Letters to Damascus to the synagogues - Damascus, anciently called דמסק Damask, and דרמסק Darmask, was once the metropolis of all Syria. It was situated at fifty miles' distance from the sea; from which it is separated by lofty mountains. It is washed by two rivers, Amara or Abara, which ran through it, and Pharpar, called by the Greeks Chrysorrhoas, the golden stream, which ran on the outside of its walls. It is one of the most ancient cities in the world, for it existed in the time of Abraham, Genesis 14:15; and how long before is not known. The city of Damascus is at present a place of considerable trade, owing to its being the rendezvous for all the pilgrims from the north of Asia, on their road to and from the temple of Mecca. It is surrounded with pretty strong walls, which have nine gates, and is between four and five miles in circumference. It contains about 100,000 inhabitants, some say more, the principal part of whom are Arabs and Turks, with whom live, in a state of considerable degradation, about 15,000 Christians. Damascus, like other places of importance, has passed through the hands of many masters. It was captured and ruined by Tiglath Pileser, who carried away its inhabitants to Kin, beyond the Euphrates, about 740 years before the Christian era; and thus was fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, Isaiah 17:1-3, and that of Amos, Amos 1:4, Amos 1:5. It was also taken by Sennacherib, and by the generals of Alexander the Great. Metellus and Laelius seized it, during the war of Pompey with Tigranes; before Christ 65. It continued under the dominion of the Romans till the Saracens took possession of it, in a.d. 634. It was besieged and taken by Teemour lenk, a.d. 1400, who put all the inhabitants to the sword. The Egyptian Mamelukes repaired Damascus when they took possession of Syria; but the Turkish Emperor Selim having defeated them at the battle of Aleppo in 1516, Damascus was brought under the government of the Turks, and in their hands it still remains. In the time of St. Paul it was governed by Aretas, whose father, Obodas, had been governor of it under Augustus. Damascus is 112 miles south of Antioch; 130 N.N.E. of Jerusalem; and 270 S.S.W; of Diarbek. Longitude 37° east: latitude 33° 45' north. The fruit tree called the Damascene, vulgarly Damazon, and the flower called the Damask rose, were transplanted from Damascus to the gardens of Europe; and the silks and linens, known by the name of Damasks, were probably first manufactured by the inhabitants of this ancient city.
Any of this way - That is, this religion, for so דרך derec in Hebrew, and ὁδος, hodos, in Hellenistic Greek, are often to be understood. יהוה דרך derec Yehovah, the way of the Lord, implies the whole of the worship due to him, and prescribed by himself: the way or path in which he wills men to walk, that they may get safely through life, and finally attain everlasting felicity. The Jewish writers designate the whole doctrine and practice of Christianity by a similar expression, הנוצרים דרך derec hanotsarim, the way, doctrine, or sect of the Christians.
Whether they were men or women - Provided they were Jews; for no converts had as yet been made among the Gentiles; nor did the power of the high priest and Sanhedrin extend to any but those who belonged to the synagogues. Pearce.
In every country where there were Jews and synagogues, the power and authority of the Sanhedrin and high priest were acknowledged: just as papists in all countries acknowledge the authority of the pope. And as there can be but one pope, and one conclave, so there could be but one high priest, and one Sanhedrin; and this is the reason why the high priest and sanhedrin at Jerusalem had authority over all Jews, even in the most distant countries.
And desired of him - This shows the intensity of his wish to persecute the Christians, that he was willing to ask for such an employment.
Letters - Epistles, implying a commission to bring them to Jerusalem for trial and punishment. From this it seems that the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem claimed jurisdiction over all synagogues everywhere.
To Damascus - This was a celebrated city of Syria, and long the capital of a kingdom of that name. It is situated in a delightful region about 120 miles northeast of Jerusalem, and about one 190 miles southeast of Antioch. It is in the midst of an extensive plain, abounding with cypress and palm-trees, and extremely fertile. It is watered by the river Barrady, anciently called “Abana,” 2 Kings 5:12. About 5 miles from the city is a place called the “meeting of the waters,” where the Barrady is joined by another river, and thence is divided by art into several streams that flow through the plain. These streams, six or seven in number, are conveyed to water the orchards, farms, etc., and give to the whole scene a very picturesque appearance. The city, situated in a delightful climate, in a fertile country, is perhaps among the most pleasant in the world. It is called by the Orientals themselves the “paradise on earth.” It is mentioned often in the Old Testament. It was a city in the time of Abraham, Genesis 15:2. By whom it was founded is unknown. It was taken and garrisoned by David A.M. 2992, 2 Samuel 8:6; 1 Chronicles 18:6. It is subsequently mentioned as sustaining very important parts in the conflicts of the Jews with Syria, 2 Kings 14:25; 2 Kings 16:5; Isaiah 9:11. It was taken by the Romans A.M. 3939, or about 60 years before Christ, in whose possession it was when Saul went there. It was conquered by the Saracens 713 a.d. About the year 1250, it was taken by the Christians in the Crusades, and was captured 1517 a.d. by Selim, and has been since under the Ottoman emperors.
The Arabians call this city “Damasch, or Demesch, or Schams.” It is one of the most commercial cities in the Ottoman empire, and is distinguished also for manufactures, particularly for steel, hence called “Damascus steel.” The population is estimated by Ali Bey at 200,000 (circa 1880‘s); Volney states it at 80,000; Hassel believes it be about 100,000. About 20,000 are Maronites of the Catholic Church, 5,000 are Greeks, and 1,000 are Jews. The road from Jerusalem to Damascus lies between two mountains, not above 100 paces distant from each other; both are round at the bottom, and terminate in a point. That nearest the great road is called “Cocab, the star,” in memory of the dazzling light which is here said to have appeared to Saul.
