Paul now relays a little of his call and conversion, so to speak. “Conversion” is not really the right word as we tend to use that to describe moving from one organised system of belief and thought and actions to another, but what happened to Paul was far more explosive and paradigm shifting. He writes,
“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus”.
He says that what he is teaching has not come from, via, or through any man (vv.11-13), and he speaks of how zealous he was in his former Jewish life (v.14). “Zeal” is a very interesting term. We often use it to talk of the passion people feel for something, but in context it meant much more than that. Read Numbers 25.7-13 and see what “zeal” does and achieves for the zealous. So, when Paul says he was extremely zealous, he’s not just some ultra-religious guy, he’s trying to be like Phinehas. It consumed him, he lived this extremely zealous life the best he could (cf. Acts 26.9-11).
Then, in v.15, we see a huge change. “But when he…” is emphatic and relays the monumental change that Paul experienced. After the events at the start of Acts 9, we read that Paul went away into Arabia.
Often we will read that this was Paul’s first missionary trip, but, knowing that Paul was extremely zealous for the traditions of [his] fathers, one extremely interesting suggestion is that Paul headed for Mt. Sinai, the place where God had given Moses the Torah and where Elijah went when things went terribly wrong (1 Kings 19).
Paul travelled to the place where his zeal, in a sense, was birthed, the place where God’s law was delivered to His people (Exodus 19). At this place God had previously given His people instructions (Exodus 20, 1 Kings 19.15), and it’s likely that Paul went to this place, being extremely zealous for tradition, to receive his own life-changing, world-changing instructions.
“…but I went away into Arabia…”
Paul could well have travelled to Arabia to hear from the Lord, to take his place among the great figures we read of in Scripture who are used mightily of the Lord for His plans and purposes.
Can you think back to a time in your life, perhaps to a place, where God has given you instructions, guidance, or counsel? Have you ever reached a point in your life where you have been enthusiastically and energetically pursuing a path you are sure is right only for God to speak into the situation and say “No, not like that anymore…”?
I would encourage you to do so today: to pause and to think of that time. If you’ve never experienced anything like that, how about asking the Lord for instructions, guidance, or for counsel on your next move? It could be personal or professional, in family or in finance, with moving or with staying. Whatever your situation today, He is the God who knows and who loves to guide His children.