But as we travel farther from the East, and especially through countries where the Israelites were thinly scattered, we must expect to find pagan creeds in immediate antagonism with the Gospel. Yet, not only do we encounter pagan creeds, but the evil powers themselves which gives paganism its supremacy over the minds of men. Such a manifestation of darkness would be found in Philippi by Paul.
In the case before us it was a female slave who was possessed with "a spirit of divination" (Acts 16:16). She was the property of more than one master, who kept her for the purpose of profitting off of those in Philippi. It was far from a matter of indifference, when she met the members of the Christian congregation on the road and began to follow Apostle Paul, and to exclaim, "These men are servants of the Most High God, and are preaching to us the way of salvation" (verse 17). This was continued for several days and the whole city must soon have been familiar with her words.
Paul was well aware of this and he could not bear the thought that the credit, even of the Gospel, should be enhanced by such unholy means. At length he could not bear the Satanic interruption of the Philippi woman any longer, and, being grieved, he commanded the evil spirit to come out of her (Acts 16:18).
It would be profaneness to suppose that the Apostle Paul spoke in mere irritation, as it would be ridiculous to imagine that Divine help would have been vouchsafed to gratify such a feeling. No doubt there was grief and indignation, but the grief and indignation of an Apostle may be the impulses of Divine inspiration. He spoke, not in his own name, but in that of Jesus Christ, and power from above attended his words. The demoniac at Philippi was restored to her right mind. Her natural powers resumed their course and the gains of her masters were gone.
Loss and revenge
Violent rage on the part of the men who owned the demoniac was the immediate result of her healing. They saw that their influence with the people, and with it all hope of any future profit was at end. They proceeded therefore to take a summary revenge. Laying violent hold of Paul and Silas, they dragged them into the forum (Acts 16:19) before the city authorities. The case was brought before the Praetors but the complainants must have felt some difficulty in stating their grievance. The slave that had lately been a lucrative possession had suddenly become valueless, but the law had no remedy for property depreciated by exorcism.
The true state of the case was therefore concealed, and an accusation was laid before the Praetors in the following form.
These men (Paul and Silas), who are Jews, are greatly troubling our city, and are preaching customs that are not lawful for us, as Romans, to receive or to practice (Acts 16:20 - 21, HBFV).
The accusation was partly true and partly false. It was quite false that Paul and Silas were disturbing the colony, for nothing could have been more calm and orderly than their worship and teaching at the house of Lydia or in walking around Philippi. In the other part of the indictment there was a certain amount of truth.
The letter of the Roman law, even under the Republic, was opposed to the introduction of foreign religions. Although exceptions were allowed, as in the case of the Jews themselves, yet the spirit of the law entirely condemned such changes in worship as were likely to unsettle the minds of the citizens, or to produce any tumultuous uproar.
Thus Paul and Silas had undoubtedly, in Philippi, been doing what in some degree exposed them to legal penalties. They were beginning a change which tended to bring down, and which ultimately did bring down, the whole weight of the Roman law on the martyrs of Christianity. The force of another part of the accusation, which was adroitly introduced, namely, that the men were "Jews to begin with," will be fully apprehended, if we remember, not only that the Jews were generally hated, suspected, and despised, but that they had lately been driven out of Rome.
Thus we can enter into the feelings which caused the mob to rise against Paul and Silas (Acts 16:22) and tempted the Praetors to dispense with legal formalities and consign the offenders to immediate punishment. The mere loss of the slave's prophetic powers, so far as it was generally known, was enough to cause a violent agitation, for mobs are always more fond of excitement and wonder than of truth and holiness.
Beaten and tossed in prison
Those in Philippi had been willing to pay money for the demoniac's revelations, and now strangers had come and deprived them of that which gratified their superstitious curiosity. And when they learned, moreover, that Paul and Silas were Jews, and were breaking the laws of Rome, their discontent became fanatical. It seems that the praetors had no time to hesitate, if they would retain their popularity. The rough words were spoken to have them stripped, beaten with stripes and tossed into prison (Acts 16:22 - 23)! The order was promptly obeyed and the heavy blows descended.
The Apostles received "many stripes;" and when they were consigned to prison, bleeding and faint from the rod, the jailer received a strict injunction to keep them safe. Well might Apostle Paul, when at Corinth, look back to this day of cruelty, and remind the Thessalonians how he and Silas had "suffered before, and were shamefully treated at Philippi" (1Thessalonians 2:2).
