In Acts 16 Paul met a fortune-telling damsel taunting him as we passed by her each day.
Whenever we look at Bible women, I try to tell the story from her perspective, putting us in her place. In this week’s episode of All God’s Women, I’m doing something different. We’re looking at the Fortune-telling Damsel from the perspective of Paul.
The Fortune-Telling Damsel in the Bible
Last week we talked about Lydia, a woman Paul and his traveling companions met when they went to pray at the riverside. Today we continue in Acts 16 where Paul met a fortune-telling slave girl on their way to pray.
“Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, ‘These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.’ And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And he came out that very hour.”
In the margin of some manuscripts, this girl is said to have the spirit of Python, a serpent worshiped for his wisdom. The word Luke uses in Acts calls her a ventriloquist-soothsayer. She was recognized to have the ability to foresee the future, and her wealthy owners used her as a money-making attraction.
So why did she call out the truth about Paul and his companions? We don’t know. Some Bible scholars speculate she was trying to entice them to join forces, thus leading them astray from their mission. Others conjecture she was crying out for help from them, but her cries were impeding their work.
I don’t begin to understand demon possession, but I see a girl held captive by demons against her will and taken advantage of by greedy men who used her for their own profit. Perhaps in Paul she recognized that these men were different from those she was used to. These men were the real deal.
Whatever her motivation, she continued crying out to them whenever they’d pass until Paul commanded the spirit to come out of her. And immediately, the girl was restored to just an ordinary girl with no special powers.
Unfortunately, this didn’t bode well for her masters. When they saw what happened, they knew they’d just lost a lucrative source of income. So they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the authorities.
The girl’s owners called Paul and Silas troublemakers who were teaching unlawful customs. They aroused the multitude to rise up against the apostles, and the authorities had them beaten and put into prison.
But Paul and Silas were not defeated. While in prison they prayed and sang hymns, and the other prisoners listened to them. At midnight an earthquake shook the jail, opening the doors and loosening the prisoners’ chains.
When the jailer realized what had happened, he assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he prepared to kill himself. But Paul yelled out to him not to do anything because everyone was still there. As a result, the jailer and his household ended up being saved and baptized.
The Rest of the Story
So let’s look at the story from the perspective of Paul. He’s on a mission, to spread the gospel to Macedonia. He goes to a designated area to pray with other believers and to teach them, but on his way, he has to pass this fortune teller. She not only yells out as they pass by her, but then she follows them to the prayer meeting, disrupting their service.
At first Paul ignores her, speaking over her cries, pretending like she’s not even there. Perhaps he figured if he ignored her, she’d go away. But she doesn’t. She persists, getting louder and louder, more and more disruptive, until he’s had enough. He orders the demon in her to depart from her, and the girl is healed from her demonic possession.
Why didn’t Paul do something earlier? Why did he ignore her until he’d reached his limit and then address the demon? If he had the power, why did he wait?
When Paul called out the girl’s demon, he freed her, but it came at a price. No longer could she attract crowds. No longer did anyone care what she had to say. No longer did she have a way to make a fortune. Was this what she wanted?
The Bible doesn’t provide any details about what happened to the fortune-telling damsel, but we know that her life was never the same again. She went from being an occult celebrity to being an ordinary slave girl with no special powers. Though she was still owned by other people, she finally owned her mind. She could chose to continue in the pagan lifestyle or she could choose to follow The Way.
This girl joined the group of women like Mary Magdelene, Joanna, and Susanna who were restored from demon possession. Like Lydia, and other women of Acts, she also was the means for others to be saved. It was because Paul thrust out the demon in her that Paul and Silas were jailed, and as a result, the jailer and his household were saved.
What We Can Learn From the Fortune-telling Damsel in the Bible
Though we don’t likely interact with demon possessed individuals, we’ve all met women like this damsel. They’re loud and obnoxious. They call attention to themselves and distract us from what we’re doing. We see them as obstacles in the way of our mission, but what if we saw them as souls in need of a Savior?
Now, granted, there’s a risk. Paul and Silas had to be strong in their faith in order to not get led astray. The Bible is clear that we are to steer clear of the occult, not falling victim to the lure of sorcery and divination. But we’re also on mission to save the lost, and this girl was assuredly lost.
It may be that you’re listening from a country where there is a risk of reaching out to a stranger. You have to worry about it being a trap or of someone turning on you. Paul and Silas ended up in jail as a result of saving the slave girl. That may be a risk that you face as well.
I don’t begin to understand such a situation, but I know that God puts people in our paths for a reason. This girl wasn’t accidentally on the way to the prayer meeting anymore than Lydia was accidentally in Philippi rather than in her homeland. Each of these women were seeking something more in their lives, and Paul was there to help them.
Is there someone in your life who’s crying out for help in an obnoxious way, maybe diverting attention from your mission? Why not take a moment to reach out to her and see if there’s something you can do for her? Find out a little about her, what her situation is, what her needs are.
It may be as simple as she’s feeling alone and is seeking a friend. Or she may need more help than you can provide, in which case you can direct her to someone else who can help her.
Whatever her situation, pray for her. Call out to God on her behalf. Treat her as you would want someone to treat you if you were in her shoes. Show her love and dignity and respect.
Lord God, thank You for the people you place in our paths. Open our eyes to the needs of those around us. Make clear what it is that you would have us to do. Steer us away from those who would entice us away from You. Help us to love those around us even when they don’t look or act like us. Forgive us our prejudices and preconceived ideas of people. Fill us with Your lovingkindness. Use us as a light in the darkness. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Fortune-telling Damsel in the Bible Study
Her Story: Acts 16:16-19
The Rest of the Story: Acts 16:20-31
Bible Study Review
- Where did Paul meet the fortune-telling damsel?
- What did she do when she saw them?
- What did Paul do to the damsel?
Thoughts to Ponder
- Why did the girl call out to Paul and Silas?
- What would have happened to Paul and Silas had they not driven the demon out?
- What good came from them calling out the demon?
- Do you have annoying people in your life who might be crying out for help?
- How do you treat those who get on your nerves?
- What can you learn from this story?
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