Tag Archives: Warfare

The Improbable Actually Happens

[The Assyrians] shouted it with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten and terrify them, in order that they might take the city.
2 Chronicles 32:18 (NRSVCE)

It’s such an improbable moment. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, and your team trailing by three runs. The grand slam to win the game. It actually happened on Sunday night when a Chicago Cub rookie named David Bote actually pulled off the improbable home run that every kid dreams about on the sandlot.

Sometimes the improbable happens. Jesus, who pulled off all sorts of improbable feats, reminded His followers that with God nothing is impossible, no matter how improbable.

Today’s chapter records one of the most improbable events in history. The Chronicler provides a condensed description of the events, which were more thoroughly told by the scribes who wrote the book of 2 Kings and by the prophet Isaiah.

The Assyrians of the ancient world were really bad dudes. They had taken warfare to a whole new level and made themselves fabulously powerful and wealthy by raiding, plundering, and decimating other nations. They were the first to use siege engines and had a corp of engineers who found all sorts of ingenious ways of breaching the walls of the cities they attacked.

The weapon the Assyrians used most effectively, however, was fear. They were heinously brutal in their treatment of conquered. They impaled people on spikes, skinned people alive, dismembered people, and burned others alive. The Assyrians discovered that the more brutal they were, the more fear they spread into the next cities on their campaign and the more fearful people were, the easier it was to defeat them.

In today’s chapter the Chronicler records another tactic the Assyrians used. They had a master manipulator who would stand outside the city walls and talk smack to the people inside in their own language, psychologically wearing them down with fear and intimidation. The Assyrian envoy loudly mocks King Hezekiah, mocks the Judeans, and mocks God.

Hezekiah stands firm. He reminds his people, “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him; for there is one greater with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.”

The defeat of the Assyrians is an improbability bordering on impossibility. Jerusalem didn’t have the defenses to withstand a siege. The Assyrians were on a roll. They were better equipped, more experienced at war, and had everything in their favor. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs, and King Hezekiah is down to his last strike.

And then the improbable happened. The entire Assyrian army encamped around Jerusalem dies overnight. Historians to this day argue about what happened to the Assyrian army, but the improbable actually happened. Jerusalem was spared by the most improbable of events.

This morning I’m thinking about discouragement and fear. It’s so easy to get down and discouraged. I find myself bombarded in news media and social media with messages telling me to be afraid of everything. Everything is so bleak. There is so much to worry about. Things are so terrible, so awful,  and so hopeless. Ugh.

Today I’m encouraged by a grand slam and a historical event.

The improbable happens.

Siege and Parley

But the [Assyrian] commander replied, “Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the people sitting on the wall—who, like you, will have to eat their own excrement and drink their own urine?
Isaiah 36:12 (NIV)

It was a day of doom. The walled city of Jerusalem was under siege just as everyone had feared; The city was surrounded by the Assyrian army. The Assyrian army of which so many rumors had been whispered. The large army, well-trained and well-equipped that had swept through the region swallowing up every city in its wake. The army that tortured their enemies mercilessly. The army thirsty for blood. The army bent on violent destruction.

In today’s chapter we have front row seats in witness of what historians call siege warfare. For many centuries of history cities were surrounded by walls to protect the residents from invading armies. In order to conquer a city, armies would lay siege to it. Besieging armies would completely surround a city to cut off the inhabitants from food, fresh water, and supplies. They would then wait (sometimes years) until the people of the town were starving, weak, despondent and desperate.

In siege warfare it was common for envoys of the besieged city and a commander of the besieging army to have a series of an ancient version of a diplomatic meeting, called a parley. The city’s envoy(s) would do their best to display confidence that the city would not fall. The besieging army’s commander would do his best try to play psychological games with threats, intimidation, and insults.

Shakespeare, in Henry V, dramatically stages one of the best examples of a parley as, between attacks, King Henry of the invading English army parleys with the mayor of  the besieged French town of Harfleur …

The field commander of the Assyrians in Isaiah’s recounting uses the same classic parley tactics in taunting the envoys of Jerusalem’s King Hezekiah. He insults them and threatens them. He threatens their God, and tries to instill fear in the common soldiers on the wall. It’s a fascinating exercise to deconstruct the envoys speech and discover all of the psychological tactics he employed in his two speeches.

