And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and put themselves under a curse, declaring that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. And there were more than forty who had made this conspiracy (Acts 23:12 - 13, HBFV).
Thus fortified by a dreadful oath, they came before the chief priests and members of the Sanhedrin, and proposed the following plan, which seems to have been readily adopted. The Sanhedrists were to present themselves before Claudius Lysias, with the request that he would allow prisoner Paul to be brought once more before the Jewish Court, that they might enter into a further investigation: and the assassins were to lie in wait, and murder the Apostle on his way down from the fortress.
The plea to be brought before Lysias was very plausible: and it is probable, that, if he had received no further information, he would have acted on it: for he well knew that the proceedings of the Court had been suddenly interrupted the day before, and he would be glad to have his perplexity removed by the results of a new inquiry. The danger and possibly death to which the Apostle Paul was exposed was most imminent. There has seldom been a more horrible example of crime masked under the show of religious zeal.
The plot to instigate the death of Paul was ready and the next day it would have been carried into effect, when God was pleased to confound the schemes of the conspirators.
The instrument of Apostle Paul's safety was one of his own relations, the son of that sister whom we have before mentioned as the companion of his childhood at Tarsus. It is useless to attempt to draw that veil aside which screens the history of this relationship from our view, though the narrative seems to give us hints of domestic intercourse at Jerusalem, of which, if it were permitted to us, we would gladly know more.
Enough is told to us to give a favorable impression, both of the affection and discretion of the Apostle's nephew: nor is he the only person the traits of whose character are visible in the artless simplicity of the narrative. The young man came into the barracks, and related what he knew of the conspiracy to his uncle; to whom he seems to have had perfect liberty of access.
Paul, with his usual promptitude and prudence, called one of the centurions to him, and requested him to take the youth to the commandant, saying that he had a communication to make to him. The officer complied at once, and took the young man with this message from "the prisoner Paul" to Claudius Lysias. He did so, partly, from the interest he felt in the prisoner, and partly, we need not doubt, from the natural justice and benevolence of his disposition. He received the youth kindly and, "took him by the hand, and led him aside, and asked him in private" to tell him what he had to say.
The young man related the story of the conspiracy in full detail, and with much feeling. Lysias listened to his statement and earnest entreaties; then, with a soldier's promptitude, and yet with the caution of one who felt the difficulty of the situation, he decided at once on what he would do, but without communicating the plan to his informant. He simply dismissed him, with a significant admonition, "Be careful that thou tell no man that thou hast laid this information before me" (Acts 23:22).
Escaping by night
When the young man was gone, Claudius Lysias summoned one or two of his subordinate officers, and ordered them to have in readiness two hundred of the legionary soldiers, with seventy of the cavalry, and two hundred spearmen; so as to depart for Caesarea at nine in the evening, and take Paul in safety to Felix the governor. The journey was long, and it would be requisite to accomplish it as rapidly as possible. He therefore gave directions that more than one horse should be provided for the prisoner.
We may be surprised that so large a force was sent to secure the safety of one man. We must remember, however, that this man was a Roman citizen, while the garrison in Antonia, consisting of more than a thousand men, could easily spare such a number for one day on such a service; and further, that assassinations, robberies, and rebellions were frequent occurrences at that time in Judea, and that a conspiracy also wears a formidable aspect to those who are responsible for the public peace. The utmost secrecy, as well as promptitude, was evidently required. Therefore, an hour was chosen, when the earliest part of the night would be already past.
At the time appointed, the troops, with Apostle Paul in the midst of them, marched out of the fortress, and at a rapid pace took the road to Caesarea.
The road lay first, for about three hours, northwards, along the high mountainous region which divides the valley of the Jordan from the great western plain of Judea. About midnight they would reach Gophna. Here, after a short halt, they quitted the northern road which leads to Neapolis and Damascus, once traveled by Apostle Paul under widely different circumstances, and turned towards the coast on the left.
Presently they began to descend among the western eminences and valleys of the mountain-country, startling the shepherd on the hills of Ephraim, and rousing the village peasant, who woke only to curse his oppressor, as he heard the hoofs of the horses on the pavement, and the well-known tramp of the Roman soldiers.
A second resting-place might perhaps be found at Thamna, a city mentioned by Josephus in the Jewish wars, and possibly the "Timnath Heres," where Joshua was buried "in Mount Ephraim, in the border of his inheritance." And then they proceeded, still descending over a rocky and thinly-cultivated tract, till about daybreak they came to the ridge of the last hill, and overlooked the great plain of Sharon coming quite up to its base on the west.
The road now turned northwards, across the rich land of the plain of Sharon, through fields of wheat and barley, just then almost ready for the harvest. Between this higher and lower range, but on the level ground, in a place well watered and richly wooded, was the town of Antipatris. Both its history and situation are described to us by Josephus.
The foot-soldiers proceeded no farther than Antipatris, but returned from thence to Jerusalem (Acts 23:32). They were no longer necessary to secure Apostle Paul's safety, for no death plot by the way was now to be apprehended; but they might very probably be required in the fortress of Antonia. It would be in the course of the afternoon that the remaining soldiers with their weary horses entered the streets of Caesarea.
The centurion who remained in command of them proceeded at once to the governor, and gave up his prisoner; and at the same time presented the despatch, (Acts 23:33) with which he was charged by the commandant of the garrison at Jerusalem.
Safe arrival in Caesarea
We have no record of the personal appearance of Felix; but if we may yield to the impression naturally left by what we know of his sensual and ferocious character, we can imagine the countenance with which he read the following despatch.
"Claudius Lysias to the most excellent governor, Felix: Greetings! This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be put to death by them when I came up with a troop and rescued him, after learning that he is a Roman. And desiring to know the cause for which they accused him, I brought him down to their Sanhedrin.
"I found that he was accused of questions concerning their law, but had done nothing worthy of death or bonds. But when I was informed that a plot against this man was about to be carried out by the Jews, I sent him to you at once, and have also commanded the accusers to say the things against him before your judgment seat. Farewell" (Acts 23:26 - 30, HBFV).
Felix raised his eyes from the paper, and said, "To what province does he belong?" It was the first question which a Roman governor would naturally ask in such a case. So Pilate had formerly paused, when he found he was likely to trespass on "Herod's jurisdiction." Besides the delicacy required by etiquette, the Roman law laid down strict rules for all inter-provincial communications.
In the present case there could be no great difficulty for the moment. A Roman citizen with certain vague charges brought against him was placed under the protection of a provincial governor, who was bound to keep him in safe custody till the cause should be heard.
Having therefore ascertained that Paul was a native of the province of Cicilia, Felix simply ordered him to be kept in "Herod's praetorium," and said to Paul himself, "I will hear and decide thy cause when thy accusers are come" (Acts 23:35). Here, then, we leave the Apostle for a time, safe from the immediate threat of death.