“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:25
Paul and Silas had been dragged before the magistrates as many as twelve hours earlier. Their wounds would have made sleep difficult along with being chained, bound, and shackled. To make the passing time more bearable, Paul and Silas sang and prayed to God. Their songs may have been traditional or Spirit-inspired compositions. The other prisoners were possibly confined to the inner cell along with them for the night. That dark cell with its close quarters, foul odors, and poor ventilation became a place of worship. Anxiety, stress, and sleeplessness became manageable with their minds and spirits preoccupied with listening or participating in these acts of love to God.
“Though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law. At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws.” Psalm 119:61,62
Perhaps Paul and Silas recalled these verses above from Psalm 119 as they waited out the night. Other accounts of deliverance from captivity at midnight can be found in scripture. Paul, himself, experienced two of these deliverances firsthand. This one found in Acts 16 during his second journey and the experience found in Acts 27 during his third and final journey. In that account, Paul and his companions are delivered from death as their ship bound for Rome approached land and crashed against the rocks. (Acts 27:27) Paul, years later, penned these words to the Ephesians; “… Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:19,20) Maybe his experience, here, impressed on him the importance of worshiping God not only in his suffering but also for his suffering as an expression of his confidence in God’s love and sovereignty.
“Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.” Acts 16:26
Earthquakes are common in the area of Philippi’s location. This earthquake was so violent that doors opened and chains loosed. But, what about the roof? What about the prisoners? The roof didn’t collapse and, as violent as the quake appears to have been, no mention is made regarding injury to the prisoners. Luke wanted us as readers and believers to understand that this event was an act of God.
“The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”” Acts 16:27,28
The jailer awoke, saw the doors open, and assumed the worst. His prisoners had escaped! No sounds of groaning or moaning came from the opened doorways indicating injured inmates. To him, they all seemed to have left. He would be culpable for their escape, face negligence charges and possibly even death. The intense emotion he must’ve felt upon this inaccurate realization. So intense, that he drew his sword to kill himself. Yet, in an ironic twist of fate, he hears Paul shout to him; “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
“The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.” Acts 16:29-35
Upon the realization that every prisoner remained, the jailer rushed to the inner cell and fell before Paul and Silas trembling and asking about salvation. They offer him and his household freedom from the chains of sin that bound them and in responsive gratitude, he offered Paul and Silas freedom from the jail. Paul and Silas washed the jailer and his family in the waters of baptism and he washed and tended their physical wounds. The jailer risked all to give Paul and Silas hospitality as they risked their all to bring Jesus Christ to him. Enemies had become brothers.
Questions to Consider
- Do I find it difficult to praise God in my difficult circumstances? What actions can I take to remember to focus on God in those situations?
- Am I able to praise God in my sufferings and for my sufferings? Why or why not?
- Do I think Paul was constantly growing in his faith because of his experiences? If so, do I find encouragement in this passage and by cross-referencing Paul’s later instructions on hardship found in Philippians 3:1;4:4,6?
- What are some other examples that I can think of from scripture of deliverance at midnight?
- How did Paul know that the jailer was in panic mode?
- Why did the jailer believe that Paul and Silas could offer him salvation?
- What do I think happened to the other prisoners? Were they also saved? Did the jailer secure them once again in a cell following the earthquake or did he let them go free? Were they also taken to the jailer’s home?
- Do I see God’s hand at work in this passage? If so, am I encouraged in my faith by the story? In what ways?