Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
1. Obscurity of the incident. A veil of thick darkness hangs over St. Paul's visit to Arabia. Of the scenes among which he moved, of the thoughts and occupations which engaged him while there, of all the circumstances of a crisis which must have shaped the whole tenour of his after life, absolutely nothing is known. "Immediately," says St. Paul, "I went away into Arabia." The historian passes over the incident without a mention. It is a mysterious pause, a moment of suspense in the apostle's history, a breathless calm which ushers in the tumultuous storm of his active missionary life.
2. The place. If we suppose that the apostle at this critical moment betook himself to the Sinaitic peninsula, the scene of the giving. of the law, then his visit to Arabia becomes full of meaning. He was attracted thither by a spirit akin to that which formerly had driven Elijah to the same region (1 Kings 19:8-18). Standing on the threshold of the new covenant, he was anxious to look upon the birth-place of the old: that dwelling for a while in seclusion in the presence of "the mount that burned with fire," he might ponder over the transient glories of the "ministration of death," and apprehend its real purpose in relation to the more glorious covenant which was now to supplant it. Here, surrounded by the children of the desert, the descendants of Hagar the bondwoman, he read the true meaning and power of the law. In the rugged and barren region whence it issued, he saw a fit type of that bleak desolation, which it created, and was intended to create, in the soul of man. In the midst of such scenes and associations, his spirit was attuned to harmony with his Divine mission, and fitted to receive fresh visions and revelations.
3. Its duration. What was the length of this sojourn we can only conjecture. The interval between his conversion and his first visit to Jerusalem, St. Paul here states to have been three years. The notices of time in the narrative of the Acts are vague, but not contradictory to this statement. From Damascus, St. Paul tells us, he went away into Arabia, whence he returned to Damascus. St. Luke represents him as preaching actively in this city after his conversion, not mentioning, and apparently not aware of any interruption, though his narrative is not inconsistent with such. It seems probable, then, that St. Paul's visit to Arabia took place early in this period, before he. commenced his active labours. "Immediately," he says, "instead of conferring with flesh and blood, I went into Arabia." The silence of the historian is best accounted for on the supposition that the sojourn there was short; but as St. Luke's companionship with the apostle commenced at a much later date, no great stress must be laid on the omission. Yet, on the other hand, there is no reason for supposing it of long duration. It was probably brief — brief enough not to occupy any considerable space in the apostle's history, and yet not too brief to serve the purpose it was intended to serve.
4. Its purpose. Can we doubt that by this journey he sought seclusion from the outer world, that his desire was to commune with God and his own soul amid these hallowed scenes, and thus to gather strength in solitude for his active labours? His own language implies this — "I conferred not with flesh and blood, but departed into Arabia." The fathers for the most part take a different view of this incident. They imagine the apostle hurrying forth into the wilds of Arabia, burning to impart to others the glad tidings which had so suddenly burst upon himself. "See how fervent was his soul," exclaims ; "he was eager to occupy lands yet untilled; he forthwith attacked a barbarous and savage people, choosing a life of conflict and much toil." This comment strikes a false note. Far different at such a crisis must have been the spirit of him, whose life henceforth was at least as conspicuous for patient wisdom and large sympathies as for intense self-devotion. He retired for a while, we may suppose, that, "separate from the world, his heart might deeply take, and strongly keep, the print of heaven." And what place more fit for this retirement than that holy ground, "where all around, On mountains, sand, and sky, God's chariot wheels have left distinctest trace."
Parallel VersesKJV: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.