Paul and Silas Sing it Out!

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.

–Acts 16:23-26

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.

–Psalm 119:60-62

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,



5 thoughts on “Paul and Silas Sing it Out!

  1. Excellent, James. Thank you.

    I once stayed over at a Trappist monastery and joined the brothers in their prayer schedule, where they would sing and chant the Psalms. What an incredible experience.

    Is it correct that the Jewish schedule called for prayer three times daily… 9, 12, and 3… and that the events of the Messiah’s crucifixion followed that pattern?

    Likely, the joyous and devoted follower would continue that three hour pattern around the clock. That is about what the Trappists did, but that the 9 in the evening time was not kept, so that the brothers could get a stretch of uninterrupted sleep.

    • Don,

      Wow, what an experience to stay on a monastery like that! That’s very cool.

      To answer your question, we know from historical sources and the Bible that in the first century there were two main “prayer times” (read: temple worship & sacrifice) at the temple every day. The first was at about the 3rd hour (9am, though that one is sort of vague) and the second one was at 9th hour (3pm, and that one is more specific and certain). And yes, Jesus was nailed to the cross at the 3rd hour (9am) and he gave up his spirit at the 9th hour (3pm), at the exact times when everyone in Jerusalem was standing still because a priest was slaughtering a lamb at the temple. Since Jesus died on Passover, it becomes even more meaningful since the big Passover sacrifice for the whole nation took place at the 3pm service, exactly when Jesus died.


  2. I wish you the best, most meaningful Passover ever, James.

    Hey, concerning hours, I found an interesting page. It says this about the sixth hour:

    “The second lamb is brought out and tied to the altar at high noon. [Mishnah: Tamid 4:1]… (it) is given a drink from a gold cup and is tied to the altar until the time of sacrifice.”

    As my daughter said, when she was quite young… “insteresting.” (sp)

    Here is the link:

  3. James, you are so right that knowing the “back story” allows for us to see the rich reality of people’s lives that are chronicled in the BIble – rather than just reading verses *about* them. I really enjoyed what you’ve added to this moment for me!

    I have always loved thinking about this time of singing with Paul and Silas – and have thought how amazing it would have been to have heard them. We protected Americans don’t know much about the beauty and security that comes by praising God’s awesomeness during a time of great trial – especially fearing for our lives. Can you imagine what it means when our heart is screaming the REALness of “My God is an Awesome God” or “It is Well with my Soul” or “Though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law.

    I have always tried to imagine how amazing it would have been to have shared this moment with them!

    Alice (Robin’s mom – we found your blog while trying to find info on the Haskell Singing School – and I have kept it open wanting to come back and do some reading here.)

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