabathæan Arabs; for up to the close of the reign of Tiberius military operations were being carried on against Aretas by the legate of Syria. Hence Damascus was probably not ceded to Aretas until the reign of Caligula, and consequently this episode in St. Paul’s life cannot have taken place before the middle of A.D. 37. Instigated by the Jews (Acts 9:23), the “ethnarch,” or provincial governor of Damascus under Aretas (cf. 1Ma 14:47), laid a plan for the arrest of the Apostle which was frustrated by St. Paul’s escape in the manner described (cf. Joshua 2:15, 1 Samuel 19:12).

32. In Damascus] Cf. Acts 9:23-25.

the governor] Literally, the Ethnarch (ruler of the nation—the title of an Oriental provincial governor. See 1Ma 14:47; 1Ma 15:1, &c.).

under Aretas the king] Aretas (see Josephus’ Antiquities, xviii.) was the king of Arabia Petraea. His daughter had been divorced by Herod Antipas in order that he might marry Herodias, ‘his brother Philip’s wife’ (see Matthew 14:3-5). This and some disputes about the frontier led to war being proclaimed, and a battle was fought (a. d. 36) in which Herod’s army was entirely destroyed. It is thought by some that Aretas profited by this circumstance to seize on Damascus, and that it was just at this juncture (a. d. 37) that St Paul returned to Damascus from his stay in Arabia. Others, however, place this event about the year 39, after Herod Antipas had been banished to Gaul, and think that Aretas, taken into favour by Caligula, had obtained Damascus, among the various changes which the new Emperor made in the arrangements of his eastern provinces. Aretas seems to have been a common name among the Arabs, like Ptolemy in Egypt, or Seleucus and Antiochus in Syria. Josephus mentions more than one. Cf. also 2Ma 5:8.

kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison] Literally, was guarding the city of the Damascenes.

2 Corinthians 11:32. Ἐθνάρχης.) Thus Simon the high priest is called, 1Ma 14:15.

Verse 32. - In Damascus. (For the incident referred to, see Acts 9:22-25.) The governor; literally, the ethnarch. This is obviously the title given to the commandant of the city (whether an Arabian or a Jew), left in charge by Aretas. The word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, but is found in 1 Macc. 14:47; Josephus, 'Ant.,' 14:07, § 2. Under Aretas the king. Hareth, the Emir of Petra, father-in-law of Herod the Great. He had either seized the city during his war with Herod, to avenge the insult offered to his daughter by Herod's adultery with Herodias; or it may have been assigned to him by Caligula. His relations with Damascus are confirmed by coins (see 'Life of St. Paul,' exc. 8.). Kept... with a garrison; literally, was guarding. It is said in Acts 9:24 that the Jews did this; but they could not in any case have done it without leave from the ethnarch, and qui facit per alium, facit per se. Desirous to apprehend me. Both words are a little stronger in the Greek - "determining to seize me." 2 Corinthians 11:32The governor (ἐθνάρχης)

Only here in the New Testament. A governor ruling in the name of a king: a prefect.


Or Hareth, the father-in-law of Herod Antipas. Hs capital was the rock-city of Petra, the metropolis of Arabia Petraea. Herod's unfaithfulness to his daughter brought on a quarrel, in which Herod's army was defeated, to the great delight of the Jews. The further prosecution of the war by Roman troops was arrested by the death of Tiberius, and it is supposed that Caligula assigned Damascus as a free gift to Aretas.

Kept with a garrison (ἐφρούρει)

Imperfect tense, was maintaining a constant watch. Compare Acts 9:24 : They watched the gates day and night.

To apprehend (πιάσαι)

See on Acts 3:7.

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