Part 7 of 12
This Present Darkness
Years ago, I read a thought-provoking Christian thriller by Frank Peretti entitled This Present Darkness. This gripping tale is a fast-paced ride on the theme of good versus evil both in the spiritual and natural realms.
The action mostly takes place in a very small town called Ashton, which is being taken over by a vicious New Age corporation. This company hopes to use the town as a stepping stone to unleash its “new world order” on the world. There are only two main protagonists who stand against this powerful corporation. The first is Marshall Hogan, the tough newspaper owner, whose inquisitive and stubborn attitude leads him to discover the corporation’s plans and boldly oppose them. The other protagonist is Henry Buche, a pastor of the town’s small church. He is a prayer warrior and is devoted to fighting spiritual battles with spiritual weapons. He is committed to prayer and wields it as a mighty weapon in the struggle to save his town.
Peretti’s fictional depiction of the spiritual war employs characters from the physical world side-by-side with spiritual characters. Throughout this entire story, angels and demons are portrayed as having thoughts, emotions, and personalities and they interact closely with the physical characters. The angels fight alongside the good characters while the demons give aid to the corporation. The whole story comes to a climax with the fate of Ashton and, possibly the whole world, decided in a great spiritual battle.
By Way of Review
It is hard to believe that we are on the downward stretch of this devotional series. Six sets of devotionals have been written and there are only four more to go. I pray that this study on unwavering trust has been helpful for you in your walk with God; I know it has been for me. Actually, this series has been my lifeline, for God has placed me on an adjacent track to Hezekiah’s life. Every storm that Hezekiah weathered in ancient Judah has mirrored my own reality in these days. As I look back over the past couple of months, I am intensely aware that this devotional series was conjured up in God’s mind for me. All of the research, all of the meditation, and all of the writing has obviously been a gracious work of God to prepare me for the storms God knew were coming.
We have been peeking into the life of a good king named Hezekiah, a king that knew and loved the Lord. However, loving God and experiencing an intimate relationship with Him, did not exempt Hezekiah from storms. God allowed the storm clouds to gather on Hezekiah’s horizon for two reasons: to refine his faith, conforming him more and more to the image of Christ, and to reveal where his faith was deficient. Hezekiah learned that faith, even while standing strong, can house pockets of fear and pride. Last week, we saw Hezekiah withdraw into the Lord once again, working hard to shore up his God-foundation in order to prepare for the next storm he knew was coming: the attack of the Assyrian army.
My eldest son, David, sent me a catchy saying that he jotted down while in the midst of a convocation at Liberty University: “Failure is not final, failure is formative.” In many people’s eyes, it would seem that Hezekiah failed two of his faith-tests miserably, but as I mentioned last week, experience is actually a really good teacher. Those two mistakes did not defeat Hezekiah. Instead, they served to goad him on to a better and stronger faith, a faith that would help him survive his most devastating storm of all. Failure did not exempt him from God’s grace; it merely formed him to walk more completely in the grace he was shown.
As we study Hezekiah’s life, we are continually looking at trust from different angles. So far, we have amassed six principles of trust that will, Lord willing, help us to soar above our own storms:
- A life of trust is built on intimacy, identity, and integrity in the calm before the storm. I sought to prove in the first week that the calm before the storm is the place in which we must build our foundation of trust.
- Trust is the security that comes from resting one’s identity on the Word and the Person of God. Hezekiah stood tall when Israel collapsed because his foundation was built on truth.
- A person who trusts will respond to suffering with worship. Trust in the middle of shattered dreams becomes a healing balm when a person learns to worship despite baffling amounts of suffering.
- Trust always humbly steers toward the focal point of God. When a person loses sight of God as her focus, she will get off track. Pride always steers us awry, but pursuing humility always leads us back into God’s will and purpose for our lives.
- A trusting person fears the Lord rather than giving way to fleshly fear. A When Assyria attacked nearby Lachish, fear undermined Hezekiah’s choices. As the storm clouds gathered above his head, distrust began to ignite fear. Hezekiah learned the hard way that God, rather than man, must be his pure object of trust.
- Trust engages in the art of preparing the mind and heart for action. Spiritual battles will come. Whether you will weather those battles in victory or not will depend on your skill in preparation. Have you learned the art of procuring godly counsel, renewing your strength, evaluating your springs, protecting your weakened walls, arming yourself with God’s weapons and resting in God’s amazing greatness? These seven steps will help you prepare your heart and mind for war.
During this particular devotional focus, war comes to Hezekiah’s doorstep. He is in grave danger of attack; in fact, assault is imminent. Unlike some of the characters in This Present Darkness, who did not understand what kind of war was being fought, Hezekiah does know his enemy. He does understand Assyria’s goal of destruction. He is aware of what could take place: his annihilation and the destruction of his city. What he does with this spiritual discernment, which is fueled by his trust in God, is the topic of our study over the next couple of weeks.
Today, however, there is very little text from Hezekiah’s life. You may read Isaiah 36:1-4a to discover what enemy the Judean king is about to engage. But my purpose in writing this devotional is much broader. This introduction of Hezekiah’s most fearsome enemy is the metaphor for the war that you and I engage in on a daily basis. This war, while invisible, is very real. For this reason I will be using Hezekiah’s bonafide physical war as a springboard to other texts which, I pray, will brace up your faith and trust in God.
The Fourteenth Year
Our study begins with familiar words; familiar because we have looked at them on more than one occasion. Take in their import once again. Beyond just listening to these sterile-sounding words, try to place yourself in Hezekiah’s shoes. Face the facts, of course, but try hard to feel the feelings he probably experienced, “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them (Isa. 36:1).
The one-campaign approach
Once again, I want to draw your attention to this nebulous timeline that has stumped me no end. By way of reminder, there are two camps of theory. Those who stand by the one-campaign approach – by far, the greater majority – believe that Sennacherib attacked Lachish one time in 701 BC. Hezekiah saw that Jerusalem’s destruction was next on the Assyrian agenda, and so he reacted in fear. That fear led to desperate measures: emptying the palace coffers and stripping the gold off the temple doorposts to pay Assyria to leave Jerusalem alone (see 2 Kings 18:13-18).
These one-campaign supporters will also say that Sennacherib thought about Hezekiah’s plea a little bit, but that the amount of gold and silver sent by the fearful Judean king served only to whet Assyria’s appetite for more. Sennacherib then decided to disregard Hezekiah’s monetary bribe and attack anyway. This, they will endorse, is the treachery seen in prophecies spoken by Isaiah:
- “A dire vision has been shown to me: The traitor betrays, the looter takes oot. Elam, attack! Media, lay siege! I will bring to an end all the groaning she caused” (Isa. 21:2).
- “From the ends of the earth we hear singing: ‘Glory to the Righteous One.’ But I said, ‘I waste away, I water away! Woe to me! The treacherous betray” (Isa. 24:16)!
- “Woe to you, O destroyer, you who have not been destroyed! Woe to you, O traitor, you who have not been betrayed! When you stop destroying, you will be destroyed; when you stop betraying, you will be betrayed” (Isa. 33:1).
Many of Sennacherib’s boastful annals have been discovered so there is historical proof that this king did, in fact, attack and capture much of the Judean countryside. Listen to what the Assyrian king stated as fact:
“Because Hezekiah, king of Judah, would not submit to my yoke, I came up against him, and by force of arms and by the might of my power I took 46 of his strong fenced cities; and of the smaller towns which were scattered about, I took and plundered a countless number. From these places I took and carried off 200,156 persons, old and young, male and female, together with horses and mules, asses and camels, oxen and sheep, a countless multitude; and Hezekiah himself I shut up in Jerusalem, his capital city, like a bird in a cage, building towers round the city to hem him in, and raising banks of earth against the gates, so as to prevent escape…Then upon Hezekiah there fell the fear of the power of my arms, and he sent out to me the chiefs and the elders of Jerusalem with 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver, and diverse treasures, a rich and immense booty…All these things were brought to me at Nineveh, the seat of my government” (Daniel David Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib).
