On Acts 13:13-31

Acts 13:13-31
“Now Paul and his company, having sailed from Paphos, came unto Perga of Pamphylia; and John departing from them returned unto Jerusalem. But they passing through from Perga came unto Antioch of Pisidia, and having gone into the synagogue on the sabbath-day sat down. And after the reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Brethren (lit. men-brethren), if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, speak” (ver. 13-15).
The separation of John is remarked by the Holy Spirit. It was not a trifle in God's mind, and the difference it occasioned afterward, when Barnabas would have joined him again with Paul, proved serious for servants so ardently and justly attached. John had not faith and courage for the work opening before them and returned to Jerusalem where were his mother and the associations so dear to the natural heart. But on the other hand we must not exaggerate with those that affirm that a stumble is fatal. It may be so in a horse; but one might suppose that Christian men knew better both their own probable experience and the teaching of Scripture expressly in this very case. Grace turned past failure to future profit; and at a later day the great apostle was as earnest to commend his ministry as he could not but blame it when in progress.
We next see Paul and Barnabas at Antioch of Pisidia in the synagogue on the sabbath. It is remarkable what measure of liberty was enjoyed. After the reading of the law and the prophets, a message came to them from the synagogue-rulers to speak if they had any word of exhortation for the people. Can there be a more painful contrast with the habits of Christendom? Assuredly one might from Scripture expect more liberty where grace rules than among those born and bred in the trammels of the law. Yet who ever hears of such an invitation now-a-days? So completely has the church departed from the enjoyment of that holy liberty, which is characteristic of the Spirit of the Lord. In this case too the visitors were but strangers, unknown to any, it would seem, save as grave godly-looking Jews. Routine governs in modern times on solemn public occasions, were the strangers ever so well known by report for their gifts and labors.
It was Paul who rose to address the congregation. “And Paul stood up and beckoning with the hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God,1 hear. The God of this people chose out our fathers and exalted the people in their sojourn in [the] land of Egypt and with a high arm brought them out of it; and for a time of about forty years bore them nurse-like in the desert; and when He had destroyed seven nations in [the] land of Canaan, He gave them their land for an inheritance, in about four hundred and fifty years. And after these things He gave judges until Samuel the prophet; and then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul, the son of Kish, a man of [the] tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And having removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also bearing witness, He said, I found David, son of Jesse, a man according to My heart, who shall do all My will. From his seed, according to promise, did God bring to Israel, a. Savior, Jesus, when John had preached before His entrance a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was fulfilling his course, he said, Whom suppose ye that I am? I am not [he], but behold, there cometh One after me the sandal of Whose feet I am not worthy to loose” (ver. 16-25).
It is all-important to observe the basis of fact on which the gospel hinges, no less than the hopes of Israel. It is not so in the religious systems of men. In India, for instance, all is but speculation and reasoning, as in ancient heathenism mere fable. So it is with the Buddhist and the Confucian. Nor is it different with Mohammedanism, as far as it puts forth any distinctive claim. Nowhere do men even pretend to a sub-stratum of fact such as that on which respectively repose both the Old and the New Testaments. Shake the facts and their foundations are alike gone. If the facts abide irrefragable, the most momentous consequences ensue both to faith and to unbelief. And although there are weighty differences in the history of the Old Testament as compared with the one commanding figure of Christ in the New, there is nothing more marked and unstinting than the seal of truth which the New everywhere puts upon the certainty of the Old in all the wonders it records. This is the more striking, because the New Testament has no enemies more determined and deadly than the Jews, to whose custody the ancient oracles were committed. The witnesses of the New Testament, on the contrary, maintain a uniform and unhesitating testimony to the absolute truth of the Old Testament; which they prove to have no adequate result, apart from the appearing and work of the Lord Jesus. And we may add that there is no sufficient key to the present abnormal state of the Jews, without taking into account the rejected and suffering but risen Messiah; on which rock they have made shipwreck through unbelief, however else they themselves essay to explain their actual ruin as a people.
Accordingly there come to view these solemn yet plain facts, which only prejudice can overlook or deny. On the one hand the real, living, priceless value not only of the New but of the Old Testament is found by sovereign goodness in the church of God. On the other hand, alas! the ancient people of God have ears but they hear not, eyes but they see not, and hearts which do not understand at all for the present; else conversion, healing, and glory would doubtless be theirs. For the light and the love of God, inseparable from Him who sits at His right hand on high, are only enjoyed among those who were once dogs of the Gentiles, but are now, in pure mercy yet according to the righteousness of God in Christ, made free in the riches of His grace and the counsels of His glory in Christ the Lord.
