After a while some of the Jews plotted together to kill him. They were watching for him day and night at the city gate so they could murder him, but Saul was told about their plot. So during the night, some of the other believers lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall.Acts 9:23-25
Today’s Readers Questions:
- Why were the Jews (the ones) who wanted to kill Saul?
- Why did these Jews suddenly want to kill him when he had been on their side?
- Were they really watching the gates day and night for Saul? Were they following him?
- What gates were they watching?
- Did they really put Saul in a basket?
- How big was the basket?
- What sort of basket?
After many days [hikanos] was sufficient for the Jewish opposition to realise that Saul was now becoming a threat to their teaching and their view point. We have already been told
But their suspicions didn’t slow Saul down for even a minute. His momentum was up now and he plowed straight into the opposition, disarming the Damascus Jews and trying to show them that this Jesus was the Messiah.Acts 9:22
I have deliberately chosen Eugene Peterson’s translation in the Message Version because it paints the scene graphically. Saul was on a roll “ploughing into the opposition, disarming the Damascus Jews and showing them Jesus was the Messiah”. That made the threat Saul posed to the orthodox Jews very clear. Little wonder that after “many days” the Jews would realise the threat Saul was to their beliefs and practices. The issue was that Saul was no longer on their side. Sometimes the most powerful opposition to your cause are the ones who have once been with you. The converted Islamic imam or the Jehovah’s Witness who has seen the light and is now telling other Mjuslims or JWs the errors of their ways poses a threat in ways that the uninitiated don’t. In Saul’s case he was even more of a threat than when he had been a member of the Sanhedrin, now a believer in Jesus – like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Those two clearly had converted but were content to stay in the background and yet still part of the establishment. They did not pose such a strong threat to the Sanhedrin and their teaching. Saul on the other hand was very dangerous to their cause. Saul had been the prime antagonist against the new Christian church. (I would like to say emerging Church but I dare not – the Emerging Church signifies something I don’t believe in). When the one who has opposed the Christians so vehemently suddenly became one of them that was a major threat to the leaders in Jerusalem. But in this case we are told it was the Jews in Damascus who reacted the first.
The Jews in Damascus react immediately because they were the ones on the spot in Damascus who were present when Saul was “disarming the Damascus Jews and showing them Jesus was the Messiah”. No doubt these Jews would have reported to the High Priest and his henchmen in Jerusalem what was going on. They knew Saul carried letters directly from the High Priest which authorised him to carry out the task in the name of the Sanhedrin. Saul had turned completely against the teaching of the Sanhedrin and was now siding with the Christians. He had become one of them. They recognised the nature of this threat and suddenly wanted to kill him as he was no longer on their side.
These Jews in Damascus plotted [epiboule] to do something about Saul. Clearly they hatched a plan to do away with him. So they lay in wait for him watching the city gates day and night. Yes I suspect they were following him, or at least had their spies out reporting where Saul was now and looking for a chance to kill him. It reminds us a little of what they did to Jesus doesn’t it. And clearly as in the case the Jesus they didn’t want to do it openly. I am sure they too were afraid of doing this openly as it would cause the masses to ask questions. People who have a hidden agenda most often have to keep that agenda hidden when they plan counter measures. Look at Paul’s comment in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33, “Remember the time I was in Damascus and the governor of King Aretas posted guards at the city gates to arrest me? I crawled through a window in the wall, was let down in a basket, and had to run for my life.” Here we see it was not just the Jews but they also had the governor on their side.
This opposition to Saul was multi-faceted right from the start. Clearly the Jews had gained the support of the governor who represented King Aretas. Aretas IV controlled Nabataea, the region around Syrian Damascus, and may have controlled Damascus itself about A.D. 34-39. If he did not actually control Damascus, he certainly wielded political influence beyond his immediate sphere of legal jurisdiction. The governor under King Aretas had his soldiers guard the city gates in order to arrest Saul. So who were looking for Saul – Jews or soldiers? Clearly both. Either the Jews asked the governor for help, maybe he was even a Jewish sympathiser. But I can’t imagine they were content to leave the task of finding Saul with the guards to carry out. They too had a vested interest in seeing Saul captured. So they were looking as well and had their spies out. The verb watching combined with the temporal phrase “day and night” is in the imperfect tense indicating that this was an ongoing action over a number of days. The gate would have been the city gates through which all who entered or left the city had to pass. That being the case, then there was no doubt that Saul would be captured because all would have known him, especially those among the Damascan Jews. That is the reason Saul escaped by being lowered in a basket from a window in the city wall during the night. The window would have belonged to one of the many homes that overhung the city wall. In going through the window Saul could avoid being seen at the city gate. Especially as the opposition were keeping guard at the city gate day and night.
Which now brings us to the matter of the basket that a number of you queried. Yes I know it seems strange that Saul would be lowered in a basket. It almost sounds Moses-ish. So the Christians no doubt lowered Saul in a basket through the window (opening in the wall). Some have queried the seeming discrepancy here – was it an opening or a window? Well a window is a form of an opening so let’s leave it at that. But why a basket and what sort of basket was it? City walls in those days were high and thick in order to protect the city from attack. But many of the inhabitants would lower things down and bring them up through shuttered openings in the wall. For that purpose there were large wicker baskets to lower heavy goods and chattels. However this brings up another discrepancy between Acts 9:25 and 2 Corinthians 11:33. In the first verse the basket is referred to as a [spuris] and in the second 2 Corinthians reference it is referred to as a [sargane]. The [spuris] was a large wicker or plaited basket used primarily for food and was more pliable, like going down in the dumb waiter. The [sargane] was a larger and more firm and more likely used for larger goods and not so liable and moulding to the body, like going down in the service elevator. Some see a problem in the fact that Luke calls the basket involved in the story a [spuris] while Paul calls it a [sargane]. I will leave you to deal with the discrepancy.
When he landed in 1848 there were no Christians here; when he left in 1872 there were no heathen.John Geddie
When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.Arnold Schwarzenegger
It seems every time the disciples get into a boat there is trouble and every time Paul got in a basket there was trouble also.Ian Vail
You deserve someone who would jump fences to be with you. Not someone who is sitting on the fence about being with you.Anon
Everybody needs a friend and supporter; Saul more so than most.Anon