Arabia of Saul’s day was different from Arabia we know today. It was farther north and was called Nabatean Arabia, and actually included the city of Damascus. Aretas, was a king of Arabia, and one of his governors participated in the conspiracy to kill Saul to 2 Corinthians 11:32-33:
In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.
THE NABATEANS. This powerful people occupied the northwestern part of Arabia and Trans-Jordan in the NT period. They are not mentioned directly in the OT or NT. In the first century, the Nabateans were a significant political power in the Near East. In many respects, they were one of the most remarkable and vigorous people in the eastern Mediterranean world during the Roman Empire.
The Nabateans usually are associated with the magnificent ruins of Petra, southeast of the Dead Sea, but Aretas’ kingdom stretched to the Negev in the west and north as far as Damascus. The principal Nabatean deity was a god named Dushara, symbolized by a block of stone or obelisk. They also worshiped Hadad, the Syrian storm-god equivalent of the Greek Zeus and Atargatis, the equivalent to Artemis, the Greek fertility goddess.
Why did the governor lend his soldiers to the Jewish conspirators? Saul irritated all kinds of unbelievers because everywhere he went, he preached Christ. One can imagine, Saul walking through the narrow gorge into the Nabatean capital of Petra and taking the earliest opportunity to preach Christ in the synagogue. His preaching inflamed Jews and Gentiles of the region. So they came together to eliminate this preacher who opposed their religions.
It’s hard to imagine that not one Bedouin in the wilderness of the cliffs and wades of Arabia had not made a confession for Christ. Yet, we must assume that the apostle had little, if any success, in Arabia. He made followers in Damascus, but nothing of the rest of Arabia is mentioned in Acts or Paul’s letters.
Months drifted into years of winter storms, spring flowers, hot summers, and autumn relief as his features became more rugged from the wind, sun and age. On the surface, these years may appear to be wasted, but they were years of meditation, investigation and revelation.
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12).
Saul sharpened his message as Christ revealed the Gospel to him. It is obvious that his message was powerful and effective by the negative reaction to it. Neither the Jews nor Nabateans could tolerate this fearless apostle of Christ.
Interestingly, the Nabateans ceased to exist with the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Palestine and Arabia had the first opportunity to receive the Gospel and they rejected it. The consequences were devastating.
ECSTASY AND AGONY. During this period in Arabia, Saul was caught up into Heaven according to 2 Corinthians 12:1-4:
I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.
The sequel to this mystical experience was a distressing, indeed humiliating physical ailment, which he feared at first, might be a handicap to his effective ministry. But in fact, the thorn in the flesh gave his self-esteem a knock-out blow and kept him constantly dependent on the divine enabling. Instead of being a handicap, it proved to be a help.
When Paul thought of his sufferings, he properly viewed himself as suffering for the Messiah (Acts 9:16). He did not resent these things, instead he wrote, “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance” (Romans 5:3). In addition, he wrote:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:10-11).
Paul testified of his sufferings and mystical trip to Paradise to vindicate himself against the false teachers and give proof of his apostleship. Hence, the apostles in Jerusalem were unable to tell Paul anything he had not already received. After his three years in the Seminary of Christ and the Holy Spirit, it was time to see Peter, but not to be officially ordained an apostle by the “First Church of Jerusalem.”
Saul escaped the Damascus conspiracy not by a miracle, but with the help of his followers who took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. Already Miracles were beginning to fade. Consider the contribution these followers made to Christianity. At great risk, their courageous act saved the champion of the faith.