Paul (died c. 67) Triumphs in Prison

“Paul in Prison,” by Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Paul was imprisoned several times and wrote much from prison. A list of letters and volumes produced in prison or as a result of prison experiences would run to considerable length. Thus it is said (uncertainly) that Don Quixote was penned while Cervantes lay in prison and that Robinson Crusoe was partly completed while Defoe endured a similar fate. Raleigh wrote several volumes of his uncompleted History of the World before his execution in prison, and the Italian monk Campanella penned his communistic City of the Sun while immured for treason and heresy.

All of these were influential works. Greatest and most influential of all prison writings ever penned, however, are the letters of Paul, which have thoroughly impressed the western mind and molded the church. Not all of his influence came through his writings, however. In his first recorded incarceration (at Philippi) the praises he and Silas sang led directly to the founding of a church.

Acts 16:16-34

And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain maid possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the most high God, who show unto us the way of salvation.”

Apostle Paul and the Earliest Churches.Paul in Asia Minor is a brilliant and illuminating production. Beginning with his conversion, it reenacts Paul’s missionary journeys on Anatolian soil (modern Turkey).

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She did this many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out the same hour.

And when her masters saw that the hope of their profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas, and dragged them into the marketplace unto the rulers, and brought them to the magistrates, saying, “These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, and teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.”

And the crowd rose up together against them: and the magistrates tore off their clothes, and commanded they be beaten. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they threw them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.

And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.

And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had fled.

But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm: for we are all here.”

Then the jailer called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, and your household.” And they explained to him and to all who were in his house the word of the Lord.

And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their wounds; and was baptized, he and all his, immediately. And when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his household.

Paul’s willingness to suffer for Christ geared his mind to face prison.

Acts 21: 10-13

…there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he reached us, he took Paul’s belt, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says, ‘so shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ”

And when we heard these things, both we, and the people of that place, begged him not to go up to Jerusalem.

Then Paul answered, “Why do you weep and break my heart? for I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

And when he would not be persuaded, we stopped pleading with him, saying, “The Lord’s will be done.”

Once in prison, Paul spent his days praising God, preaching to all who would listen, praying for the churches, overseeing his converts through correspondence, and preparing his defenses. His letters to Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, Philemon, and the second to Timothy were penned from prison, either while he was in Caesarea (the view of J.A. Robinson), or else in Rome, to which he was ultimately transferred. He frequently mentions his incarceration in them.

Ephesians 6:18-20

Pray … for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the Gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that I may speak boldly about it, as I should.

Philippians 4:2-4

But I want you to understand, brothers, that the things which happened to me have resulted in advancing the Gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brothers in the Lord, gaining confidence by my imprisonment, are much bolder to speak the word without fear.

Colossians 4:10

Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you…

Philemon 13

…I would have kept [Onesimus] with me, that in your place he might have ministered to me in my imprisonment for the Gospel…

Although he spent years in prison on trumped up charges (see Acts 22-28), rather than attribute his imprisonment to man, Paul declared himself a prisoner of Christ. “Since Christ rules,” he must have reasoned, “man cannot hold me without Christ’s permission. Therefore I am Christ’s prisoner.”

Ephesians 4:1

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord…

Philemon 1-3

Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow-worker, and to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church in your house: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prison may have been God’s means of preserving the life of this ardent Gospel-bearer, and resting him, for his labors had been extreme. Nonetheless it had severe trials of its own.

2 Timothy 4: 9-18

Do your best to come to me soon: For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with you: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.

Bring with you the cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus when you come, and the books, but especially the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works. Beware of him, yourself, for he has greatly resisted our words.

At my first hearing no one stood with me, but everyone forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. In spite of that, the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me so that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear, and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Whatever his trials, we see that Paul always sought to advance Christ’s kingdom and God’s glory. He may have been willing to be chained or to die for Christ, but the reality, drawn out as it was for years, had to be hard to bear. Nonetheless, he triumphed, declaring that he had learned to be content whatever his circumstances.

Peter (died c. 67) Miraculously Escapes from Prison

The angel brings Peter out of prison [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Many a prisoner could envy Peter: God sent an angel to open his prison doors. Through his arrest and rescue, Peter was a miraculous testimony to the power of God, for he had no active part, except by prayer, in bringing about his own jail break.

