Dr. Mark E. Hardgrove
This particular account takes us out of the world of Judaism into contact with the popular superstition of the pagan world. On one of Paul’s visits to the place of prayer, he and his companions were met by a slave girl who had what was known as the gift of second sight, and made money for her owners by telling fortunes. Luke attributes her gift to a spirit of divination, literally, a spirit of python. A python is a snake, and this is what the word literally meant. In particular, the snake which guarded the celebrated oracle at Delphi and which was said to have been slain by the Greek God Apollo.
The word was also used to mean a ventriloquist. Ventriloquists acted as fortune-tellers, the unusual character of the sounds which they produced no doubt sounded spiritual and gave credence to the belief that she was telling them things gained by insight from another world.
I want to focus, however, on the word python. Satan is depicted in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, as a serpent (or at least operating through a serpent) tempting Eve. In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, Satan is described as that old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan. So it is common to understand satanic and demonic activity as having serpent-like qualities. The python no garder snake. It is the world’s longest snake reaching lengths over 33 feet when full grown.
I grew up in an area of the country where there are lots of snakes. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to find one in our house from time to time. One day my grandmother killed one in my sister’s bedroom. It was a large brown snake of some variety. On another day I caught a big black snake crawling through our living room. It was almost four feet long. I used to go out to smokehouse and catch an old black snake that lived there, and after I let it wrap its coils around my arm I’d take it back to the smokehouse and let it go to kill the mice.
One day, when I was about ten-years-old, I took my little six-year-old cousin with me and we caught several small snakes and put them in a jar to bring them home. When his mother, my aunt, saw them she just about passed out. She said they were baby rattlesnakes and she proceeded to pour them out of the jar and beat them to death. She said that just because they looked small did not mean they were harmless; their poison is just as deadly as an adult snake’s. She didn’t let her little boy go out with me much after that.
I used to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on Sunday nights after church. And I’ll never forget the time Marlin Perkins and his trusty sidekick, Jim, were going down to South America to catch an anaconda. This particular snake was several hundred pounds and I remember Marlin standing on the shore with a big bag while Jim waded out into the pond to catch the snake. After that snake thrashed Jim around in the mud for about thirty minutes they were finally able to wrestle the thing into the bag. I believe if I was Jim, the next time I’d tell Marlin that if he wants to catch a 300-pound snake in a mud hole, he could do it himself.
These snakes can get quite large. In fact, I recently saw a news clip where a giant anaconda killed and swallowed a grown man. An anaconda is the heaviest snake in the world and can grow to 28 feet long. The anaconda, like the python, is a non-poisonous snake. So how does it kill its prey? Both of these snakes are constrictors, like the boa constrictor they kill their prey by silently sliding up beside them and, while their prey sleeps, wrapping themselves around them until, when the prey finally wakes up, it’s too late, they are already wrapped in the coils of the snake. Then slowly the snake tightens the coils until it squeezes the breath out of its victim, then the snake simply swallows it whole.
In the story of the man who was swallowed by the snake (and they even had pictures) they believe the man simply fell asleep, and when he woke up, it was too late. The snake squeezed the life out of him and then swallowed him, clothes, shoes and all.
Satan, that old serpent, is just like a python. He waits until we are spiritually sleeping. He waits until we have left off our Bible reading, until we have grown weary in well doing, until we aren’t praying like we used too, or attending church like we ought to. Then he silently slides in beside us, and like he spoke to Eve, he whispers in our ear. He tells us that this sin isn’t all that bad, and that sin is all that bad, and a little bit won’t hurt you, a sip of wine, a drag on a cigarette, a little lie can’t hurt, a little gossip isn’t that bad. While we sleep he wraps his coils around us and sometimes, by the time we wake up, the marriage is over, the children have rebelled, the finances are shot, our health is gone.
This woman had a spirit of python and she was being used by her masters to make them money. She was demon possessed. She was wrapped in the coils of Satan and was apparently helpless to do anything about it. Maybe sometimes you feel the tightening coils of Satan’s attack. You literally feel a tightening in your chest until you feel that you cannot breath and you feel helpless to do anything to save yourself.
I recall finding a snake with a baby rabbit in its coils and I just couldn’t let it go, so I reached down and pulled it lose. But it was too late, the bunny was already dead. This woman was in the grip of Satan and was spiritually dead, but on this day, the spirit of python was trying to bite off more than it could chew. It was coming against the servants of the Most High God.
What she was saying was true, but it was subtle. It sounded like an affirmation of their ministry, but it was actually a hindrance. Perhaps Satan thought these men would allow pride to wrap itself around them and strangle them with an air of self-importance. Perhaps Satan thought they would be afraid of being discovered in the pagan city and leave. Or perhaps Satan thought they would ask this woman to join them and use her gift for God.
But Paul and Silas saw the situation for what it was. They saw a poor pitiful woman wrapped in the coils of Python. They saw a woman helpless to help herself, they saw someone who needed to be rescued so they stepped up and, in the name of Jesus Christ, Satan had to release his grip and let her go. She was delivered, but Satan was not finished. Now he turned his focus upon her deliverers. Now he attempted to wrap his constricting coils around the men of God.
