Acts 19:21-41 God Rules Men In Providence.
Paul’s longer term goal was to return to Jerusalem and then to visit Rome (v. 21). However, all along the way Paul has been led by the Spirit and providence, to where there were those open to the word. To this end he decided to send Erastus and Timothy into Macedonia, while “he himself stayed in Asia for a time” (v. 22). One of the chief places in Asia was Ephesus, and it was known as the place where the temple of Diana had been erected. People came there from all over, and as a result there was a booming trade in all things associated with Diana and the temple, including silver shrines of the goddess. However, with Paul and others preaching that there is but one God, who is not an idol made by human hands, many were turning away from this idolatry, and people like the silversmith Demetrius were being impacted financially (vv. 23-26). He and his colleagues also were concerned that their religion was being despised (v. 27).
Just as it was with the slave girl who had practiced divination, anger arose here because people’s livelihoods were in jeopardy (v. 28 Cf. 16:16-19). As a result Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s travel companions from Macedonia were seized (v. 29). Even though Paul wanted to go to their defence, other rulers from Asia, his friends, prevented him from doing so (vv. 30-31). However, this dispute was much bigger than Paul and the Way, because the Jews were obviously opposed to idolatry as well. So when the Jews put forward Alexander for a defence, the crowd “found out he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians’” (v. 34)! However, the city clerk, to his credit, appealed as he should have to the rule of law, and since they could not bring a charge of theft or blasphemy against the men, Demetrius and his colleagues were directed to bring whatever charges they might have before a lawful assembly (vv. 35-39).
The clerk made clear that they were in danger of being charged with inciting the crowd in an unlawful assembly, and so he dismissed them (vv. 40-41). This account is instructive on a number of fronts. Firstly, it is well for us to remember that the Lord often uses our enemies against each other to work for our deliverance. There is no indication that Alexander and the Jews who put him forward were in any way Christians. Secondly, even the clerk of the city understood the importance of the rule of law, and even though he was likely more interested in protecting himself, the case he made was nevertheless a valid and biblical one. Disputes must be resolved by the rule of law and not vigilantism, including in matters of religion. Finally, we sometimes must listen to friends who hold us back for good reason, or be those who hold back others, if we believe that God can and does sometimes use easier and more efficient means for accomplishing His purposes.