The Strategy of the Enemy
Recognizing and Resisting the Ploys of the Adversary of Our Souls
In dealing with a matter of assembly discipline, the apostle Paul warned the believers at Corinth to be spiritually alert by not being ignorant of the devil's "devices" lest he take advantage of them (2 Cor 2:11). Although they had been established in the faith this gifted, but immature assembly was admonished to be wary of the devil's strategies so that he would not gain a foothold in the meeting and mar their testimony for Christ. Loud and clear, Paul trumpeted the clarion call for spiritual vigilance. That same clarion call for spiritual vigilance likewise needs to be trumpeted in our day as well. The principle emphasized here and in other portions of Scripture serve to remind Christians everywhere of the spiritual acumen required to recognize and resist the ploys of the adversary so that they do not become spiritual casualties.
In considering a biblical study on the strategy of the enemy, it is both significant and reassuring to know that his demise is certain as foretold in the Scriptures. His defeat was prophesied in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15); achieved through the work of Christ (2 Tim. 1:10); and will be consummated in a future day when he is cast into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20:10). But despite the fact that the Bible clearly declares his defeat, believers are nevertheless exhorted to stand against the wiles of the devil to prevent him from further hindering the work of the Lord. In order to accomplish this it is imperative that we understand his tactics and the type of ammunition that he uses in his attempt to accomplish his chief aim--to destroy the work of God. (John 10:10)
One of the most effective tactics of the devil and perhaps the most commonly used is that of deceit. It was through deceit that he was able to persuade Eve to violate the express command of God and partake of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil--his craftiness through the serpent an apt picture of his destructive subtlety of introducing sin into the human race. Through deceit he is able to fool the ignorant masses through the work of false prophets and teachers who are able to transform themselves into apostles of Christ. Paul reminds us: "And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light." (2 Cor. 11:14). Certainly much that passes for the Lord's work in Christendom is nothing more than the active work of the enemy who is able to sow tares among the wheat (Matt. 13:36-43) and to fill the net of good fish with bad. (Matt. 13:47-48) The Gibeonites in Joshua's day are an fitting example of the enemy's ability to deceive. (Joshua 9) Through craftiness, these enemies of Israel pretended to be ambassadors from a far country and were able to effect an alliance with Joshua and the rest of Israel which proved to be disastrous in the times of the judges--a warning to us of the harmful effects of failing to ask counsel of the Lord and to remain separated in our work for Christ. It was the mixed multitude of unbelievers that were allowed to blend with the children of Israel as they departed from Egypt (Ex. 12:38) that later caused division and dissension in the ranks thus hindering the progress of God's people. (Numbers 11:1-9) When Paul and Silas were involved in an effective gospel campaign, a demon-possessed slave girl interrupted the meetings by continually crying out "These men are the servants of the most High." (Acts 16:17) Paul was greatly bothered since the message was right but the means by which it was being communicated was not. He saw in this incident just another ploy of the enemy to confuse the message of salvation in the minds of those listening nearby, just as he does today.
It was through deceit that a man of God in Jereboam's day was sidetracked in his service for the Lord by an apparently bitter and backslidden "old prophet", the man of God tragically paying for this single act of disobedience with his life. (1 Kings 13) Elisha's servant who ignorantly picked some wild gourds from a harmless looking vine when there was a dearth in the land is also a picture of the work of the enemy. (2 Kings 4:38-41) When the servant returned to innocently put these poisonous gourds in the "great pot"--the food of the sons of the prophets--the effect was immediate and could have been fatal had not Elisha suggested to purify the stew with flour. The warning is clear: God's people need to be carefully watching what they pick up, especially when there is a "famine in the land". What may look harmless at first, but whose source is a "wild vine"--that which clings to the earth--will have harmful effects when it is introduced into the "food" of God's people. Flour prefiguring the Person of Christ (cp. Lev. 2) is the proper way by which the destructive effects of false doctrine can be remedied. Yes, deceit is a key weapon of the one who is able "to deceive the nations" (Rev. 20:8) and their leaders and a tactic that we to watch for lest the devil take advantage of us also.
