16As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling.
17She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”
18And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
There aren’t all that many stories in the New Testament about human interactions with the demonic. Jesus had several instances where He cast demons out of people. And we can only assume that the Apostles did as well as there are a few other stories that would indicate as much. But in today’s reading we have a clear case of Paul casting a demon out of a slave girl. Apparently this demon gave her the ability to “predict” the future. She was used by her owners to make them a great deal of money. Whether or not she was accurate about the future isn’t discussed. It would appear the people in her community believed that she could and that was all it took to turn her into a cash cow.
This story is odd in that she is following Paul and Silas around declaring the truth. Paul and Silas were indeed telling people about God and the way of salvation. And yet Paul is annoyed and turns on her. What we can’t hear by reading the text is her tone. Clearly it is mocking and derisive. The fact that it is the demon speaking is clear and Paul takes action. The demon is cast out and the girl is freed from this bondage. She is also freed of her ability to make cash for her owners and the consequences of that are not pleasant. That will be tomorrow’s conversation.
Throughout the Scriptures, from beginning to end, we are warned to stay away from divination. That warning is quite clear as we read in Deuteronomy 18: 9-14.
9“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations.
10There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer
11or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead,
12for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.
13You shall be blameless before the Lord your God,
14for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this.
So her profession alone lets Paul and Silas know that she is not declaring praises to the Living God or sharing in their proclamation work but instead she is mocking them and God. After several days of this badgering, Paul has had enough and he casts out that demon. Problem solved.
We live in culture right now that seems to accept with open arms any and all beliefs and practices. If this incident were to take place today, Paul would be arrested for hate crimes. (Oh wait – he does get arrested. Just not for a hate crime.) This makes the days dangerous. Today, I don’t necessarily have to practice these detestable things but I am expected to approve of them. I’m pretty sure that in God’s eyes this is the same thing. It’s a tough line to walk and I have to admit I struggle with this all the time. I don’t want to be guilty of hate crimes. Nor do I want to stand by and approve of sin. So you probably won’t see me round on someone and try to cast out a demon any time soon.