Acts 16:16-24 (AD 48-49)
This passage has always confused me, for several reasons. If it doesn’t confuse you yet, read it again and it probably will.
In any case, I’d like to offer a little help to those of us scratching our heads…
- Why does the Bible say that the slave girl’s spirit enabled her to predict the future, if Satan himself can’t predict the future? (v.16)
‘Doesn’t Satan know the future?’ you may ask. No, he doesn’t. Satan is a mere angel. Stronger than you, and a powerful force in the spirit world, but just an angel. God is sovereign over the future and he doesn’t share his planning or his information with Satan.
I can predict the future. So can you. And it’s entirely possible that a demonic prediction – based as it would be on more knowledge of the world than you or I have – is more likely to be accurate than ours. But the Bible doesn’t say that the slave girl correctly prophesied the future, just that she predicted it, and that it was “fortune-telling”.
- Why was Paul so annoyed? The slave girl was only saying what was true. (v.17)
Maybe this is more obvious to you than it was to me, given that she was “shouting”. I just always thought hey, she’s absolutely right, Paul and Silas were serving God, and they were telling people how to be saved. Then again, she was possessed by a demon so she would have been shouting it a deeply unpleasant manner, designed to mock or denigrate.
- Why didn’t Paul cast out the devil straight away? Why did he wait until it annoyed him, before doing it?
It didn’t take a genius to work out that if Paul ruined some people’s livelihoods, no matter how gross that livelihood was (taking advantage of a slave’s demon-possession) it would lead to trouble. And that trouble would jeopardise his opportunity to be out there spreading the gospel. Knowing that, maybe Paul waited because he thought she would eventually stop. Or maybe he was holding on for as long as he could before it became too much of a distraction to what he was doing, we don’t know.
- Why did the magistrates punish Paul and Silas without any enquiry? (v.22)
Because they were confronted by a mob. We see the effect of a mob – whether physical or on social media, and the suppressing effect it can have on people of good conscience. Maybe the magistrates were generally fair people who in that moment were intimidated by the crowd.
In all of this, keep focused on an overarching theme of God’s power over Satan. God didn’t even have to show up in his incarnate form to cast the demon out of the slave girl. A sinful of God, invoking the name of God in God’s will, overpowered the demon. It’s a reminder that with all the sin in your heart and in the world, and with the undeniable powerful influence of Satan all around, we belong to the one who is more powerful than all of that.
“We rest on thee, our Shield and our Defender,
We go not forth alone against the foe,
Strong in Thy strength, safe in Thy keeping tender,
We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.”
(first verse of ‘We rest on thee’, by Edith Cherry)
Edith Cherry, 1872-1897[i]
Edith was an English lady who suffered from polio, and a stroke, aged 1, which left her on crutches for the rest of her life. When she was 6, her 4-year old sister died.
When she was 12, she had another stroke.
She had a gift for illustration which she used on cards and porcelain, decorating them with plant life and Bible verses. She was also a wonderful poet who had become prolific even before she was 15, and wrote two full volumes of published poetry.
When people tried to compliment her poetry she demurred, saying that they were simply “given” to her – all she did was write down what God put in her head. Perhaps then she wasn’t so much gifted as a divinely-inspired genius.
Aged 25 she suffered a third stroke, and died within hours.
Here is another hymn she wrote, called ‘Come in, Lord Jesus!’
1 Come in, come in, Lord Jesus!
Come in and dwell with me;
My God, my King, my life-long Friend,
My Glorious Guest to be;
My heart is very lonely, Lord,
My need is very great;
‘Tis for Thy love I weary, Lord!
‘Tis for Thyself I wait.
2 Come in, come in, Lord Jesus!
For dreary is the night;
Bid Thou the shadows flee away,
And flood my soul with light;
And let it show me what Thou wilt,
Of emptiness and sin;
But only show Thyself to me!
Only come in! come in!
3 Come in, come in, Lord Jesus!
And dwell, and rule, and reign;
Yea, come in peace, my Lord, my King,
To Thine own house again:
Thou shalt bring with Thee what Thou wilt,
Take what Thou wilt away;
Only come Thou Thyself to me
And come, oh, come to stay.
4 Come in, come in, Lord Jesus!
I give the struggle o’er;
I hinder not Thine entering,
Nor fear Thy coming more:
I do but whisper through my tears—
“Thou knowest what hath been!
Only forgive the long delay!
Only come in! come in!”
5 Come in, come in, Lord Jesus!
And leave me nevermore;
Thou hast the keys of all my heart;
Come in, and shut the door!
Yea, shut the door on what Thou wilt,
That fits not Thine abode;
And open it on all Thou wilt
That is of heaven and God.
6 Come in, come in, Lord Jesus!
So wonderful it seems
That Thou should’st think such thoughts for me,
Beyond my faintest dreams:
that Thou should’st choose the “foolish things,”
The “weak things,” and “the base”;
And stoop to humbled, broken hearts,
To find Thy dwelling-place.[ii]