The Work in Philippi: Part 7 of 14
by John Lowe
Healing a Possessed Servant Girl (16:16-24; KJV)
16 And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying:
17 The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.
18 And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.
19 And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers,
20 And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city,
21 And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.
22 And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them.
23 And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:
24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.
This passage tells of the healing of a possessed servant girl. As Paul witnessed in Philippi he was pestered by a servant girl who was possessed by a spirit with predictive powers. The spirit incessantly proclaimed Paul’s relationship to God and the saving power of his message. Annoyed by the demon and feeling compassion for the girl, who was being exploited by her owners, Paul exorcised the spirit. Having lost a source of income, the owners hauled Paul before the town magistrates. Their charges against him were false but carried enough weight with the authorities to have Paul and Silas flogged and thrown into jail.
A SLAVE GIRL HELD BY THE CRUEL CHAINS OF SLAVERY
16a And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel . . . met us . . . which brought her masters much gain.
The second incident of conversion in Philippi recorded by Luke was in great contrast to the first one. First it was a cultured lady, now it was a captive slave; first, it was a successful businesswoman, now it was a demon-possessed girl. Luke records three specific conversions at Philippi, and each one is a contrast. When taken together they give an interesting study in the power of the gospel to save people from widely different backgrounds and ways of life.
After their first contact with the group which met at the place of “prayer,” Paul and his companions made repeated visits to preach and teach on days other than the Sabbath. A slave girl had perhaps watched them go to and from the river and had checked up on the nature of their mission. At some point, the slave girl began to follow them and shout at them, which made them the center of public attention.
This girl was a slave. Slavery was a major social scourge in the Roman Empire and the world of Paul’s day. Paul made no effort to deal with the social problem of slavery, he only dealt with the spiritual problem. We must get right with God before we can get right with our fellowmen. Get a person right with God, and he will soon get right with man. So Paul did not address the social problem of slavery. He addressed the spiritual problem of sin. This girl was a slave, but Paul made no attempt to do anything about that.
HER DEMON POSSESSION
16b A certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters1 much gain by soothsaying:
On one of the occasions when the four missionaries were going outside the city to the place of prayer, they encountered a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. The expression “a spirit of divination” is literally “a spirit, a Python spirit.” In other words, this demented girl was a pythoness, under the control of the demon Apollo, who was believed to render predictions of future events. The word “python” originally meant a snake, but by way of various associations, it had come to be used sometimes when speaking of ventriloquist’s, and ventriloquism was a tactic often employed by fortunetellers and other charlatans. But more than mere ventriloquism is implied here. Greeks and Romans put great stock on augury2 and“divination”. No commander would set out on a major military campaign nor would an emperor make an important decree without first consulting an oracle3 to see how things might turn out. The shrine, famous for the oracles associated with this god, was at Delphi (Pytho) in central Greece. This demon-possessed girl was able to make “inspired” utterances. Dear reader, I don’t think this was just foolish superstition—this girl was processed by a demon. Her masters found her “gift” highly profitable, since people would flock to her to have their fortunes told. In other words, she was a valuable piece of property, a veritable gold mine for her owners. And, under the slave laws of the Roman Empire, she was entirely at the mercy of her “masters.”
Both Paul and Luke saw the gods of Greece and Rome as “fronts” for the power of Satan (1 Corinthians 10:18-22) and the girl’s condition, therefore, as something distinctly unwholesome.
HER DEMONIC PERCEPTION
17 The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God4, which shew unto us the way of salvation.
We find in the gospels that the Lord Jesus never appreciated nor accepted the testimony of demons. He had come to destroy the work of the devil. One of Satan’s most terrible works manifested itself in demonic possession. Testimony from such a source was an affront to the Lord. Jesus consistently silenced evil spirits who bore him involuntary witness. He wanted no testimony from such a perverted and perjured source.
But Paul wanted no such testimony either. It was true indeed that he and Silas were “the servants of the Most High God,” and it was equally true that they proclaimed “the way of salvation.” However, it was the province and work of the Holy Spirit, not an evil spirit, to bear witness to that. Evil spirits lie, they deceive, and their testimony is tainted with falsehood. People who consult spiritual mediums and psychics are often brought into contact with intelligences that haunt the unseen world, but they are evil intelligences. Their only business with humankind is to blind and bind. At times they will tell the truth, at other times they will lie. Once a person is caught in their coils they lead him into dreadful snares.
So, while the testimony of the Python spirit to the mission and message of Paul and his friends was true, the source of the testimony was false. Paul was neither pleased nor flattered to have this girl following them around, giving demonic testimony to their work.