Matthew Poole's Commentary
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,Acts 9:1-9 Saul, going towards Damascus, is encompassed with a
light from heaven, falleth to the earth, is called by
Christ, and led blind to Damascus.
Acts 9:10-22 Ananias is sent to him, by whom he is restored to sight,
and baptized: he straightway preacheth Christ boldly.
Acts 9:23-25 The Jews of Damascus seek to kill him.
Acts 9:26-30 He goeth to Jerusalem, and is brought to the apostles
by Barnabas: preaching boldly against the Grecians, he
is again in danger of his life, and is sent to Tarsus.
Acts 9:31 The church hath rest, and is multiplied,
Acts 9:32-35 Peter cureth Eueas of the palsy at Lydda,
Acts 9:36-43 and raiseth Tabitha to life at Joppa.
St. Luke intending a narrative of the wonderful conversion
of St. Paul, lets us know what manner of person he was before his
conversion, that none might despond of the grace of God, who earnestly
and heartily seek it.
Breathing out threatenings and slaughter; so full of rage within,
that the stream was outwardly apparent, which that inward fire had
sent forth: nothing less than destruction of the church is aimed at by
its enemies; whilst Saul was one of them he hunted after their
precious life too.
The high priest; who did usually preside in their great council,
in which they took cognizance of such matters; The blood of Stephen did
not quench their thirst, but increased it; they would spill more still.
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.To the synagogues; this council, though it sat at Jerusalem, had a power (whether commanding or recommending) over all the synagogues within or without Judea.
Of this way; this was eminently so called, being the way of God, and the way of life, and the only right and true way: any profession, persuasion, or manner of life, is called a way frequently in Scripture, 1 Kings 15:26 Psalm 91:2.
Men or women; it speaks their extraordinary rage, that would not spare the weaker sex, who are generally spared on that account.
Bring them bound; which shows that he carried many with him, to the further aggravation of his sin.
Unto Jerusalem; where they had power to judge of such things, and out of which it was impossible that a prophet should perish, Luke 13:33.
And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:He was near to Damascus before this wonderful vision, that, being struck blind, he might be the sooner led thither; as also, that the miracle might be more easily and publicly known, Damascus being the chief city of Syria; and, though about six days’ journey from Jerusalem, inhabited by many Jews. This was done at noon day, the rather, that the light which Paul saw might appear to be beyond that which the sun gives; and this light was a symbol of that inward light, wherewith his mind was now to be enlightened; as also of the purity of the doctrine he was to preach, and holiness of his life which he was to lead; and most probably it was caused by the glorified body of Christ, which appeared unto him.
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?Saul fell to the earth, struck with the amazing light and terrible voice of Christ; as also with the sense of the presence of God, which he knew was thus reverenced by Daniel, Daniel 8:17 10:9.
Saul, Saul; the name Saul is the rather mentioned, to mind him and us of his persecuting of Christ in his members, as his name sake had persecuted David, who was a type of Christ; and it is ingeminated, or doubled, not only to rouse and awaken Saul, but to testify his love to him, and commiseration of him.
Why persecutest thou me? Christ was in heaven, beyond Saul’s rage; but Christ and his church make but one body. Thus Christ says, I was hungry and thirsty, Matthew 25:35. And in all their afflictions he is afflicted, Isaiah 63:9. But me is here emphatically spoken, as if our Saviour had minded him of his great love and mercy to him, in dying and suffering for him; and why then should he persecute him?
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.Who art thou, Lord? Saul was in a great consternation and doubting, whether it was God, or an angel.
Jesus whom thou persecutest: though he did not intend this persecution against Christ, yet our Saviour looks upon the good or evil done unto his members as done unto himself.
It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks: this kicking against the pricks is a proverbial speech, taken either from oxen or slaves, whom they used with goads to prick on to their work, which when they kicked against, or opposed themselves to, they did not hurt the goads or pricks, but themselves; so shall all persecutors find that their mischiefs recoil upon themselves; Christ and his members shall be made here glorious by it: this metaphor is common in Scripture, Deu 32:15 1 Samuel 2:29. The pricks Saul had kicked against, were the sermons and miracles of St. Stephen and others.
