[ABOVE—Detail of the Mamertine prison in Rome (Carcere Mamertinum), which supposedly held the Apostles Peter and Paul, by Chris 73 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons]
God must have a special place in his heart for prisoners. How else do we explain the frequent mention of prison and prisoners in his word? Imprisonment is one of the most wretched situations into which humans can fall in this world. Not only are prisoner movements and activities restricted, not only are they deprived of family ties and forced to dwell in some of the most vicious company on earth, but they enter a slave-like relationship where others who care little for their well-being, order them about, and even abuse them. God, whose love and mercy cause him to commiserate with the downtrodden, sympathizes with the sufferings of prisoners, and so the Bible speaks often, and with compassion, of those in prison.
Thus we have one of Isaiah’s great Messianic prophesies that the Suffering Servant would set captives free, a prophecy which Jesus applied to himself at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:18,19).
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me; because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good news to the meek; He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…
This concern also appears in Isaiah 49:9 and is likewise evident in Psalms 102 and 146:
Psalm 102: 19,20.
For he looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven the Lord viewed the earth to hear the groans of the prisoners, to loose those who were appointed to death…
Who executes justice for the oppressed,
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners.
The magnanimous character of God is shown in the extent of his concern. It is not just those who are captive for their faith, or falsely accused, or in the bondage of persecution whom he remembers with his liberating grace. Quite the contrary; in Psalm 107 we see his concern even for those who find themselves in prison because they rebelled against his word.
Psalm 107: 10-15.
Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron because they rebelled against the words of God, and rejected the counsel of the Most High: therefore He brought down their heart with labor; they fell down, and there was none to help. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their chains in two. Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!
The majority of prisoners mentioned in the Bible were not rebels, but rather saints cast into prison as a result of their faithful witness. The first recorded in the sacred text is Joseph, and the last was Paul. (Although John was exiled, it is not clear whether or not he was imprisoned).
Here, then, is a collection of prison literature drawn from the Bible.
- Joseph (ca. 19th-Century B.C.) is Refined by Prison
- Samson (ca. 11th-Century B.C.) is Chastened in Prison
- Hanani the Seer (fl. 870 BC) Imprisoned for Truth-Telling
- Micaiah (fl. 852 B.C.) Speaks God’s Word Though it Means He Will Go to Prison.
- Jeremiah (fl. 628–587 B.C.) is Sustained in Prison
- Jehoiachin (fl. 597 B.C.), Raised from Prison, Symbolizes Israel’s Restoration
- John the Baptist (died c. 29) Grows Despondent in Prison
- Christ (c. A.D. 30) Preaches to Prisoners in the Afterworld
- Peter (died c. 67) Miraculously Escapes from Prison
- Paul (died c. 67) Triumphs in Prison
- King Manasseh (d. c. 642 BC) repents in captivity