There is no doubt, as seen in historical evidence, that Sennarcherib did capture 46 cities. His annals prove the veracity of Scripture. The issue to me, however, is not if, but when.
Most one-campaign believers will place this attack in the year 701 B.C., the fourteenth year of the extra fifteen years given as a gift to Hezekiah in the year that he was miraculously healed. Still others, however, place this attack in 713/712, the actual fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign before the God-given extension.
The two-campaign approach
While the evidence for the one-campaign is strong and most commentators tend to favor this approach, there is another school of thought, proposed initially by Randall Younker, a doctoral student in archaeology at the University of Arizona. He states that there is archaeological evidence for two campaigns into Judah at the end of the 8th century BC or early 7th century BC. In his unpublished paper, he examines nine sites in Judah and has shown that six of them have two destruction levels at this time. The other three sites only show one destruction level. “The literary evidence, both Biblical and Assyrian, indicates these cities were destroyed once, in 701 BC.” Lachish was spared during the first campaign in 701 BC (2 Kings 18:14), but destroyed in the second, ca. 688 BC” (https://lifeandland.org/2011/02/883).
For what it is worth, I lean toward this second school of thought. There is archaeological evidence, historical evidence and even biblical evidence. There are three “reports” of this particular attack. The first is seen in 2 Kings 18:13, where Sennacherib attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. The very next verse tells of Hezekiah’s frantic message to him at Lachish and his consequent petition to withdraw. This sequence suggests to me that the Kings’ account took place in 701 BC; it is a re-telling of the first campaign.
The second retelling in 2 Chronicles 32 has a different sequence. After the initial verse introducing the invasion of Assyria, the chronicler goes into the preparations Hezekiah made to block the water source and shore up the walls (We dealt with this last week). The order of events described here tells me that the first campaign is being described; hence the date of this passage would have to be set at 701 BC.
However, further on in this passage, these words introduce a different timeframe, “Later, when Sennacherib king of Assyria and all his forces were laying siege to Lachish…” (2 Chron. 32:9). I believe this ‘later’ is speaking of the second campaign, which occurred in 688 BC.
Isaiah 36 begins again with the same events of what happened in the fourteenth year: the attack and capture of all the fortified cities. But the sequential verse 2 corresponds with verse 9 of 2 Chronicles 32. Each author tells the same story, but the changes in sequence and the hints of ‘later’ tell me that they are not all describing the exact same event. A couple of them speak to a 701BC invasion and others describe a 688 BC attack.
I hope you have not fallen asleep throughout this brief history lesson. I kind of get revved up about these things, but as a friend tells me, that is only my “nerd” coming out. In essence, the time warp of what happened when or where in history really should not have much bearing on our study, for it is the message of the text that is the most important focus.
However, this sequence seems extremely important to me because I view it as a mirror that reflects my spiritual walk in many ways. The two-campaign theory is how God often works His truth deep down into our marrow. He will bring one storm our way to refine our trust in Him. If our faith falters, He teaches us lessons through that particular misstep that emboldens us to walk in truth. Then, He often will bring a similar storm pattern to bear on our newfound belief system to see if we really have learned that faith lesson or not. The goal, of course, is not to destroy us, but to enable us to live with unwavering trust. Sometimes, like what Hezekiah’s two-campaign attack revealed, we realize that our faith is missing a key ingredient like courage or humility. As we bone up on those learned lessons, we can easily prepare for the next wave of storm clouds that will darken our often-familiar horizons.
The Assyrian Enemy
As seen in verse 1, the storm clouds are waiting to drop a hurricane-force storm into Hezekiah’s life. Assyria is literally camped at Jerusalem’s doorstep. The enemy is nigh. When this exact scenario happened before, Hezekiah probably felt just like his father did in Isaiah 7:2, “the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.”
When the enemy is storming your safety, fear can often become the greater enemy. The first time around, Hezekiah gave in to his fear while Sennacherib besieged Lachish almost thirty miles away. This time, the king of Assyria is besieging Lachish again, but sends his greatest military commanders to parley with Hezekiah. There is no mention in these opening verses of Hezekiah’s reaction, but I know his inside feelings, because I, too, have been besieged.
Did Hezekiah have reason to fear? Of course.
The mighty Assyrian empire dominated the whole biblical Middle East from the ninth to the seventh century BC. “They conquered an area that comprises what is now Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon” (https://www.gotquestions.org/Assyrians.html). In the seventh century, they occupied and controlled the eastern shores of the entire Mediterranean Sea. Their capitol city, Nineveh, was one of the greatest cities of ancient times. Jonah 3:3 tells us that it took three days to go around the city, so that gives us an idea of its size. The Assyrians were also a very fierce and cruel nation that showed little mercy on those it captured (2 Kings 19:17).
The Assyrians were a thorn in Israel’s side and had been for years. In 733 BC King Tilgath-pileser took the Northern Kingdom’s land and carried all of its inhabitants into exile (2 Kings 15:29). Later, beginning in 721 BC, King Shalmaneser besieged Samara, the capitol of Israel, and took most everyone captive when it fell three years later (2 Kings 18:9-12). God used Assyria as his “rod of anger” (Isa. 10:5-19) to implement His judgment against the disobedient Israelites. And, if you believe in the two-campaign theory, Sennacherib had already decimated much of the land west of Jerusalem, besieging Lachish nearly to its demise. Additionally, Sennacherib had already taken forty-six Judean towns.
Assyria was a huge threat. A threatening adversary. And an imposing enemy. Hezekiah knew that it would not tax Sennacherib’s army, resources, or energy to crush his city like a bug.
A Formidable Foe
Just like Hezekiah had a huge, imposing enemy breathing down his neck, so do we. This enemy is a formidable foe and he is out to destroy us and to discredit the cause of Christ. As an enemy of God, he becomes your enemy vicariously; it’s part of your inheritance. When you are brought over from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, you change allegiance (Col. 1:1213) from the enemy to Jesus. This choice to be rescued from one kingdom in order to be brought into God’s loving kingdom puts a very large target on your back and my friend, the one gunning for that target is Satan.
Peter exhorts us to be prepared, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Lions prowl in order to destroy. This word picture accurately portrays Satan’s biggest agenda against you. He wants to devour you: your faith, your hope, your integrity, your marriage, your children, your ministry, and especially, your walk with God.
You are not to fear, Peter says; just be watchful and alert. Have you ever seen a cat sneak up on a bird? It gets really low in the grass and almost army-crawls its way stealthily toward its prey. The only movement it makes as it waits to pounce is the slight twitching of a tail. Then, without any prior notice and when the time is right, it launches itself with devastating accuracy toward its unsuspecting victim.
A cat is a small lion, my friend, and often, in the battles you face everyday in the spiritual realm, you are that unsuspecting prey. I say ‘unsuspecting’ because Satan does not advertise his presence. He sneaks up on you when you least suspect it. Like a lion hunter, he will pick out the weak in the pack or the young and will fall upon them with quick devastation. He does not play fair, but will come against the weak and vulnerable.
