Since I'm posting old notes, here's an old story. I never posted this and I only showed it to a few people, maybe. It's fictionalized, which is unique for me, but notice I've added historical notes and scripture references at the bottom. Hopefully, the story that comes before makes a more entertaining point than my usual blogging these days... Enjoy!
The Damascus Story
February, 36 AD
(More likely August 36. See Next Post.)
[This is Saul’s SECOND trip to Damascus, after living in Arabia for “three” years.]
Ananias stepped into the room where Saul had been hiding for several days. “Saul, are you here? It’s me, Ananias.”
Saul sat up from where he had been laying, on the ground, behind a cot that was covered in blankets.
“Hi, brother. I’m here. What’s up?”
Ananias came in, closed the door, and sat on a stool. “Saul, one of the disciples here who is a servant in the council chamber just heard some news. You know that guy who came up with the soldiers from Arabia? The one you said chased you up here from Petra?”
“The Ethnarch.” Saul said. “How could I forget?”
“Well, hold onto something, Saul. Your Etnarch met with the council today and asked them for permission to hunt you down here in the city!”
Saul’s face went a touch pale. “I was hoping he wouldn’t get access to me, here in Syria. Is this still a Roman Province with a Roman Governor?”
“Yes it is, Saul,” Ananias continued. “But you know as well as I do that Damascus sits right on the edge of the Syrian border with King Herod’s old lands. As a matter of fact, when Herod’s son Philip died two years ago, all the lands south up to Nabatea were supposed to become part of Syria too. But you know, that doesn’t mean much at first – except a different tax collector comes around each year.”
“What’s new?” Saul groaned. (Tax collection officers were frequently replaced.)
“Anyway, Saul, you know there’s not much of Rome here in Damascus, generally. The Ethnarch brought a large enough garrison of troops that he could probably take the city if he wanted to – not that he could hold it for long. But the point is, he’s here, and he’s still hunting for you.”
Paul jumped in, “Are they going to let him stay?”
“Normally, they would do so with no problem. To them, it’s just a simple extradition, and a way to earn a favor from a neighboring King. But in this case, they really weren’t sure about helping this Ethnarch, since his King, Aretas, is in quite a bit of trouble right now with Tiberius himself!”
Saul’s voice filled with passion as he suddenly exclaimed, “Good for Tiberius! He ought to be in trouble! Aretas invaded Peraea near the East Bank, just to get back at Herod Antipas for divorcing his daughter – which happened eight years ago!” Paul was clearly reliving some recent and strong emotions. He nearly spat out his words, “The reason I’m in trouble is for speaking out about it in public, when I was down there.”
Ananias was not surprised at Saul, but he half-covered his own amusement for Saul’s sake.
Stoicly, he said, “Saul, this is so ironic – I happened to be in Judea that year when Herod divorced his wife. Did you know the reason John the Baptizer was arrested is because he spoke out publicly against that divorce?”
Saul slapped his head, “No!” He frowned and looked at the dirt floor beneath him.
Moving some blankets and climbing up onto the cot, Saul said, “Well, now I’m positive that will be the last time I am so careless when speaking about a ruler in public.”
Ananias smiled. “Like the proverb says, Paul, those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it!”
“Well, I sure did!” Paul shook his head in silence for a moment.
Ananias said, “maybe Aretas is not the only man who knows how to get in trouble with others more powerful than he is.”
Saul harrumphed. Then he said, “But Ananias, what about the Ethnarch?”
“Oh yes,” Ananias replied, remembering. Then he grinned, “you mean the one who’s hurried here to kill you? Oh yes! How could we forget? Where was I?”
Saul reminded him, “The council wasn’t sure…”
“Oh yes,” Ananias continued. “The council wasn’t sure they wanted to let him in, since Aretas is in so much trouble. I’ve heard that if the Syrian Legate Vitellius wasn’t so busy in Parthia right now he’d probably be marching through here already with his four legions from Antioch! Come to think of it, you know that King Aretas is a sly one, waiting until Vitellius was too busy to…”
Saul cut him off. “Yes, yes. What about the council HERE?”
Ananias stopped. “Right. Well, they weren’t sure about helping him hunt for someone here in their city – the Damascene Council is pretty tight about controlling their own affairs, you may remember – but when they heard it was YOU he was after, well, THEN they were only too happy to accommodate
“Well, I’ve been hiding for three days!” Saul seemed slightly offended that no one knew he was there.
Ananias laughed hard, “Saul, that pride of yours is too much! I’m glad I won’t be around to watch what it takes for the Lord to soften you, brother!”
Saul grumbled, “I think he’s already begun, Ananias. Maybe I shouldn’t have been preaching down there, anyway. Maybe I needed to be up here quietly learning from you brothers in the assembly.”
Ananias smiled, “Saul, I think the Lord has called you to a great adventure, and you don’t have to hurry up to make it happen. He’s big enough to make it happen – in His time.”