First the dealings of God from His choice of the fathers are at once connected with the exodus of the people from Egypt, and His nurture of them in the wilderness till He gave them to inherit the land. It is the Pentateuch and Book of Joshua in miniature, centering in Israel beloved for the fathers' sake. The gospel confirms, instead of annulling, God's love to Israel, though it announces “some better thing for us” as in Heb. 11.
The reader will notice the beautiful expression of ver. 18 weakened in the more favorite ancient MSS. à B Ccorr D H L P &c. but happily preserved in A Cpm E, as well as in most of the ancient versions, as it seems truest to the Hebrew in Deut. 1:3131And in the wilderness, where thou hast seen how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came into this place. (Deuteronomy 1:31) which the apostle, beyond just doubt, had in view. Here Tregelles and Westcott and Hort2 part from most moderns as well as others of weight.
In verses 19, 20 there is a notable difference from the common words. It is not giving by lot which is the point, though in itself true, as (by the least and lowest possible testimony) in the received text, but causing them to inherit their land. But here there is a more united front among the Editors of late; for, excepting Dean Alford, almost all accept à A B C, &c. and the ancient versions save the Syrr. and Aeth. This connects the date of about 450 years with the accomplishment of the promised inheritance (under law, which made nothing perfect). The common text makes it the duration of the judges. But it appears to me that the dative of epoch suits the sense of the critical text as distinctly as it disagrees with the common one. Both before and after this phrase the accusative is given to express a term of continuance, here only the dative. Now if the idea intended were the supply of judges for 450 years, the accusative would here also be the natural construction. At any rate, it is a date within which a certain action occurred, and not duration as in the other cases. If the oldest vouchers be accepted, it was in about 450 years that Israel was made to inherit this land, after the promise to “our fathers” i.e. from the birth of Isaac as the starting-point. Indeed so Junius and others take the common reading, not as the space for which judges were given, but in which God had fulfilled His promise at least provisionally, till judges were given in the low estate of His people. It cannot therefore be assumed that Paul assigns a duration of 450 years to the judges, and so invalidates the date in 1 Kings 6:11And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Zif, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord. (1 Kings 6:1) of 480 years from the Exodus to the founding of Solomon's temple. More than one period of considerable duration has been added to the space of the Judges which really fell within other assigned dates. But it suffices here to note that the extended space for judges drawn from the verses before us is illegitimate. Ussher (xii. 70, xiv. 340) firmly holds to the integrity of both the Hebrew and the Greek texts in both these scriptures, rejecting the bold conjectures of Luther and others as wholly needless and of course improper.
The apostle then rapidly sketches God's deep and constant interest in His people till a king was given, but stops with David, the known type of the Messiah, as his own psalms abundantly testify. From him easy transition is made to his promised seed, whom, he declares, God “brought"3 to Israel, a Savior, Jesus. Was not this like Him? Was it not assured in the law and the prophets as well as the psalms? Were they not looking for Him? Did they not miserably need Him?
Nor could it be said that God had failed to alter His long promised intervention by renewed testimony, the more impressive because the living voice of a prophet was unheard for more than four centuries. And as all took John for a prophet, so did our Lord bear witness to him as more than a prophet, Jehovah's messenger before Messiah's face to prepare the way before Him, as Isaiah and Malachi previously intimated. So, before the face of His entering in, John preached a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel; nor was it moral only, in self-judgment before God, but saying unto them that they should believe on Him that should come after him, that is, on Jesus. It was avowedly a token of His manifestation to Israel (John 1:3131And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. (John 1:31)). Of his meaning which they quite mistook, ready as human nature is to exaggerate man and to depreciate God, no ground for doubt was left by the fore-runner. “And as John was fulfilling his course, he said, Whom suppose ye that I am? I am not [he]; but behold, he cometh after me, the sandal of whose feet I am not worthy to loose.” Here again were new facts which could not be disputed. John is spoken of as a known witness, though none knew better than Paul that grace alone gives the truth efficaciously by delivering from the self-will which enables Satan to forge his chains of dark unbelief. But who better than he to press the value of a testimony which he too had once ignored like the rest, and would now commend as having proved its worth?
Next comes his appeal, but an appeal grounded on fresh facts of the gravest and most affecting significance.