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.Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? Saul, being thoroughly humbled, and brought to resign himself wholly to God, makes this question, giving up himself as a white paper, for Christ to write what he would upon: he had thought he had done God good service, (as it is said many persecutors should think so too, John 16:2), but he is now powerfully brought off from his obstinacy in that persuasion.
Go into the city; Damascus, which was near at hand. Whether Christ revealed his gospel now unto him, or in the three days in which he remained blind in Damascus, Acts 9:9, is not so certain; but it is certain that he was Xristo didaktov, taught immediately by Christ himself, as he testifies. Galatians 1:12, and in that, without any further instruction, he was baptized, Acts 9:17,18: yet many things might be left for Ananias to confirm him in; and God, by this sending of him to Ananias, would honour his own ordinance, and recommend the ministry and use of means, which are the power of God unto salvation, Romans 1:16: and thus, though God could have instructed Cornelius by the angel which appeared unto him, Acts 10:3, yet he is commanded to send for Peter, and to hear from him what he ought to do, Acts 9:5,6.
And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.Stood speechless: in Acts 26:14, these men are said to be fallen to the earth as well as Saul, which they might at first be, and now rose up; or rather, by standing still here is only meant, they, being sorely amazed, remained in the place in which they were, without going forward: thus the angel forbade Lot and his family to stay or stand in the plain, Genesis 19:17, meaning that they should hasten forward.
Hearing a voice; the greater difficulty is, to reconcile these words with Acts 22:9, where it is expressly said, that these men did not hear the voice; but it is there added, of him that spake unto Saul; so that they might hear the voice of Saul, as it is said in this place, and wonder whom he spake unto, or what he spake about, they not hearing the voice or him that spake unto him, as in Acts 22:9 it is said: and it seems very likely that they should not hear the voice of Christ, for we read not that any of them were converted; and being left in their infidelity, they were in some respects the more undeniable witnesses of a great part of that miracle. But if it be understood of the voice of Christ in both places, then they might hear it, as it is said here, inarticulately, or the noise which that voice made; but not hear it articulately, or so as to understand it, as in a parallel case, John 12:29, the people are said to hear the voice that spake nnto Christ from heaven, yet they heard so confusedly, as that they thought it had only, been thunder. To be sure, they who are converted, and they who are not converted, by the word of God, may hear the word; but after a very different manner; they that are converted by it only hearing it inwardly, spiritually, effectually.
But seeing no man; these fellow travellers with St. Paul are said to see no man, but the expression here imports their doing their utmost for to see him that spake: thus God made a difference, Daniel 10:7, in the vision we read of there.
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; when he opened his eyes as at other times, when he did rise to see, the glorious light had so dazzled him, that he could see nothing: thus Saul as, and all men are, before their conversion; he had the shape of a man, and of one learned in the law, when notwithsanding he is blind, and sees or knows nothing as he ought to know.
And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.Some have thought that in these three days Paul had that rapture into the third heavens, which he speaks of, 2 Corinthians 12:2; but that seems rather to have been afterwards; God would, however, by this humble and try him, and excite his dependence wholly upon him, and that he might value his restored sight the more.
Neither did eat nor drink; that by fasting he might be more intent in prayer; for fasting does prepare for prayer, and therefore fasting and prayer are so often put together, Matthew 17:21 Acts 13:3. In those places they could fast longer without prejudice to their health, than amongst us, and, as I might add, were more willing to fast for any spiritual advantage than we are.
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.Ananias; he was of good repute for zeal and holiness. as appears, Acts 22:12, but whether he was one of the seventy disciples which our Saviour sent out, Luke 10:1, as some will have, is not certain.
He said, Behold, I am here, Lord; thereby showing his willingness to be sent on God’s message, and to do as God should bid him, as Samuel to Eli, 1 Samuel 3:5.
