Reverse Exodus

The book of Acts ends with a sailor’s yarn. Paul has appealed to Caesar, and is sailing toward Italy when the ship hits a squall. Luke gives a detailed account of the efforts to save the ship and the final shipwreck at Malta, during which all 276 people on board are saved (Acts 27). It’s one of the most action-packed passages in the Bible.

A water-trial like this can’t help but remind a Bible reader of the exodus from Egypt. In both, water is a deadly threat. The Roman soldiers plan to kill the prisoners, including Paul, as Pharaoh pursued Israel in order to destroy them. Everyone who remains in the ship passes safely to the land, as Israel passed safely out of Egypt into the wilderness.

The big difference, of course, is the direction of movement. In the exodus, Israel was escaping their Gentile master in order to covenant with Yahweh at Sinai and eventually to enter the promised land. Paul is heading in the opposite direction. Paul is arrested in Jerusalem and passes through the water to get to the “Egypt” of his day, where he will have an audience with “Pharaoh.” He’s a Moses, rescued from the waters, but he retraces Moses’ steps.

The entire book of Acts, in fact, moves in a counter-exodus direction, starting from Jerusalem and Judea and moving through Samaria to the uttermost parts of the earth. Under orders from Jesus rather than Cyrus, the apostles do not “go up” to build Jerusalem but “go out” to make disciples of all nations.

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