I’ve been spending a fair bit of time in Acts these days, and feeling like it's a book I’ve read a dozen times but never seen before. One of the episodes I find particularly fascinating is the account of Paul’s visit to Ephesus.
If you recall: the Holy Spirit arrives in Ephesus and in its wake we see stuff happening that would make the best of Frank Peretti look like Casper the Friendly Ghost. The Seven Sons of Sceva are beat black and blue by a demon-possessed man (19:14); dabblers in the occult perform public burnings of their paraphernalia (19:19); the silversmiths of a pagan goddess incite the mobs to riot (19:28). I mean: the Gospel’s beating the bushes and the demons are scattering like so many startled sparrows.
But Frank Peretti aside—and this is a point that I’ve never seen Frank Peretti address, or Screwtape, or Dr. Faustus for that matter—whatever else they're about, the Ephesian exorcisms are about issuing God's challenge to the oppressive economic structures that promote systemic evil.
For instance: it’s an assumption on my part, but not an outrageous one, that the Seven Sons of Sceva have set themselves up as Exorcists for Hire, and this is why their interview with the devil goes so painfully wrong (the fact that Sceva is styling himself as a ‘chief priest’ in Ephesus is highly suspect). Bob Larson leaps to mind, here.
And this isn’t an assumption but just a plain reading of the text: the economic value of the books burned in Acts 19:19 works out to about 136 years wages (say 6 million dollars?). A lot of Ephesians have sunk a lot of money into occult junk over the years.
And most telling of all: the reason Demetrius and his colleagues start a riot is because they’ve seen the economic writing on the wall: if people abandon Artemis for Jesus, they’ll no longer need the silver images that are their stock and trade. I don’t suppose a good racket has ever died without a fight, and this must have been a lucrative racket: Ephesus, you understand, was home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient World.
And then I’d brace myself.
But I’d also point out that in Acts 16 we see the same thing happening. Paul performs an exorcism (16:18), freeing a girl from demonic possession. But it’s not just a demon that's being excised here. It's also the economic exploitation this girl's been suffering at the hands of her pimps. Because when the men who made their living off her “prophetic utterances” find out that their “hope of profit is gone," Acts says, that’s when the metaphorical excrement hits the proverbial air-circulation device.
By Acts’ reckoning, it seems: helping the vulnerable escape economic exploitation—girls the sex trade, say—or children the sweatshop—or workers the tyranny of the bottom line—or shop-a-holics the clutches of Mastercard—by Acts reckoning, at least, these are all ministries of exorcism with the potential to raise hell.
Awesome post, Dale. Always appreciate deconstructing the spiritual/earthly dualism and you've not only done it well but with careful reading of Scripture. This post helps remind me of the practical/prophetic usefulness of Scripture.ReplyDelete