Yesterday was really, really hard for me. I went into a very significant meeting with a hopeless sense in my heart, trying to stand on the Scripture God had been steeping me in for a couple of days. All I had was my trust in God to go by and the promises He had been giving me. The meeting was a wringer, but in the end, I knew God had brought about a miraculous work for me. I would never have chosen this path – EVER! – but I knew it was God’s choice for me at this time.
I came home relatively calm, although mentally and emotionally exhausted. I should have been good to go: the meeting, though exhausting and quite hard-fought, had a decent outcome, I was not fearful, I had a sense of completion and confidence about moving forward. Yet around suppertime, as I sat with my family, I noticed a horrible sense of dread roll over me. It was a thoroughly blanketing type of depression.
All kinds of negative thoughts began to roll through my mind. I am a terrible mom. If I was gone, no one would miss me. What good am I to anybody? I was super quiet at our meal, feeling frustrated with the mundane same-old, same-old of my family interactions, which is not a typical response for me either. The pessimistic tape continued to roll on and on in my mind and heart until I realized what was happening.
After finishing the supper dishes, I took my recycling down to a Thai neighbor and on the way, began to analyze what was going on. I remembered my acronym H.A.L.T. and applied it to my situation. HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired. As I looked into my soul, I realized that I was actually experiencing three of those scenarios in one form or another; the strongest being dead-on, dried-out exhausted. I almost gasped that I had been so easily duped and then I became much more alert to the scheme of my enemy. I began to speak, “If I do not stand firm in my faith, I will not stand firm at all,” a lesson the Lord has been working into my heart this whole week from Isaiah 7 (v 9b).
One trip around my subdivision is all it took. I became very aware of the fact that the enemy had snuck on me, that he had tried to divide my mind between fear and faith, all the while posing as my own thoughts. It was an insidious ploy…and it almost worked. Except that I am writing this week about our enemy, the devil. This ‘writing to fight’ war of words I am engaging in by writing these devotionals, is solidifying God’s lessons to me. It is keeping me both self-controlled and alert.
If our foe is so formidable, we need to know a lot about him. In this next section, I want to reveal what Scripture says about your enemy, the devil. We will answer such questions as, “Is Satan for real? Who is he really? Where did he come from? What are his names?” I pray that some of this biblical text will help you recognize the spiritual war you are in and reveal the truths about your enemy.
Satan is a real being, a genuine foe. We know this if we believe the Bible at all. In Job, which is chronologically the first book of the Bible, Satan comes before God and they have a huge conversation. Satan asks to attack Job and God gave his consent (see Job 1:6-12, 2:1-7). The first time he shows up in the Bible as it is ordered is in Genesis 3:1. He takes the form of a serpent and craftily begins to tempt Eve to sin against God. In 1 Chronicles 21:1, he is named ‘Satan’ in conjunction with temptation, “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.” And in the very last book of the Bible, Satan is called the great dragon. He is eventually hurled down, this ancient serpent or Satan because of his dogged desire to lead the whole world astray (Rev. 12:9).
Not only does the authority of Scripture back up Satan’s reality, but Christ’s testimony does as well. In Matthew 4 – and other gospels – Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil (v 1). Three such temptations were laid before him by the “tempter” and three times Jesus refuted his insidious insinuations with the Word of God. What we do need to recognize, based on Jesus’ example, is that Satan tempts (v 1), Satan often waits until we are weak (v 2), Satan then chooses to come to us (v 3), and that he twists Scripture while preying upon our soul-needs (vv 3-10).
In the Scriptures, Satan is portrayed accurately as a created spirit. Job 1:6 has him showing up in the throne room of God with all of the angels and Colossians says that all things were created by God: “things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or power or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him (Co. 1:16).
Matthew has another interesting bit of information to add to Satan’s description. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Mt. 25:41). Did you catch that? Not only was he created by God, but he is an angel.
Ezekiel 28 gives us even more information about this enemy. “You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you,” God said in verse 14. Cherubs, just so you know, are the highest class of angelic being, and this chapter tells us that Satan was the highest of those cherubs. “So he was the highest angel of the highest class of angels – the greatest created being” (Chip Ingram, The Invisible War, p. 51).
Not only is Satan real, but he is in charge of a large army. Luke 11:15 calls him Beelzebub, the prince of demons. He is the general of a demon army and remember, his agenda is to destroy you and discredit God. He will use whatever means necessary, along with all of his minions, to annihilate you and your faith.
Is he real? For sure, he is. You can bet your bottom dollar on this fact.
What we know about Satan’s history comes largely from this Ezekiel passage as well. We do know he was created perfect, “You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you…Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared” (vv 12-13).
Heaven was also his home. Jude 1:6 tells us that when the angels fell into sin and did not keep their positions of authority, they abandoned their own homes. Imagine giving up a heavenly abode to live in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the End Time day (the last part of v 6 in the NKJV).
Verse 14 ends with an interesting description, “You had access to the holy mountain of God and walked among the stones of fire.” I do not pretend to understand all that these words mean, but ‘holy’ indicates God’s glory. Satan was also called blameless in all his ways (v 15a – ESV) so the fact that Satan had access to the holy presence of God and was pure himself shows me that he could enter into God’s glory. The fact that he walked among the stones reminds me of a guard walking a beat. Perhaps Satan not only accessed God’s glory, but walked watchfully around God’s glory as the head guardian (see also v 16). He saw to it that God’s glory was protected.
But, tragically, unrighteousness was found in him (v 15b). His heart became proud because of his beauty (v 17a). He corrupted his wisdom for the sake of his splendor (v 16b. This perspective of Satan does not include a pitchfork and a forked tail. It shows Satan to have been grand and glorious, beautiful and bright. But all of that grandeur led to his demise. He became filled with violence and he sinned in his pride (v 16b). He told himself that he would ascend to the heavens above the stars of God and would set his throne up on high. He would make himself like the Most High (Isa. 14:13-14). He made a personal, free choice that cost him all that was right and good.
God’s response was swift. He cast him down as a profane thing from the mountain of God. He destroyed his options as the guardian cherub. He removed him from the stones of fire. No more God. No more glory. Only iniquity, unrighteousness and profanity (Ezek. 28:16, 18). He was cast to the ground to be exposed before kings (v 17), where he now roams around like a lion to devour you.
Satan’s past is intricately linked to your present reality and future. For now, he commands a huge army of angel-demons to bring about in your life the very same trajectory that his took. He uses the weapon of pride, probing its tentacles in your life and setting up scenarios where your own pride will be used against you to become your downfall. And he will use violence, iniquity, sin, unrighteousness and profanity against you, but he will use it subtly and dress it up in a very appealing package.
Remembering that the study of Satan’s names is quite lengthy and would take a very long devotional to unpack, let’s briefly dip our toes into the titles of this enemy.
- Satan means “adversary.” He continually opposes God’s agenda and works against God’s plans. He will work to malign the character and purposes of God (Job 1:6-7, 1 Thess. 2:18)
- Devil means “slanderous.” He twists the truth to make God look bad. He will say false things about people to ruin their reputations. He loves juicy gossip and will spread a pack of lies if it will further his purposes (Mt. 4:1; Eph. 4:25-27, 1 Pet. 5:8).
- Lucifer means “day star” or “shining one.” Remember that he began as a beautiful being. To catch a fish, you need appealing bait, and Satan is very good as making wrong look really good (Isa. 14:12-14; Lk. 10:18).
- Tempter means “one who entices to sin.” He will exploit our perfectly good desires and soul-needs and entice us to fill them with a substitute. Everything that is good can become distorted in the hands of Satan, the one who has almost unlimited persuasive powers (Mt. 4:3, 1 Thess. 3:5).
