How often do we make rash statements? Statements, that if we had taken just a moment to think through, we would never have made, yet statements that lock us into a particular course of action. This is what we find in Acts 23.
The apostle Paul had been taken prisoner on a trumped up charge (see Acts 21:28). All the Roman commanding officer knew was that because of Paul the Jews had come close to rioting during the time of Pentecost (see Acts 20:16). When Paul spoke to him in Greek he figured out that he wasn’t the Egyptian outlaw with 4000 assassins following him. Paul offered to speak to the people and the officer gave him permission, hoping, it would seem, to gain some insight into why the people were trying to kill this man.
Paul used the occasion to tell the crowd why he had become a Christian. When he got to the part about taking God’s message to the Gentiles, the crowd was once again in an uproar. The tribune, having learning nothing, decided he should examine Paul by having him flogged – he would beat a confession out of Paul. This came to an abrupt halt when Paul identified himself as a Roman citizen – you could not flog citizens. Still not knowing what charge there was against Paul, he had the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, assemble and brought Paul before them. Knowing the make up of the council, Paul identified himself as a Pharisee, which immediately caused chaos and a split in the council – and a tribune who was none the wiser.
Two opposing sides over one man who had simply been in the temple. The Jewish leaders hated Paul, possibly because this once prominent Jew was now a Christian. Forty Jews came with a plan to rid the Jewish world once and for all of this turncoat: “So now you and the council request the commanding officer to bring him down to you, as if you were going to determine his case by conducting a more thorough inquiry. We are ready to kill him before he comes near this place” (Acts 23:15 NET). How serious were they? “We have bound ourselves with a solemn oath not to partake of anything until we have killed Paul” (Acts 23:14).
It would seem that they thought their plan fool-proof. And surely the Roman commander would go along with it as he wanted a charge against Paul. But they had not figured on someone betraying their plan. It turned out that Paul’s nephew heard about it and came to warn Paul. The tribune quickly got Paul out of town under an armed guard and into a place of safety.
Which brings us back to the forty Jews. They had not only taken an oath but a “solemn oath” that they would “taste no food” (ESV) until they had killed Paul. They had bound themselves with an oath before God himself. Unfortunately they didn’t count on God himself being against them!
What can we learn? We need to be careful what we say. And maybe especially that we don’t involve God in what we want to do when he would directly oppose us. Surely they knew that God would be against killing anyone! Or were they so far gone in their hatred that they could no longer distinguish evil from good?
May we never reach the point that we believe God will go along with what we want to do simply because we want it or maybe think that he owes us because we serve him. Instead, lets seek to discover what God’s will is by spending time in his word.
Readings for next week
6 October – Acts 26
7 October – Acts 27
8 October – Acts 28
9 October – Hebrews 1-2
10 October – Hebrews 3-4