Her masters were incensed that their source of income was now gone so they stirred up the people and had Paul and Silas beaten, placed in shackles and thrust into the innermost part of the prison. Notice, Satan was trying to wrap the coils of persecution around the men of God and in so doing restrict the spread of the Gospel in this region. They were beaten, shackled and imprisoned. But they were not defeated.
Usually Satan, being the low-down coward and scum sucking snake that he is, will slide in when we are unaware, or when we are vulnerable, to wrap us up. But sometimes he makes a direct frontal attack, on our minds, on our marriage, on our health, our finances or our homes.
Thankfully, our God can hear our cry and see our affliction and when we cry out to Him, even though it be the last breath in our lungs, He will hear and race to our rescue. God is big enough to take hold of the head of Satan and make him let go of God’s property.
Paul and Silas were in a place of constriction, but they would not be silenced. Along about midnight they began to pray and sing praise. Hallelujah! There is something about praying and singing praises that gets God’s attention and brings Him to the rescue. When it feels like your world is closing in on you. When you feel the coils of Satan tightening around your situation, when you feel like you can’t move to the left or to the right, just lift up your head, pray your prayer and sing your praise because your redemption draweth night. God is on the way and the enemy is in a heap of trouble.
That old serpent had to loosen his coils, the chains fell away, the prison doors flew open, and God made a way where there seemed to be no way. I remember a wrestling match where every other member of our team had been pinned, and I was in a hold that was cutting off my air, but I refused to quit and after fighting fear and a temptation to give up, I got the reversal and won the match.
Not only were Paul and Silas freed, the jailor along with his entire household were won to the Lord. God knows how to reverse the situation and take you from being the prey, to being the hunter. God know how to move in your life in such a way that you go from being pursued by Satan, to putting the enemy to flight. These are the Divine reversals that reveal the glory of God at work in our weakness.
Here’s the thing about Satan and sin, first of all, even the little ones can hurt you. The venom of a small sin can paralyze you spiritually until you are no longer seeking God as you once did. You are no longer worshipping like you once did. It was just a small sin, a seemingly insignificant sin, but the poison was deadly and it has spread throughout your system.
The Apostle Peter tells us: 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. (1 Peter 5:8-9)
Like the man who was swallowed whole by the anaconda, if we neglect so great a salvation, if we are sleeping when we should be watching, if we allow the enemy to wrap his coils around our lives, our minds, or our hearts, we may not even notice that we have forfeited our victory until our lives are ruined pieces and scattered shards of what God intended for us to be.
Second, we need to be aware that Satan is closer than we realize. He’s like a serpent on a branch watching, and waiting for us give him the opportunity to strike.
One dark night in West Virginia, I heard our puppies barking in the road. We didn’t have any streetlights or even a flashlight handy, but my cousin and I (not the same cousin from the earlier episode) went out to see what the commotion was about. In the darkness I could barley see the puppies gathered around some dark form in the road. So I got down on my hands and knees to see what they were barking at. I got down to within inches of it before I could see that it was a snake. Again, I’m not afraid of snakes, so it didn’t scare me until I was walking back to the house and heard one of the puppies howling, almost screaming, in pain. I went back and picked it up writhing from the pavement and took it home. Already its stomach was swelling from the venom of the serpent. Within ten minutes the puppy was dead and I realized that my face had been inches from the fangs of a poisonous snake.
My friends, be vigilant, be sober, be alert, Satan wants to wrap his coils around you and squeeze the joy out of your walk with God. Satan wants to squeeze the victory out of your worship and the fellowship out of your relationships.
But if you’re here tonight and already you feel the coils tightening, maybe around your home, maybe around your finances, maybe around your health, but the coils are tightening and you feel that your next breath may be your last breath, let me make a suggestion, if you’ve only got one more breath left, let it be a prayer and a praise. Because I believe you can praise your way out of the enemy’s grasp and God s able to turn your situation around and hand you the victory.
Notice what Jesus promised at the end of Mark’s Gospel. He said, They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover (Mk. 16:18).
In other words, we have been given power over all the power of the enemy, we don’t have to live in fear or intimidation, the snake is under our boots. We are the body of Christ and we are crushing the head of Satan every time we tell the story, every time we share the Good News, every time we overcome temptation with the Word, every time we get up when we don’t feel like it, and pray, every time we go to church when there are a hundred reasons to stay home, every time we sing a praise when we feel like crying. Every time we give God the glory for the things He has done, we are bearing down on the head of Satan.
Sun and I were at Galyans, a sports supply store in the Mall of Georgia, and there was a man there with a bunch of snakes. He was teaching about snakes, about knowing which ones are poisonous and how to handle them, and such. He took out a water moccasin, also known as a cottonmouth, and he put it on the floor. Then, to keep it from crawling into the crowd and biting someone, he put his boot-clad foot on the serpent. It kept striking at his boot, but it couldn’t penetrate the rubber to hurt the man.
We don’t have to be afraid of Satan, but we’d better be alert and we’d better keep him under our feet. He may strike, but he can’t hurt us because he can’t cross the bloodline. If we’re covered by the blood we don’t have to live in fear or defeat.