Part 8 of 12
“Wat” In The World?
A couple of years ago, my husband and I went to see one of the most famous wats in Chiang Mai. For those of you who are wondering, a wat is a Buddhist temple, and while Chiang Mai has no shortage of wats – there are over 300 in the city – the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is “one of the most historically and spiritually significant places in Thailand” (http://www.chiangmai.bangkok.com). This particular temple embodies much of Lanna (northern Thai) culture and with origins dating back to 1382, this 700-year old wat is a religious icon for many Thai people. We had never visited this temple before, despite living here a number of years, and we wanted to see why it was so important to northern Thais.
To get to the wat, we drove up a very long, winding road to the top of a nearby mountain. After that long drive, we parked and were then faced with hundreds of steps – over 300, in fact – that led up to the temple mount. We started up the steps, while noticing the little children all dressed up on the side of the stairs. We were told later that these kids are there to “sell” themselves for work.
I felt fine as we drove up the mountain and even as we began the long climb. But the further up the staircase I trudged, my head and stomach began to feel quite sick. I contracted a horrible headache, which only intensified the further up the mountain I walked. My stomach began to roll around and I literally felt faint. I kept asking myself, “What in the world is going on?” but chalked all of these symptoms up erroneously to being terribly out of shape. I kept right on walking, although much slower the further up I went.
We reached the top of the staircase and bought our tickets to enter into the wat compound. Everywhere we looked, there were statues of gods and Buddhas. Immediately upon entering the temple mount, I noticed a statue of a white elephant, which I later found out was built to depict the elephant upon whose grave the temple was erected, or so tradition says.
As I was taking off my shoes and putting on the ridiculous-looking slippers that were required, I barely had enough strength to stand up. I held onto the side of the bench and pushed my body upright. My husband was concerned as I kept saying, “I am just not doing well.”
We still entered the walls of the wat and I took one short pass around the front of the welcoming area when a thought suddenly hit me; I realized what was going on. As my eyes took in statue after statue of Buddhist gods and icons, I knew that we had entered Satan’s territory. The sudden realization came to me that I was feeling sick because I was being attacked. Satan knew I was a Buddhist enemy because Jesus resides in my life. I was being assaulted because Satan knew I was a child of God.
With that sudden awareness, I quickly exited the wat and put on my shoes. I told Tony that he could go ahead and check out the rest of the wat, but that I would not. Tony opted to leave as well and we began to walk away from the temple entrance. As we did so, we passed another Buddha under the Bodhi tree, which is known as the Tree of Enlightenment. There were also a set of temple bells hanging adjacent to the wat wall, which Buddhists believe will bring good luck when touched. I deviated from the regular walkway and moved to the porch overlooking the city of Chiang Mai, taking deep, cleansing breaths all the while. We took some pictures and then happily began the descent back down the staircase.
Interestingly enough, the further I got away from the wat, the better I began to feel. When we finally reached the bottom of the staircase, my body was back to feeling completely healthy. I took one look back up the staircase to the top of that mountain, sure of one thing. I would never again darken the door of a wat without being all prayed up. I learned a hard-but-important lesson that day: Satan’s territory cannot be entered into lightly. I would need to know my enemy and prepare for spiritual war…far in advance and continually.
By Way of Review
In this long study we have undertaken, we are probing the easily-talked-about, but hard-to-live subject of trust. Hezekiah has been our brave protagonist in this journey, walking out both the falling-down and the getting-up kind of faith that is needed for the long haul. He has taught us what it means to faithfully navigate the many storms of life. Yes, there have been some setbacks along the way, but all in all, Hezekiah has walked closely with his God.
The first six devotionals I wrote explored different periods of Hezekiah’s life. We studied his reforms, his life in contrast with the King of Israel, a severe God-ordained illness, his fall into pride as well as fear, and his preparation for war. All of these vignettes revealed Hezekiah’s life of faith over many years. But last week’s devotional, and all of the ones going forward, come from one event: the Assyrian attack on Jerusalem. There is a lot of text in the Word describing this one event, so I have broken it up into four different devotionals.
To remind of what has gone before, let’s look once again at the principles of trust that we have gathered from these last seven devotionals:
- A life of trust is built on intimacy, identity, and integrity in the calm before the storm. 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 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. There is an art to preparing for war. Engaging in that hard work before the spiritual battles come, will outfit you to stand victoriously in the midst of the storm.
- Trust draws its resources from the heavenly places when war is imminent. Assyria stands at Jerusalem’s doors, but trust in God enabled Hezekiah to see the reality of his situation. We studied Elisha’s similar stance in 2 Kings 6 to reveal the true enemy and the nine heavenly resources that are available to us in the heavenly places.
Last week we unveiled our spiritual enemy. We revealed who he is, his history, and his two basic agendas: to discredit God and destroy His people. Hezekiah knew his enemy to be the cruel Assyrians, but he also saw his God as being far more powerful than his physical enemy. And this is the point I had hoped to make, that Satan is very powerful, but that the God who lives in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 Jn. 4:4b).
Since we have revealed the true enemy, this week we will look deeper into Satan’s agenda. We will unveil his strategies and unmask his battle tactics. How Sennacherib’s general approached Hezekiah is very similar to how Satan comes at you. The words the general used are very similar to the lies Satan whispers in your ears. My prayer is that as we study the general’s strategies, you and I will become wise to the ways Satan seeks to cause us to fail, destroying our integrity and discrediting our God. I pray today that we will be able to unveil the enemy’s tactics so that we can learn how to stand in victory.
You may not be fighting any huge spiritual battles today, but I can guarantee that someday, sometime, you will. If you are a passionate believer, you are a threat to Satan’s agenda and he will come after you. You need to know your enemy. More than that, you must be aware of his strategies so that you can combat them, so that you can stand up against them. As we dive into a critical study today, would you prepare your heart by reading Isaiah 36:1-20.
Jerusalem Awaits Its Doom
We have come once again to the most fearsome moment of Hezekiah’s life thus far. “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). There are quite a few theories about why Sennacherib came back into Judah a second time. Some historians believe that the amount of money Hezekiah had used to forestall the first Assyrian attack was too much to pass up. They would say that Sennacherib overlooked the lavish security payment because of his greedy intent to gain even more. These theorists prove this by a number of Scriptures referring to Assyria’s treachery:
- “A dire vision has been shown to me: The traitor betrays, the looter takes loot. 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 waste away! Woe to me! The treacherous betray! With treachery the treacherous betray’” (Isa. 24:16).
- “Woe to you, O destroyer, you who have not been destroyed! Woe to you, O traiter, 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)
While I think this theory appears to make sense, I don’t believe that the money alone would have created a big enough reason to attack Judah with such vengeance. In researching for this devotional, I discovered a war historian that offers another theory. This one is proven by history and would also explain the greater incentive to attack Jerusalem yet again.
As Hezekiah built up his city (we studied this two weeks ago), he also began to look for allies again and found one in Pharaoh Tirhakah, who was the ruler of both Egypt and Ethiopia. Tirhakah was a general who finally gained the Egyptian throne in 690 BC and was very lavish in his promises of aid to Hezekiah. While Hezekiah believed that God was on his side, he hedged his bets by signing a treaty with Egypt once again. This gave him the moral support he needed to once again withhold tribute from the Assyrians.
Sennacherib reacted with complete outrage. Swooping down in Judah once again, he laid the countryside bare in his vengeance. He attacked the great city of Lachish much like before, except this time he built one huge siege ramp instead of the many smaller ones he constructed before.