- The prince of this world (Jn. 12:31) is a master of false systems. He puts together thoughts that become theologies to us, which can suck our faith dry. He works ideologies and imagery to attack all those in the world. “He’s behind false religions, false philosophies, false doctrine, false morality, and every system of thought that cannot lead anyone to God. He has infiltrated governments, economies, educational institutions, and anything that has influence in this world” (Chip Ingram, The Invisible War, p. 57).
- The accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). After he has tempted you and you have fallen, Satan brings out his next strategy: condemnation. He will point out your sins and failures and use them to try and block your sense of forgiveness with God.
- Father of lies (Jn. 8:44). He is completely false, where God is completely truth. There is nothing good in him at all. He will misconstrue all reality and will mislead you with inaccuracies about God’s Word, His character, His ways, and His good plans for you.
I could keep going on and on: Beelzebub (Mt. 12:24); Belial (2 Cor. 6:15); the evil one (1 Jn 5:19); ruler of demons (Mt. 9:34); murderer (Jn. 8:44); the enemy (Mt. 13:39); god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4); ruler of the authority of the air (Eph. 2:2); roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8); the angel of the abyss (Rev. 9:11); Apollyon and Abaddon (Rev. 9:11); the dragon, the old serpent and the deceiver of the whole world (Rev. 12:9); and the accuser of God’s people (Rev. 12:10). The amount of Scripture alone that points to Satan’s existence is overwhelming evidence that this enemy is real and that he is incredibly formidable.
Dear one, as real as Assyria appeared to Hezekiah, that is how real this intimidating, brooding, ominous, sinister, menacing, threatening and dangerous enemy needs to appear to you.
The Invisible War
In Isaiah 36, Sennacherib attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them (v 1). His last conquest on the way to Jerusalem was the important city of Lachish. Besides its size, it was important because it sat on the trade route to Egypt. It acted like a kind of gateway to the lucrative commerce that occurred with that rich Nile river city. Sennacherib knew that by reducing Lachish to ruins, Jerusalem would be cut off from potential resources and military help. So he engaged in a long siege, which eventually broke the back of Lachish during the second campaign.
While Sennacherib was enjoying the demolition of Lachish’s siege, he decided to increase the pressure on King Hezekiah by sending an envoy to Jerusalem’s gates. Along with three important delegates, he dispatched a large army. As Hezekiah looked out of his palace windows on the soldiers spread as far as the eye could see, the war “looked” imminent. It “appeared” very real.
But if you think about this carefully, was it truly reality? A large army sprawled around the city. Certainly that would appear daunting, but no efforts were made at besiegement or attack. The meeting with the commander and his cohorts would have been menacing due to their significant ranks in the army, but the commander chose to engage solely in a battle of words. Everything that was seen and heard could have led to great fear, but Sennacherib’s main war thrust was actually thirty miles away. He put together an elaborate plan intended to force Hezekiah’s panic and military hand. He thought the Judean king would be as easily cowed as before, when he had besieged Lachish and Hezekiah gave in to his fear, paying him off with the gold and silver from the temple.
What he did not count on was Hezekiah’s newly-buttressed faith. Hezekiah looked out at the army and saw just a very large bunch of soldiers – no siege ramps, no battering rams, and no fiery weapons to hurl over the gates. He looked out at the commander and his two right-hand men standing at the city’s aqueduct and saw just ordinary men. Sure, they were dressed in pomp and circumstance outwardly, but inside, he knew they were only earthly mortals.
Instead of folding under the intimidation tactics of the king of Assyria, he chose to fold his knees to the King of the World. With a tongue-in-cheek response, he answered Assyria’s intimidation with great trust in God: he facetiously sent out to this terrifying army and threesome of threatening commanders his palace administrator, his secretary and his historical recorder. Talk about a move of unwavering trust. Before he panicked, before he reacted in unbelief, before he moved unwisely, he saw through the intimidation and responded faithfully to his invisible war.
Like Hezekiah, you are engaged in an invisible war. Take special note of your opponents, “For (your) struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). Your opponents are unlike any you will ever face on this earth. Evil rulers. Authorities of the unseen world. Mighty powers in this dark world and evil spirits in the heavenly realms (same verse in the NLT).
The war that is brought to your city gates is unlike any other, not only because of its sheer magnitude and scope, but also because this war is fought in a place you have never seen. It is a cosmic conflict waged in the spiritual realm but played out in the physical realm. “The root of the war is something you cannot see, but the effects of the war are clearly seen and felt. This is because everything physical is either influenced or caused by something spiritual” (Tony Evans, Victory in Spiritual Warfare, p. 14).
If Satan can intimidate you by sheer force, if he can pull the wool over your eyes, he has won most of the battle. If he can wield a smokescreen that distracts you and causes paralyzing fear, he has the upper hand. If he can divert your attention away from the spiritual realm and keep you focused on the physical realm, he can keep you from the only place where your victory can be found.
My friend, do not be duped! Satan will use intimidation and will veil the truth in one huge, terrifying smokescreen, so purpose to respond like Hezekiah. Look for the truth of the situation behind the supposed reality. Ask God to reveal the invisible enemy and the level of threat he really holds for you. Then use some faith tactics of your own and engage in the battle where it is actually being fought: in the heavenly places.
Do you remember from Ephesians 6:12 where this battle is actually taking place? If you look back, you will see that it is waged in the heavenly places, which simply means the spiritual realm. Our battles originate in the heavenly realms, so the only way to fight them is with weapons that work in that realm.
Take note that the battle is fought in the heavenly places, but there is yet another aspect of the spiritual realm that is important to remember when engaging a spiritual enemy. This truth is seen in Ephesians 1:3, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Did you see it? Every spiritual blessing we receive from God is already waiting for us in the heavenly places.
Paul goes on to list some of those blessings. We are chosen in him. We are predestined for adoption to sonship. We have redemption through his blood and forgiveness of sins. He has made known to us the mystery of His will. We are included in Christ, then marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit once we believed, and these are just a few of the blessings from a few verses in one short little chapter (Eph. 1:4-14). Others include every promise God has ever made, every plan created on your behalf, every hope and dream for you in the eyes of your Father, every opportunity for victory, and I could go on and on. The promise spoken in these verses included every blessing in Christ.
In a spiritual war, Satan your spiritual enemy, knows this truth. He tries to get you to distrust what God has already accomplished through His Son. He throws up a smokescreen, veiling the spiritual truths in order to get you to focus on the physical realm. Christians walk defeated through their lives because the enemy has them believing that they are impotent, defeated, and unloved, because after all, that is all they can really see, right?
Faith is the answer to this dilemma. Dear one, act like God is telling the truth. Draw down those blessings from the heavenly realm constantly. Do not let Satan intimidate you in the physical realm. Set your mind and heart on things above (Col. 3:1-2) and make life choices in light of the reality of those blessings.
There is yet another truth coming out of those heavenly places, “That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 1:19-20). Not only the power of God but the Person of His Son is seated in the heavenly realms. The blessings are in the heavenly places as well as the one who is ultimately in charge. If you want to get to know Jesus, you will need to approach Him in the spiritual realms.
How do we do this? Ephesians 2:4-6 helps us answer this question. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”
Right now, wherever you are, in whatever circumstances you find yourself on earth, you are seated with Christ in the spiritual realm. If you are focusing only on your “right now” or your “this place” or the circumstances in which you find yourself here on earth, you are not viewing your situation as being in the same place as your solution. Your spirit dwells in the heavenly places even while your body operates in this physical time continuum.