Acts 12

Now about that time King Herod exerted himself to persecute certain of the church. And he killed James, the brother of John, with the sword. And when he saw this pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to arrest Peter also. (This was during the feast of unleavened bread.)

Lives Of The Apostles Paul And Peter. Rick Steves takes us on location to explore the lives of two great apostles. From persecuting members of the Jesus movement, Paul becomes the movement’s primary spokesperson and the one most responsible for spreading the Good News of God’s amazing grace and our everlasting life in Jesus Christ. Rick Steves also follows the story of the Apostle Peter from his early days as a fisherman, through his three-year adventure with Jesus to the tumultuous events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Peter and Paul

And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people. Peter therefore was kept in prison: but the church prayed to God for him without ceasing.

And when time arrived for Herod to bring him out, that same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the guards before the door watched the prison. And, look, the angel of the Lord came to him, and a light shone in the prison: and he slapped Peter on the side, and helped him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands.

And the angel said unto him, “Dress yourself, and fasten your sandals.” And so he did. And he said to him, “Throw your cloak around you, and follow me.”

And Peter went out, and followed him; and did not realize that what the angel was doing was for real but thought he was having a vision. When they got past the first and the second gates, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city; which opened to them by its own accord. Out they went, and passed on through one street; and immediately the angel left him.

And when Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for sure, that the Lord has sent his angel, and delivered me out of Herod’s hand, and from what the Jews expected.”

Christ (c. A.D. 30) Preaches to Prisoners in the Afterworld

Descent of Christ to Limbo,” by Andrea di Bonaiuto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In one of the most hope-filled passages of scripture for us humans, Peter tells us Christ preached to prisoners in the underworld, held since Noah’s day. Just what Christ preached to these dead rebels we cannot say, but evidently He in some way applied the Gospel to their situation (that the just suffered for the unjust) which suggests hope for at least those who died in the flood without knowledge of Christ. Whether this has any bearing on others who died without knowledge of Christ we will not speculate.

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At this hour, millions would die for Him! Why? Who is this unforgettable man called Jesus? This powerful film contains answers that may change your life.

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1 Peter 3:19-21

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing…

John the Baptist (died c. 29) Grows Despondent in Prison

“Beheading of John the Baptist,” by Rogier van der Weyden [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus compared Herod Antipas to a fox. John the Baptist fell into that fox’s jaws for speaking against his degenerate behavior. Like his predecessor Jeremiah, John was not idle in prison but continued to speak with his disciples and to explain truth to the King who had imprisoned him.

Mark 6:17-20

For Herod himself had sent and seized John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her. For John had said to Herod, “It is not legal for you to have your brother’s wife.” Therefore Herodias had a grudge against him, and would have killed him; but she could not because Herod respected John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and paid attention to him; and when he listened to him, he did many things, and listened to him gladly.

Bedbug Bible Gang: Just John The bedbugs share the story of one of their favorite people from the Bible: John the Baptist. You’ll hear about Zechariah’s Surprise, Weird John, and Jesus Takes a Bath.

Just John

Imprisoned below ground (as it is thought) John seems to have become despondent. His faith may even have faltered.

One of the great dangers of imprisonment is depression, and the men of the Bible were as prone to it as anyone else. To be torn from the open air and every day scenes, to be forced into idleness or tedious occupations that chafe the mind, are burdens not easily bourn, especially by men of an active disposition. For John the Baptist, who had wandered the wilderness and proclaimed the Gospel to thousands, prison must have been a heavy burden. Perhaps he longed for the expected ascendancy of the Messiah which would liberate him. As we know, Jesus did not claim the throne of David in those days. Little wonder then, that John began to question the validity of Christ although previously he had testified regarding him.

Luke 7:19-23

And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to Jesus, saying, “Are you the prophecied one? or should we look for someone else?”

When the men had come to Him, they said, “John Baptist has sent us to you, asking, ‘Are you the prophecied one? or should we look for someone else?’ ”

At that time Jesus cured many people of their infirmities and illnesses, and of evil spirits; and he restored sight to many who were blind. Then Jesus answered them saying, “Go your way, and tell John what you have seen and heard; how the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the Gospel is preached to the poor. And blessed are all who won’t be offended in me.”