This morning I’m thinking about the ways these very base tactics are still employed. From trash talking on the athletic field to advanced siege and interrogation techniques of the modern battlefield  in which subjects are bombarded with negative audio stimulation while not being allowed to sleep or rest.

This isn’t very different than the way our spiritual enemy continues to attack on an on-going basis. Spiritual attack is an attempt to lay siege to heart and soul. The enemy attempts to isolate me from any network of support, surround me so as to feel there is no escape, then bombard me with an steady attack of messages designed to heighten my shame, shake my faith, cast doubt, and instill fear.

I am reminded this morning that, along life’s journey, I’m going to be spiritually besieged. Recognizing the enemies tactics is the first step in thwarting them. Once recognized for what it is, sometimes the best response (just like Hezekiah’s envoys employed in today’s chapter) is silent assurance.

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Featured image by MKorchia via Flickr

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 36

Under seige. The three men were silent. They said nothing, for the king had already commanded, "Don't answer him." Isaiah 36:21 (MSG)

It was common in Isaiah's day for conquering armies to send a "mouthpiece" to brag, boast and tear down the confidence of the beseiged city's people. It was a form of psychological warfare. If the city was scared enough, they might surrender and everyone would be delivered from bloodshed, starvation, and, potentially, years of tedious stand-off.  Armies would hurl insults and paint gruesome word pictures to try and convince the citizens of the town to surrender. Isaiah 36 is a great historical record of what this sounded like. We see this same tactic used through recorded history. Shakespeare's King Henry V did a little trash talking of his own outside the city gates of Harfleur:

If not, why, in a moment look to see
The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand
Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters;
Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dash'd to the walls,
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
At Herod's bloody-hunting slaughtermen.
What say you? will you yield, and this avoid,
Or, guilty in defence, be thus destroy'd?

Henry V Act 3 scene III

Today, these same tactics are used through television, radio, and the internet to lay seige to ideas, faith, and world-views. There is a time and place for reasoned conversation and response. I am reminded today by King Hezekiah's command to his advisors that sometimes the best response is to say nothing and let God have the last word.

God's Message says that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. Wisdom is often required to know which time you are in at any given moment. God, help me to know today when to speak, and when to be silent.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and mharrsch

Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 18

Then he stepped forward and spoke in Hebrew loud enough for everyone to hear, "Listen carefully to the words of The Great King, the king of Assyria: Don't let Hezekiah fool you; he can't save you. And don't let Hezekiah give you that line about trusting in God, telling you, 'God will save us—this city will never be abandoned to the king of Assyria.' Don't listen to Hezekiah—he doesn't know what he's talking about. 2 Kings 18:28-31a (MSG)

Taking a step back and looking at today's chapter and you find a great example of the ancient art of seige warfare. Seige warefare has been a lucrative enterprise throughout history and the Assyrians would have easily made the all-star team. It's bullying and extortion on a national level. You simply amass a large army, surround a weak city, and then demand a huge sum of money to back down. If the city refuses, you destroy it mercilessly (the Assyrians were known to hack the limbs off their victims and leave piles of disembodied arms and legs outside the city gate as a calling card). If the city was too big or well fortified, you simply waited and let the inhabitants of the city slowly starve to death and implode because you've cut off their supply lines. Of course, you make sure a few survivors make it out and escape to nearby towns so that the news of your terror psychologically begins to intimidate the next city on your list.

Part of successful seige warfare was the application of psychological pressure by continually taunting the surrounded city. It was the ancient form of talking smack that you still see on the football field or basketball court. If you can get inside your opponent's head, you have the edge.

I believe we all have experienced, even to a minimal degree, a feeling of being beseiged. It could be bullying on the playground, being the victim of the neighborhood gang, or being singled out and verbally beat down by a parent, teaching, coach or authority figure. I think that our spiritual enemy uses the same tactics: surround, cut off, harass, intimidate, and get inside the head.

The answer to a seige is perseverance, strong will, and a Deliverer.