Precious warrior, you are fighting in an invisible war with an invisible and powerful enemy on spiritual ground. This is a truth you must remember when the storm clouds gather. But overlay that truth with this one: the spiritual ground has already been claimed by the blood of Jesus. He sits at the right hand of His Father in that heavenly place. He lavishes blessings on you in that heavenly place and you, my friend, you are seated in that same glorious, heavenly place.
If this were not enough, there is still another truth. That same Son who has given so much, who is sitting at the right hand of the Father, is also interceding for you. He prays that you understand His love. That you call out to Him with a sincere heart. That you seek Him first. That you stand in faith and that you weather your storms with unwavering trust.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 37-39).
No power, nothing in all creation, including a very intimidating and powerful invisible enemy, will separate you from the Lord you enjoy in the heavenly places. And this brings us to Principle #7: Trust draws its resources from the heavenly places when war is imminent. All of the truths in this section are ones you need to live on, breath by painfully-inhaled breath, when war is upon you and you do not know what else to do.
Let’s see how a man of God lived out these truths with faith and unwavering trust, despite overwhelming physical odds. How did he draw his resources from the spiritual realm and apply then in his physical realm? For if God was able to help him reveal his spiritual enemy, He will for you too.
The prophet Elisha is the protagonist in our story, which is found in 2 Kings 6:8-23. (You might want to take a moment to read this through.) This particular account finds him interacting with an invisible world through a great trust in his God; an unwavering trust, you might say. However, that same faith was built up over countless interactions with God. To understand the intimate relationship he and the Lord shared, we will need to back up in history just a bit.
Elisha was mentored by Elijah, who was another great man of faith. On the last day they spent together, both of them knew God was going to take Elijah home. At one point, Elijah struck the water with his cloak and it divided, just like the Red Sea had years ago. They both crossed over and Elijah asked this question of his disciple, “What can I do for you before I am taken from you” (2 Kings 2:9)?
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied. He was not asking for money or that God would somehow make him superior to Elijah. He was literally asking to receive the eldest son’s share according to the law (Deut. 21:17). The eldest son would then carry on his father’s name, reputation, and even work.
Elijah told him that was not really up to him. God alone distributes the gifts of the Spirit as he wills. However, Elijah did say this, “if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours – otherwise not” (v 10). “The test would be to see if Elisha had ‘the ability to see and comprehend the spiritual world…and of a visionary to penetrate the heavens’’ (Jones, p. 385 as quoted in the Tyndale Commentary).
Suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two prophets. Elijah was then taken up to heaven in that divine whirlwind. Elisha cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” (v 12). Notice that Scripture does not say that Elijah was taken up in the chariot of fire, as most children’s Bible story books depict; he was caught up in the whirlwind itself.
The chariots came between the two men and served to cut Elijah off from human sight. Those chariots symbolized the strong protection of the forces of God escorting that man of God into the throne room. Elisha was torn between the trauma of losing his mentor – “Father, father” – and the bliss of seeing the spiritual realm – “the chariots and horsemen of Israel.” He knew the import of all that he had seen: the Lord had opened his eyes to an invisible and very powerful world. He had seen the unseen, which confirmed to him the endowment of the double portion of Elijah.
He picked up Elijah’s cloak, struck the water himself, and crossed the water in similar fashion as his mentor had done just a few moments ago. The double portion of the Spirit was immediately manifested in Elisha’s life, but became more and more clear as time went on.
He threw salt into a well and made it potable (2 Ki. 2:19-22). When he was mocked by some youths, he called a curse down upon them and they were mauled by two bears (2 Ki. 2:23-25). While a harpist played, God gave Elisha the battle plans to defeat the Moabite army (2 Ki. 3:1-27). He instigated a plan to multiply a widow’s oil to pay off all of her creditors (2 Ki. 4:1-7). He restored the Shunammite’s son to life (2 Ki. 4:8-37). He kept the company of prophets from being poisoned by some wild herbs (2 Ki. 4:38-41). He fed a hundred people from twenty loaves of barley bread (2 Ki. 4:42-44). He was the prophet to whom Naaman came and was healed of leprosy (2 Ki. 5:1-27). He recovered a borrowed ax head that had fallen into the water by cutting a stick to make the iron float (2 Ki. 6:1-7).
And then, after all of the amazing acts of trust which proved Elisha’s double-portioned Spirit, we have our focus story. But I have dragged you through all of this history to highlight that one event by the river, that miraculous time when Elisha asked big and received even bigger. He audaciously requested a bigger measure of the Holy Spirit and this pleased God so much that He answered that request by first opening up Elisha’s eyes to the unseen Power that rules with sovereignty over the evil powers of this earth.
What if you had the faith to request the Holy Spirit’s power in your life; maybe even a double portion? How would your prayers change if you knew that audacious requests such as this one please the Father. If you doubt this to be true, read Luke’s discourse on asking and receiving. “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you…how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (Lk. 11:9, 13)?
Your enemy is powerful. It does not help your cause that he is also invisible. But all of your resources in the heavenly places are also powerful and invisible; much more powerful than those that are in this world (1 Jn 4:4). So, I encourage you to ask boldly, ask prayerfully, ask penitently, but ask as audaciously as you can. Pray for the Holy Spirit to be active in your life in visible ways. Pray also that this Counselor and Guide would open your eyes to the resources that God desires to make available to you in the invisible, unseen heavenly places.
Our focus story will seem unbelievable, because it operates within a spiritual realm. But, my friend, it is very real. And it unveils to us at least nine resources that flow down from our heavenly places; nine resources that were readily available to Elisha in his time of need. These same resources are available to you, to me, when we walk with audacious, Spirit-filled abandon in the midst of unwavering trust, despite the storm clouds that gather in our visible world.
R – Revelation (vv 8-12)
The king of Syria was at war with Israel. Over and over he set ambushes against the nation of Israel, trying to destroy them by secretive attack. Over and over his traps were sprung. Elisha always knew the place where his men were waiting and he would tell king Jehoram what was happening. This, as you can imagine, enraged the king of Assyria.
He brought all of his officers together and told them they had better rat out the spy in their midst. He knew there was no way that every ambush could be overturned unless there was someone in his ranks feeding information to the other side. One officer did have some other inside information. He told the king that all of the officers were loyal to Syria, but that the security leak actually came from a prophet who lived in Israel. Obviously, he had heard some of the stories about Elisha, for his glowing review was enough to clinch the Syrian king’s action, “Elisha…tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom” (v 12).
What the Syrian king did not understand was that Elisha was party to the secret plans of the enemy because of divine revelation. Everything Syria devised, God counter-devised. Every evil plan that was hatched in secret, God unveiled. Every thrust of the Syrian battle plan was parried by the God of Angel Armies.
Many people have experienced this resource of revelation. Jesus praised God that He revealed hidden things to little children (Mt. 11:25). Simon said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” because the Father revealed that to him (Mt. 16:16-17). Simeon waited in the temple courts because the Holy Spirit had revealed he would not die before he saw the Christ child (Lk. 2:26). Jesus Christ Himself is revealed through the prophetic writings at the very command of God (Rom. 16:26).
You may be thinking to yourself right now, God does not talk to me. He does not reveal Himself to me at all. How can all of this be true? The facts are clearly stated in the gospel of John. If you are a child of God, God knows you as His sheep and you know Him (Jn. 10:14). If you profess to be a Christian, you listen to His voice because He knows you, and then you learn to follow Him (Jn. 10:27). As a sheep who follows your Master, He also puts His words in your mouth (Isa. 51:16a).
