In the book of Isaiah, chapter 36, there is an interesting piece of narrative that tells of the invading armies of Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, encamping against Jerusalem. Sennacherib sends his high-ranking military office, the Rabshakeh, to lead a massive army, most likely numbering around 200,000, against the nation of Judah. So far, the Rabshakeh has conquered every fortified city in Judah, till there is only Jerusalem left. King Hezekiah has sat in Jerusalem and helplessly watched his entire nation be slowly consumed by this Assyrian tidal wave, knowing that this terrifying force will soon be on his own doorstep. Then, with a deadly swagger, the Rabshakeh approaches the walls of Jerusalem.
With a loud voice, the Rabshakeh booms his intimidating threats to the guards on the wall, bragging of how easily they swept over every other Jewish city that stood in their way. He mocks them, saying he would give them two-thousand horses for battle, if they even had enough soldiers to fill them. He scorns their past reliance on the broken nation of Egypt, laughing at their feeble attempts to dissuade the Assyrian force with such pithy numbers. Then, finally, he mocks their reliance on their God, bringing up past idolatrous sins as a reason why God would forsake them, and he shows that all the other gods of nations they have already conquered did nothing to stop them, and finally he claims that it was their God, Yahweh Himself who told the Rabshekah to come and take the city.
Eventually, the officials on the wall beg the Rabshekah to only speak to them in Aramaic, so that the rest of the soldiers on the wall don’t understand what he is saying. But this only eggs him on, and he speaks louder, with more pomp and fear-mongering, promising that the city will ultimately be decimated, and promises rich rewards (that are eerily similar to God’s promises) for anyone who simply lays down their arms and comes and joins them.
Could you imagine? The Assyrian armies prized themselves on their brutality and vicious war tactics, especially when conquering a whole city, and they would often speak of their armies like their men were immortal. Picture yourself as one of the soldiers on the wall, or a mother in the city, or a wife of one of the soldiers. You know that this army has destroyed every nation and city that it has set out to destroy, which makes the rumor that they are actually immortal almost believable. They have surrounded the city, there is no chance for you, or your family to escape, and even if they don’t break down the walls, they can simply wait you out till you starve to death (36:12). And if they do break down the walls, they most likely will kill all of the men, rape all of the women, and then enslave everyone else and deport them away. No matter how you look at it, you and all of your family, friends and fellow countrymen are doomed. All of the fear and intimidation culminates to wanting so desperately to believe that their offer of joining them and being rewarded is true, even if you know that it most likely isn’t.
And that is precisely what the Rabshakeh is hoping to do. And it is also exactly what the ultimate enemy, Satan, wants to do us, today. Let’s look closely at the Rabshakeh’s tactics:
- Speak of defeat as a certainty, and makes victory sound ridiculous
- Inflates his own volume of past victories to make him sound invincible
- Twist God’s word to make it sound like God is endorsing what he is doing
- Use shame of past sin to control God’s people
- Use fear of future pain to control God’s people
- Tempt God’s people with rewards that sound similar to God’s promises
Christian brothers and sisters, let’s not be naive of the enemy’s schemes (Eph. 6:11). The Rabshekah in this story is miniature version of the temptation that you and I face every day. Every day, the enemy approaches the walls of our hearts and trumpets his temptations, boasts, and threats. Satan will use a myriad of different tactics to challenge, intimidate, control and manipulate us. But, as Jesus rightly points out, Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), so when we are fighting with him, we are fighting to believe what is actually true:
- When you strive after godliness, he will throw past sin in your face in hopes to discourage you. Resist him, Christ speaks a truer word of your past (Rom. 8:1-4).
- When you want to obey, even if it may cost you, he will terrify you with fear of consequences and uncertainty to try and paralyze you. Resist him, Christ holds your future and has called you to follow him; you can trust Him (Matt. 6:33-34).
- When you feel exhausted and weary, he will tempt you into believing turning to sin is better than trusting God. Resist him, his promises of joy are hollow and Christ’s are full (Eph. 4:22, Gal. 6:9, Psalm 16:11).
- When you feel tempted to sin, he will try and make it sound like it is pointless to resist. Resist him, no temptation is so strong that it cannot be resisted – you do not have to sin (1 Cor. 10:13).
- When you are trying to repent of sin, he will challenge you to think what is “sin” isn’t actually a sin. Resist him, submission to God’s holiness leads to life, while submission to sin leads to death; sin is sin, no matter what (Rom. 6:20-23).
We will look closer at the outcome of this story later, but now let us hold fast while enduring temptation, because here is the truth: the enemy has been defeated. When Christ rose from the grave he broke the powers the enemy, robbing him of any claim that he had on us. So now, we really are free and are not slaves, no matter how invincible the enemy tries to make himself sound.