Jehoiachin (fl. 597 B.C.), Raised from Prison, Symbolizes Israel’s Restoration

Jeconiah (Jehoiachin), published by Guillaume Rouille (c.1518–1589) (“Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum”) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Psalm 107 speaks of rebels in prison. Jehoiachin was a king of Judah whom God turned over to the Babylonians because of his wickedness and the folly of his nation. There he languished in prison many years until his unexpected release. Jehoiachin had found favor in the eyes of the King of Babylon. In Jehoiachin’s release, God’s forgiveness of Israel was signified, and the nation’s restoration presaged.

Here is the Bible’s account of the auspicious event.

Jeremiah 52:31-34

And it came to pass in the seven and thirtieth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, in the five and twentieth day of the month, that Evilmerodach king of Babylon in the first year of his reign lifted up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah, and brought him forth out of prison. And spake kindly unto him, and set his throne above the throne of the kings that were with him in Babylon, and changed his prison garments: and he did continually eat bread before him all the days of his life. And for his diet, there was a continual diet given him of the king of Babylon, every day a portion until the day of his death, all the days of his life.

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Is there meaning in suffering?

Early in the twentieth century a basket of tablets from Babylon sat neglected in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin. Dull records of supply issues, they had lain there many years, seemingly of no great interest to scholars, nor of high value. In 1933 E.F. Weidner undertook their translation. In those unexciting clay marks he discovered a rare treasure—references that confirmed the statement that appeared in the closing paragraph of the book of Jeremiah. Suddenly the world was electrified to learn that among the goods issued by the keeper of the royal stores was sesame oil—to none other than King Jehoiachin. Not only was he mentioned by name, but he was called “the King of Judah.” Five of his sons were mentioned with him.

Jeremiah (fl. 628–587 B.C.) is Sustained in Prison

Jeremiah in stocks, by Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

The prophet Jeremiah was a political prisoner. He had commited no crime except to speak out against the policies of his nation’s leaders, declaring God’s word. For this he was declared unpatriotic, and faced an imprisonment that could have been killed him. Even while in prison, he continued to issue God’s word to the king and other leaders.

Jeremiah 37:12-38:28

Then Jeremiah went out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin, to separate himself thence in the midst of the people. But while he was in the Benjamin gate, a captain of the prison was there, whose name was Irijah, the son of Shelemiah, the son of Hananiah; and he took Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “You are deserting to the Chaldeans.”

Jeremiah is the story of the prophet who abandons his family and the woman he loves in order to relay God’s message in Jerusalem. Although he is persecuted, imprisoned, and branded as a traitor, he continues fearlessly with his mission, experiencing Jerusalem’s destruction first-hand.

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Jeremiah answered, That is a lie. I am not deserting to the Chaldeans.” But he would not listen to him. So Irijah took Jeremiah, and brought him to the princes. Because of this the princes were angry with Jeremiah, and struck him, and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe: for they had made that the prison. After Jeremiah was put into the dungeon, a vaulted cell, he was there many days. Then Zedekiah the king sent, and brought him out: and the king asked him secretly in his house, and said, “Is there any word from the Lord?”

And Jeremiah said, “There is: for, you will be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon.” Also Jeremiah said to king Zedekiah, “What have I offended against you, or against your servants, or against this people, that you have put me in prison? Where now are your prophets which prophesied to you, saying, “The king of Babylon shall not come against you, nor against this land?” Therefore hear me now, I beg you, O my lord the king; let my petition, I pray you, be accepted before you; that you do not make me return to the house of Jonathan the scribe, lest I die there.”

Then Zedekiah the king commanded that they should commit Jeremiah into the court of the prison, and that they should give him daily a piece of bread out of the bakers” street, until all the bread in the city was gone. Thus Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.
Then Shephatiah the son of Mattan, and Gedaliah the son of Pashur, and Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashur the son of Malchiah, heard the words that Jeremiah had spoken unto all the people, saying, “Thus saith the Lord, “Whoever stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by disease; but whoever goes out to the Chaldeans shall live; for he shall have his life for a prize, and shall live.” Thus saith the Lord, ‘This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army, who will capture it.’ ”

Therefore the princes said unto the king, “We ask you, let this man be put to death: for in this way he weakens the hands of the warriors who remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them: for this man is seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.”

Then Zedekiah the king said, “Look, he is in your hand: for the king cannot do anything to resist you.”