When that huge ramp was completed, Sennacherib ordered a full-scale attack on the city. Massive siege engines began to move forward and battering rams began to strike the city. As a result of such a determined assault, the walls broke down. Instantly, Assyrian soldiers flooded the city, killing and pillaging. Some important citizens were impaled outside the city as a trophy to Assyria’s conquest and a warning against rebellion. Many citizens fled the city while others offered themselves as captives to the Assyrian king. “No one could doubt but that Lachish was a kind of microcosm of Jerusalem, its fate a foretaste of what would happen to the capitol of Judah if its defenses failed to repel the invader” (https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/).
While Lachish still held the Assyrian army at bay, Hezekiah continued to prepare for war. Grain was gathered and stored inside the city. People who lived out in the countryside moved within the safety of the city’s walls. Men were given armor and weapons and assigned places with the army and on top of the battlements. The huge gates of the city remained closed, but all the inhabitants wondered if they would hold out against the Assyrian battering rams and siege ramp.
During the latter stages of Lachish’s successful siege, Sennacherib dispatched a large part of his army to Jerusalem. This large military force was headed up by three Assyrian officials. We see their importance in 2 Kings, “The king of Assyria sent his supreme commander (the “Tartan”), his chief officer (“Rabsaris”) and his field commander (“Rabshakeh”) with a large army, from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem…” (2 Kings 18:17a).
This word ‘Rabshakeh’ is a word meaning a field commander in the Assyrian army, which is how the NIV Bible translates it. Obviously, this was an important man, possibly a chief butler, a high-level Babylonian official, a chief cupbearer or a chief of the officers (ESV Strong’s). I like the succinct way the Message describes him – a general – which is probably how you and I would best relate to the importance of his entry into the story.
Just so you know, Lachish was approximately 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem and this city was positioned firmly on the trade route to Egypt. By his conquest of Lachish, Sennacherib effectively cut off any help coming from Egypt – once again. Hezekiah was alone and ally-less, much like he had been thirteen years prior.
However, during the first campaign, there had been no visit from a field commander, no army literally waiting at his doorstep. At this deciding moment as he sat inside his walled city, Hezekiah knew all of his forward-planning had been implemented for this very moment. All the preparations he had planted and carefully watered were blossoming into this flower of potential calamity. This was the moment of expected disaster; this was the moment of faith-truth.
The Aqueduct Debacle
Isaiah mentions that they “stopped at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool on the road to the Washerman’s Field” (v 2b). This road, in case you are wondering, was near the aqueduct that fed water into the upper pool, near the road leading to the field where clothing was washed out (NLT). It was literally the road on which people traveled daily to do their laundry (NCV).
There are a lot of details given about this meeting place: the field commander’s presence, the large army that accompanied him, the mention of the aqueduct, the location of the Upper Pool, the specific placement of the road to the Washerman’s Field. When this much specificity is given in Scripture, I tend to sit up and take notice. Why would Isaiah go to so much effort to make sure his readers knew the exact location of the meeting place between the field commander and the three representatives of Jerusalem: Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah (v 3)?
It is because this particular aqueduct embodies a monumental significance. Isaiah chooses to highlight this occasion because, honestly, it mirrors another occasion in the past. To understand that occasion, we will have to take a trip down memory lane.
The History at the Aqueduct
At one point in time, the king of Aram and the king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem. This was during the early years of the reign of Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father. When Ahaz heard that Israel had allied with Aram, Isaiah informs us that the “hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind” (Isa. 7:2). In shorthand, let me tell you this means they were scared out of their wits.
The Lord gave Isaiah an unusual assignment. He and his son were to go out and meet Ahaz “at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field” (v 3). Sound familiar? He was to tell Ahaz to be careful, keep calm, and not be afraid. These kings had allied and had Jerusalem’s destruction in mind, but the Lord told Ahaz, through Isaiah, that He was not going to allow it.
He went on to give an incredible prophecy about the future: Israel would be shattered in sixty-five years (v 8). Samaria would be taken down itself and demolished. Ahaz was told these famous words, “if you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (v 9b), and then the Lord told Ahaz to ask for a sign (v 11). Ahaz refused, telling God that he would not put Him to the test (v 12). Isaiah told him that his refusal was trying the patience of God and if he would not ask for a sign, God would give him one anyway. The virgin would give birth to a son, called Immanuel (v 14). The kings of Aram and Israel would be laid waste (v 16). And Isaiah prophesied that the Lord was going to bring disaster on both Israel and Judah; He was going to bring the king of Assyria (v 17).
Those days would be devastating. Flies and bees would multiply. The king of Assyria would humiliate Ahaz. The land would be overrun by briers and thorns and sheep and cattle. No more would man cultivate the land; it would become wild (vv 18-25).
The Significance of the Aqueduct
This meeting at the aqueduct occurred early on in Ahaz’s reign. If he had chosen the way of faith, of following God whole-heartedly, he could have enjoyed a relationship of dependent trust in the Lord from the very beginning. His whole reign would have gone differently; possibly even the trajectory of his entire nation.
This aqueduct meeting signaled the undoing of Ahaz and Judah. Because he would not listen to Isaiah, because he refused to stand in faith and trust, because he chose to disobey by not asking God for a sign, God allowed him to go his own way. And along with that freedom came God’s consequence: Assyria would be brought in to overtake and capture both Israel and Judah.
So why did I entitle this section ‘The Great Debacle?’ Because, just like king Saul, who fell into grave sin within just a few years of being crowned Israel’s first king, Ahaz blew it completely right at the beginning of his rule. This moment was not just a circumstantial happenstance; it was a trust-opportunity, a faith-crisis moment. And Ahaz folded. This choice not to obey God, not to believe Isaiah, not to ask for a sign, all of it pointed to a complete lack of trust in God.
This turning point at the aqueduct signaled, for Ahaz, a sudden and ignominious failure. The rest of his reign dissolved into ruin because of this one, poignant catastrophe of faith. This debacle of trust issued from a self-made heart and led to a complete faith meltdown and a disintegration of morality for his entire nation. It was the spot where God literally gave him over to the sinful desires of his heart (Rom. 1:24), to shameful lusts (1:26), and to a depraved mind (1:28).
Faith nosedived into disaster here at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool on the road to the Washerman’s Field.
Hezekiah’s Chance at Redemption…at the Aqueduct
As readers, we have no way of knowing if Hezekiah knew all the intimate goings-on of that aqueduct debacle so many years before, but I tend to think he did. The same prophet, Isaiah, who approached his father, guided his own way. The same instances of encroaching attack precipitated both Ahaz’s faith-crisis as well as Hezekiah’s. And Isaiah bridged the ensuing years by pinpointing the exact meeting place so clearly.
In fact, this very moment at this significant aqueduct was the fulfillment of the prophecy spoken to his father Ahaz: “The Lord will bring on you and on your people…a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah – he will bring the king of Assyria” (Isa. 7:17). Because of Hezekiah’s consequent decision, I am inclined to think that these words spoken to Ahaz many years earlier, were ringing currently in his ear, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (Isa. 7:9b).
By God’s grace, Hezekiah was offered the gift of a second chance; he was proffered the opportunity of redemption. He knew that his choices in this moment could have eternal ramifications. He could fold in his moment of impending crisis, choosing to trust in man rather than God, but he also knew how that would play out. He would literally go down in history in a blaze of ashes. His other option was to stand tall in the same situation where he watched his father fall. He could stand firm in his faith and trust in God and be delivered in an incredible display, a miraculous blaze of glory.
