Ver. 17. Though alone in one sense, however, the apostle was far from being alone in another: he had better and nobler defences than, human advocates or intercessors could provide: But the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me—
, replenished me with might; that is, inspired him with a holy boldness and energy for the occasion. And this, in order that through me the preaching [of the gospel] might be fully accomplished:
, not “fully made known,” as in the Authorized Version, which the word never signifies, but, as at 2Ti_4:5, fully accomplished or performed—not left, so to speak, as an imperfect, half-executed work: and that all the Gentiles might hear. This seems strong language to use of a single address of St. Paul, delivered before a judicial tribunal in Rome. It could only have been used by him on the supposition that there was a very great, in some sense a representative, Roman audience present to listen. And the cause, we can easily conceive, did excite a considerable interest there, and bring into court a vast assemblage, partly no doubt composed of Christians and Jews, but still more of the Gentile population of Rome, who usually crowded the Forum. In that case, it was most probably in one of the large Basilicas connected with the Forum, which were capable of accommodating a vast concourse of spectators, that the cause was heard. And Paul, seizing the noble opportunity it presented, and specially assisted by divine grace for the occasion, made his defence by unfolding the great theme of that gospel which had been committed to him; proclaimed the wonderful facts of Christ’s life, and death, and resurrection, and of the solemn and momentous bearing which these were destined to have on the present well-being and eternal destiny of mankind. Such a vindication of the blessed gospel, and of his own connection with it, in such a place, and to such an audience, he might not unnaturally regard as the culmination of his work as an ambassador of Christ to the Gentiles.
As regards the immediate design of this great effort, it had the desired result, as is here added: And he—that is, the Lord—delivered me out of the mouth of the lion. There can be no doubt it means that he was rescued from the immediate danger that threatened him—got his acquittal on the first count, or in respect to the first stage of the charge brought against him. But when one goes to inquire what precisely is to be understood by being delivered out of the lion’s mouth, a great variety of answers present themselves: Nero, say some (most of the Fathers); the lions in the amphitheatre, others; others, again, his Jewish accuser (so Wieseler), or the jaws of death (ex praesenti incendio, vel ex faucibus mortis—Calvin, Ellicott); perhaps the farthest-fetched of any of them, and in sense the feeblest, is Alford’s, from or “in spite of desertion and discouragement.” It seems to me that the most natural way is to take the words as an appropriation of figurative language frequently occurring in the Psalms—in those Psalms which describe the experience of the writers in their darkest seasons of danger and distress. Lion or lions was the sort of personification under which at such times they often expressed the fierce and remorseless adversaries or crushing calamities that were ready to devour them; and to be delivered from the lion’s mouth was, in plain terms, to be set in a position of safety (Psa_22:21, Psa_35:17, Psa_57:4, etc.). So here: deliverance from the lion’s mouth was simply escape from the complication of adversaries and intriguers that were gnashing, as it were, their teeth at him: for the moment he was free. Nothing, I believe, will ever be gained by pressing the language closer; on the contrary, by doing so we rather impair its force, and get, besides, into a region of uncertainties.