Although Luke is a medical doctor, in Acts 27 he sounds like a sailor. His account is incredibly accurate. His knowledge of nautical terminology, shipping routes and seamanship is astounding. Because the Greeks and Romans do yet have compasses or charts in the first century, it is necessary to rely on the sun and the stars to get bearings. During fierce storms, sailors can see neither sun nor stars. The single massive sail and proportions of wooden ships in that era made them easy to leak and flounder.
Paul is on board with fellow prisoners headed for Rome and the ship leaves Fair Havens with a gentle south wind. But soon after rounding the coast of Crete (v. 13), a violent wind comes down from the mountains, siezes the ship and drives her out to sea. This east-by-northeast hurricane-force wind is called Euroclydon. On board are a centurion, soldiers, the captain, sailors, and prisoners. These 276 people are attempting a 476 mile journey. To stay afloat in a powerful strom of long duration is nearly impossible. No one on board seems to know what to do….except Paul.
The sky is dark. Unable to get a fix on their position, they do not know if they will crash onto the rocks. Even hardened seaman are fearful of being driven onto the quicksands off the African coast (v.17). The fury of the waves pounds them without intermission (v.18). Thunder and lightening is perpetual. The terror of death is constant. Seasickness is rampant. The noise of the storm is overpowering. The creaking of the ship’s planks is unrelenting. To stay afloat, men must work the pumps day and night. They are hungry, for fires cannot be made to cook food. In a vain effort to save the ship, the sailors strap the ship together with cables, toss out all unnecessary weight and jettison the cargo. It is a scene of complete hopelessness, helplessness and despair. Their hardships are numerous and the mental and physical stress is enormous.
Even before the storm hit, Paul tries in vain to warn the centurion of the dangers (v.10-11). Had he listened to the man of God, he could have avoided the storm. People always suffer when they ignore godly advice. As a result, they are driven without direction for two weeks. Although Paul must have appeared crazy to everyone else, he was the sanest man on board. While others are ready to give up, Paul is praying. Suddenly, Paul virtually takes command. “Be of good cheer”, cries Paul, “for I believe God” (v.25). Paul is divinely instructed to do what no seaman would ever do….stay with a sinking ship (v.31). Nearing land, the sailors make a selfish attempt to save themselves, leaving the others to their fate. But Paul speaks to the centurion and the lifeboat is cut away – empty. The soldiers want to kill the prisoners, lest any escape. But God gives Paul favor with the centurion and their plans are foiled (v.43). Because those in command are hesitant to listen to the Word of God, they lose the ship….and almost lose their lives. The dim morning light reveals land…and the haggared faces of the ship’s company. The bow runs onto the rocks as the violent waves tear the ship apart. But, as God promised, everyone escapes safely to land (v.44). All the storms of hell cannot shipwreck the child of God.
For God to effectively teach us obedience, sometimes Euroclydon is our best schoolmaster.