What he did next demonstrated his first feeble trust-step in a long succession of faith-filled choices, and glory be, he activated all of his previously-learned lessons right there in the middle of a former aqueduct debacle. He faced his enemy with discernment and courage.
In 2 Kings 18:17, the author tells us that the king sent three representatives to Jerusalem: his supreme commander, his chief officer and his field commander. The Isaiah account only mentions the field commander approaching with his large army. Which account is correct?
I believe they both are correct accounts, that three Assyrian men were sent, but since only one, the field commander, spoke throughout the following verses, I think Isaiah only focused on him. Hezekiah’s response to this meeting, however, was to send out three of his own men: Eliakim, the palace administrator, Shebna, the secretary, and Joah, the recorder.
I am not a politician, but I do know there is a sleight of hand that takes place in politics. It is important during crisis moments not to show too much of your hand, right? You have to find out what the other party knows before you reveal what your own agenda is. Just like a game of chess, you have to think a few moves ahead of what is played, in order to lay a trap and catch your opponent’s pieces.
This meeting at the aqueduct feels, to me, like a game of chess. The Assyrian king sends his three most important players into the fray to deduce the climate of Jerusalem. They are there to sniff the fear in the air, so to speak. This is not a parley or a negotiation of terms; it is an occasion to ascertain the power of the opponent.
Notice who Hezekiah sent out to meet with the Assyrian field commander. He dispatched a palace administrator, who took care of the events in the royal residence. He sent the palace secretary and the historical reporter. If I were to continue the analogy of a chess game, Assyria sent the equivalent of a queen and two rooks, while Hezekiah directed a knight and two bishops out into the playing field.
What was Hezekiah doing? What was his game plan, so to speak? Do not quote me theologically speaking, but I believe Hezekiah was making three points here. First, I think he was being careful not to show his hand too soon. He purposely did not send military personnel out in a show of strength; instead he sent administrators and historians to confound the Assyrian move. He was playing cagily, not allowing his opponent to ascertain his true strength and power. This, to me, showed godly discernment. “A rich man may be wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has discernment sees through him” (Pr. 28:11). Assyria had an agenda, which Hezekiah, by God’s wisdom, saw clear through.
The second point made was a show of understated courage. In answer to the huge display of Assyria’s might – its best commanders and large army – he declared in his simple response, that he was not afraid of their superiority. His palace secretary and historian were plenty match for Assyria’s pompous exhibition. In some ways, this may have seemed like quite an insult to the great Assyrian Tartan, which may have been the underlying hope in Hezekiah’s bravado.
The last thought that comes to mind is that Hezekiah is finally demonstrating some dependence. He does not need to send his general; he has God. He does not need to display a great army; he has God. He does not need to flaunt his most important people because he has God. In this simple response, this brilliantly-executed chess move, Hezekiah showed that he was not afraid of Assyria’s superior numbers or swagger, for Jehovah God was on his side.
I have to say that Hezekiah’s response makes me breathe a sigh of relief. Finally, it seems like pride has laid down its arrogant banner. Finally, fear has surrendered to the Lord it serves. Hezekiah appears to be taking steps to undermine the years-old prophecy of faithlessness, which hung over his entire father’s reign. All the lessons he has learned in his lifetime so far have done their work: they have activated some untapped faith.
The Assyrians knew that their fearsome reputation preceded them; in fact, they counted on it to undermine rebellion. The Assyrians were known to be cruel and sadistic and they employed slaughter, torture and mutilation as their personal instruments of warfare policy. Their methods were not at all subtle, but they were very effective.
Between the years 1997 and 1999, my husband and I served as missionary teachers at Faith Academy in the Philippines. We had no children at the time so we decided to invest in a cat; my first pet ever, I have to say. I loved that cat and he loved me. When it was time for me to go to bed, he would come when called, curl up right next to my head, and settle down for the night. I would sleep soundly with Tiger’s warm body tucked into the crook of my arm and his breath purring soothingly in my ears.
Since I had never owned a pet up to that time (we moved way too many times), I learned a lot about animals from watching Tiger. You will find this humorous, but I treated him like a human baby. I trained him not to walk on the dining table by squirting him in the face with a water bottle. Tony cut his fingernails by wrapping him in a towel. He obeyed my voice and became my companion whenever I was at home.
We discovered early on that Tiger loved stalking laser light. My husband would shine the laser up on the wall and when Tiger caught sight of it, he would sneak inch-by-inch toward the moving dot. After he had worked within a closer range, he would shoot forward as fast as lightning to attack the dot on the wall. But my husband did not play fair, because he would move the dot or turn off the laser. Tiger would then go crashing into the wall after jumping as high as he could – all to no avail, for the laser had either moved or disappeared.
Tony kept winning the laser skirmishes because of some pretty heavy psychological warfare. He played with Tiger’s mind and frustrated all of his attempts to conquer the laser dot.
The Assyrian army did not need to employ slaughter, torture and mutilation in many instances, because their cruelty was well established. They could save time and energy by playing off of their reputation alone, much like a bully does with a weaker victim. They had the sleight-of-hand and the ability to think two steps ahead, much like my husband with Tiger. You see, psychological warfare does not usually involve an all-out attack; it uses much more subtle means of manipulation. Means that are effective and very cruel. Means that play with the mind, will and emotions, causing the victim to fold emotionally into dejected surrender without siege ramps or battering rams having to be employed.
Psychological warfare is dangerous in its subtlety and its incredible effectiveness.
One of my commentaries called this particular skirmish a war of words. Notice how the impending fight with Assyria begins: “The field commander said to them, “Tell Hezekiah…” (36:4a). Do you react to this sentence the way I do? All the capturing of Judah’s towns, all the demolition of Lachish, all the preparation for war, all the build-up of the walls and water sources, all the pomp and circumstance of the aqueduct meeting just for this? Just to have an Assyrian up-and-up reduced to giving a message to the Judean king?
It all seems so anticlimactic. And that is exactly the point. The Assyrians were counting on the fact that their unassuming mental assault would rock the Judean hearts into a fear-filled submission. Their methods appeared anticlimactic, but they were extremely insidious. They relished the assault on the mind as much as the body, for they knew the potential harm of plain old words in damaging the psyche as well as the emotional, moral, and spiritual climate of their victims’ souls.
The Assyrians took the phrase ‘war with words’ to a whole new level and so does our enemy. Satan does not usually attack us outright; he doesn’t need to. All he has to do is distract and deflect us from our relationship with God. He merely needs to introduce some doubt into the picture, cause us to think in a double-minded way about something, and we are rendered impotent. As we sin, and we so often do, he loves to remind us that we are failures, useless to the Kingdom and unloved by our God. Our enemy, just like the Assyrian army, is a master of psychological warfare, a war revolutionary.
A Revolution of War
Before we dive into our text for today, I want to remind you that you are in a war. You are fighting for your families, your churches, your neighbors, your ministries; in fact, you are fighting for your very soul. But it is not enough to know this truth. Sooner or later, you will have to apply this truth. War will come to your doorstep like it did to Hezekiah’s.
What will you do? How will you respond?
We have already established that Satan does not play fair. He is pure evil and desires nothing but to discredit God and destroy you. These two actions are pretty much his sole agenda. Last week we also mentioned that Satan is powerful, much more powerful than you. And in the above section, we named Satan as the ultimate strategist in psychological warfare. Him being the superior force, how will you ever win?
