Online Bible Commentary
Acts 16:16 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. 17 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." 18 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. 19 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. 20 And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, "These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; 21 and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe." 22 Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. (NKJV)
The time is about A.D. 50. Paul is on his second missionary journey. Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke have now traveled to Europe and are in the city of Philippi in the Roman colony of Macedonia.
At this time the missionaries have been in Philippi for some days and have started a church by winning others to Christ. One day while they were walking to the place of prayer a “slave girl”, possessed by a demon, met up with them (v. 16a). The masters of this slave would sell to the public her powers of fortune telling, which came from the demon (v. 16b). The slave girl started following Paul and his party while all the time crying out "these men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation" (v. 17).
After many days of this Paul became “annoyed” and ordered the demon "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her" (v. 18a). Upon Paul’s command, the demon immediately came out of the slave girl (v. 18b).
Then the masters, irate over having lost their cash cow, dragged Paul and Silas into the central part of the city to the authorities (v. 19). They brought Paul and Silas before the magistrate and accused them, claiming "these men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe" (vv. 20-21).
The crowd, that was present, rose up against Paul and Silas (v. 22a). The magistrates then, without a trial, ordered Paul and Silas stripped of "their clothes" and “to be beaten with rods’ (v. 22b).
Paul and Silas were then beaten and ordered to be kept “securely” in prison (v. 23). In obedience to the order from the magistrates, the jailer “put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks” (v. 24).
This passage illustrates two ways in which Satan tries to attack those who are doing the work of the Lord. The first attack was very subtle. It was an attack of friendship.
The demon, using the slave girl, pretended to be their friend as he constantly praised the missionaries as being “servants of the Most High God.” Satan’s purpose was to gain a foothold in these men of God which he would later use to turn them to his own way of thinking.
Paul eventually saw through this ruse and thwarted it by commanding that the demon leave the slave girl. His commandment was successful, but only because he commanded “in the name of Jesus Christ”, thus drawing on the power of Christ. Satan does not fear us mere mortals but he is deathly afraid of Jesus Christ. He knows that he has already been defeated by Christ, on the cross.
Failing in his first attack, Satan resorted to the opposite of friendship, persecution. He controlled the masters, the crowd, and ultimately the magistrates. Through anger from Satan the magistrates made an impulsive decision, punishing the men and throwing them in prison without a trial. However, this too would not deter Paul and Silas from serving the Lord.
Satan also attacks us Christians in these same two ways. We must always be aware of friends who may attempt to lead us astray, even though they themselves may not even realize it. Satan can gain a stronghold in the best of us, if we are not vigilant.
Satan will also persecute us, creating havoc in our lives, and tempting us to move away from God. We must always stay close to God, no matter what happens. We must always stay strong.