“When day came, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. So they slipped the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the linkage that bound the steering oars together. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and steered toward the beach. However, they encountered a patch of crosscurrents and ran the ship aground; the bow stuck fast and could not be moved, but the stern was being broken up by the force of the waves. Now the soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners so that none of them would escape by swimming away. But the centurion, wanting to save Paul’s life, prevented them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land, and the rest were to follow, some on planks and some on pieces of the ship. And in this way all were brought safely to land” —Acts 27:39-44
If you remember, Paul was finally going to Rome and accompanied by a boat load of other prisoners, Luke and Aristarchus. Paul recommended they stay in Fair Haven, which, in hindsight, proved to have been wise counsel. While they were sailing on to the next port, a storm arose. For two weeks they were tossed around the seas until they finally saw land.
No one recognized the land, so they had no idea if there were sandbars or other hidden dangers. All they could do was make a run for shore. They unfastened the ropes; left the anchors in the sea; disabled the steering mechanism (the steering oars), which may have given them a bit more speed. Then they hoisted the front sail, which allowed the wind to drive them toward the shore. But then they had some crosscurrents knock them off course and they stuck fast on a sandbar. The bow of the ship held fast while the waves battered the back of the ship so that it began to break up.
It was obvious that it was going to be every man for himself. The soldiers knew full well that they didn’t dare let their prisoners escape. We aren’t told, but I bet some of them were murders or theives and under sentence of death. They would certainly try to escape, and since they had no idea where they were, the soldiers did not want to risk an escape, so they decided to kill all the prisoners on the ship and then make land. Julius was responsible for Paul, who was not under any sentence of death, but rather under appeal. In order for Julius to complete his mission, he had to deliver Paul alive. Now granted, to would be easy to say that he died in the shipwreck, but because of the centurion’s character, he could let Paul die. So, he ordered the soldiers (who were obviously under his command) not to kill their prisoners. This was another part of the divine promise to save everyone on board ship. Just as the sailors could not abandon ship, so the soldiers could not kill the prisoners. Everyone must survive this adventure without so much as the “loss of one hair.”
Isn’t it great when you have someone who can step forward and take command? The centurion ordered whoever could swim to jump overboard and swim to shore; anyone who could not swim, were told to find something from the ship that would float and make their way to land. Amazingly . . . or not so “amazing,” as fulfillment of God’s promise, every single person on board that ship made it safely to shore.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Story of Acts