This question will definitely be answered over the next couple of weeks, but in the short term, you just need to know these two truths. The first truth has to do with the surety of victory: you plus God can win over Satan because the One in you is greater than the one in the world (1 Jn. 4:4). On your own, you will not inflict much damage, but with God, you can overcome whatever is thrown against you. Overcoming the evil one then, has much to do with your identity as a child of God.
The second truth has to do with the how of victory. Revelation 12:10 tells us that “brothers” (or sisters) overcame the accuser by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. This ability to overcome Satan is made possible by your position in Christ. The blood of Jesus has placed you in the heavenly realms, where you are able to speak out what He has done for you. Because of your identity and your position in Christ, you have the authority to stand firm over Satan’s schemes. (I would memorize these verses and quote them a lot when Satan comes against you.)
But you need to know that Satan will not come at you straight-on. He is not called the father of lies (Jn. 8:34) for little reason. Like Sennacherib’s general, he will employ psychological warfare and beat you down, bit by demoralizing bit. And if you are not aware of his strategies, he will win each and every skirmish.
During the 18th century, war was fought in a “proper” and “decent manner”. Two armies would march toward one another, shoulder to shoulder, and usually in ranks of about three men deep. When the other army came within a shooting range, soldiers halted, presented arms, fired and then reloaded. After several volleys, one side would gain the upper hand and the distance would close between the two armies. This brought them into bayonet range so that the rest of the battle would play out at very close quarters.
Or at least that is how the British soldiers in 1775 thought a war should be fought. But that is not what happened in the Revolutionary War, which became, for the British, a failure due to an unexpected revolution of war.
The British strategy to win over the Colonists was to come in and overwhelm them. They had the superior numbers, the superior forces, and the superior financial backing, so they assumed the battle would quickly be over, almost sooner than it started. Boy, were they ever wrong. They were defeated because of the Colonists’ strategy.
The Colonists’ strategy, on the other hand, was three-fold. First, they worked very hard just to wear the British soldiers out. All they had to do was oppose the British at every point and persevere in wearing them down. Circumstances, health, weather – all of these conspired against the British while on unfamiliar territory.
A second strategy involved attacking like they had been attacked in the French and Indian War. The Indians engaged in a type of guerrilla warfare, which had been devastating to the early Americans. They did not fight in the open like polite soldiers should do. Instead, they slithered on their bellies and shot from behind walls and fences. The very first battle, the Battle of Lexington and Concord, showed the British army what they were up against as the Colonists’ just kept picking them off as they walked down the street in red and white outfits.
One last strategy had to do with propaganda. Pamphlets like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, pressured British citizens not to support the war against the Americans. These insidious-but-effective means effectively undermined support in Britain for such a long and costly war (www.battlefields.org, www.historyofmassachusetts.org).
In essence, the American Revolutionaries did not play fair. They did not stand and fight like real men; they hid and skulked in the shadows. They operated in a territory that was very unfamiliar and they took advantage of the elements and the physical circumstances to wear their opponents down. They also engaged in a war of words, undermining their own enemy with reason and turning their own people against their cause.
Psychological warfare is very effective as the Revolutionary War proved. It became a revolution of war.
Satan comes at you much like the Colonists attacking Britain. He hides and sneaks around in the shadows. He shoots his flaming arrows at us from a distance where we can hardly recognize him. He knows the errors of our familiar territories and uses them against us. He also turns our own people against us at times, employing a strategy of hurtful words that enervate our faith.
Satan takes the revolution of war to a whole new level.
Satan’s Three Main Strategies
I will use three terms throughout this devotional that need to be clarified: agenda, strategy, and tactic. I have mentioned the word ‘agenda’ already. It refers to the overall program of the war. Both the Colonists and the British desired to win. That was their agenda and Satan’s is no different. His program is simple though multi-layered: to discredit God and to destroy you.
The word ‘strategy’ is different, however. A strategy is a careful plan for how a person will carry out his agenda. The British plan was to walk in a gentlemanly way, dressed in flaming red suit coats toward the enemy, firing the whole while. There was nothing subtle about their strategy and as a result, they did not win the war. The Colonists, on the other hand, employed strategies that involved defensive maneuvers, persistent sneak attacks and a war of words. In the end, the Colonists’ strategies won the war.
While Satan has a pretty clear agenda, his strategies are not quite so visible. If I were to poll a hundred people about what Satan’s agendas are, I might get a hundred answers. Things here are a little bit murkier. As I have thought about this question, however, I think most of Satan’s battle plans fall into one of three main strategies. I have entitled them deception, doubt and denunciation.
To understand these strategies further, I want to briefly look at the first war in history between man and Satan (Gen. 3). It is a very familiar story – the story of the Fall – but I would ask that you look deeper under the surface. You will see that what is familiar in that story will be familiar in your own skirmishes with the evil one. Satan is not overly creative in the methods he employs. He doesn’t have to be; these three strategies usually do the trick of causing a believer to fall into sin.
The Fall of Man
The introduction to this war begins with these words, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” (v 1). That word ‘crafty’ means “cunning (usually in a bad sense), subtle, shrewd, sly” (ESV Strong’s). The word can have either a positive or a negative connotation, but the meaning here is clear. Satan was a deceptive being; therefore, he used craftiness and shrewdness (all synonyms for deception) to attack Adam and Eve.
Satan begins his rhetoric with these words, “Did God really say…” or as the ESV puts it, “Did God actually say…” (v 1b). Notice the element of doubt in his question. He is trying to give an alternative to the truth and by questioning God’s words, he causes a divided mind to occur in Eve’s theology.
When Satan comes at you, he will always employs this strategy. Why? Because my friend, it really, actually works.
Eve’s answer showed that doubt has taken root. “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (vv 2-3) Notice that she fixated on what she could not have – the tree that was in the middle of the garden – instead of all the myriad of trees she could have. Doubt always gets us to major on minor things, breeding at the least, a loss of focus, and at the worst, discontentment, ingratitude and bitterness.
Last year, our middle son Robert struggled with a friend who would bully him in “good fun.” He would steal his book bag and leave it in an unlikely place or wrestle Robert to the ground, although Robert is literally half his weight. One day, Robert came home quite upset. At lunch, he had been showing a friend his credit card knife and Kevin said he would put it away in his wallet. Robert, trusting as he is, did not think twice about Kevin’s actions. Kevin proceeded to take the wallet and throw it in the trashcan and walk away.
Robert went looking for his wallet in his book bag, but it was not there. He began asking around, but no one had seen it anywhere. By the time he got home, he was quite worked up, for good reason. But what he was most upset about was that his credit card knife was gone. His brother and dad had one just like it so it was a memory for him from before his older brother went to college.
I was furious at the principle of the whole thing. Why would anyone take such actions knowing the trash was emptied every day? This was not fun and games; it was bullying and needed to be dealt with immediately. But Robert spent more time bemoaning that credit card knife than all the money in the wallet and the wallet itself which was a very expensive gift from Cabela’s in the States. It was not until he saw the bigger picture – the disrespect and intimidation – that he could finally begin to self-advocate and work to right the situation.
