Acts 23: 12 – 22 The plot to kill Paul
The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. They went to see the chief priests and the elders and said, ‘We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.’
But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.
Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, ‘Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.’ So he took him to the commander.
The centurion said, ‘Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.’
The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, ‘What is it you want to tell me?’
He said, ‘Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. Don’t give into them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.’
The commander dismissed the young man with this warning: ‘Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.’
* * *
This attempt to murder Paul was carefully planned. The conspirators had seen that Paul had not been heavily guarded when he had attended the Sanhedrin. If the Sanhedrin were to persuade the commander to bring Paul before them for further questioning, the attackers would lie in wait and kill him. With more than forty attackers, they must have felt confident of overcoming a handful of Roman soldiers. After all, individual Roman soldiers had been killed in knife attacks by Sicarii – dagger men, who concealed a small dagger beneath their cloak.
Despite the careful planning, though, somebody disclosed the plan, and Paul’s nephew heard about it. We know nothing about the young man, but he must have felt some warm family feeling towards Paul because he puts his own life at risk by going to the fort and telling Paul.
Paul told a centurion to take the young man to the commander; it is a mark of the potency of Roman citizenship that Paul should have such access. The commander discreetly asked Paul’s nephew what he had to tell him, and the young man told him of the plot.
The commander warned the lad to say nothing of his visit. This is less to protect the young man, more to keep the plotters in the dark. The commander knows about this plot – if the would-be assassins realise that he knows, they’ll try something else that he perhaps won’t know.
He probably feels grateful to Paul’s nephew. If he had agreed to the Sanhedrin’s request, he would almost certainly have gone himself with Paul and been killed in the ambush.
This period of Paul’s life spent in Jerusalem is apparently marked by futility and failure. Paul has seemingly done nothing other than cause dissension.
Two comments about that. The first is that we don’t know what happened in the hearts of those to whom Paul spoke. Romans and Jews; soldiers and priests; Pharisees and Sadducees; all these heard something of Paul’s message and saw his demeanour under pressure. It wouldn’t be surprising if he had brought some individuals to Jesus during his visit. The second is that God intervened to ensure that Paul travelled to Rome, the place where God needed him to be.
It was a circuitous and perilous route but Paul now looked set to travel to Rome.
I wonder what would have happened, though, if Paul had listened to the church in Tyre.
“We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” (Acts 21: 4)
Thank you for keeping me safe in your care. Please help me to love you and those around me with all my heart.
In Jesus’ name, Amen