The jailer fulfilled the directions of the magistrates with rigorous and conscientious cruelty. Not content with placing the Apostles among such other offenders against the law as were in custody at Philippi, he thrust them into the inner prison (Acts 16:24). He then forced their limbs, lacerated as they were, and bleeding from the rod, into a painful and constrained posture, by means of an instrument employed to confine and torture the bodies of the worst malefactors.
A few hours had made a serious change from the quiet scene by the water to the interior of a stifling dungeon. But Paul and Silas had learnt, "in whatever state they were, therewith to be content" (Philippians 4:11). They were even able to rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41).
Racked as they were with pain, sleepless and weary, they were heard about midnight from the depth of their prison house, praying and singing hymns to God. Such sounds as these were new in a Roman dungeon.
Suddenly, as if in direct answer to the prayer of His servants, an earthquake shook the very foundations of the prison (Acts 16:26)!
The effect produced by that night on the jailer's own mind has been fully related to us. Awakened in a moment by the earthquake, his first thought was of his prisoners (Acts 16:27) and in the shock of surprise and alarm. He saw the prison doors were open and supposed that the prisoners fled. Fully aware that inevitable death awaited him, with the stern and desperate resignation of a Roman official, he resolved that suicide was better than disgrace and drew his sword.
The loud exclamation (Acts 16:28) of Apostle Paul, "Do thyself no harm; for we are all here," gave immediate reassurance to the terrified jailer. He laid aside his sword, called for lights, and rushed to Philippi's inner prison where Paul and Silas were confined. But now a new fear of a higher kind took possession of his soul. The recollection of all he had heard these prisoners and all that he had observed of their demeanor when he brought them into the dungeon, all these mingling and conflicting emotions made him feel that he was in the presence of a higher power. He fell down before them, and brought them out, as men whom he had deeply injured and insulted, to a place of greater freedom and comfort.
After Paul and Silas were brought out of the Philippian jail their jailer asked them, "Sirs, what must I do, that I may be saved? (Acts 16:30). The two evangelists preached the gospel not only to the jailer but to his entire household! Their wounds were soon washed, and they returned the favor by immediately baptizing the entire family (Acts 16:33). The prisoners of the jailer were now become his guests. His cruelty was changed into hospitality and love. The jailer took the two evangelists into his own home and fed them.
At length morning broke on the eventful night. A change, in the same interval of time, had come over the minds of the magistrates themselves. Either from reflecting that they had acted more harshly than the case had warranted, or from hearing a more accurate statement of facts, or through alarm caused by the earthquake, they sent new orders to the jailer. The message conveyed was to let the prisoners go (Acts 16:35).
But the jailer received it with the utmost joy. He felt his infinite debt of gratitude to Paul and Silas, not only for his preservation from a violent death, but for the tidings they had given him of eternal life. He would willingly have seen them freed from their bondage; but he was dependent on the will of the magistrates, and could do nothing without their sanction. When, therefore, the dictors brought the order, he went with them to announce the intelligence to the prisoners, and joyfully told them to leave their dungeon and "go in peace."
But Paul, not from any fanatical love of braving the authorities, but calmly looking to the ends of justice and the establishment of Christianity, refused to accept his liberty without some public acknowledgment of the wrong he had suffered. He now proclaimed a fact which had hitherto been unknown, that he and Silas were Roman citizens.
Two Roman laws had been violated by the magistrates of the colony in the scourging inflicted the day before. There had been no form of trial, without which, in the case of a citizen, even a slighter punishment would have been illegal. And it had been done "publicly." In the face of the colonial population, an outrage had been committed on the majesty of the name in which they boasted and Rome had been insulted in her citizens.
"But Paul said to them, 'After publicly beating us, who are Romans, without condemnation, and casting us into prison, do they think now to secretly thrust us out? No, indeed, but let them come in person and bring us out.'
Then the sergeants reported these words to the captains. And when they heard that they were Romans, they were afraid. And they came and entreated them; and after bringing them out, they asked them to depart from the city" (Acts 16:37 - 39, HBFV).
Both Paul and Silas complied with the request of the magistrates. Yet, even in their departure, they were not unmindful of the dignity and self-possession which ought always to be maintained by innocent men in a righteous cause. They did not retire in any hasty or precipitate flight, but proceeded "from the prison to the house of Lydia" (Acts 16:40) and there they met the Christian brethren. They then decided to leave but felt they could not part from the infant church at Philippi without some guidance.
Two people stayed behind in Philippi. The first was Timothy, of whom the Philippians "learned the proof" that he honestly cared for their state (Philippians 2:19 - 25) and the second was Luke. Timothy seems to have rejoined Paul and Silas, if not at Thessalonica, at least at Berea. The two beaten evangelists then set off to visit Thessalonica.