Last week, we began our journey with Paul and Barnabas as they left Antioch commissioned by the church to travel and share the word of God with others to the west. The first stop on their trip was Salamis on the island of Cyprus. Traveling from east to west across the island, Paul and Barnabas arrive in the city of Paphos.
“They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means ) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.” Acts 13:6-8
Paphos became the new capital city in 22 B.C.. And like most cities Paul and Barnabas will visit on their journey, the majority of the citizens of Paphos were polytheistic. They do, however, encounter an unusual Jewish man who lives a life of contradiction. Bar-Jesus, who is also known as Elymas, is a false prophet and a Jewish sorcerer. Sorcerers (or magicians) were respected and consulted by kings, nobles, and governors for matters of state including war. These diviners used rituals to evoke the dead and possibly tell the future through the practice of necromancy, astrology, or magic spells. But this craft Elymas practiced was considered pagan and was forbidden in Jewish law.
“Do not practice divination or sorcery.” Leviticus 19:26
Elymas acted as a stumbling block to the faith for proconsul Sergius Paulus (Luke 17:1-3). As his attendant, the proconsul relied on Elymas for guidance and wisdom. Paul and Barnabas were a professional and economic threat to Elymas and his livelihood. Perhaps, those reasons alone are why Elymas tried to prevent the proconsul from seeking and believing in the Christian message. He stands as a false prophet in sharp contrast to Paul and Barnabas who are true prophets.
“Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.” Acts 13:9-12
Nothing Elymas did stopped the Lord’s desire for Sergius Paulus. He saw the hand of the Lord at work, believed in that miracle wrought by the Lord, and in turn, was amazed by the words of the Lord shared by Paul and Barnabas. Elymas acted as a hindrance to faith but Paul and Barnabas would not be stopped by obstacles in completing the task they were called to accomplish.
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