We boarded a boat at Troas and sailed straight across to the island of Samothrace, and the next day we landed at Neapolis. From there we reached Philippi, a major city of that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. And we stayed there several days. On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there.
One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. She was baptized along with other members of her household, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.Acts 16:11-15
There are a number of interesting little snippets in this passage as some of you have commented on. “On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there.” One person who wishes to remain nameless wrote: Just this one sentence filled me with questions Pak Ian.
- Was it an early morning prayer meeting? Somehow I think it wasn’t but I don’t know why.
- Why did they have to go outside the city?
- Why meet at the riverbank?
- Why does Luke write, “where we thought people would be meeting for prayer”? Did they pray or not?
I don’t know if I am reading too much into it, but you taught me to do that, but it seems they didn’t actually pray. Luke writes, we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. Does that mean they didn’t pray but they ended up talking with people at the river?
Ian, this approach of paying attention to the details that I learned from Deeper Bible certainly makes me notice things I never have in the past. But am I right
Or am I taking it too far?
I think these series of questions really sum up the introduction to this passage and I congratulate you for paying attention to the details. Yes you have picked up some important elements in what Luke has written for us. I will just work through your questions because they are so good.
Your hunch that it wasn’t an early morning prayer meeting is correct. The Sabbath began at sunset, so in all probability they went down to pray at sunset or in the early evening, not in the early morning. For those of you who may want to know what “we” did all that day before the prayer meeting, I don’t know. You will have to go and ask somebody else who was there.
In a Roman colony all illicit religions and foreign cults had to meet outside the city. If it wasn’t a sanctioned, legal religion then the followers had to meet outside the city gates. Because they met on the Sabbath suggests there were links to Judaism and so the need for meeting by the river in order to have water available to help in the process of obeying the rules for ceremonial washing. Hence the need to meet down at the river. There is a difference of opinion as to which river they met at. Some say the Gangites (or Gangas) a small stream close to Philippi. Others say it must have been the Strymon, a larger river, a number of miles distant from the city. I haven’t managed as yet to locate exactly where the river is in an atlas, despite having many Bible atlases. If you really want to know you may well be able to use Google Maps.
With your two questions related to whether there was a prayer meeting or not, you hit the nail on the head. Yes the way Luke has written this passage leaves doubt as to whether they were praying or not and also doubt as to where they were praying if indeed they were. In a previous Gem I told you about believers in China who are not told where the meeting will be. They are told to rely on the Holy Spirit to find out where they should meet. The place and time of meeting is not broadcast. If you want to attend you will need to stick close to the Holy Spirit. The reason is to do with illicit religions and the fact that on occasions the authorities crack down on followers of illegal religions. Hence they meet in secret places. From what Luke wrote it is highly likely that they only had the information that if there was going to be a prayer meeting, it would quite likely be somewhere down by the river. Ah but which river? Good question.
It seems that there wasn’t a prayer meeting happening when they got there because they immediately began talking with the women gathered by the river. I suppose it is possible that they sat down to talk after they had finished praying, but if that had been the case I think Luke, being so detailed, would have told us that fact. Seemingly there was no prayer meeting and they sat down with the women who were down at the riverbank. It is interesting that Luke tells us a number of women were gathered there. Are we to assume there were no men? Quite likely. For the Jews to organize a synagogue required at least ten men. Luke only tells us of the women who were present. The meeting at best was an informal one and there is no hint that these women at the riverbank were actually praying because as you say L they immediately start talking with some of the women there.
Lydia is singled out. In as few words as possible Luke tells us a lot about her. She was from Thyatira and she sold purple cloth. Luke doesn’t actually tell us it was expensive cloth, but we can guess it was because purple cloth was a sought after colour for Roman togas. Purple in many cultures is symbolic of royalty or high class and therefore is expensive. Lydia was from Thyatira, where there was a guild of workers in purple cloth. I find it interesting that although the Holy Spirit stopped Paul and Silas and the team from going to Asia, their first convert was of Asiatic descent. If you can’t go to the mission field, God will bring the mission field to you. Lydia was like Cornelius, in that she was a God worshipper. She was a God-fearing woman who followed the teachings of Judaism.
Paul and the others certainly didn’t get involved in chit chat at the riverbank. They were straight into talking about Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah and introducing these women to Jesus and the Gospel. What were you talking about while we were there? Did you find another woman to talk to about the Lord or did you buy some purple cloth as a souvenir? What’s most important to you? As Paul and the team talked with Lydia the Lord opened her heart to what they were saying and she accepted the truth. She was baptized along with her household. What does that mean? Many think Lydia to have been a widow or at least alone. That is not necessarily so but even if she had been, as a wealthy business women she would have had a following. Likely as not when she went to the river she would have taken members of her household with her. Not necessarily her children or family but more likely her maids and her household entourage. The influence of the wealthy woman was extended to her ‘household” as well and when the woman or man of the house changed religion the household followed.
Notice now that baptism is added to the conversion package immediately after the decision to follow Jesus was made. Convenient isn’t it that they met down by the river. After her baptism Lydia invites Paul and the team home. She was clearly a wealthy woman with a large house. I hope it’s fine for us all to tag along. I will check with Lydia otherwise its back to our lodgings in Philippi. I hope you have some clothes and tooth brush for an overnight at Lydia’s. If you have no pjs then I am sure Lydia can sell you a purple something.
There is one last thing to notice before we turn in for the night. She urged us as a team to stay. It was not just one invitation to stay the night, it was on going. Many cultures require multiple invitations before the guest will take up the offer. Certainly, the invited guest is not supposed to response immediately, that would be inappropriate. In many cultures, it is necessary to invite a person three times before they can politely accept. After a long journey to Philippi and a full day and evening at least we don’t have to go back to the other side of the city. We can stay the night at Lydia’s with Paul and the team. Tonight maybe your chance to find out what they others did earlier in the day.
Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.Margaret Thatcher
Effort is important, but knowing WHERE and when to make an effort makes all the difference!Anon
I said ‘Somebody should do something about that.’ Then I realized, I am Somebody.Lily Tomlin
Remain Inspired. It’s one of the most important gifts you can give the people around you!Anon
If you can’t figure out where you stand with someone, it might be time to stop standing and start walking!Rick Godwin