Another effective tactic of the devil is dilution--the compromising of God's word and ways. When David wanted to bring the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem, he was astounded and afraid when God took harsh action by striking Uzzah dead after touching the ark as it slid off the cart. (2 Sam. 6) Because David had attempted to transport it by means of a rolling Philistine cart instead of carrying it by the divinely-appointed way, God halted David's celebratory "progress" toward the city requiring David to initiate a three-month period of biblical examination and self-evaluation. This resulted in modifying his plan to be in accord with God's Word. (1 Chron. 15:13-15) Once this was accomplished, God blessed his efforts and David proceeded to Jerusalem unhindered. Without realizing, when David had begun his journey, he had diluted the Word of God by failing to do God's work, God's way and in so doing countered his own good intentions. Since God can never bless the compromising of His ways whether in matters of salvation or service, we must change our ways to line up with His if we are to expect His blessing. We can be sure that the devil will try to steer believers to mingle God's ways with theirs and in so doing thwart the work of the Lord.
In much the same way as David's incident with the ark, Lev. 10:1-2 records the death of Nadab and Abihu who were guilty of offering "strange fire" on the inauguration of the tabernacle sacrifices in the wilderness. These two men though privileged above others had not used coals of fire from the brazen altar as prescribed by God and were struck dead for their disobedience. We can be sure from this that God does not want half observance or half obedience, but full. Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) both of whom were true believers were also severly judged for partial obedience in the days of the early Church when they pretended to be telling the whole truth when they were in reality telling half truths. (How gracious God is to us!) Mixing truth with falsehood can never bring God's blessing, yet how many especially in liberal circles are daily diluting the story of salvation from pulpits across this land with a "thus saith the Lord" and "thus saith me" message! Or worse, how many of God's people--followers of the One who said "I AM the Truth"--are like the priests in Ezekiel's day (Ezek. 8) secretly diluting the work of the Lord in their personal lives while mixing with the ways of the world? God expects His Word to be wholeheartedly observed. Even the Lord Jesus was challenged in this when the devil suggested to Him to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the mount, a very clever maneuver to try to have the Savior gain the acceptance of an amazed crowd--and bypass the cross. (Matt. 4:5-7) The tactic employed was the carefully-crafted but compromised quoting of the Scriptures. How believers need to be reminded of the words of Hosea 4:6: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge."!
Yet another tactic of the devil effectively employed by him in an attempt to frustrate and hinder the work of God is dissension. To have "family" members fighting against one another for inexcusable reasons most surely hinders the spiritual progress of God's people--and at times even more than those who are directly involved in a matter.. Certainly there are those instances when doctrinal integrity in the Church must be maintained at thosetimes saints are enjoined to "earnestly contend for the faith" (Jude 3) But when personality differences and matters of strife and envy spill over into our service for the Lord the effect can be most dishonoring to the Lord. When Miriam and Aaron dissented against Moses' leadership, the charge brought against him had an air of legitimacy: "Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses. Has He not spoken through us also?" (Num. 12:2) The real reason was because Moses' marriage to an Ethiopian woman (v.1) which did not sit well his envious and ambitious siblings. God settled the matter privately and brought judgment on the Miriam, the primary offending party. What was the fallout from this unnecessary episode? The entire camp was prevented from moving on until after Miriam was brought back into fellowship. (vv. 15-16) Such are the far-reaching consequences of dissension in the assembly!
Internal dissension however can be overcome to the glory of God as it was in the early church. When difficulties arose regarding some practical matters of ministering to the needs of neglected widows, the dissension that emerged threatened to become a distraction and a diversion, twins tactics and an effective device of the devil who surely snickers in the shadows as he throws more fuel on the fire. But properly handled much good can arise from dissenting opinions and the multitude of perspectives that are characteristic in any meeting of believers. Regardless of the outcome however, each one involved in a difficult matter has the responsibility to honor the Lord in their actions and even more importantly in their attitudes.