Then took they Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech, that was in the court of the prison: and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mud, so Jeremiah sank in the mud.

Now when Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs which was in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon—the king then sitting in the Benjamin gate—Ebedmelech went out from the king’s house, and said to the king, “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon; and he is likely to die for hunger in the place where he is: for there is no more bread in the city.”

Then the king commanded Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, saying, “Take from here thirty men with you, and pull Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon, before he dies.”

So Ebedmelech took the men with him, and went into the house of the king under the treasury, and took from there castoff clothes and worn out rags, and let them down by ropes into the dungeon to Jeremiah. And Ebedmelech the Ethiopian said unto Jeremiah, “Put now these castoff clothes and worn out rags under your arm puts armpits beneath the ropes.” And Jeremiah did so.

So they pulled Jeremiah up with ropes, and took him out of the dungeon: and Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison. Then Zedekiah the king sent, and brought Jeremiah the prophet to him into the third entrance that is in the house of the Lord: and the king said to Jeremiah, “I will ask you a question; hide nothing from me.”

Then Jeremiah said unto Zedekiah, “If I tell you the truth, will you not surely put me to death? and if I give you counsel, will you listen to me?”

So Zedekiah the king swore secretly to Jeremiah, saying, “As the Lord lives, who made us this soul, I will not put you to death, neither will I turn you over to these men who seek your life.”

Then said Jeremiah unto Zedekiah, “Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel; If you will assuredly go out to the king of Babylon’s officers, then your soul shall live, and this city shall not be burned with fire; and you shall live, and your household. But if you won’t surrender to the king of Babylon’s officers, then will this city be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you won’t escape out of their hand.

And Zedekiah the king said unto Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Jews that have deserted to the Chaldeans, lest the Babylonians turn me over to them, and they abuse me.”

But Jeremiah said, “They shall not turn you over. I beg you, Obey the Lord’s voice, which I speak unto you: so it shall be well with you, and your soul live. But if you refuse to surrender, this is the word that the Lord has shown me: ‘Look, all the women that are left in the king of Judah’s house will be brought out to the king of Babylon’s officials, and these women shall say, “Your friends have set you on, and have prevailed against you: while your feet are stuck in the mud, they are turned away.” So they shall bring out all your wives and your children to the Chaldeans: and you will not escape out of their hand, but shall be taken by the hand of the king of Babylon: and you will make it so that this city is burned with fire.’ ”

Then said Zedekiah unto Jeremiah, “Let no man know of these words, and you will not die. But if the princes hear that I have talked with you, and they come to you, and ask you, ‘Tell us now what you have said unto the king, hide it not from us, and we will not put thee to death; also what the king said to you,’ Then you must say to them, ‘I presented my petition before the king, that he would not cause me to return to Jonathan’s house, to die there.’ ”

Then all the officials came to Jeremiah, and asked him: and he told them what the king had commanded. So they left off speaking with him; for the conversations was not overheard.

So Jeremiah stayed in the court of the prison until the day Jerusalem was captured: and he was there when Jerusalem was captured.

Micaiah (fl. 852 B.C.) Speaks God’s Word Though it Means He Will Go to Prison.

View of Samaria, where Micaiah prophecied Ahab’s doom, by Ori~ (Own work) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

When Micaiah was placed in temporary custody, it was for making an unpopular prediction; the terms of his incarceration were that he was to be held until that prediction, as was expected, failed, at which time, presumably, he would be executed as a false prophet. The significance of his imprisonment—the benefit that he offered to others through it—was not some great writing or art or music, but a permanent testimony to God’s veracity, for his prediction came true.

1 Kings 22:13-28.

And the messenger who went to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look now, the words of the prophets declare good to the king with one mouth: let your word, I urge you, be like the word of one of them, and speak what is good.”

Is There Meaning in Evil and Suffering? Ravi Zacharias offers the Christian perspective to this concern and his message is followed by responses from a plasma physicist, a Hindu philosopher, and a Christian apologist.

Is there meaning in suffering?

And Micaiah replied, “As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me is what I will I say.”

So he came to the king. And the king said unto him, “Micaiah, shall we go against Ramoth Gilead to battle, or shall we hold off?”

And he answered him, “Go, and prosper: for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king.”

And the king said unto him, “How many times must I warn you that you shall tell me nothing but what is true in the name of the Lord?”

