Wednesday, 3 August 2022
So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. Acts 9:19
The previous verse saw sight returned to Saul’s eyes and then his baptism was performed. Now, the narrative immediately sees to his physical needs, saying, “So when he had received food, he was strengthened.”
There is both the sense of his needing to be filled because he had not eaten for three days (verse 9:9), but also a more prophetic sense is being established as well. In 1 Kings 19, the record of Elijah states –
“But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’
5 Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ 6 Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 And the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, ‘Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.’ 8 So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.
9 And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” 1 Kings 19:4-9
Paul received food and he was strengthened just as Elijah was. However, with the next words of the verse, it doesn’t appear to make any connection. But Paul says this in Galatians –
“But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.” Galatians 1:15-17
There seems to be no room in Luke’s record for Paul’s words in Galatians. However, Luke was concerned with Paul's ministry in a particular way. Recording the trip to Arabia was not a necessary part of his account. The trip to Arabia would fit logically in the middle of verse 19 here in Acts 9. As Paul did not “confer with flesh and blood,” it is probable that he immediately felt his calling to go to Arabia and then return after that. He may have even been instructed to do this during his three days of fasting.
As this is likely when this occurred, this brings in the next fundamental question, “Where in Arabia?” Arabia of Paul’s day was considerably different than that of Saudi Arabia today. As it is only referred to one other time in the New Testament, Galatians 4:25, all we have is that one verse to give us a clue as to where Paul went.
In that verse, Paul says that Mount Sinai (Horeb) is in Arabia. For this reason, we can logically (although not dogmatically) suppose that Paul went to the very spot where Moses received the law, and where Elijah was drawn to after his great ordeal with the false prophets of Baal (please read all of 1 Kings 19 today!), in order to receive the instruction for his ministry after having received the commission of his apostleship. There is no reason to dismiss this, and a valid reason to accept it.
Regardless of this though, after his time in Arabia, it next says in Galatians 1 that he “returned again to Damascus.” This then would be in line with the words in Acts 9:19, saying “Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.” After his time in Arabia (assuming this is when it occurred, and which fits logically with the timeline from Galatians), Paul returned to Damascus. In 1 Kings 19:15, it says this concerning Elijah –
“Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria.’” 1 Kings 19:15
Both departed from Arabia (Horeb), and both then went to (back to) Damascus. In the Acts 9:3 commentary, the meaning of Damascus was noted by Abarim –
“The Hebrew term for Damascus, namely דמשק (dammasq), means something like The Beginning Of Salvation. The Chronicler's slightly adapted term for Damascus, namely דרמשק (darammasq) means Period Of Salvation or perhaps more precise Full Turn In The Pattern Of Salvation. The Greek name Damascus means Tameness or somewhat more positive Synchronicity.”
Damascus is outside of Israel’s borders which is appropriate for Saul’s calling that occurred. The apostle to the Gentiles received his calling outside of the set borders of Canaan, but still within the area of land originally promised to Abraham in Genesis 15:18. Understanding the typology, Elijah’s life was a pattern of Jesus’ ministry. The parallels between the two are many. A few to settle this notion –
Elijah means, “My God is Yehovah.”
Jesus is the Son of Yehovah, being Yehovah incarnate. (Matthew 22:41-45, etc.)
Elijah was a prophet.
Jesus is the Prophet. (John 7:40, etc.)
Elijah raised the dead. (1 Kings 17)
Jesus raised the dead. (John 11, etc.)
Elijah’s life was threatened by wicked rulers. (1 Kings 18, etc.)
Jesus’ life was threatened by wicked rulers. (Read the gospels)
Elijah multiplied food. (1 Kings 17)
Jesus multiplied food. (Matthew 14, etc.)
Elijah ascended to heaven. (2 Kings 2)
Jesus ascended to heaven. (Acts 1)
These and other parallels show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the typology set forth in Elijah. After Elijah ascended, Elisha continued his ministry. He also anticipated Christ and Christ fulfilled that typology, but the point is that the ministry continued after Christ’s ascension in both Israel and to those outside of Israel. Paul is selected to go to the Gentiles and his selection occurred at the place with a name (Damascus) that suggests his commission is the start of something new.
Jesus hinted at this early on in the account of Luke where he noted the healing of Naaman the Syrian (and others) in Luke 4, stating to those of Nazareth that the miracles of the past were not limited to Jews only. They didn’t like this. Jesus gave a sure hint that the transition from Jewish leadership to Gentile leadership was coming in Luke 20:9-19. Again, they didn’t like that. But this is what is being seen now.
It is not a different gospel, but a different direction in the furtherance of the gospel. The banner is now beginning to move from Jewish leadership to Gentile leadership. That will carry on until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in. When that is complete, the banner will again return to the Jews. Paul is the key to this. Salvation to the Gentiles is beginning (Acts 8 & 10) and he will be the one to take it forward. There will be a full turn in the pattern of salvation until the time designated by God. It is during this period of salvation that the Gentiles will carry the message forward. Paul’s instruction in Arabia will come from the Lord, just as the other apostles’ instruction came directly from the Lord.
Life application: There are beautiful patterns to be found throughout the Bible, demonstrating that it is a unified whole. In these patterns, there is a main thought – “God is doing the marvelous through Jesus Christ to redeem fallen man.” Everything is focused on Jesus Christ. He is the central point and purpose of Scripture. Without Him as the lens of focus, there is no clarity of what is being conveyed. But in reading the Bible through the lens of Christ, it all makes sense.
God is using the most glorious means of telling us of His love for the people of the world. Be sure to accept this truth and then tell others about it. There is hope in this broken world, and that hope is to be found in Jesus! Praise God for Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord God, Your word is a treasure of wonder and delight because Your word tells us of the coming of Jesus. It tells us in advance of His coming, it tells us about when He came, and it explains His coming to us. And more, it tells of His coming again. And may that day be soon. We wait for our Lord from heaven. Yes, we long for Jesus! Amen.