Train yourself to be a good listener. There are a myriad of books that teach you how to hear your Master’s voice. (See Hearing God, Peter Lord; The Secret of Guidance, F.B. Meyer, When the Soul Listens, Jan Johnson; God’s Guidance, Elizabeth Elliot; Hearing God’s Voice, Henry Blackaby.) Knowing His voice is the first step to hearing what He has to say to you.
But there is a mind-blowing second step and its profundity is seen in Luke 8:10a, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you…” To you, my friend. Elisha does not have the last ticket to a heavenly audience. You, also, can hear God’s voice and be guided by His unexpected disclosures.
Divine revelation is a resource banked for you in the heavenly places.
E – Evidence (v 10)
Every time Elisha would tell King Jehoram about the location of the ambushes, he would take the same action. Look at verse 10, “So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God.” He checked. He sent word to the place (HCSB, NLT). He sent someone to the place (NKJV).
What was he doing? He was trying to authenticate if the warning was real or not. And on every occasion, each and every time, Elisha’s words of warning stood the test. And frankly, this consistent undermining of his secretive plans drove the king of Syria crazy.
The chief priests spent an inordinate amount of time trying to look for false evidence in order to put Jesus to death but they could not find any (Mk. 14:55). They knew that the positive evidence stacked so high in Jesus’ favor that they could not dissuade the crowds except by empirical proof or something so wildly out of character that it would prove Jesus to be a liar. Like maybe that He was Beelzebub, the prince of demons, and cast out demons in that name (Mt. 12:24).
In the end, they did concoct false evidence, find false witnesses, and sentenced Jesus falsely to death. But only after they whipped up the people’s passions and emotions to feverish pitch. All along the crowds had seen the evidence; it had all stacked up. Even Jesus spoke this truth out loud, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves” (Jn. 14:11). Only runaway, out-of-control emotions can overlook the evidence of the Messiah’s reality.
The point I am trying to bring out is this: revelation will always be backed by evidence. if God shares some of His heart with you, there will be empirical proof. Maybe not at that exact moment. Maybe it will even be way down the proverbial line, but the evidence will play out. If God said it, if He revealed it, then it is true. And the evidence will stand up to defend God’s Words.
Evidence of God’s divine revelation is a resource waiting to play out in your reality based on truth that is found in the heavenly places.
S – Stabilizing Presence, Superior Power, and Surrounding Protection (vv 16-17)
After the officer’s startling word to the king of Syria, he made an instant decision, “Go, find out where he is so I can send men and capture him” (v 13). After a good many people went out searching for the enemy “spy”, it was reported back that Elisha lived in Dothan.
Now Dothan is a town only ten miles north of the capitol city, Samaria, buried deep in the heart of Israel. This tells me that the Syrian threat was extremely real. Not only were they setting up ambushes all along the Syrian-Israeli border, but they were able to penetrate the nation of Israel undetected almost to the gates of the capitol city. It is no wonder that king Jehoram was scared witless.
The Syrian king then sent horses and chariots and a strong force of his army to Dothan. They surrounded the entire city in the middle of the night (v 14). He figured that stealth, speed, superior weapons, and sheer magnitude would be enough to put Elisha out of commission. What he did not figure into his plans was the fact that he was trying to capture Elisha because the man always knew his next move. Did he really think Elisha had no idea that he was coming? It seems that this thought did not even occur to him or he did not truly have faith in Elisha’s battle plan origins. He needed to be convinced that Yahweh was the one, true God.
Elisha’s servant woke up the next morning and went out of the house quite early. What he saw freaked him out. All around the city camped a huge army with horses and chariots. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” he cried to Elisha.
The Stabilizing Presence
Elisha’s answer is classic unwavering trust. “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v 16). Notice first the stabilizing Presence – the “with-us-ness.” We looked at fear a couple of weeks ago and noticed that the overwhelming majority of verses describing an antidote to fear had to do with God’s Presence. Just like Isaiah’s answer to Ahaz in his time of impending war, the name Immanuel was mentioned three times. Because He is with us, we have no need to worry or fret. His “with-us-ness” in the heavenly realms should be so uplifting to our souls that we lose our earthly fears.
The second thought I want to bring out here is the superior power mentioned by Elisha. When the servant came out of the house and saw the sheer numbers of the enemy, the large force, he panicked. But Elisha knew something that he did not: “Greater is the one who is in us than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4b). Earthly numbers are no match for heavenly forces. Superiority comes with the territory; that territory stained by the blood of the One who has already won it over in the heavenly places.
Elisha prayed at the point that God would open the servant’s eyes so that he could see into the invisible realm. The Lord answered his prayer and the servant’s eyes were unveiled. At that moment, the servant recognized why Elisha was not afraid. He looked up and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elijah. The enemy had the city surrounded (v 15), but God had his precious prophet surrounded (v 17). It does not matter how many men, how much force, how many cities the enemy encamps around, God encamps around His people.
God’s Forces Encamp: And how does He do this? I believe there are three ways. The first has to do with God’s forces: “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them (Ps. 34:7) and “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Ps. 91:11). Angels are an amazing resource waiting to help you in the heavenly places.
Jesus Encamps: Jesus also stands ready to encamp around you. As Stephen was being stoned, he looked up to the heavens and they opened up. Not only that, but he saw “the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts. 7:56). God revealed the spiritual realm to that godly, faith-filled man. Why? Some people believe God was standing in honor of His servant’s faithfulness. Others think He stood to welcome Him home and both of these may be right. But I have an additional thought. It may not be theologically correct, but it does comfort me when I am under attack.
The Son sitting on His throne is a sign of His sovereignty. This seated position shows that He is not flustered. He is not panicked. Everything is under His control. But one time, for one inexplicable moment, in one uncharacteristic move, Jesus stood up. Why? Why would the King of Glory, the eternal, unflappable Son of God rise up off of His throne and stand to attention? And at this particular moment and in response to this particular man?
You see, Jesus stood up when Stephen looked up and spoke up. “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts 7:55-56 – ESV).
If you will bear with me just a minute more, I will try to flesh out this point of looking and speaking and the consequent, standing up of Christ. Psalm 18 is a declaration of the incredible power of God to save His people. David was in terrible trouble and cried out to the Lord to save Him (v 3, 6). God heard his cry in His temple; David’s call came before Him, into His ears (v 6cd). And then there was godly action: trembling earth, shaking mountains, consuming fire, burning coals, parted heavens, soaring winds, bright presence, hailstones and lightning, thundering voice, shooting arrows, exposed valleys, and bared earthly foundations, to name just a few (vv 7-15).
What is David trying to tell us with all of this metaphorical language? He was describing God reaching down, drawing him out of deep waters, rescuing him from his powerful enemy, supporting him, and bringing him out into a spacious place (vv 16-19). Why? Because God delighted in him (v 19b). (This is thought number one.)
Keep that truth in mind for a second – this thought of God’s delight – and go back to verse 7, where David began to describe God’s response to his cry. Read these verses carefully, “The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountain shook; they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. He parted the heavens and came down…” (vv 7-9a).
Why did God begin to active heaven’s resources? First, it was because David looked up and he spoke up. He realized his only chance at salvation came from his God and he called out. Even if it was only a desperate cry for help, it was a great action of faith. Similarly, Psalm 68 speaks of enemies and God’s powerful response, “When you went out before your people, O God, when you marched through the wasteland, the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel” (vv 7-8).
