When a soldier goes AWOL it is a disgrace for him, his family and his country. To become AWOL is shame on any willful deserter. On the other hand OWALL is something to boast about. Paul says “I must go on boasting” and describes going out a window and down a basket over a wall and slipping out of the hands of those who would kill him (2 Corinthians 11:33).
AWOL is an acronym for “absent without leave.”
OWALL is an acronym for over the wall in a basket.
Paul is hesitant to boast except in his weaknesses but he does on this occasion boast about going over the wall and having inexpressible heavenly visions. And just so he would not get too proud of successfully escaping his persecutors by going over the wall and having his heavenly vision Paul received his thorn in the flesh.
There is a time for everything under the sun and with biblical examples we see there is a time to flee persecution. We don’t want to do anything with the wrong motives but there are valid situations where someone can flee persecution and honor their Lord and savior Jesus Christ. I am looking at a few biblical examples where we see our heroes flee persecution.
Paul goes over the wall.
In Acts 9:24 Paul, who just came off his Damascus road experience, learned of a plot to take his life. Day and night they watched the city gates in order to kill Paul. One night, however, his disciples took him and lowered him in a basket through a window in the wall (vs 25).
There was a time when Paul was warned that he was headed right into the eye of the persecution storm. Paul was later ready to face his persecutors and be bound and die for Jesus. (Acts 21:13). But that was a unique situation later in life. There were many times he fled the scene of the disturbance preaching the gospel caused.
There are numerous passages where the greatest heroes of the Bible fled persecution. I want to look at a few of them here. This is not to say there is a time and a place to stand ground and honor the Lord by receiving persecution, but it good to at least study the occasions when great men of faith fled the scene. Why did some flee and others stay? Why did some flee on some occasions and choose to march directly into harm and even death on other occasions. Did those great men who fled compromise the good news of great joy?
Moses parents are part of the Hebrews chapter 11 hall of faith. What did they do to make such an elite list? They put Moses put in a basket and tricked the Egyptians when persecution was raging. (Exodus 2:1-11)
King David fled those who were planning to harm him. David was lowered out through a window when his house was being watched. David went out the window to escape persecution of Saul and his men. (1 Samuel 19:11-13)
David stood up to Goliath and brought dignity back to Israel when King Saul a King who would hide in the baggage was nauseously afraid of the Philistines. But even David who stood up to Goliath we find so much of the time on the run. It was honorable considering the background reasons why David fled from Saul. It was dishonorable when we look at the background reasons David fled from Absalom.
When the two faithful spies were in danger in Jericho they arranged with Rahab to lower them out the window. 15 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. (Joshua 2:15). Rather than face the soldiers of Jericho these two spies hid and fled. There are spies we respect and some we disrespect. These spies we respect along with their heroic predecessors Joshua and Caleb.
Joseph and Mary escape to Egypt
The enemies of Christ were out to kill him from his birth. Joseph and Mary according to the instructions of the Lord fled the country until those who would kill him had died. “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son. (Matthew 2:13-15)
A few like John the Baptist that never ran, ever.
There are a lot of examples of those who fled. There are also those who never fled anyone of anything. John’s death came for confronting Herod for his sin. John the Baptist called the religious elite a brood of vipers and he called out the sin of the politically powerful. Of anyone ever born John was the greatest. There were many who fled, but not John the Baptist.
Jesus called his disciples to take up their cross but also to flee when they persecute you
The call of Christ is to take up the cross of Jesus. This call of Christ requires obedience at any cost. Following Christ may lead to persecution and even death. “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.” (John 16:2)
Jesus also told his disciples to flee from one town to the next to keep preaching the kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus said “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next.” (Matthew 10:23) Not only did Jesus tell the disciples to flee to the next village, it was in the context of standing firm to the end.
There are numerous times in the gospel where Jesus slipped away when angry persecutors where setting out to harm him (John 8:59, John 10:39, Luke 4:30). Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed (Matthew 4:12).
Jesus is the ultimate example of facing persecution to the height of human suffering and death. Jesus willingly laid down his life. Jesus said No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. (John 10:18) and at the right time he did just that when he died on the cross.
Post Pentecost: bold, persecuted, martyred and scattered.
From the day of Pentecost until the stoning of Stephen there was a boldness as the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem and the apostles were put in public jail. This was the second time Peter and John were in jail for their faith since Pentecost. In the midst of persecution the apostles never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
When Stephen was martyred a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1). Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went (Acts 8:4). There was definitely a boldness after Pentecost but it reached a point where the persecution was so great that the church scattered and when they were persecuted in Jerusalem they preached wherever they went.
Paul and Barnabas at Lystra and Iconium
There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 6 But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7 where they continued to preach the gospel. (Acts 14:5-6)
Paul faced persecution and was stoned at Lystra and they thought he was dead, but he did not stay around but he and Barnabas left the next day. (Acts 14:20)
Paul, Silas and Timothy depart Thessalonica for Berea
As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Acts 17:10 But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. 14 The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. 15 Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible. Acts 17:10:13-15 Jason was arrested when the city authorities could not find Paul and Silas.
The passages on fleeing and facing persecution or generally more descriptive that prescriptive but there are enough of them to finds some principles when we take them all together. There may not be any passage that we could call a pattern to how we respond to persecution and when we flee and when we stay and also who should flee and who should stay, but how the believers responded to persecution in
Thessalonica and Berea is for me the closest and best thing we have to a pattern for fleeing persecution. The Apostle goes very far away, Paul to Athens. Other outsiders, Silas and Timothy remained near Thessalonica and on the scene at Berea. Jason and the other Thessalonica locals stayed there in the midst of the persecution.
Clearly some wrong fleeing.
There is some fleeing in Scripture that is not good. Jonah flees not because he is persecuted in one town but because he does not want to see his preaching received. Elijah was not boasting when he ran from the grasp of Jezabel, but he was depressed. Peter at the cross was the opposite of the Peter we find following Pentecost. Peter in what is even worse than a wrong kind of fleeing, he denied Christ.
Later as an adult Moses fled Egypt to the wilderness. I don’t see in this case how Moses could ever boast of his fleeing Egypt like Paul did when he went over the wall in a basket.
It is very noble and honorable to face persecution and even martyrdom, but it is not the only path that should always be taken in every circumstance. I want to affirm believers who maintain a bold response to persecution.
We do find many biblical examples of our Bible heroes fleeing persecution, but never is there a good biblical example to deny Christ to escape persecution.
If someone leaves an area that is dangerous to preach the gospel somewhere else we should be slow to judge them. Not everyone must stay in every situation.
We support those who stay or before they can flee are persecuted. We also know that there are legitimate times we can go over the wall in a basket. There are times when they persecute you in one town you can flee to the next.