Friday, July 27, 2012

The Python Lady

Looking at the “back story” of Paul’s letter to the Jesus followers at Philippi, we recently met Lydia, the “Seller of Purple.” Now let’s meet the Python Lady. We do not know her name. All we know is that she had a spirit of divination. Luke tells the story.
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. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. (Acts 16:16-19)
Now, the reason I call her the Python Lady is because of the Greek word for “divination,” which is … python. According to The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich), python referred to “the serpent or dragon that guarded the Delphic oracle; it lived at the foot of Mt. Parnassus, and was slain by Apollo. Later the word came to designate a spirit of divination, then also a ventriloquist, who was believed to have such a spirit dwelling in his (or her) belly.” This woman was not a ventriloquist as we think of today, but she was being used as a mouthpiece by the demonic spirit that somehow had possession of her.

This young girl followed Paul and his team (which included Silas, Timothy and Luke) around and the demonic spirit in her “cried out” (the Greek word means to croak, like a raven, to scream or shriek): “These men are the servants of the Most High God.” It is unclear what this spirit hoped to gain in that. Various answers have been proposed.
  • Perhaps it was to give the impression that Paul and Silas were somehow associated with this spirit, so to blunt their effectiveness.
  • Perhaps it was to somehow gain favor with them by affirming them, so that they would not cast out this demonic spirit.
  • Perhaps, recognizing that they were from God, it was to gain status as one who identified them and what they were doing.
After a number of days, Paul had finally had enough of it. He turned and cast out the spirit in the name of Jesus the Messiah. It is important to note that Paul’s problem was not with the young slave woman but with that spirit that possessed her. For she was not just enslaved by her human masters, who sought to exploit her unusual ability for their own profit, she was enslaved by the evil entity that invaded her being. In expelling the demonic spirit, Paul set this young woman free. But her masters were not happy about this.
But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” (Acts 16:19-21)
Paul commanded the demon to “come out” (Greek, exerchomai) and it “came out” (exerchomai). The girls masters realized that, with that, their expectation of profiting from her “was gone” (exerchomai) — literally, that it, too, had come out of her. So, instead of rejoicing that this young woman had been freed from demonic oppression, they forcefully seized Paul and Silas, hauled them before the city authorities and lodged their complaint.

The crowd that had gathered rose up together against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered Paul and Silas to be stripped and beaten. After being severely scourged (let it be sufficient here to note that this was not a sight for the squeamish), they were put into stocks and thrown into the dungeon. (We will look at happened with them next when we continue our “back story.”)

But what about the young slave woman who was now delivered from demonic oppression? Luke does not say and Church history does not really tell us. But having now been set free by the power of King Jesus, perhaps she became a follower of Jesus, just as Lydia and her household had done.

Focus Questions
  1. Though specifically led to Macedonia by the Holy Spirit, Paul and associates were beginning to face strong opposition. Should that be surprising?
  2. Luke does not tell us the name of this young woman. Why do you suppose that is?
  3. At this point, what would you imagine the prospects would be for a healthy, vital and joyful Church being formed at Philippi?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Size Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

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