4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. 6 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. 7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” (Acts 13:4-12 (ESV)
“Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” This man would have had roughly the same job as Pontius Pilate or Felix, but his district was Cyprus. It seems Paul, Barnabus and John Mark had created a stir on the island and were likely threatening the whole status quo with their teachings. Certainly it had grabbed the attention of Sergius, in charge of law and order, and the gospel seems to have been working on him even before he meets this merry band. But he also has a personal magician in employ. A Jewish false prophet. This was actually quite common in the ancient world, one of the things the Jewish people were famous for in the ancient world was witchcraft. Of course, the grand majority of them were faithful to their God, and Old Testament customs, but those who so to say went to the dark side were famous for their abilities with the dark arts. And it isn’t all that surprising given the pagan nature of the cultures around them, and those that were absorbed into Israel. For instance the Ugaritic culture. Ugaritic is a language used in the ancient Syrian town of Ugarit, which was basically a Jewish settlement with its own dialect. Since French archeologists discovered the language and inscriptions of this town in 1929, it has been used to clarify translations of the Hebrew Old Testament. This was one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century, maybe not as popular as the Dead Sea Scrolls, yet probably more important. In any case, I remember at seminary picking up an Ugaritic text book at seminary and giving it a cursory read. Much of what has been discovered consisted of magical incantations. The town was famous for its magicians. Reading some of them in translation was eerie. I remember at the time thinking of the witch of Endor, and numerous other passages of the Old, and New, for that matter, Tesaments dealing with practitioners of the black arts. Those who believe in the Bible can’t dismiss the stuff as mere quackery and fun and games. How effective modern forms such as Wicca are, might be up for grabs. Yet, I stay away. In any case, Bar-Jesus, seems to have been rather successful at it. Sergius kept him employed.
Yet, he couldn’t keep the gospel under wraps. And the Holy Spirit was more powerful than any dark spirit Bar Jesus had at his disposal. Paul curses Bar-Jesus. This is the nature of what Paul has done, but he spoke in the Holy Spirit at the Holy Spirit’s discretion and guidance. And the curse stuck, for a time. For the rest of the life of Bar-Jesus, his existence would be a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit. One can only hope that it led to his own repentance, which seems to have been the purpose of the curse Paul laid upon him through the Holy Spirit. Yet it worked for Sergius, and presumably many others.