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,Inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul: God telleth our wanderings, and knoweth our abode, and mindeth his, especially in their sorrows, which was Saul’s case.
For, behold, he prayeth; he spent those three days, spoken of Acts 9:9, in acts of great humiliation, in which he would also not taste any food; this is revealed to Ananias, that he might not fear to go unto him. A great change! Is Saul also amongst them that pray? A greater wonder than that the other Saul was formerly amongst the prophets.
And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.If this verse be the words of St. Luke, continuing the history, then they must be included in a parenthesis, the sense being entire without them; but they seem to be the words of the Lord continued to Ananias, telling him how he had provided for his welcome to Saul, contrary to his expectation.
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 of this man; his design and commission could not but be noised abroad.
Thy saints: the disciples of Christ are called saints, because:
1. They are dedicated unto the Lord in their baptism.
2. They are called unto holiness.
3. They did then live holily and exemplarily.
4. And so must all that hope for any benefit by their being disciples of Christ, &c.
And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.Here Ananias shows the strengh of his excuse; for flesh and blood cried in him, as in Moses, Exodus 4:13, Send by him whom thou wilt send.
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:He is a chosen vessel: the whole world is God’s fabric, and the church especially is his house: not only in the whole world, but in the visible church, there are all sorts of utensils, some for higher, others for meaner uses; Saul was to be a vessel unto honour, Romans 9:21, into which the treasures of God’s word were to be put, 2 Corinthians 4:7, though he was but an earthen vessel: Such was indeed chosen by God to preach the gospel, Galatians 1:15,16, to suffer for Christ’s name’s sake, 1 Thessalonians 3:3.
To bear my name before the Gentiles: this mystery of the calling of the Gentiles began now to spread abroad, and to be made more known, which was hid in those promises, Isaiah 49:6 Jeremiah 1:10.
For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.He shall suffer as great things as he ever did cause or inflict; the hatred of his own countrymen the Jews, and the fury of the Gentiles: see the catalogue of them, 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. And were there ever so many sufferings heaped upon one man? And yet, though all these were foretold unto him, and certainly foreknown by him, he would preach the gospel for all that: much was forgiven him, and he loved much.
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.Entered into the house; the house of Judas, with whom Saul lodged, as Acts 9:11.
Putting his hands on him; concerning this, see Acts 6:6, besides on what may be said of this imposition of hands elsewhere: the curing of St. Paul’s blinduess was one reason of putting his hands on him here, for so it was ordinarily done towards the sick or infirm; they laid their hands upon them to heal them, as it was promised that they should do, Mark 16:18.
Brother Saul; Saul was become Ananias’s brother, as professing the same faith, and heir of the same promise with him.
Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way; Ananias mentions what had happened to Paul in the way, that Saul might be assured that he was sent from God, for none else could have told him what had happened.
And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.Scales, as scales of fish: it was no ordinary blindness, nor from any ordinary cause, and could not have been cured by common means.
And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.St. Paul could not but be much weakened with his journey, fear, grief, fasting, and constant praying; and now he takes a prudent care of his health, that he might be further enabled for the service of God, to what place soever he should be appointed.
With the disciples: Saul is no sooner changed, but he changeth his company and acquaintance; he resorts to none of the rabbies of the Jews, but to the disciples of Christ; he would love any, learn of any, that had Christ for their Master.
And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.He preahced Christ in the synagogues; the apostles spake unto the Jews first, either that they might convert them, or at least take away all excuse from them.
That he is the Son of God; which doubtless he spake largely unto, though it be not here expressed; but he had an abundance in his heart, having tasted the power of the grace of God in Christ, and out of his heart his mouth spake.
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?This great change is a most unaccountable thing, and might truly cause amazement; but ex quovis ligno fit Mercurius, cum digitus Dei sit statuarius. Nothing is too hard for that God in whose hand Saul’s heart was.
