Acts 16:23

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Thursday, 4 May 2023

And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Acts 16:23

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

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In the previous verse, Paul and Silas had their clothes torn off them and they were beaten with rods. With that, it next says, “And when they had laid many stripes on them.”

The fact that they were Romans was not yet known. It is probable that even if they called out that they were, they had no chance to be heard. The onrush was too sudden and the turmoil because of the rushing crowd was too great. They were manhandled, stripped, and then the lictors came and immediately started beating them with the rods. The description “many stripes” means that there was an enormous number of them.

This can be determined by Paul’s Jewish heritage in relation to what he says in his epistles. First, Paul acknowledges that he was beaten by the Jews with rods in 2 Corinthians 11:41, saying, “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.”

This was the standard punishment under the law where it says –

“If there is a dispute between men, and they come to [a]court, that the judges may judge them, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked, then it shall be, if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, that the judge will cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence, according to his guilt, with a certain number of blows. Forty blows he may give him and no more, lest he should exceed this and beat him with many blows above these, and your brother be humiliated in your sight.” Deuteronomy 25:1-3

Normally, to ensure the law was not violated, one less than forty was given. This is why Paul says, “forty stripes minus one.” Though not a part of the law, it was a safeguard to ensure the law was not inadvertently desecrated. In 2 Corinthians 11:23, he noted that he was “in stripes above measure.” His words may be referring to this beating at Philippi which would then mean “above the measure of the law.” That is only an inference, and he may be talking about a cumulative measure over his lifetime. However, he does note this in 1 Thessalonians –

“For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain. But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.” 1 Thessalonians 2:1, 2

In his words to those in Thessalonica, he is referring to this account in Acts 16. Saying that they “were spitefully treated” is probably his way of conveying two thoughts. The first is that they were Romans and yet were subject to punishments that were not allowed without being first condemned. The second thought is that of what the Law of Moses says concerning being beaten with rods, “lest he should exceed this and beat him with many blows above these, and your brother be humiliated in your sight.”

The Jewish law concerning rods had a reason behind it, which was to avoid shame and humiliation. The Romans had no such law. Therefore, there was no regard to humiliating a fellow human in this manner. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians seem to convey that what Moses forbade, the Romans meted out to him and Silas with glee but also illegally.

With that, Luke next records that “they threw them into prison.” It will be noted in verse 16:33 that the jailer will wash their stripes. This means that not only were they beaten relentlessly, but their wounds were not treated in any manner before being cast into prison.

Though it is unstated, it is unlikely that they received their clothes, meaning their outer garments, back. Such a mob would probably have taken them and torn them to pieces or ran off with them. Hence, the need to wash their stripes would have been even more necessary. Though speculation, it is quite possible. With that, Luke continues, saying, “commanding the jailer to keep them securely.”

The idea here seems twofold. First, though punished, it would ensure that they would not continue to teach their customs any further. Second, it is likely that they were looking for a reason to have an actual trial where they could be subject to further Roman punishment under the law. The jailer was given full charge over them, he was liable to Rome for the security of those under him, and there would be little hope for Paul and Silas to escape either the prison or future punishment.

Life application: What happened to Paul and Silas was unfair according to the laws of Rome. And yet, the Lord allowed it to happen. It is not uncommon for bad things to happen to believers, just as they would happen to anyone in the world. Quite often, this is the case even when they have done nothing wrong.

One of the first things to come out of believes’ mouths at such times is, “Why did God allow this to happen to me?” This assumes that believers should somehow be immune from the evils of the world. But the Bible never speaks in this manner. As long as we are in this world, we are subject to the same evil events that happen to anyone. We may get in an accident, get robbed, lose a child, fall on an escalator and break our back, or one of an infinite number of other tragedies that befall people around the world.

We cannot blame God for such things. It is a fallen world. Our interactions in this world mean that we are subject to the same troubles as anyone else in the world. Our response to such things should be to get closer to the Lord, not distance ourselves from Him. We should long for the home He has promised to us, not dwell in our misery in this place that is not truly our home.

Keep this in mind. Whenever trouble comes, as is sure to occur, we should lean on the Lord even more. Hold fast to the promises that are yet ahead and don’t hold fast to that which is fleeting, fallen, and fading away.

Lord God, please be with us as we walk in this darkened world. Though troubles are sure to come, guide us and remind us of Your presence with us. In this, we will be comforted in our afflictions and able to bear them as we look forward to our true home. Amen.