And he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the Lord said, “These have no master: let them return every man to his house in peace.”

And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he would prophesy no good concerning me, but evil?”

And Micaiah said, “So hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left. And the Lord said, “Who will persuade Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth Gilead?” And one said this, and another said that. And there came forward a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, “I will persuade him.

” And the Lord said to him, “How?” And he said, “I will go out, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” And he said, “You will persuade him, and also succeed: go out, and do so.”

“Now therefore, look, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the Lord has spoken evil concerning you.”

But Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah went near, and struck Micaiah on the cheek, and said, “Which way did the Spirit of the Lord go from me to speak to you?”

And Micaiah answered, “Look, you shall see in that day, when you go into an inner room to hide yourself.”

And the king of Israel said, “Take Micaiah, and carry him back to Amon the governor of the city, and to Joash the king’s son; And say, ‘This is what the king says, “Put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with the bread of affliction and with the water of affliction, until I come in peace.” ’ ”

And Micaiah said, “If you return at all in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Listen, People, every one of you.”

Hanani the Seer (fl. 870 BC) Imprisoned for Truth-Telling

Ramah from the South by OSU Special Collections & Archives; Hanani rebuked King Asa of Judea for paying Syria to end Israel’s fortification of this town. [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

In Hanani we have an example of a prophet who paid for speaking the truth. King Asa of Judah, Solomon’s great-grandson, was generally a good king. He sponsored revival throughout his land, strengthened Judah’s defenses, and defeated a huge Ethiopian army with God’s help. In his old age, however, he faltered from his principles enough that God sent the prophet Hanani to warn him. Rather than accept the warning, Asa became furious and jailed God’s messenger. Here is the account from the Bible.

2 Chronicles 16:1-10

In the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah, and built Ramah, in order to stop anyone from going out or coming in to Asa king of Judah.

Is There Meaning in Evil and Suffering? Ravi Zacharias offers the Christian perspective to this concern and his message is followed by responses from a plasma physicist, a Hindu philosopher, and a Christian apologist.
Is there meaning in suffering?

So Asa brought silver and gold out of the temple and palace treasuries and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Syria, who lived in Damascus, saying,

“There is a treaty between me and you, and between my father and your father: look, I’m sending you silver and gold; break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel, so that he may withdraw from me.”

And Ben-hadad listened to king Asa, and sent the captains of his forces against the cities of Israel; and they attacked Ijon and Dan and Abelmaim, and all the store-magazines of the cities of Naphtali.

When Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah, and abandoned his work there.

Then king Asa took all Judah; and they carried away the stones and the timber from Ramah, with which Baasha had been building, and Asa built Geba and Mizpah with them.

And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said unto him, “Because you have relied on the king of Syria, and not relied on Jehovah your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped out of your hand.

“Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army, with very many chariots and horsemen? but when you relied on Jehovah, he delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of Jehovah run to and fro through the whole earth, to show himself strong in behalf of those whose heart is perfect toward him. In this you have acted foolishly; for from this time on you will have wars.”

Asa was angry with the seer, and put him in the prison; for he was enraged with him because of this. And Asa oppressed some of the people at the same time.

Samson (ca. 11th-Century B.C.) is Chastened in Prison

“The Blinding of Samson,” Wincenty de Lesseur [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In modern terms, Samson went to prison for terrorist activities. When his enemies, the Philistines, captured him, they put out his eyes and set him to hard, repetitive labor. He became a spectacle of mockery and the object of taunts.

Samson was set apart from birth to begin the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines. Endowed with incredible physical strength, he was one of the great heroes of the Bible, but his weakness for women led to his downfall. Would God give him a second chance in prison?

samson dvd

Grinding grain was a common punishment assigned to prisoners throughout history. It brutalized them, reducing them to the level of stock animals. Such was Samson’s fate. His was a life sentence, too. For him, there would be no exit from prison except by death. He hastened that outcome, defeating his enemies through his suicidal death, and thereby giving relief to his country. Here is how the Bible describes it:

Judges 16

But the Philistines took him, put out his eyes, brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with brass fetters; and he ground corn in the prison house. However, the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven. Then the lords of the Philistines gathered themselves together to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, “Our god has delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.”