Saul’s whole body relaxed a bit. He sighed, and was quiet for a moment, with Ananias.
Then Saul wondered out, quietly, “Maybe I need to head for Jerusalem and learn from the apostles there.”
Ananias’ eyes were sparkling. “It’s an idea.” He grinned slightly and remained silent for a while.
Then Anaias said, “Saul, we still have a problem here. The Damascus City Council just gave this Ethnarch permission to guard the city gates AND to take you into his custody if he finds you.”
Saul couldn’t resist a grin, “Well, at least I’m popular here. This is the second time men have been watching the city gates night and day to capture me!”
“I know,” responded Ananias, “has it really been two whole years?”
“I believe it’s been three,” said Saul.
“Three? Saul, we let you down two Februarys ago, and this month is also February.”
Saul replied, “February? Are you a Roman, now, brother?” He smirked.
“Well I am a Hebrew!” Paul continued. “Passover is the start of the Hebrew year and we have had two Passovers since I was here. That makes this the third year. See? Three years.”
“No, Saul. It’s two years.” Ananias argued. “February two years ago until now is exactly twenty-five months. Two years.”
“Twenty-five months?” Exclaimed Saul. “I can’t count by months! To a Hebrew, some years have eleven months and some have twelve. Three of the months have an extra day whenever the chief priests tell us they do! That gives us six different sized years! Who can keep track of that? The only thing I have ever been able to do is to just count by Passovers.”
Ananias repeated quietly, “Fine, but it’s been two years, Saul.”
“You say two. I say three. I can’t help it – I will always have the mind of a Hebrew, plus all that religious training by the Pharisees.”
“And I have been too long among the Goyim, I suppose!” teased Ananias.
Both men shared another good laugh.
Then Saul’s face turned serious again as he asked, “Now, back to today – what are we going to do, Ananias?”
Ananias said, “Well, Saul, the brothers are coming over here this evening to talk about that. But I think we all know one successful way to get a Saul of Tarsus out of a city like Damascus! We have been here before, you know!”
Saul laughed and groaned all at the same time. “You mean I get to be grain again?”
Ananias laughed with him. “No, Saul. THAT basket was a fig basket. This time, it may be wool!”
“Baaaaaah” went Saul, and they laughed some more.
Finally, Saul said, “Alright, Ananias, we’ll wait for the brothers to talk about it. But just make sure you guys pull that basket back up again. They didn’t spot us the first time. If this city is so easy to escape from I may have to flee here more often!”
Ananias chuckled. “And yet I fear I may never see you again, brother Saul. I’m really convinced the Lord has great plans for you.”
“I just hope I live that long,” grumbled Saul.
And now, some Scriptures about Saul in Damascus and Arabia:
Each of these “verses” below was a stand-alone scripture, one piece of the whole story. Each one was told extremely briefly, in its turn. Each piece was told to a different audience, for a different purpose. They do not fit together like building blocks. They overlap in many places. They must be WOVEN together, like threads in a tapestry. The story above shows how. Now, read the scriptures once again, and see how the threads can be blended so smoothly…
Galatians 1:15-17a – But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but…
Acts 9:19b-20,23-25 – Now for several days [Saul] was with the disciples who were at Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” … When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.
Galatians 1:17b,18 – …I went away to Arabia and returned once more to Damascus.
2 Corinthians 11:32 – In Damascus the Ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.
Notice how it does NOT say that DAMASCUS was “under Aretas the king”. It only says that the Ethnarch himself was personally “under Aretas”. It also says that the Ethnarch happened to be “guarding the city.” But the city does not belong to Aretas. Clearly, Paul says the city belongs to the Damascenes themselves! So the Ethnarch and his garrison were simply a guest-guardian.
Acts 9:26-30 – When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. … And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.
AND HERE IS THE ONE THAT TELLS THE WHOLE THING MOST BRIEFLY!
Galatians 1:17b,18,21 – I went away to Arabia and returned once more to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. … Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
The Greek here says, “Then after three years…” which is inclusive of the whole story. Inclusive counting is generally the way a Hebrew mind thinks and talks about time.
One last note:
It should not seem unusual to imagine Saul escaped twice by the same method. After all, we know for sure it worked the first time! And we know Saul had help escaping, which means he relied on the men in the primitive Damascus church for advice on escaping. And what is a primitive church but a bunch of guys! And what do a bunch of guys ALWAYS do in a situation when they've been there before and something worked the first time? They go with the same solution again! (Typical men, right? Like the old school, smashmouth football philosophy: "Drive it down the middle till they stop ya.")
It's the most natural thing in the world. As long as there's reason to believe Saul returned to Damascus (see the scriptures above), then it's not a stretch in the slightest to imagine he escaped by the same method again.
Au contraire! It would be shocking to think they abandoned such a tried and proven successful escape method! :)