Over and over again in the New Testament it’s clear that the story has some basis in the Tanakh (Old Testament). Over and over again, when we do a little digging, we find that the all-important backdrop of the New Testament is found in the Tanakh. From the way people talk to the things they do, it’s all firmly rooted in God’s book.
A good example of this is in Acts 16. When Paul and Silas are in prison, what they do there is no exception to this rule, and knowing what the backdrop of this story is helps to enrich it greatly!
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are thrown into prison after Paul commands a spirit to leave a young slave girl who could foretell the future. The owners of the slave girl, who were making quite a bit of money off of her, became so enraged that they made up lies about Paul and Silas and had them beaten and put in jail.
23After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.
I had always read verse 25 to say “Paul and Silas had been singing all night, and about midnight when they were still singing…” but that’s not what it says. It says they were singing about midnight. That’s a peculiar time to be singing, don’t you think? Why would Paul and Silas be singing at midnight? And have you ever wondered what it was they were singing? There is more to this story than meets the eye, because it’s rooted in the Tanakh. There’s a reason they sang at midnight, and knowing the context helps frame the picture better. I believe they were singing Psalm 119:
60 I will hasten and not delay
to obey your commands.
61 Though the wicked bind me with ropes,
I will not forget your law.
62 At midnight I rise to give you thanks
for your righteous laws.
Paul and Silas weren’t just singing at midnight because they were bored, or because they had been singing for hours on end. They sang at midnight because of Psalm 119, the song book of their faith. It’s likely that they had all 150 psalms memorized (Don’t believe it? Just ask yourself: how many songs do you have memorized? Personally, I have hundreds memorized, most of them secular). Even though the wicked bound them, they sang out at midnight about God’s righteous laws and how they were struggling to obey them. I think that’s why they sang at midnight. I think that’s why God answered them at midnight.
When you know the context, it makes the story richer and deeper.
Peace to you,