Just like Robert got stuck on the little detail and missed the whole truth, Eve focused on one little tree out of the whole garden. Notice what happened after doubt was introduced. If we would look back to Genesis 2:16-17 we can quickly see that doubt perpetuated deception. God had spoken the truth: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” Not only did Eve leave out the word “surely,” but she changed God’s words. Not eating became not touching. She actually spoke out a lie instead of reiterating the whole truth of God’s words. Doubt led to both deceived thinking and deceptive speech.
The serpent fixated on that word “die.” He knew what kind of death God was talking about: spiritual death. But he couched his statements deceptively because Adam and Eve did not understand the whole truth. They assumed he meant physical death.
“God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v 5). Do you see the introduction of doubt in this statement? He insinuated that God was holding out on them. All they had to do was eat a little fruit and they would enjoy what God seemed to be withholding. This is the ultimate deception, one he had cooked up in his own spiritual pot before he was cast from heaven.
Eve looked at that fruit. It was good for food, beautiful to the eye, but the big clincher for her was that it seemed desirable for gaining wisdom. Satan just withheld the whole truth from her that this kind of wisdom was ugly and deceptive. She ate some of it and shared it with her husband and then their eyes were opened, but opened to shame and disgrace (v 6).
And that is when the denunciation began. Satan used that “wisdom” to shame them and make them feel guilty. They sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves (v 7). Even when they heard the Lord walking in the garden and calling to them, they hid. They were full of doubt about who they were and deceived themselves into thinking they could somehow hide themselves from Creator God. Then, as the Lord began to question them, out of their shame, they began to blame each other.
Blame, by the way, is another very clear form of deception. When the Lord asks a clear question and instead of repenting, we begin to deny and deflect, we have been deceived. Satan has blinded us to the reality of our sin and deception continues its work to cover up the need for brokenness. Even Eve saw through this strategy of Satan’s, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate,” she said (v 13b), but it was too late. The deed was complete.
Deception led to doubt, which led to sin. That sin led to doubt and more deception. From the moment sin entered that garden denunciation and condemnation rose like an unscalable wall between God and man. And that wall has stood the test of time ever since. If it were not for the cross, doubt, deception and denunciation would reign supreme in this world.
Lord, thank you for the cross which answers all the doubts, uncovers all the deception, and showers grace and mercy over all the denunciation.
Strategy Versus Tactic
If the agenda is the overall program of a war, and the strategy is a plan for how that person will carry out his agenda, what is a war tactic? The tactic is the means of carrying out that strategy; the technique for bringing the plan into effect. To make this a bit clearer, I have compiled a random list of the differences between strategies and tactics.
Satan has a clear agenda to discredit God and destroy those who believe in Him. His strategies are three-fold: deception, doubt and denunciation. But he employs countless tactics to bring about the strategies he employs. The techniques that he uses may be as varied as people, their personalities and their circumstances.
In order for you to understand this multi-pronged approach played out in a variety of ways, let me give you a loose example based on my three boys.
Every one of my boys has struggled with obedience at one point or other (go figure). As a child, my eldest son, David, had an iron will. Sometimes I wondered if his head was iron too, for he was not fazed by discipline. My middle son, Robert, has always been my soft-hearted child, although he tended to be quite passive-aggressive when pushed beyond his comfort level. My third son, Timmy, is a blend of the two – strong-willed and passive aggressive – with a twist of emotional manipulation on the side.
When my boys were caught in a disobedient act, all of them had one agenda: to get out of that discipline and avoid the punishment they deserved. They may not have calculated their responses, especially as young boys, but after raising children for nineteen years, I can discern the strategies they are employing to make sure their agendas come to fruition. They have tried to distract, which is actually a form of deception. Blame and denial have been used, both of them being forms of deception, which use denunciation in order to cause doubt. The strategies are pretty similar to Satan’s because, quite frankly, they probably come from Satan working through their flesh. How those strategies break down into tactics, though, is a different matter.
When David was caught in a rebellious act, he would try denial first, but it quickly turned from being cornered to being aggressive. He would come at me with blame and anger rather than deal with his own heart issue. (Yes, even as a two year old.) David’s tactics were to go on the offensive, to blame and argue in order to push my buttons and get me riled up. He loved an argument because it tipped the playing field in his favor and took the focus off of his sin.
My middle son rarely did anything outright disobedient, but he would sometimes conveniently “forget” the rules. When I would gently remind him of where he was in error, he would cry and appear very soft. I later found out that I had to push him past the tears in order to see if the heart truly was soft or not, because if I was blinded by the tears, the behavior was never really addressed. I used the word ‘blinded’ on purpose because it was a deceptive strategy. His tears and choice to continue to “forget” the rules were his tactics to avoid complete obedience.
Then we have Timmy, who is my most confusing child. At times, he responds like David did, with a hard heart and aggressive action. Sometimes he cries and cries and I have to really probe to see if the heart is truly tendered or not. But the majority of the time, he uses his emotions and words as weapons. He whines and complains and pouts. He says, “You hate me,” and “you never let me do this” or “I like Daddy better.” He literally pummels me with doubt and speaks out words of deception in order to make me feel bad inside; bad enough to overlook the work in his heart that is really needed. Playing on my emotions is his clever tactic to distract me from the hard work of loving discipline.
Just as my boys are all different and employ different strategies to avoid the pain of discipline, Satan employs three different strategies to lead us into discrediting God and destroying our testimony. However, he is clever. He knows he will have to mix tactics up a bit in order to deceive and cause doubt. So, he approaches each of us in different ways, using varying methods, employing different tactics, so that he can carry out his ultimate agenda.
We must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Mt. 10:16). Knowing Satan’s agenda and strategies will help us go the long haul in combating them all the way to the finish line. “Be self-controlled and alert,” Peter says. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). You need to resist him, standing firm in the faith…(1 Pet. 5:9), and you can begin that resistance by learning to recognize Satan’s specific tactics.
To help us be more aware of the devil’s schemes, let’s turn once again to Hezekiah’s story, because as the general spews out his psychological rhetoric, seven aggressive battle tactics emerge quite clearly. And if we take the general’s words that were spoken to the people of Judah and bring them over into our lives, into our spiritual battles, we can more easily expose the tactics of our enemy: Satan.
These seven tactics are not necessarily all that Satan employs, mind you; they are lifted from one story at one particular time in history. But since last September 19 when I began studying this passage, the Lord showed me the importance of not only seeing the unseen, but being able to use that discernment to fight spiritual battles. Knowing how Satan operates, recognizing how he chooses to attack, and being ready with a battle response has been invaluable teaching to me. Since then, I have put these tactics on a card and have found that most of what Satan brings against me, I can first recognize as one of these seven tactics on my list. Then I am able to take the necessary actions to stand firm in my faith or proactively move into a battle stance with the Word of God as my weapon. Over these next three weeks, I pray you will be equally equipped.
Tactic 1: Immobilizes by Intimidation
Satan loves to intimidate us. He does not need to attack us personally to get us to fear or doubt or run. He just has to bluster a little bit. He will use someone’s rage at us, or their sheer size, or their cutting words, and even if there is not truth in the bluster, we are intimidated and fold like paper being struck by hail.
In these 20 verses, there are five different ways that the Assyrian general sought to intimidate Hezekiah and the people of Judah. They are also ways that Satan seeks to undermine your trust in God as well.
He intimidates us by…
We have mentioned this verse until you are probably sick of it all, but I will mention it one last time. “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them.” Assyria came against Judah, attacking and capturing. This was a bonafide invasion. It was made more real by Assyria’s cruel reputation and their destruction of Israel years earlier. Hezekiah knew he could not put off the inevitable anymore; he was in deep trouble.
