It was after the conversion of Lydia and her household that Paul and Silas after a period of gracious hospitality in Lydia’s spacious home, left for a season of prayer on the following Sabbath—not by the riverside (16:13), but in a sanctuary where prayer was wont to be made. On the way, people gathered about the apostles, whose mission produced friends—and foes—and excitement was evident as they continued their journey, especially when one like the demon-possessed girl cried after them, and sought from them the way of salvation.
What exactly was “the spirit of divination” which possessed this slave girl and made her soothsaying so lucrative to the masters who owned her? The margin gives us the rendering, “a spirit of Python,” or as some mss give it, “a Python spirit.” In Greek mythology Python was the name of a serpent which guarded an oracle on Mount Parnassus and was slain by Apollo, thence called Pythius, as being himself the god of divination. This girl was not a mere ventriloquist or sheer imposter, nor a somnambulist or lunatic as some have supposed. She was a demoniac who, when she was possessed by the evil spirit, was looked upon as having power to divine and predict. When caught up by the demon, the girl’s wild cries were received as oracles, and her masters or joint-owners who usually had partnership in valuable slaves, traded on her supposed inspiration and made her answer those who sought for oracular guidance in the problems and perplexities of their lives. Luke, who in his gospel describes “soothsaying” as coming from evil or unclean spirits, here, in his record of the demon-possessed girl, recognized in her phenomena that which was identical with those of the priestesses of Delphi—the wild distortions, the shrill cries, the madness of evil inspiration. How ignorant we seem to be of the reality of the power of Satan’s emissaries, especially in these last days when their influence is more apparent than ever!
If the girl was under the spell of a demon, how can we account for the content of the continued cry, “These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew—declare or proclaim—unto us the way of salvation”? This was indeed a true description of Paul and his companions in their itinerant ministry. Was the demon using the girl to mock the apostolic witness to Christ in order to thwart their work? Were the expressions “servants of the most high God,” and “the way of salvation” among those the girl had heard Paul use beforehand? Did she now repeat them under demoniac influence not knowing what they meant, and which demons Jesus had dispossessed (Luke 4:34; 8:28) now used in scornful irony, or as an involuntary testimony to the truth that Paul declared? Did the declaration indicate any particular motive on her part to conciliate Paul, or to increase the profits of those who owned her by acting as a prophetess? Or can it be that the unfortunate girl was impelled by a desire for emancipation from her demoniac influence to cry forth the message she did? Had she listened to Paul and Silas at the riverside to which many had resorted, not only to pray, but also to hear the apostles preach, and felt that these men were able to deliver her, and were as unlike as possible to the masters who traded on her maddened misery? The fact remains that she came to experience that Paul was a servant of the most high God with power to make her whole.
We read that the girl followed Paul and his co-workers for many days and that Paul became worn out, wearied, impatient over her constant repetition of cries, which impeded the apostolic task of speaking to inquirers. Perhaps Paul was grieved or sorry by her constant cries, not in any sense of being offended, but because she was demon-possessed and therefore not responsible for her utterances and actions. It will be noted that Paul in no way reproved the girl herself, but, facing her, spoke to the evil spirit possessing her: “I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” As the authoritative representative of Christ, Paul ordered the demon to vacate his abode in the girl. Command means to order peremptorily, as an officer his soldiers, and at the name of Jesus the demon was subject unto Paul and withdrew his control of the girl.
Two aspects of her restoration to her true self are conspicuous. First, it was instantaneous, “he came out the same hour,” or “that instant.” Immediately, the miracle took place, and the girl was wonderfully emancipated from her degradation. Second, her deliverance was complete for “her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone.” All their present and future profit from the girl’s demoniac gift had gone. There she was silent and subdued, clothed in her right mind, no longer a slave, but a transformed girl. When “the spirit of divination” went, with it vanished the lucrative business of her owners. Angry at Paul and Silas over their obliteration of financial gain, they seized the apostles and brought them before the magistrates who found them guilty of the trumped-up charge of the slave owners, and cast them into prison. Rough treatment was given the apostles for the saving work God enabled them to accomplish, but triumph was also theirs, for they were able to pray and sing praises even at the midnight hour in their prison cell. Also, witness again God’s miraculous power both in the earthquake and the salvation of the jailer and his household.
What of the girl herself whose history ends with the expulsion of the demon and his evil influence? We cannot believe that she was left to drift back into ignorance, unbelief and demoniac possession. Lydia and the other noble women would know all about the girl, laboring with the Apostle as they did (Philippians 4:3), and likely afforded the transformed girl all necessary shelter, comfort and guidance. As for the girl herself, did she show her gratitude to Paul for the miracle performed in her life, by including her gift with the gifts sent to the Apostle to assist in his work of salvation? (Philippians 4:15). Now, saved herself, did she confess out of a delivered and cleansed heart, “Paul is indeed a servant of the Most High God, for he showed unto me the way of salvation”?
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