How Jesus saves us from angry mobs with rocks

In a recent reading of 2 Timothy, I was struck that Paul refers to a number of times in which he was delivered by God—and that these refer to concrete, historical, “earthly” challenges:

Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. [2 Tim. 3:11]

The account of these events in Acts 13-14 makes clear that these afflictions involved visible, corporeal enemies, who were pelting Paul with visible, corporeal rocks.

Later in the letter, Paul says that he “was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Tim. 4:17). I suspect this is an allusion to Psalm 22, in which David calls upon the Lord to save him “from the lion’s mouth” (Ps. 22:21).

There is a lesson here: when we come to the many passages about rescue, salvation and deliverance in the Hebrew Scriptures, it is common for us to see them merely as metaphors or images of God’s salvation of us from our guilt, sin and his condemnation. This is correct so far as it goes, but we should also see these deliverances as types of God’s salvation of us from angry mobs with rocks.

It is quite true that the apostolic mission was sui generis, and that not all aspects of Paul’s experience can be replicated by Christians generally. However, the apostles were given to the church as examples to imitate, as Paul teaches in many places.

God’s people are often enough opposed by antagonistic megacorporations, liars in the media, godless public officials and petty tyrants. They can and do exercise their power to resist the church’s mission and to make life hard for ordinary saints. In situations where we find ourselves opposed by them, we should see ourselves in need of God’s deliverance, and we should follow Paul’s example in asking God to rescue us from the mouths of lions and the horns of oxen. And when God does answer our prayers, we should not be more pious than the Scriptures are: we should thank God for delivering us, just as Paul and the psalmists do.