I do not believe that Satan attacks by actual invasion very often; he usually prefers a more subtle and insidious approach. But there are many people who have experienced this kind of spiritual warfare. Those who are starting huge, aggressive new works with the Lord will come against powerful forces. People who are trying to leave a life of sin may enter a dark period of battle with the prince of this world. If someone steps into territory where Satan has reigned for years, attempting with the help of God to overthrow strongholds, they can know that Satan will attack straight-on. I believe this is what happened to me when I walked up those steps to that wat and entered Satan’s area of strength unguarded and un-prayed-up.
Chip Ingram in his book, The Invisible War tells of his taking a pastorate in Santa Cruz, California. The area was full of Satanists and countless times, he was attacked by the enemy of his soul. Hexes were placed on him and his family. Satanists marched into his church trying to intimidate them to leave. Prayers were prayed to Satan against his ministry. At night, he would awaken to the sound of his screaming children, petrified from horrible nightmares. To survive their ordeal, he taught all of his family members how to fight spiritual forces. He had to; their minds and lives were at stake.
You may never experience this kind of full-front intimidation, but if you do, you must know how to fight with God’s weapons. Please stay tuned for the next two installments of devotionals. I do not have the room this week to teach all that is needed for this kind of battle, but I will get into this in future weeks. For now, know that this kind of intimidation does happen and for you to withstand this kind of onslaught, you must know how to fight.
(Read 2 Chronicles 20 for how Jehoshaphat handled his invasion by the enemy.)
Satan will intimidate you with his superior force and the appearance that he is unconquerable, invincible and impregnable. Notice how the general came to Hezekiah’s gates. “The king of Assyria sent his supreme commander, his chief officer and his field commander with a large army, from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem…” (2 Kings 18:17a). He worked to intimidate Hezekiah by his three most important battle commanders and a very large army.
Satan intimidates us in this way also. Maybe not with battle commanders and large armies, but often with overwhelming circumstances: the loss of a job, a death in the family, a child gone amuck, a spouse’s infidelity, or a stronghold that will not let go. What is the circumstance or person that brings you to a feeling of despair? In what area of your life do you feel completely hopeless and powerless? That is your point of intimidation by the enemy. He will work very hard to make you believe that he is completely invincible.
(Read Mark 5:22-43 for two examples of people who took their indomitable problem to Jesus in time for Him to work a miracle on their behalf.)
This intimidation is very similar to the one above, except for one point. Indomitability means unconquerable, but inflation takes things a step further. It is a point of exaggeration that enlarges the circumstances beyond your ability to handle them. Notice that in the taunts yelled by the general, the thought of inflated circumstances is used on multiple occasions. The army (v 2) was not just an army; it was a large army. The king was not just a king (v 4); he was a great king.
Satan loves to use this tactic. He wants to convince you that you will never win, but also that God will never help you win, that somehow He is smaller than what Satan can bring against you. What is the circumstance, the person, the hurt in your life that seems bigger than God? What mountain is standing in the way of your complete trust in the One who sustains you?
Name it. Write it out. Lay it before the Lord. Cry out to the heavenly places for the discernment you need to see through this kind of intimidation.
Satan will make you feel like that mountain will never move. Everything will feel hopeless and you will be left in despair. When Satan inflates your circumstances so that they appear indomitable over God’s power, you have been intimidated by the father of lies. When Satan enlarges your circumstances so that they appear bigger even than the God who allowed them, you are in danger of succumbing to this other intimidation tactic of inflation.
Be on your guard. Live in the truth. You know what God does to mountains, right? (Mt. 17:20-21, Mk. 11:22-24).
(Read the story of Gideon in Judges 6 if you need an example of courage when the enemy has intimidated by inflation.)
The Assyrian general never really attacked Hezekiah. As I mentioned before, this was a war of words and this general wielded the word-weapon masterfully. He insulted Hezekiah’s military skill, “You say you have strategy and military strength – but you speak only empty words…” (v 4a). In other words, “You’re army is puny and your strength is small. There is no soldier that can put a dent in our superior force.”
He insulted Hezekiah’s alliance with Egypt, “Look now, you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces a man’s hand and wounds him if he leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him” (v 6). Egypt was nothing to sneeze at. It was smaller than Assyria, but had been able to conjure up a lot of problems for the massive world power at that time. But all that the general brought up was its diminutive size and Hezekiah’s complete lack of discernment in trusting in its resources.
Lastly, the general insulted both Hezekiah’s army size and military prowess, “I will give you two thousand horses – if you can put riders on them! How then can you repulse one officer of the least of my master’s officials, even though you are depending on Egypt for chariots and horsemen (vv 8-9)? He was trying to make Hezekiah feel very small. They did not have enough soldiers to seat 2000 horses even if they were given them. Not even their strongest soldier could take out the smallest officer in the Assyrian army.
There is a saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Don’t you believe it! Negative words have the capability to destroy lives. They can ring in your head your entire life and distort your sense of identity along the way. James refers to the tongue as a spark that can light on fire a great forest or a restless evil, full of deadly poison (Jms. 3:5, 8). Insults are dangerous fodder and Satan uses them to their full advantage: whispering lies, perpetuating slander, speaking cruelty, and creating disunity.
(Read 2 Kings 2:23-25 to see what happens when Elisha is insulted.)
The general had no fear of God; that is for sure. He was discourteous and disrespectful about God’s servants and utterly contemptuous in regard to God Himself. Listen to the audacious lie he told Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah, “Furthermore, have I come to attack the destroy this land without the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it” (v 10).
His words were a bold-faced lie. God confides in those who fear Him (Ps. 25:14), not in people who defy Him. This lie should have been clear to Hezekiah and his men, but packed in with all of the other intimidation tactics, it probably felt very overwhelming. Is this true, they might have thought. Does God not talk to the prophets on our behalf anymore? Do we not recognize God’s voice when He speaks? Why would He tell them and not us? All Satan has to do is introduce a little lie and quite often, our imaginations fill in all of the blanks.
(Read Daniel 3 to see how God attended to a man who tried to intimidate Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego with this tactic. Additionally, check out Daniel 4 to see how God continued his work in this man’s insolent life.)
Tactic 2: Inundates our Imaginations With Doubt
The mind is the frontline in any spiritual battle. That is why you are to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Satan knows that if he can somehow influence your thoughts for evil, your words and actions will soon follow. And he does not have to tell you a lie even; he can just inflate something or exaggerate a little and doubt is introduced.
The words ‘rest,’ ‘trust,’ and ‘deliver,’ are used over 15 times in these 20 verses – all in the negative sense (ESV). As in, “On what do you rest this trust of yours” (v 4)? Throughout this entire speech, the general is trying to get the people of Judah to distrust their king and their God. He introduces doubt that only God can deliver and He alone can save. If he can get the people to turn on their king, disunity will destroy the city without any effort on his part.
Satan is very good at inundating our imaginations with doubt.
The general attempted to cast doubt on the source of the people’s trust (v 4). He caused them to doubt Hezekiah’s strategy and military power (v 5). He cast doubt on their source of trust in Egypt (vv 4-6). He gave them plenty of opportunity to distrust God and the king (v 7) while he picked apart their military resources (vv 8-9). On top of all of that, he introduced a great distrust in their ability to even hear God’s voice (v 10).
