Updated: Apr 10, 2021
During a long lull in Peter’s life we read, “So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner”. (Acts 9:43) At first glance this seems like an insignificant bit of trivia but a closer look shows how meaningful this passing comment really is.
To appreciate its significance, you need to understand the life of a tanner and the Jewish sensitivities of Peter. Tanners were those who prepared animal hides for the marketplace. It was a loathsome job which involved gutting animals, scraping hides, soaking them in vats of noxious chemicals and stretching their skins on racks to cure. It was smelly, dirty job filled with animal waste, blood, carcasses, terrified animals and stinking chemicals. I’d like to think that Simon was one of those jolly, hospitable fellows with a big smile, a loud voice and a “back slapping” personality. His fingernails were torn and dirty, his hands smeared with animal grease, his apron splattered with blood and flecks of flesh, and he stank.
It was here Peter found himself staying for “many days” surrounded by the constant stench, hair floating in the air, and animal dander contaminating everything. No doubt he suffered from coughing, sneezing and itching eyes. To a devout Jew like Peter, with all of his ceremonial scruples about cleanliness, there couldn’t be a more obnoxious place for him to be stuck “for many days”. Maybe that’s why we find him in Acts sitting on the housetop to escape all the unpleasantness below? This was a unique period in Peter’s life. It was an uncomfortable time of unwanted delay, discomfort and irritation. He probably wondered why God had deposited him at Simons in the first place. Couple with his disgusting surroundings maybe he was struggling with some self-pity and frustration as well?
But God was at work behind the scenes and between the lines. He was quietly at work in Peter preparing Him for what was to come. It would be one of the most significant moves of god in history for Peter's season of testing was God’s way of preparing Peter to be responsive to the Gospel being opened to the Gentiles. But, before this could happen, Peter had to undergo a life changing experience that would involve many obnoxious days at Simon the Tanner's house.
The Jews hated the gentiles more than Hitler detested the Jews. To the Jew, with all of their religious prejudices and self-righteous superiority, the gentiles were consider as low and unclean as dogs and swine. It was unlawful for Jews to eat with gentiles, fellowship with them or even enter the same dwelling with them least they be defiled. All of these legalistic roadblocks, narrow minded scruples and traditions of men had to be broken down and discarded before a revolutionary new way of thinking and acting could emerge.
When the work was completed, God revealed a life-changing truth to Peter through the vision of a sheet let down from heaven filled with “unclean” creatures which God command Peter to “kill and eat”. (Acts 10) This happened three times before Peter finally understood the message that God didn’t consider the gentiles to be unclean. His “many days” at Simon’s had paved the way for him to embrace this liberating new perspective.
Haven’t we all experienced a long stay at Simon’s house in unconscious preparation for what God had in store for us? Looking back can’t you see that it was God who made the reservation for you? Yes, it was God who booked you into those obnoxious seasons that seemed to drag by in slow-motion. How often have we failed to see how those long, annoying, chaffing, monotonous stopovers were an integral part of God’s plan all along? In the midst of our moaning and groaning He was also working behind the scenes to wear down our narrow-mindedness, our religious scruples, our resistance, disbelief, stubbornness, and “self-rightness” to prepare us for what was to come.