To the synagogues - See the notes on Matthew 4:23. The Jews were scattered into nearly all the regions surrounding Judea, and it is natural to suppose that many of them would be found in Damascus. Josephus assures us that ten thousand were massacred there in one hour; and at another time 18,000, along with their wives and children (Jewish Wars, book 2, chapter 20, section 2; book 7, chapter 8, section 7). By whom the gospel was preached there, or how they had been converted to Christianity, is unknown. The presumption is, that some of those who had been converted on the day of Pentecost had carried the gospel to Syria. See the notes on Acts 2:9-11.
That if - It would seem that it was not certainly known that there were any Christians there. It was presumed that there were, and probably there was a report of that kind.
Of this way - Of this way or mode of life; of this kind of opinions and conduct; that is, any Christians.
He might bring them - To be tried. The Sanhedrin at Jerusalem claimed jurisdiction over religious opinions, and their authority would naturally be respected by foreign Jews.
This chapter is based on Acts 9:1-18.
Prominent among the Jewish leaders who became thoroughly aroused by the success attending the proclamation of the gospel, was Saul of Tarsus. A Roman citizen by birth, Saul was nevertheless a Jew by descent and had been educated in Jerusalem by the most eminent of the rabbis. “Of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin,” Saul was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” Philippians 3:5, 6. He was regarded by the rabbis as a young man of great promise, and high hopes were cherished concerning him as an able and zealous defender of the ancient faith. His elevation to membership in the Sanhedrin council placed him in a position of power. AA 112.1Read in context »
The great purpose that constrained Paul to press forward in the face of hardship and difficulty should lead every Christian worker to consecrate himself wholly to God's service. Worldly attractions will be presented to draw his attentions from the Saviour, but he is to press on toward the goal, showing to the world, to angels, and to men that the hope of seeing the face of God is worth all the effort and sacrifice that the attainment of this hope demands. AA 484.1
Though he was a prisoner, Paul was not discouraged. Instead, a note of triumph rings through the letters that he wrote from Rome to the churches. “Rejoice in the Lord alway,” he wrote to the Philippians, “and again I say, Rejoice.... Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” AA 484.2
“My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.... The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” AA 484.3Read in context »
In the vision that came to Isaiah in the temple court, he was given a clear view of the character of the God of Israel. “The high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy,” had appeared before him in great majesty; yet the prophet was made to understand the compassionate nature of his Lord. He who dwells “in the high and holy place” dwells “with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Isaiah 57:15. The angel commissioned to touch Isaiah's lips had brought to him the message, “Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” Isaiah 6:7. PK 314.1
In beholding his God, the prophet, like Saul of Tarsus at the gate of Damascus, had not only been given a view of his own unworthiness; there had come to his humbled heart the assurance of forgiveness, full and free; and he had arisen a changed man. He had seen his Lord. He had caught a glimpse of the loveliness of the divine character. He could testify of the transformation wrought through beholding Infinite Love. Henceforth he was inspired with longing desire to see erring Israel set free from the burden and penalty of sin. “Why should ye be stricken any more?” the prophet inquired. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well.” Isaiah 1:5, 18, 16, 17. PK 314.2
The God whom they had been claiming to serve, but whose character they had misunderstood, was set before them as the great Healer of spiritual disease. What though the whole head was sick and the whole heart faint? what though from the sole of the foot even unto the crown of the head there was no soundness, but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores? See Isaiah 1:6. He who had been walking frowardly in the way of his heart might find healing by turning to the Lord. “I have seen his ways,” the Lord declared, “and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him.... Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; and I will heal him.” Isaiah 57:18, 19. PK 315.1Read in context »
Our Master was a man of sorrows; He was acquainted with grief; and those who suffer with Him will reign with Him. When the Lord appeared to Saul in his conversion, He did not purpose to show him how much good he should enjoy, but what great things he should suffer for His name. Suffering has been the portion of the people of God from the days of the martyr Abel. The patriarchs suffered for being true to God and obedient to His commandments. The great Head of the church suffered for our sake; His first apostles and the primitive church suffered; the millions of martyrs suffered, and the Reformers suffered. And why should we, who have the blessed hope of immortality, to be consummated at the soon appearing of Christ, shrink from a life of suffering? Were it possible to reach the tree of life in the midst of the Paradise of God without suffering, we would not enjoy so rich a reward for which we had not suffered. We would shrink back from the glory; shame would seize us in the presence of those who had fought the good fight, had run the race with patience, and had laid hold on eternal life. But none will be there who have not, like Moses, chosen to suffer affliction with the people of God. The prophet John saw the multitude of the redeemed, and inquired who they were. The prompt answer came: “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” 1T 78.1
When we began to present the light on the Sabbath question, we had no clearly defined idea of the third angel's message of Revelation 14:9-12. The burden of our testimony as we came before the people was that the great second advent movement was of God, that the first and second messages had gone forth, and that the third was to be given. We saw that the third message closed with the words: “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” And we as clearly saw as we now see that these prophetic words suggested a Sabbath reform; but as to what the worship of the beast mentioned in the message was, or what the image and the mark of the beast were, we had no defined position. 1T 78.2Read in context »