As I said before, the whisper does not even have to be an outright lie. It can just divide our thoughts enough that we distrust God. We begin to question our intimacy with Him. Does He really love me? Who am I to think that I can hear God’s voice? Satan introduces doubt about our identity in Christ and we wonder why God would do anything for us; we’re not all that special, right? He causes us to doubt our callings, our influences, our ministries and if that is not enough, we start to believe God is unjust when bad things begin to happen. Remember the wording in 2 Chronicles 32:1, “After all that Hezekaih had so faithfully done, Sennacherib…came and invaded Judah.” Hezekiah had been faithful. I am sure that Satan introduced some doubts as to the justice of God.
(Read about the return of Naomi to Bethlehem in Ruth 1:19-22. There was a woman struggling with incredible doubts about who God was, who she was and what God was doing in her life.)
Tactic 3: Intensifies our Insecurities
When doubts begin to assail the mind, life becomes very rocky. Fear takes over good sense and eradicates all resting trust. We begin to act like a house built on sand: shaky, shifting, and very unstable. Satan’s ploy is to intensify our insecurities by whatever means possible.
I mentioned these verses earlier, but the general worked hard to make Hezekiah insecure within his fortress. He came against the security Hezekiah felt in his alliance with Egypt (vv 4-6). He attempted to make Hezekiah’s faith wobble by mocking his small army and inexperienced soldiers (vv 8-9). He spoke in Hebrew, loud enough for the whole city to understand him and even when asked to speak in Aramaic so the people would not hear, he would not (v 11). Instead, he talked to the people in their own language, speaking against Hezekiah and God (vv 13-20). It was a very direct ploy to cause a tidal wave of insecurity to come against those Judeans.
If you are unsure about your intimacy with God, identity in God, and integrity through God, you can know without a doubt, that Satan is intensifying your insecurities. You are under attack and though it may not be a full-out assault, it is just as devastating to your psyche and walk with God. You need to bone up on your relationship with your Father, sit often in the truths of who you are in Christ, and live out a righteous lifestyle by the power of the Holy Spirit.
(See Galatians 2:1-14 for a time when Peter gave in to insecurity and made the wrong choice based on his fear.)
Tactic 4: Issues an Insidious Invitation
There is an interesting anomaly in the descriptions of the temptation of Jesus. Mark says that Jesus was tempted by Satan (Mk. 1:13), while Luke uses a different name: the devil (Lk. 4:2). However, Matthew describes Satan with yet another word, the tempter.
If you remember, Satan means “adversary,” while devil means “false accuser or slanderer.” The word peirazo, meaning tempter, has both a positive and a negative connotation; the positive: “to try, to prove in either a good or bad sense, tempt, test by soliciting to sin” (CWSB Dictionary). The negative sense of the word is used in Matthew, when Satan heads to the wilderness to tempt Jesus.
Why would three writers use three different names to describe the one who came to tempt Jesus to sin? I honestly do not know if there is an answer to this question, but anomalies like this bother me. In thinking about this a bit, it is clear that Satan went to Jesus for the reason to tempt him, but each temptation was actually an invitation to compromise.
He invited Jesus to use his powers for the supply of his own personal needs. They were legitimate needs, mind you, but the invitation represented a method of meeting those needs in His own strength, instead of trusting in God, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread” (Lk. 4:3).
The second invitation was less clearly disguised. “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours” (4:7-8 – ESV). Satan invited Jesus to compromise the long road of suffering for a short burst of perverted hero worship. Of course, Jesus declined that one too, knowing He had to take the glory road to the cross.
Lastly, Satan invited Jesus to display His glory and power, just because He could, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here…” and angels would come to save Him (4:9-10). Jesus’ answer clearly shows the compromise, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (v 12).
Now, you’re wondering where I am headed with this. Three invitations by three different “people,” all of them trying to get Jesus to compromise three different principles of trust. And here’s my thought: I believe the authors use different names for Satan because he portrays himself differently when he employs different tactics. The invitations to compromise are really his three strategies all over again: deception, doubt, and denunciation. But the choice to list three different names tells us that those same invitations are sometimes adversarial, sometimes slanderous, and sometimes very difficult tests of our faith. Each name reveals a different tactic to initiate compromise.
The Assyrian general issued a compromising invitation to the people of Judah, but Hezekiah, in particular. “Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses…Make peace with me and come out to me. Then every one of you will eat from his own vine and fig tree and drink water from his own cistern until I come and take you to a land like your own – a land of grain and new wine , a land of bread and vineyards” (vv 8, 16-18). What was he saying? “If you will surrender now, I will reward you, but if you do not, I will destroy you.” What an invitation – peace in captivity or death in freedom.
Satan’s invitations are pretty similar. They look good all wrapped up in pretty paper and decorated with a fancy bow, but they are empty. What good is a cistern of nice water when you are shackled to your captors? What reward is a horse if you can never ride beyond the alien borders? One of Satan’s tactics is to issue an insidious invitation.
Do not give in to this invitation. Answer his compromising scenarios like Jesus did, with the Word of God on your lips. Say, “It is written,” and back up that Scriptural stand with the authority you have as a child of God. Not every invitation needs an answer, especially one that will sell your soul to the devil…or to Satan…or to the tempter.
(Sarai gave in to a compromising invitation in Genesis 16. Check out what happened as a result of her failure to stand by God’s Word.)
Tactic 5: Impoverishes by Illusion
The general could have been a sleight-of-hand magician; he was that good. Everything he offered was a smokescreen veiling the truth. He did not really speak outright lies, but whitewashed the truth with a lot of baloney.
The whole conversation about Egypt being a splintered reed which pierces a man’s hand and wounds him if he leans on it (v 6), veiled the truth that Assyria itself was a splintered reed. Egypt had come to Judah’s rescue twice. They had not ever backed out of any alliance with Judah. Assyria had been the one to cut Judah off from Egypt’s help; again, not once, but twice. So the general’s words to Hezekiah really were an illusion, a muddying of the proverbial truth-waters.
The next statement he made to Hezekiah is also a bit deceptive. “And if you say to me, ‘We are depending on the Lord our God’ – isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You must worship before this altar’” (v 7)? What is the general referring to?
If you will remember, in the first year of Hezekiah’s reign, he cleaned spiritual house in Judah. He centralized worship so that people had to come to Jerusalem to worship instead of bowing down to idols all over every high place. The general knew about this. I find that fascinating; he really did his homework. Yet, he took the facts and twisted them to create a completely different story. Hezekiah had reformed worship at God’s command, yet here was this unbeliever telling the people of Jerusalem that Hezekiah had actually gone against God’s wishes. Again, we see smokescreens and deception.
As mentioned earlier, the general also tried to morph the truth by telling the people that God Himself had told him to march against this country and destroy it (v 10). Now, it is possible he had also done even more complete homework and knew about Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the demise of Judah due to Ahaz’s lack of faith. This is entirely possible, but he twisted that truth to make it sound like he had a direct line from the Lord. Think about how confusing that could have been to these people at the brink of apparent war.
The whole pitch about making peace with him and enjoying the land was a crock (vv 16-17). The people of Assyria were known for their cruelty to their captors. That is why they were feared. But here is their general offering figs and clean water if they will just surrender. The package is pretty empty; in fact, the whole package is a delusional illusion.
Satan is a master illusionist. He will take a tiny bit of truth and build an entire story of falsehoods around it and sell it like it’s the best this world offers. Independence. Affairs. Strongholds. Addictions. Control. Fame. Popularity. All of these began with a tiny truth that leads a person to destruction like a carrot on a string. Unfortunately, what begins so well actually impoverishes by illusion.