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; true grace thrives by exercise and opposition: the word here used many take to be a metaphor from builders, who, in erecting their fabrics, fit one piece or part to another, and then bring them and join them together; thus St. Paul did, in bringing forth or quoting the promises in the Old Testament, and showing their exactly being fulfilled in the New Testament, or in the gospel of our Saviour Jesus Christ; and he spake with such an evidence and demonstration of the Spirit, that he did, as it were, constrain men to be of his opinion.
Proving that this is very Christ; which was the sum of the gospel.
And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:Many days; God would not presently expose him to conflicts, but inure him to suffer by degrees; as also it pleased God to spare him so long nigh unto that place where he had wrought so great a miracle for him, the sense of which might the more be upon himself and others also; for he continued here three years, excepting only a journey into Arabia, as may be seen, Galatians 1:17,18.
But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.Their laying await; the Jews, who stirred up Aretas the king of Damascus against Paul, 2 Corinthians 11:32,33: now began those things to be fulfilled, foretold Acts 9:16.
Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.As Rahab did the spies, Joshua 2:15, and Michal did David, 1 Samuel 19:12.
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.To join himself to, to be admitted to intimate fellowship and communion with,
the disciples. They were all afraid of him; Paul was sufficiently known by name and face at Jerusalem, and many had felt his rage.
And believed not that he was a disciple; but how could the disciples be ignorant of his conversion so long, if it was three years after, as it seems by Galatians 1:18? To answer which may be considered:
1. The great distance between Jerusalem and Damascus, six days’ journey.
2. The little correspondence between the kings of those places, Herod and Aretas.
3. The persecution which was at Jerusalem might hinder the converts of Damascus them going thither.
4. Paul might have spent a great part of the three years in his journey amongst the Arabians, of which before.
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.Of Barnabas mention is made, Acts 4:36, who is thought to have been Paul’s fellow disciple under Gamaliel.
Brought him to the apostles; these apostles, to whom Barnabas brought Paul, were Peter and James, as Galatians 1:18,19, who being the apostles of the circumcision, or having Judea under their charge, were abiding at Jerusalem, whilst the other apostles probably were absent, being founding of churches elsewhere.
He had seen the Lord, &c, :some take these things to have been related by Paul, others by Barnabas, who testified these things concerning Paul.
And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.Living amongst them, and freely conversing with them; that is, with Peter, and James, and the rest of the believers, who had now no suspicion of him.
And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him.Disputed against the Grecians; Hellenists, of which Acts 6:1, such as were born in foreign parts, but of Jewish parents; these Paul chose rather to dispute with, because these had raised the persecution against Stephen, and Paul had furthered them in it; and he was very desirous to unweave that web, and give them an antidote unto whom he had formerly given poison; being especially concerned for their souls, whom he had helped to destroy.
Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.Caesarea; there were two towns of this name, one a coast town, spoken of, Acts 8:40; the other was called Caesarea Philippi, nigh Mount Lebanon.
Tarsus, St. Paul’s birth place, where amongst his relations and acquaintance they might hope he would be safe.
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; when Paul was sent away, against whom they had the greater spite, as having been as zealous a persecutor as any amongst them.
And were edified: the church is frequently compared to a building, and every believer to the temple of God, 1 Corinthians 3:16, and 1 Corinthians 6:19, which God dwells in; from whence this metaphor is taken.
Walking in the fear of the Lord: walking is a progressive notion, and so is building and adding to a structure till it come to perfection; which signifies that these believers increased daily in the knowledge of God, in true piety and charity, &c.
In the comfort of the Holy Ghost; the word also signifies the exhortation of the Holy Ghost; such exhortations as were given from God by the apostles: to be sure, the comforts of the Spirit are not without our obedience to the commandments of God; and it seems to be given here as the reason why the churches were edified, and did thus increase, because believers walked in the fear of the Lord; and nothing persuades more effectually to the embracing of religion, than the holy living of such as make profession of it.
And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.Throughout all quarters, where the disciples that were dispersed had planted churches.