How did that great deliverance from God come about? Why did God move to deliver the Israelites from the enemy, Egypt? It was because the Israelites looked up to God, groaned in their slavery and cried out in faith. They spoke up out of their great misery and God heard their groaning and He remembered his covenant with Abraham. God looked on the Israelites and was concerned for them (Ex. 2:23b-25), so God came down to rescue them and bring them to a good land (Ex. 3:8) by the hand of a very reluctant deliverer: Moses (Ex. 3:10).
Jehovah is not a God of impotent inaction; He is a God of justice who will rescue His people from their oppressors when they choose to look up and speak up. His desire to do something about the problem is thought number two.
But look back at verse 7 again and we will see a second reason why God activated heaven’s resources. Notice these words, “The earth trembled…because he was angry.” Why did God choose to intervene: to hear, be concerned, but then come down to rescue? It was because the Son of God was angry on the Israelites’ behalf and on David’s behalf. The Israelites had been treated terribly, enslaved and oppressed. David had been treated terribly, persecuted and hunted down. God saw. God heard. And God moved heaven and earth to save His children. All because He is a God of justice (Isa. 30:18) and is angry with injustice. (That is thought number three.)
All of those angry-at-oppression responses of God began with one decisive action: God arose and that is my fourth evidential thought. The prayer spoken out was, “May God arise, may his enemies be scattered; may his foes flee before him” (Ps. 68:1). You see:
Now let’s take these four thoughts back into Stephen’s story. He was being oppressed by an enemy; being stoned to death because He believed in God. This was a man whom God deeply delighted in, one in whom dwelt the very presence of the Holy Spirit (first thought). When Stephen looked up and spoke up, God responded (second thought) because He was angry at the oppressive persecution of this precious child (third thought). And so God stood up to show Stephen, who at the incredible moment could see the heavenly places. He saw that God delighted in him, that He was responsive, that He was angry on Stephen’s behalf, and that He would right all the wrongs done to this faithful man.
Jesus, as one of heaven’s most incredible resources stands ready to encamp around those who fear Him.
God Encamps: To recap, angels stand waiting to be dispatched on your behalf (see also Num.22:31 and Lk. 2:13). Jesus, also, stands ready to help you, but there is one more superior power waiting to aid your in your distress. That is God Himself. “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things” (Rom. 8:30-32).
God, Himself, was willing to send His own Son to bring us into the heavenly places. If He was willing to condemn His Son to death in order to give us the spiritual help we need, what good help right now in your practical life would He withhold. Just like Romans says, He is gracious to give you all things.
I do not want to belabor this point too much longer, but I do want you to see one more tiny aspect. In verse 15, the servant was completely scared because he saw that the horses and chariots had surrounded the city. But when his eyes were opened to the spiritual realm, he looked and saw horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
The word for around in verse 15 is a similar word to the one in verse 17. In one verse, the soldiers had surrounded the righteous. But in the other, the reality was that God had His angels surrounding Elisha. The enemy wants us to believe we are completely surrounded, that we have no recourse but to give up, to surrender, and drop out of our spiritual races. This is not truth. In the unseen world, God actually has us surrounded by His watchful care, by His angels, and by His love.
Here is a truth you need to meditate on: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19). God’s protective love is so high you can’t go under it. So low, you can’t get over it. So wide, you can’t get around it. You’ve just got to sit in the middle of it and be thankful.
God’s Presence, power, and protection are three resources that God would love to instigate on your behalf, flowing down to you from the heavenly places.
O – Outstanding Courage (v 16)
As the servant begins to panic, Elisha speaks out in only three words, but they reverberate in the heavenly places. “Don’t be afraid,” he calmly said. The servant’s thoughts may have responded something like this: Don’t be afraid? How can I help it? There is a huge army completely surrounding this city. They know you have been tattling on them to the King of Israel and they are out for your head. Because I hang with you, I am going to go down with you. Today will be my last day. How can you stand there so calmly and tell me to stop worrying?
None of those thoughts are seen in this passage, but they are from reality, because they mirror what is often in my mind when storms come upon me. It is normal to respond to overwhelming odds with fear. But remember from a couple of weeks ago, that the fear of God obliterates the fear of men and circumstances. The “fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe” (Pr. 29:25).
Do you remember the two antidotes mentioned in verse 16, “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them?” The first antidote is God’s stabilizing presence and the second is God’s superior power. Immanuel, ‘God with us’, is really with us. To the degree that you fully understand and believe that last statement will be the degree to which you trust instead of panic.
Outstanding courage is God’s resource for you when you base your trust on His presence and power waiting for you in the heavenly places.
U – Unveiled Eyes (vv 17, 20)
After Elisha’s exhortation to trust instead of fear, he asked God to open the servant’s eyes. That is when “the eyes of the young man were opened and he saw. A wonder! The whole mountainside full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha (v 17 – MSG)! The servant’s unveiled eyes opened up a panorama of powerful possibilities in the heavenly places.
Later, Elisha asked God to open up the enemy’s eyes, which He did. Unfortunately, their unveiled eyes opened them up to the possibility of defeat and destruction. But God intervened in a miraculous way.
Being able to see what is going on with unveiled eyes – having the discernment to understand the spiritual realm – these are two amazing resources God seems to desire to give you from the heavenly places when you dare to ask.
R – Response To Prayer (vv 17, 18, 20)
This may seem like an obvious resource, but I do not want to skip over it. Prayer is a powerful resource. It brings heaven’s ear close. It motivates God to stoop down in order to act (Ps. 18:35c). It influences the God of Angel Armies so that He launches His force to respond.
Elisha prayed three times in this short passage; at least, three times that are recorded. The first was to ask that his servant’s eyes could be opened so that he could see the angel armies. Look at these words, “Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes…” (v 17b). Folks, God answered Elisha’s specific prayer in a specific way.
As the servant gazed around at all of the spiritual forces marshaled at his master’s defense, the enemy began to move toward the city. Elisha again prayed to the Lord, “Strike these people with blindness.” Again, notice the response, “So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked” (v 18).
Elisha stood there speaking with the enemy, telling them that they were in the wrong place and that he would lead them to the man they were seeking. I do not pretend to understand why Elisha misled them. The verbiage is a little confusing, but suffice it to say, Elisha led them, blinded by God, into the very capitol city of Samaria. I do not believe this was a physical blindness, for there would be no way for two men to lead a blind army ten miles. I believe this was a spiritual deception, a literal veiling of their mental capacity to comprehend what was going on.
When the company arrived in the city, Elisha prayed that God would open their eyes to they could see. Look again at God’s response, “Then the Lord opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria” (v 20).
Three times Elisha prayed for God to either open or close someone’s eyes and the Lord answered his prayers. This tells me that spiritual blindness is a big deal to God. Why? Because the “god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Satan’s two biggest agendas in this world are to discredit God and to destroy His creation – mankind – any way possible. He uses deception, the blinding of people’s minds and hearts, so they cannot respond to God.
God knows that deception is one of Satan’s biggest strategies (we will look at this a lot more next week), and so when a prayer comes before Him regarding the unveiling of eyes, He sits up and takes notice. This prayer, spoken in faith, jives with His own agenda to give “recovery of sight for the blind, (and) release for the oppressed” (Lk. 4:18).
You can be sure that a prayer for spiritual sight will evoke a response from God in the heavenly places.
C – Clear Guidance (vv 18-23)
As I read this story about Elisha praying and receiving such incredible answers to his prayers, I was a bit perturbed. It all seemed too extraordinary to me. All along the way, in every detail, it seems, he prayed and God answered. But the events were so detailed: this massive army descending upon Dothan, Elisha praying that they would be struck with blindness, God answering that prayer, the prophet misleading them to follow him, the whole army following blindly along (forgive my pun!), him leading them directly into the center of the capital city, praying that they would see again, and God answering.