I am told that the best way to pick out a counterfeit bill is to know the real one so well. Training a person to tune in to the real deal alerts her to an anomaly. The same holds true for you in the Christian realm. You must know the truth backward and forward. Be in the Word. Memorize it. Become so familiar with it that Satan’s lies, which pad an impressive package, will stick out like a sore thumb. Illusion only works on those who do not know the magic trick. When you become familiar with this tactic, you will always be able to spot the sleight of hand.
(Ananias and Sapphira tried their hand at illusion, but the Holy Spirit saw right through it. Read their story in Acts 5)
Tactic 6: Induces Independence
The general talked about dependence an awful lot in his speech to Hezekiah’s three representatives. His question, “on whom are you depending?” was not asked just to be polite (v 5). He was trying to cause dissension in the Judean ranks. Systematically, he began to chip away at all the props he felt Hezekiah might have. He ridiculed his dependence on Egypt (v 6), calling the Pharaoh a splintered reed of a staff.
He next began to cause people to distrust the king. “If you say to me, ‘We are depending on the Lord our God’ – isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed…” (v 7). He tried to induce their independence from Hezekiah by driving a wedge into their religious beliefs. Next he told them people outright that Hezekiah was deceiving them, “Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you!…Do not listen to Hezekiah…” (vv 14, 16a). If he could induce independence from the king, popular opinion could force Hezekiah to surrender, or so the general hoped.
His last bid for independence drove straight to the heart of their worship: God Himself. He whitewashed the truth by saying God had told him to attack them (v 10). Then he called out to the people, “Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria…Do not let Hezekiah mislead you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?..How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand” (vv 15, 18, 20).
This general was thorough in his approach; that is for sure. He covered as many bases as he knew to induce independence. Satan, also, is very thorough in his approach. If one aspect of our relationship with God cannot be compromised, he will try another and another. Getting us to distrust people, circumstances, allies, friends, and even God, leads to dissension, isolation and independence. Satan is most interested in our moving away from God: not resting in Him, not seeking His advice, and not running to Him as our refuge. He wants us to depend on ourselves instead of the godly influences the Lord has put at our disposal.
When you sense division around you, know that Satan is involved in the process. He is overseeing his battle tactics that induce independence. Humility and brokenness are the answers. Yielding to the advice of those who are wise leads to real tranquility in your relationships. Surrendering to God, the All-Wise, leads to true peace in the most important relationship you will ever have. Do not let Satan worm his way into cracks of doubt. If you do, your trust and dependence on God will take some huge hits and may not even survive the battle.
(The Israelites were conned by this tactic on more than one occasion. Read Exodus 32:1-25 to see where Satan won a major skirmish.)
Tactic 7: Invalidates our Integrity
Hezekiah made some trust mistakes along the way. He gave in to pride and allowed the Babylonians, whom he thought were allies, a free tour into the heart of Jerusalem. This eventually came back upon the nation of Judah in a tsunami wave of destruction. He also struggled with some fear, which caused him to frantically try to solve a problem on his own. He dismantled the temple, giving out huge sums of wealth, in order to save his nation. In the end, all that maneuvering got him nowhere. One other bad mistake was to attempt to make an alliance against Assyria. His dependence on Egypt and all the security they could offer was a huge step away from total trust in God. Lastly, Hezekiah had made huge strides in fortifying his nation with a water source, thicker walls for safety, and a well-outfitted army. It seemed that he had God in mind as his primary focus (See 2 Chron. 32:7-8), but many commentators believe he went beyond his dependence upon God to lean on his own understanding. God plus his own preventative tactics may have been his end game.
We can see that King Hezekiah blew it on a number of occasions and the Assyrian general was quick to remind him of his failures. “On what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have strategy and military strength – but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me” (vv 4-5). The general was quick to point out that the preventative tactics were useless against his great army. His God-plus-works methods were not going to cut it in the end.
The general picked on Judah’s dependence on Egypt next. “Look now, you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces a man’s hand and wounds him if he leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Eyptt to all you depend on him” (v 6). The general mocked Hezekiah’s desperate ploy to create an alliance, disparaging Egypt, the Pharaoh, and Judah’s king at the same time.
You and I will make mistakes. We will act out of the flesh on occasion, forgetting to live in the power of the Holy Spirit. And we will have to repent of those steps and come under the lordship of Christ once again. Confessing our sins to God leads to forgiveness and cleansing from all our unrighteous behavior (1 Jn. 1:9). At that point, God removes those transgressions from us, as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12); they are hurled into the deepest parts of the sea (Micah 7:19). They are forgotten, forgiven, and buried forever.
Except to one highly-intuitive enemy.
Satan knows this tactic to be a very effective one, this tactic of condemnation. He works overtime to invalidate your integrity and he will use any means to make that happen: whether it be the judgment of another individual, the caustic words of a loved one, or even your own guilty conscience.
After you realize you have blown it, after you confess that sin, after you have been forgiven and cleansed and are walking the straight and narrow again, that is when the Slanderer will come at you with recrimination. He will remind you of the times you went to “Egypt” for help. Each moment that you gave to your own salvation through your own works, he will bring up to you. Each bribe for safety, each word of hypocrisy, each and every moment of distrust, he will lay out before you frame by frame.
If you are not alert to this tactic of the enemy, you will succumb to despair and hopelessness. Satan does not have to work very hard after that; he has you paralyzed – invalidated even – by guilt and condemnation. You will need to stand in the blood of Jesus. You will need to speak out loud about His work of cleansing and forgiving your sins, of His willingness to die to make you righteous and whole.
Do not give in to this tactic. It is wily and insidious; made even more so because Satan would have a leg to stand on if it were not for Christ and his magnanimous deliverance. You are not worthy on your own, but you are priceless as a child of God. You are not able to be clean by your efforts, but you are white as snow when you stand under the umbrella of redemption. You are powerless by yourself to move forward in freedom, but Christ’s compassions are new every morning and they never fail because His faithfulness is so great (Lam. 3:22-23).
(Samson was fooled by this tactic on more than one occasion, falling from integrity and living with the painful consequences. Read his story in Judges 13-16).
And In the End…
As you have seen how the general attacked Hezekiah with his words, do you see the similarities between him and Satan’s attacks on you? Did any of them ring true in your spiritual journey? My hope is that seeing these tactics clearly laid out in this historical narrative makes it easier to apply them to your real-life story.
I have no idea what kind of week you are having, whether Satan is moving against you strongly or whether you are between storms. What I do know is that you need to be prepared. If Satan is not actively attacking you, he is craftily stalking you, and will pounce when you least expect it. “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men (and women) of courage; be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). These are four excellent reminders of the need to be prepared all the time: before, during, and after every storm that will arise.
You are probably aware that this devotional is far from over. Last week we revealed the enemy. This week we unveiled a few of his tactics, but we are not finished. Next week will be full of advice on how to stand firm against the schemes of the devil and to fight if it comes to that.
And come to war, it will. You must be self-controlled and alert because your enemy wants to devour you. Resist him, my friend; resist him by standing firm in your faith (1 Pet. 5:-9). Know this: your victory is already secured (1 Cor. 15:57). Stand strong, dear one, knowing that in the end, the enemy’s end (Rev. 20:7-10) will be your new beginning (Rev. 22:12-13).