Paul and Silas in Prison
16Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy continued to go to the place of prayer by the river regularly. God was moving in their midst, and when that happens, it gets the enemy’s attention. This slave girl appears to have been no charlatan when it came to fortune telling. She was possessed by a demon. Keep that in mind if you’re thinking about having your fortune told, your horoscope done, or your palm read. These people are either charlatans just out for your money, or they are demon possessed. Luke says she had made a lot of money for her owners, which indicates that a good percentage of her predictions must have come true.
How can demons predict the future? I hear many say that since the devil is a created being, he can’t read minds or foretell the future. But if the devil can’t read your mind, how can he put evil thoughts there? I believe the devil and his minions can read our minds, and they can tell the future because they exist in Eternity. Like angels, they are not bound by time like we are. They don’t live in the material universe, or at least not completely. Part of what Einstein showed is that time and space are different aspects of the same thing. Time and space are part of the physical universe that we know. Beyond the physical universe, or outside it, or above it, is Eternity, where neither time nor space exist in the sense that we understand them. Both Heaven and Hell exist in Eternity, not in physical space-time. Eternal beings, which include God, angels, and all fallen angels including Satan and his minions, see time differently than we who are bound by time do. In Eternity, there is no past nor future, only an eternal present. Therefore, demons can predict the future because to them, it’s not the future at all, it’s the present. Of course God also created us as eternal beings, and one day we will all exist in Eternity, in one place or the other. Everybody dies, and everybody lives forever.
By the way, practitioners of the occult often claim to be led by angels, which they call “spirit guides.” They are deceived. Angels do not communicate with humans unless God sends them to deliver a specific message. Demons interact with humans constantly for one reason; to cause us to sin.
Because this girl had some spiritual sensitivity, she recognized the genuineness of what Paul and Silas were doing. Much like demons did with Jesus (Luke 8:28, blog), she proclaimed aloud Paul’s association with “the Most High God.” Not only that, she said that they were telling people the way to be saved. So what was wrong with that? It’s free advertising, right? First of all, it’s always a good idea to tell the devil to shut up. It’s actually Christlike to do so. Whenever demons shouted who Jesus really was, he always told them to be quiet. Second, Paul didn’t want or need an endorsement from the devil. He put up with this girl’s harassment for many days, but finally grew exasperated with it, and cast the demon out of the girl. The Amplified Bible says he was sorely annoyed and worn out. Wouldn’t you be? Notice that Paul didn’t cast the demon out in his own authority the way Jesus did. He cast it out in the name of Jesus Christ. Paul understood where the authority to cast out demons came from.
One thing that always strikes me about stories of demon possession in the Bible is how quick demons are to acknowledge the authority of Jesus. Are we as quick to acknowledge the lordship of Jesus as the devil is?
19When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
22The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. 23After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
When Paul cast the demon out of the slave girl, he upset her owners’ gravy train. They didn’t care about the girl at all, they only cared about the money she could make for them. So they dragged Paul and Silas before the magistrates and brought baseless charges against them. Notice that they only arrested Paul and Silas, not Timothy or Luke. The first words of their charges against Paul and Silas were that they were Jews. These were obviously racially motivated charges. Luke was Greek, and Timothy was half Greek, and they probably didn’t look all that Jewish. Paul and Silas looked Jewish, therefore the crowd assumed that they weren’t Roman citizens. They were wrong about that, which is shown later in this chapter. In the Roman Empire, there were strict legal protections of the rights of citizens, but no legal protections at all for non-citizens. Non-citizens were at the mercy of the whims of the legal authorities and mob justice.
The magistrates made the same assumptions about Paul and Silas that the crowd did, and had them severely beaten with rods. Under Roman law, police carried bundles of rods, or cane, bound in a circle around an axe. A picture of this appeared on the U.S. Mercury dime in the 1940’s.
It was probably rods or canes like this that were used to beat Paul and Silas. After they were beaten, they were handed over to the jailer, who was told to “guard them carefully.” The jailer went beyond the orders he was given, and went so far as to put them in the inner cell, or dungeon. He also put their feet in stocks, which prevented them from being able to sit up or lie down, and contributed to severe leg cramps. In other words, he tortured them. This would be the first of several times Paul was imprisoned for the Gospel. But as we will see in the next passage, Paul and Silas didn’t let even this get them down.
Paul not only protected his ministry by casting the demon out of the slave girl, but he had compassion on her, releasing her from her bondage to demon possession. God had broken her spiritual chains, and he would soon break Paul and Silas’ physical chains too.