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The Fortune-Telling Slave Girl and Paul & Silas in Prison

Acts 16:16-40

Once 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.  This 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."  She 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.Acts 16:16-18

Even two thousand years ago (and I suspect, perhaps, even from the time of The Fall in the Garden of Eden), mankind has been concerned with personal salvation and how to be saved.  It certainly is an important issue to be dealt with, especially since the human race faces an unknown and limited timetable.  The slave girl in the verses quoted above was a money-making machine for her owners  -  she was a highly-prized asset who generated a lot of cash!  So why didn't Paul leave her alone?  Wasn't she actually doing him a favor?  Wasn't the spirit dwelling in her beneficial to Paul?  I mean, since personal salvation is of primary importance, why turn down a little free advertising?  Perhaps the slave girl had a dubious and embarrassing reputation, but could that have been reason enough to put an end to her following Paul and Silas?   

These verses say Paul was troubled concerning this girl  -  this slave girl who would not stop shouting.  Paul finally said to the spirit dwelling in this girl: " come out of her!"  Low and behold, it happened as Paul commanded  -  the spirit left the slave girl.  This action, of course, upset the owners of the slave girl because their means of financial support just went out the window.  Why did Paul do this?  Could Paul's reason for his actions be due to the fact that she was giving an incorrect picture of God?

I wonder how the leaders of today's religious community (servants of the Most High God) would react to a similar person (another fortune teller, a self-determined "born again" person declaring 'the way to be saved') who would be shouting a statement like that of the slave girl.  Would today's clergy reject such a person; would they try to stop any further outbursts; or, because of their perceived position of authority and recognition, would they be the ones to pay her for her services and even enlist her assistance in getting people saved?  Are there religious leaders that can be found today who consider it their calling and their duty of expressing "the way to be saved?"  I wonder that if Paul were here today, would he approve of that 'spirit' in man, or would he have something to say contrary?

When 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.  They brought them before the magistrates and said, "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice."

The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrate ordered them to be stripped and beaten.  After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.  Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.Acts 16:19-24

When financial problems come your way and you know for sure that someone else is responsible for the catastrophe, most people will quickly seek legal advice as to what to do, and surely competent lawyers will do their job by bringing the accused into the courtroom to face the judge and the jury, if necessary.  Being on the losing end of a court appearance can only mean one thing: restitution, and if the accused is unable to make payment for the alleged infraction, the guilty could spend some time behind bars.  And being in jail does not mean that something else can't happen to you because other inmates may have their own court system of judging people inside jail cells. 

In the days of Paul and Silas, there appeared to be no legal defense available for the accused as they were overwhelmed by a crowd who desired severe punishment.  Being beaten before being tossed into jail had to be excruciating for Paul and Silas; they could possibly have thought they wouldn't even survive the ordeal.  And then to be chained by their feet, a person's imagination can work overtime.  

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken.  At once the prison doors flew open, and everybody's chains came loose.  The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.  But Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself!  We are all here!"

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.  He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved - you and your household."  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.  At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.  The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God - he and his whole family.Acts 16:25-34

At this point in the narration of this story, it seems logical to ask Paul and Silas this question: The slave girl followed you from town to town shouting to all who would listen that you knew how to save people, so why was she not allowed to continue her theatrical escapade?  But when the jailer besought Paul with the question "Sirs, what must I do to be saved," Paul obliges him by replying to his question with an appropriate answer.  Why does there appear to be a discrepancy in Paul's attitude and actions with the jailer?  Why the ambiguity concerning this?

Along with this, have you ever wondered why the earthquake happened at midnight rather than at noon in broad daylight?  Do you think God was in control of the quake?  And if Paul and Silas were not praying and singing hymns like they did, would anything at all have happened?  Is this some kind of miracle?

Paul, no doubt, thought outside of his own personal safety and well-being; he showed his true character when he revealed such care and concern to the man who held the keys to the jail.  He and Silas could have left the jail in a hurry and never looked back, but, no, even though Paul was a prisoner doing jail time, his mind was not on himself.  This is a wonderful example that we all can look at and contemplate: would we do the same as Paul?  Like so many other places in the Bible, it would be really nice to know the complete conversation that happened when events occur.  Just what did Paul and Silas say to these people?

When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: "Release those men."  The jailer told Paul, "The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released.  Now you can leave.  Go in peace."

But Paul said to the officers: "They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison.  And now do they want to get rid of us quietly?  No!  Let them come themselves and escort us out."

The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed.  They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.  After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia's house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them.  Then they left.Acts 16:35-40

Roman citizens were being treated as foreign terrorists, thrown into prison without a fair trial, beaten by the authorities.  Paul and Silas were not well-liked, neither were they treated fairly. On the other hand, it seems logical to believe that God must have played a role in all of this because of the "miracle" that happened at the appropriate time while Paul & Silas were prisoners in jail.  After reading this episode, I wonder what happened to the slave girl after the spirit left her.  Some kind of follow-up story would have been interesting, perhaps like Paul and Silas seeing and talking with her before they left the city.    

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