Still another startegy of the enemy and a frequently employed tactic is that of discouragement. What a devastating tool this can be both individually and corporately! Anyone seriously involved in the work of the Lord knows how often this intruder needs to be beaten back. When Nehemiah was told ten times by his own brethren that the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem would not be completed because the job was too big and the obstacles too many, he rallied the troops with some very simple words: "Remember the Lord!" (Neh. 4:10) When we are discouraged and see little fruit in our personal lives or in the local assembly we too need to "remember the Lord!" Elijah needed to be reminded of this after his outstanding triumph at Mt. Carmel. Like so many after a stunning triumph for the Lord, not long afterwards he took a disappointing tumble into the slough of despond. God was at work in his life and the lives of many others in Israel, though he did not see that a great number had not bowed the knee to Baal. His expectations were far too high and his trust in the Lord far too low to see God at work, the primary cause of his despair. Like Jonah, Elijah's selfish attitude was the root cause behind his discouragement as he requested of the Lord to take his life. Thankfully, the Lord did not answer that prayer! To have given up in a time of painful and distorted introspection would have been a horrible mistake as evidenced by the respect and measure of glory that Elijah has had in the minds of Israelites after his life of service was completed. (Mal. 4:5; Matt. 16:14; Luke 9:30-31)
Finally, dread is another weapon and tactic utilized by the enemy of our souls to intimidate believers from wholehearted commitment to the Lord. 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us that "your adversary, the devil walketh to and fro like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." Believers are exhorted to be sober and vigilant and to resist him, being steadfast in the faith. (vv. 8-9) We are not told to run but to stand, putting on the whole armor of God. (Eph. 6:10) All the resources are available to the believer to do so despite the tendency to either disregard the fact of spiritual warfare or to in some sense stay as far back from the front line as possible to avoid any casualty. But to do so would be to fall victim to this piece of weaponry--dread. In Philippians 1:28, we are reminded to "not in any way [be] terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God." Running is not the answer, resisting--in the faith however, is. Nahash, the Ammonite is a perfect picture of the devil utilizing this strategy when he came against the men of Jabesh Gilead (1 Sam. 11:1-2) Responding to their request to make an alliance, Nahash retorted by threatening to put out their right eyes first, his strategy (and the devil's) to blind and bring his victims into an "alliance" of bondage--something that Samson experienced first hand.
Perhaps, the most outstanding example of the strategy of the enemy and the various tools that he utilizes simultaneously in battle is seen in the Sennacherib's blasphemous assault against Israel in the days of King Hezekiah. Interestingly, this account is recorded in three separate passages. (2 Kings 18-19; 2 Chron.32; Isa.37) When word was received that Hezekiah had prepared for this assault, Sennacherib sent his messengers to the people to deceive them by saying: "Have I now come up without the Lord to this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me. "Go up and destroy this place.'" (2 Kings 18:25) Sennacherib, an avowed enemy of God's people and self-appointed "great king" came against Israel with a false message that the Lord was speaking through him--the tool of deceit masterfully used! The next message delivered said in effect; "Do not let Hezekiah deceive you!" (v. 29) How confusing this must have been to the people! Who was telling the truth anyway? It is the same question that many hearers of false prophets and teachers must ask themselves in our day when bombarded with conflicting spiritual messages. Even God's people can be perplexed if not grounded and rooted in the word of God. But notice the response "...the people held their peace." (v. 36) Amidst all the threats designed to instill fear and dread in the hearts of God's people, they did not falter nor did they debate the issue, but stood firm in what they knew to be right. In time, the true picture emerged as Sennacherib blatantly defied the Lord (2 Kings 19:10) Victory came to Hezekiah as he trusted the Lord who sent His angel to slay 185,000 Assyrians in a single night.Yes, the devil has many tactics at his disposal and many tools in his arsenal that he is able to wield effectively. The "depths" (Rev. 2:24) of his strategies and the ability that he possesses to frustrate the purposes of God are indeed astounding. But the child of God is not without a defense in the Lord. Through His Word which is the sword of the Spirit we have the means by which we are able to recognize and resist his devices. How important then, do we need to heed the words of the Lord Jesus when he said: "And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!" (Mark 13:37)