And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, “Our god has delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, who killed many of us.” And it came to pass, while their hearts were merry, they said, “Call for Samson, that he may entertain us.” And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and they mocked him: and they set him between the pillars.

And Samson said to the lad who held him by the hand, “Allow me to feel the pillars that hold up this house so that I may lean on them.” Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were on the roof about three thousand men and women, who looked on while Samson was exhibited for their entertainment.

And Samson called unto the Lord, and said, “O Lord God, remember me, I pray you, and strengthen me, I pray you, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.”

And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and by which it was held up, one with his right hand, and the other with his left. And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people who were in it, so the dead which he killed at his death were more than he had slain during his life.

Joseph (ca. 19th-Century B.C.) is Refined by Prison

Joseph arrested. Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The first mention of prison in the Bible occurs in the story of Joseph, whose honorable refusal to indulge in adulterous sex with his master’s wife infuriated her. She retaliated with false accusations that prompted her husband to cast Joseph into prison.

Joseph, hated by his brothers, is sold into Egypt and faces crushing tests. His master’s wife falsely accuses him of attempted rape and he goes to prison. What looks like tragedy ends in triumph as God transcends the evil intentions of men.


Refusing to be crushed by his circumstances, Joseph did his best in prison and gained the confidence of his jailers. Eventually he rose to rule Egypt. A man who makes the most of his opportunities in prison will probably make the most of opportunities granted him elsewhere. Here is the Biblical account adapted from the KJV.

Genesis 39:20- 41:14.

And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, where the king’s prisoners were confined: and he was there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favor in the sight of the warden. And the warden committed all the prisoners who were in the prison to Joseph’s care; and whatever they did, he was responsible for it. The warden did not inspect anything that was under his care; because the Lord was with him, and whatever he did, the Lord made it to prosper.

And it came to pass after these things, that the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker offended their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with these two officers of his, against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers. And he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was locked up. And the captain of the guard entrusted Joseph with them, and he served them: and they continued a while in custody. And they each dreamed a dream, both men in the same night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, this butler and baker of the king of Egypt, who were locked up in the prison.

And Joseph came in to them in the morning, and looked at them, and noticed they were sad. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in the custody of his lord’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?”

And they answered him, “We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it.”

And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me them, I pray you.”

And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “In my dream, look, a vine was in front of me; And in the vine were three branches: and it was as though it budded, and its blossoms shot out; and its clusters brought forth ripe grapes: And Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.”

And Joseph said unto him, “This is the interpretation of it: the three branches are three days: within three days Pharaoh shall lift up your head, and restore you to your place: and you will place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just like you used to when you were his butler. But think on me when things go well with you, and show kindness, to me, I beg you, and mention me to Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house: For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.”

When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said to Joseph, I also was in my dream, and, behold, I had three white baskets on my head: and in the top basket there was of all manner of baked goods for Pharaoh; and the birds ate them out of the basket upon my head.”

And Joseph answered and said, “This is the interpretation of it: the three baskets are three days: within three days Pharaoh will lift your head off you, and shall hang you on a tree; and the birds will eat your flesh off you.”

And it came about on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. And he restored the chief butler to his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand: But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

And it came about that at the end of two full years Pharaoh dreamed: and, look, he stood by the river. And, look, there came up out of the river seven well favored fat cows and they fed in a meadow. And, look, seven other cows came up after them out of the river, bad-looking and skinny and stood by the other cows upon the brink of the river. And the bad looking, skinny cows ate up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke.

And he slept and dreamed the second time: and, look, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good. And, behold, seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind sprang up after them. And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, look, it was a dream. And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men, and Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them for Pharaoh.

Then the chief butler said to Pharaoh, “I remember my faults this day; Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me in custody in the captain of the guard’s house, both me and the chief baker. And we dreamed a dream one night, he and I; we dreamed each man according to the interpretation of his dream. And there was there with us a young man, an Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted our dreams to us; to each man according to his dream he did interpret. And the outcome was just as he interpreted to us; me he restored to my office, and him he hanged.”

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him out of the dungeon quickly: and he shaved himself, and changed his clothes, and came to Pharaoh.

Joseph had the wisdom to make the best of bad circumstances. Instead of stewing over his situation, he worked hard to become a reliable trustee. Like many prisoners, he suffered disappointment when his hopes for release were raised and dashed. In the end, however, his virtue and innocence were rewarded.