Whew! It’s almost too good of a plan to be true. And as I thought about this elaborate plan, I realized something. This plan was not Elisha’s; it was God’s plan all along.
Scripture does not tell us that God gave Elisha these marching orders, but I am pretty sure He did at some time or other. I believe I can say this with a lot of confidence based on a number of New Testament verses giving prerequisites to answered prayer.
- “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Mt. 21:22).
- “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Lk. 10:2).
- “If you then…know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Lk. 11:13)! / “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth…” (Jn. 14:16-17a).
- “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” / “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (Jn. 15:7, 16).
- “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (Lk. 14:13-14) / “…my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (Jn. 16:23-24)
- “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 Jn. 5:14).
I am not attempting to do a study on prayer during this devotional, but for the purposes of seeing God’s guidance and clear direction, notice the prerequisites for answered prayer. There’s got to be belief in God, a choice to remain in Him and allow His words to remain in you. There must be lasting fruit that comes from abiding in Christ. You must also be careful to ask in Jesus’ name and according to His will. All of these are preconditions for having heavenly doors flung open on heavenly resources.
Yet there are a couple of verses that stand out to me. We must ask according to God’s will, 1 John 5:14 says. And if you look at Luke 10 and 11 passages I quoted above, you will see that part of God’s will involves the harvest of the world and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. These are just two of God’s desires for us. When we know God’s will and pray according to that, adding our concerted effort and emotional weight to God’s compassionate and world-wide heart, we can know that He will answer those prayers.
One of those prayers will always be for guidance. We always need to be storming heaven’s gates for a response to our prayers about our future. As we choose to remain in Christ, as we seek to align our will with His, He promises to show us the next step as it is needed. Look at some of these amazing promises of God:
- “For this God is our God forever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end” (Ps. 48:14).
- “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory” (Ps. 73:24).
- “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Ps. 139: 9-10).
- “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Pr. 3:6).
- “I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble” (Pr. 4:11-12).
- “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isa. 58:11)
- “But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (Jn. 16:13).
Based on the promises in the Word of God, I am pretty convinced that Elisha did not concoct any of the plans that went down on that day in Israel. He was a man who walked with God, who knew God and remained in His Words. He knew God’s will because he obeyed it and so God continued to give him more and more revelation. I firmly believe, based on all the Scripture I have given so far, that this plan to blind the Syrians and lead them into Samaria, was God’s plan from the beginning. As Elisha kept asking what was next, I believe God kept telling him.
God’s clear guidance is a heavenly resource waiting in the heavenly wings for those who remain in Christ and ask according to His will.
E – Endowed Strength (vv 19-20)
You will recall that Dothan was situated ten miles north of Samaria. Just imagine with me the scene unfolding from the time the Syrian army began to attack Dothan until they showed up in the center of the enemy camp.
We do not know how many men there were in that army. Verse 14 describes the army as a large force. But say there were even fifty soldiers. Elisha – and maybe, his servant – led all of these stumbling, bumbling, blinded Syrian soldiers ten miles on foot to get to the capitol city. I don’t know about you, but I get tired corralling just one preschooler in my own house, let alone out on a dirt pathway for ten miles. I cannot imagine the strength, both of body and of spirit, to somehow lead a blinded army that distance.
There is no mention of the physical energy that was needed to keep all of those men on the road and moving forward. Nothing is said about the emotional energy, the patience of having to possibly answer the soldiers’ questions over and over again. And think about the people they might have met on the road to Samaria. All the fear-filled looks, the explanations, the stopping to explain and starting up again. And what about the spiritual energy needed for the task? Asking God all the while, “What next?” Having to tune into the Spirit’s guidance while moving this great company along at a snail’s pace.
I think Elisha must have had the patience of Job.
Maybe God has ordained a task for you that requires a lot from you. Perhaps a child with disabilities. Possibly a boss who is always demanding more than you can give. Maybe a paycheck that never seems to cover the expenses. Or a personal health issue that never quite goes away. Heaven has the resources to handle your dilemma.
Endowed strength of mind, character, will, emotions and physical energy, is stored up for you in the heavenly places.
S1 – Supernatural Mercy (vv. 22-23)
The Syrian forces are led inside the capitol city and then their eyes are opened. They believe their own death is imminent and the king’s words seem to prove that fear. When King Jehoram saw the men, he asked the prophet, “Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?” (v 21).
Elisha is quick to respond. “Do not kill them. Would you kill men you have captured with your own sword or bow?” (v 22a). In other words, you have gone to all the trouble to capture them and bring them to your city. Why would you slaughter them then? As Captain Hook would say in the movie Peter Pan, “Bad form.”
His answer was yet another of God’s answers, I believe. Instead of killing them, Elisha told the king to set food before them. He urged the king to give them food and water and send them safely home (v 22b).
And doesn’t this solution sound just like what Jesus would require, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:18-21).
Not only did King Jehoram comply, but he graced them lavishly: he prepared a great feast for them” (v 23a). Remember these were enemy soldiers. They had been cramping his royal style for a long time. These were the people sent to ambush and kill him time after time and yet, when Elisha spoke words of compassion, God’s supernatural mercy flooded his heart. After they had eaten and were satisfied, he sent them safely home.
In the face of oppression and persecution, supernatural mercy and grace are lavished on you from the storehouse of God in the heavenly places.
S2 – Sure Deliverance (v 23)
The last sentence in verse 23 reads like this: “So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.” Done. Finito. Concluded. And again, this is another proof to me that all of this elaborate plan was created in the mind of a saving and merciful God. Just like that, after a scare and a meal, Syria stopped attacking Israel.
Since we do not live in Ancient Bible times, we do not understand the concept of a shared meal, but in Elisha’s day, eating together under one roof constituted making a covenant of peace. The Syrians, after eating and drinking with the Israelites, were bound by social custom not to attack the friend who had extended his gift of hospitality and protection (Bible Knowledge Commentary). Therefore, a moral conquest had been gained over Syria. By heaping burning coals upon their heads, the Syrians were ethically prodded to maintain a covenant of peace.
So, all in all, “Elisha’s intercession and instructions proved to be the divine remedy for the momentary ills of Israel” (Expositor’s Commentary). The Syrians reported Israel’s kindness to their king and the raids ceased. But we all know that Elisha did not come up with the perfect plan on his own. He was merely a conduit for the merciful Deliverer who still is saving and delivering today.
A sure deliverance by God’s elaborate creativity is waiting for you in the heavenly places.
Revealing Your Enemy
We began this devotional with the thought that there is an invisible world. You and I engage in this spiritual realm every day, whether we are aware of it or not. You are either victorious in the heavenly places, fighting spiritual battles with spiritual weapons, or you are being defeated because your eyes are veiled. The goal of this whole devotional is to wake you up to both the enemy you are fighting and to the heavenly resources that are at your disposal.
Your enemy is formidable, but there is one in you greater than Satan. Your enemy is insidious, constantly selling you lies, but the Holy Spirit is an incredible guide to what is true. Your enemy does not play fair, but your God always works those “unfair” things for your good (Rom. 8:28). Friend, God plus your unwavering trust make a winning combination.
Remember where your battle is fought. Remember who is enthroned there. Remember where you are seated and remember what resources this spiritual realm holds for you: revelation, evidence of that revelation, superior forces, outstanding courage, responses to your prayers, clear guidance, supernatural mercy and a sure deliverance.
Dear one, your enemy has been revealed. Now walk victoriously with your God in the heavenly places.