Saints: see Acts 9:13.
Lydda; a little town about the west bank of the Jordan, not far from the Mediterranean Sea.
And there he found a certain man named AEneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy.It is supposed this Aeneas was a Jew, though now living at Lydda; and that St. Luke here names him by the name the Grecians called him by, he being amongst his own countrymen called Hillel.
Kept his bed eight years; to show the difficulty of the cure, and greatness of the miracle.
And Peter said unto him, AEneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately.Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: these words are not a prayer, (though they were not spoken without Peter’s lifting up his heart to Christ in prayer), but a promise to this sick man of health and recovery, declaring from whom he should receive it, that he might know whom to acknowledge and thank for it.
Arise, and make thy bed: our Saviour bids the sick of the palsy to arise, and take up his bed, Mark 2:11; and so he commands the impotent man, John 5:8. Here St. Peter bids this paralytic to make his bed; which seems more strange, being he was commanded to arise, so that now he should have no need of having his bed made; but it is easily answered, that being it was only intended to show how fully he was cured, the making of his bed did as much prove, both to himself and others, that he was recovered, as any thing else could do.
And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.Lydda: see Acts 9:32. Saron is the name of a city, 1 Chronicles 5:16, but here it is rather the name of a country, (which the masculine article usually shows), lying between Mount Tabor and the lake of Tiberias, a very fruitful plain, 1 Chronicles 27:29 Song of Solomon 2:1.
Turned to the Lord; to the owning of his truth. Error (if in fundamentals) keeps us from God.
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.Joppa, a post town: see Acts 10:5. These circumstances of places and persons are set down to evidence the certainty of the history.
Tabitha, according to the Syriac dialect, then in use amongst the Jews, and Dorcas, as she was called amongst the Greeks; it being common for the same person to have two names, one Hebrew and the other Greek, as Thomas, who was called Didymus, and Cephas, who was called Peter.
Full of good works; she was rich in good works, which are the best riches, last longest, and go farthest.
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.They washed the dead, and anointed them, to fit them for their burying, and especially to show their hope of the resurrection; which some think St. Paul alludes unto, 1 Corinthians 15:29.
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.They sent for Peter, that he might come to comfort those that were concerned in the great loss of so good a woman, and, it may be, not without some hopes of her recovery by a miracle from St. Peter; which is the likelier, because they so much hasten his coming to them, she being already dead, and they preparing for her burial.
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.It was strange that Peter should be sent for, or that he should go on such an account, viz. to raise one that was dead; but God, who had ordered this miracle for the manifestation of his truth and glory, so wrought in their hearts, that they did this out of faith; though if others should think to imitate it, it would be but presumption.
Weeping; here needed no mourning women to be hired; the death of this good woman was acommon loss: these coats were made by Dorcas in her lifetime, to clothe the poor and naked with.
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.Peter put them all forth; Peter put them out, that he might pray the more earnestly, without distraction or interruption; thus Elisha shut the door to him when he prayed for the Shunammite’s son, 2 Kings 4:33.
Kneeled down; this his kneeling is mentioned, to recommend reverence in our praying unto God.
And prayed: Peter, by his betaking himself unto prayer, would show, that he could do nothing by his own power, but it must come from above; and he had every mercy as much precariously, and by prayer, as any others.
And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.The saints and widows; such who had sent for him, and now were gathered together to see what effects his prayers might have.
Presented her alive, and in perfect health, as all were that were miraculously cured; for the Lord’s works are perfect, Deu 32:4.
And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.This cure was wrought, and all the other miracles were done, to be a means to make the gospel to be believed, which he published, and was an undeniable proof that this doctrine was from heaven; for none could do such things unless God were with him, or rather, unless God did them by him; so that this miracle wrought by St. Peter did more good to the souls of many, than to the body of this relieved woman.
And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.The miracle had only prepared them to receive his doctrine, which Peter tarried some time with them to instruct them in: the miracle had prepared the ground, and now he takes this season to sow the seed of the word into it.