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.
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.
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 »
Paul told the Thessalonian Jews of his former zeal for the ceremonial law and of his wonderful experience at the gate of Damascus. Before his conversion he had been confident in a hereditary piety, a false hope. His faith had not been anchored in Christ; he had trusted instead in forms and ceremonies. His zeal for the law had been disconnected from faith in Christ and was of no avail. While boasting that he was blameless in the performance of the deeds of the law, he had refused the One who made the law of value. AA 228.1
But at the time of his conversion all had been changed. Jesus of Nazareth, whom he had been persecuting in the person of His saints, appeared before him as the promised Messiah. The persecutor saw Him as the Son of God, the one who had come to the earth in fulfillment of the prophecies and who in His life had met every specification of the Sacred Writings. AA 228.2
As with holy boldness Paul proclaimed the gospel in the synagogue at Thessalonica, a flood of light was thrown upon the true meaning of the rites and ceremonies connected with the tabernacle service. He carried the minds of his hearers beyond the earthly service and the ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, to the time when, having completed His mediatorial work, Christ would come again in power and great glory, and establish His kingdom on the earth. Paul was a believer in the second coming of Christ; so clearly and forcibly did he present the truths concerning this event, that upon the minds of many who heard there was made an impression which never wore away. AA 228.3Read in context »
Our Saviour follows His lessons of instruction with a promise that if two or three should be united in asking anything of God it should be given them. Christ here shows that there must be union with others, even in our desires for a given object. Great importance is attached to the united prayer, the union of purpose. God hears the prayers of individuals, but on this occasion Jesus was giving especial and important lessons that were to have a special bearing upon His newly organized church on the earth. There must be an agreement in the things which they desire and for which they pray. It was not merely the thoughts and exercises of one mind, liable to deception; but the petition was to be the earnest desire of several minds centered on the same point. 3T 429.1
In the wonderful conversion of Paul we see the miraculous power of God. A brightness above the glory of the midday sun shone round about him. Jesus, whose name of all others he most hated and despised, revealed Himself to Paul for the purpose of arresting his mad yet honest career, that He might make this most unpromising instrument a chosen vessel to bear the gospel to the Gentiles. He had conscientiously done many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. In his zeal he was a persevering, earnest persecutor of the church of Christ. His convictions of his duty to exterminate this alarming doctrine, which was prevailing everywhere, that Jesus was the Prince of life were deep and strong. 3T 429.2
Paul verily believed that faith in Jesus made of none effect the law of God, the religious service of sacrificial offerings, and the rite of circumcision, which had in all past ages received the full sanction of God. But the miraculous revelation of Christ brings light into the darkened chambers of his mind. The Jesus of Nazareth whom he is arrayed against is indeed the Redeemer of the world. 3T 429.3Read in context »
This chapter is based on Acts 9:1-22.
The mind of Saul was greatly stirred by the triumphant death of Stephen. He was shaken in his prejudice; but the opinions and arguments of the priests and rulers finally convinced him that Stephen was a blasphemer; that Jesus Christ whom he preached was an imposter, and that those ministering in holy offices must be right. Being a man of decided mind and strong purpose, he became very bitter in his opposition to Christianity, after having once entirely settled in his mind that the views of the priests and scribes were right. His zeal led him to voluntarily engage in persecuting the believers. He caused holy men to be dragged before the councils, and to be imprisoned or condemned to death without evidence of any offense, save their faith in Jesus. Of a similar character, though in a different direction, was the zeal of James and John when they would have called down fire from heaven to consume those who slighted and scorned their Master. SR 268.1Read in context »