“Brethren (men-brethren), sons of Abraham's race, and those among you that fear God, to us4 was the word of this salvation sent forth. For the dwellers in Jerusalem and their rulers, having ignored Him and the voices of the prophets that are read on every sabbath, fulfilled [them] by judging [Him] And though they found no cause of death, they besought Pilate that He might be slain. And when they fulfilled all things written about Him, they took [Him] down from the tree and put [Him] into a tomb; but God raised Him from [the] dead, and He appeared for many days to those that came up with Him from Galilee unto Jerusalem, the which are now His witnesses unto the people” (ver. 2631).
The sending forth to Israel of “the word of this salvation” (for no less does the gospel carry) stands solemnly confronted by the stubborn ignorance of those who most boasted, the dwellers in Jerusalem and their rulers; who had the voices of the prophets read sabbath by sabbath, yet fulfilled them in unbelief, knowing neither themselves nor Him whom they presumed to judge, the Judge of Israel smitten on the cheek, the Judge of quick and dead hung on the tree, the meek and most holy bearer of all curse from God and man on the cross. Yes, they blindly fulfilled all things written by God concerning Him, law, psalms, and prophets centering in Him whom most of all they ought to have known, whom least they knew; for their eye was not single and their body full of darkness, consummated in the death of their own Messiah extorted from the reluctant Pilate (blind indeed and not without warning and moral witness, the contrary of the false witnesses that destroyed each other), but not so blind as they who said they saw, and so their sin remained, and remains, alas! to this day.
“But God raised Him from the dead.” Paul differs not from Peter in putting forward this foundation truth of the gospel. What a fact proved by all conceivable evidence, that grace could, would, and did supply, of which such a thing admits suitably to God's character and glory as well as man's sin and folly! Nor is it only “the great exception” to rebuke the vanity, pride, and will of unbelieving man; but what a spring and supply of peace, light, joy and blessing to all who believe!
Here however it is not the victory of righteousness which God's grace secures and gives freely to faith that is set forth, and the apostle loved to enlarge as to the saints, but the demonstration of the world's and especially of Israel's blindness, when they had unconsciously fulfilled all that was written concerning Him till they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. “But God raised Him from the dead.” It was not only the object of promise come, but when all seemed lost, through unbelief, in His rejection and death, God's intervention in raising Him up from among the dead. To this answers nearly the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans, where the Lord Jesus is presented, first, as Son of David according to the flesh; then, as Son of God in power by resurrection of [the] dead according to the Spirit of holiness. Glad tidings in good sooth! glad tidings victorious over all that sin could do up to death itself. The victory is won over evil in Satan's last stronghold, by God's grace in Christ, that man may believe and be saved before He executes judgment on His persistently unbelieving adversaries. It is therefore no question of man's desert, for righteousness he has none before God, unrighteousness much in every way. God's righteousness alone avails—God righteous in His estimate of the efficacy of Christ, and above all of His death, on behalf of those who in themselves are wholly lost.
But here the apostle points out the gracious care and wisdom of God in giving the risen Christ to be “seen,” and this not once or twice only, but “many days.” Now who could be valid witnesses of this stupendous fact? Comparative or absolute strangers to His person, or those most familiar with Him when alive? Unquestionably the latter; and to such accordingly He appeared when risen, the slowest of all to believe Him alive again for evermore, in proportion to their deep grief and disappointment over His cross and grave. His enemies remembered His words that He was to rise in three days, and vainly sought to Make all sure by sealing the stone that closed the sepulcher and by the watch, which only turned to their own confusion, when the guards trembled and became as dead men through fear of the angel after the Lord arose. But the very slowness of His friends to believe, inexcusable as it was, turned to account when He was seen “of those that came up with Him from Galilee unto Jerusalem, the which are now5 His witnesses to the people.” The common text with more than one excellent MS. of antiquity omits the adverb, though it is really emphatic and important. They are at this moment, says the apostle, His witnesses to the Jews; and none the less does he insist on it because he was not one of them. Indeed with this class he contrasts himself and Barnabas; for grace provided another character of testimony if by any means the mouth of gainsayers might be stopped. Witnesses were raised up, who were wholly unacquainted with Him when here in the days of His flesh. Nay, Paul himself was bitterly hostile till He revealed Himself to and in His enemy, henceforward His devoted bondman, outside Damascus. What possible testimony other or more could be wisely given or desired? Alas! unbelief of God is as deadly in its nature and working, as in its source, its aims, and its results.