BEHIND ENEMY LINES
COV-19 seems to have brought about more TV time for me. And lately, I’ve been fascinated with historical or dramatized nonfictional movies and of late spy movies such as The Imitation Game and Official Secrets.
But what’s been fascinating is my research and reading about the unsung heroes of my ancestors. And of particular interest have been the stories about the Black Union Intelligence Officers. These spies, recruited by the Union army, were former slaves or servants who escaped from their enslavers, and others were Northerners who volunteered to pose as slaves to spy on the Confederacy. They were among the few black operatives who quietly gathered information in a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game with Confederate spy-catchers and enslavers who could kill them on the spot. These unsung Civil War heroes were often successful, to the chagrin of Confederate leaders who never thought their disregard for blacks living among them would become a major tactical weakness.
Harriet Tubman is the most recognizable of these spies, sneaking down South repeatedly to gather intelligence for the Union army while leading runaway slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad. However, there were others. Take, for example, John Scobell, who was considered just another Mississippi slave: singing, shuffling, illiterate and completely ignorant of the Civil War going on around him. Confederate officers thought nothing of leaving important documents where Scobell could see them or discussing troop movements in front of him. Whom would he tell? Scobell was only the butler, or the deckhand on a rebel sympathizer’s steamboat, or the field hand belting out Negro spirituals in a powerful baritone. He had a few successful missions where he could extract valuable papers from a Union defector. And then there was Mary Elizabeth Bowser, who was born into slavery and then eventually freed and sent to school. Bowser then returned to Richmond, where her former enslaver ran one of the war’s most sophisticated spy rings. Van Lew got Bowser a job inside the Confederate White House as a housekeeper. Bowser then snuck classified information out under Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ nose. It was recorded that Bowser “had a photographic mind. Everything she saw on the Rebel President’s desk she could repeat word for word.”
These spies went behind the enemy line to glean important information, which contributed to the success of winning battles and wars.
Scripture: I Peter 5:8 – Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
If we were to go behind “enemy lines” in the battles of our lives, we’d find that we have a common enemy. The Bible tells us over in I Peter 5:8 that we have an enemy, the devil, who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.
So who exactly is this enemy of ours? Let’s briefly look at the Biblical record regarding this one who prowls like a lion. The Bible reveals that God created all of the angels (Genesis 2:1, Nehemiah 9:6). One high-ranking angel named Lucifer (or day star) sinned against God, rebelled, and was kicked out of heaven, losing his place of heavenly authority, and cast down here to earth (Isaiah 14:12–15; Ezekiel 28:11–17, Revelation 12:9). Before Lucifer’s fall, we read that he had been trained in heaven before the very throne of God. Lucifer was anointed, he was a guardian cherub, he had pipes that were second to none, he walked with God upon the holy mountain, and he walked among the stones of fire, for goodness sake! Satan was blameless (Ezekiel 28:14) until he wasn’t. Iniquity was found in him (Ezekiel 28:15), he became violent, and his most grievous transgression was his desire to be God (Isaiah 14:13-14). Lucifer has waged war against God and God’s people (Ephesians 6:11-12), becoming satan (not a typo, I just can’t give him the satisfaction of a capital S), which means enemy or adversary (Luke 10:18, Revelation 12:9). Satan is out to destroy us with his time-tested game plan to distract, deceive, discourage, and destroy.
Even Paul shared his concern about the enemy and his ploys (2 Corinthians 11:3). And Paul had every right to be concerned because satan’s track record can be traced throughout Biblical history. Convinced half the angels in heaven that they should flee and join his camp (Revelation 12:9). Lied to Eve, causing man’s great downfall (Genesis 3:1-4). Introduced jealousy between Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-8). Cast doubt upon God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 16:1-4). Deceived the Pharisees, causing them to confuse God’s love with a legalistic, burdened-down drudgery of do’s and don’ts (Luke 11:37-44). Caused Peter to deny Christ (Matthew 26:33-35). Caused Thomas to doubt Him (John 20:24-29). Served as the root of Judas’ greed and betrayal (Matthew 27:3-5) and was the source of the hatred behind the stones that killed Steven (Acts 7:54-60).
And the same mastermind of evil is our enemy today. And although different times, he uses the same tactics he’s used throughout the ages — distract, discourage, and deceive, all with the intent of destruction.
“Fight the power.” “Hell no, we won’t go.” “No justice. No peace.” “Freedom now.” “We shall overcome.” Mantras of my people for over 400 years. And for a time, they were my mantras too. I stood in solidarity with my people against police brutality. I wrote about the impact of slavery and racism on our Black men and our families. I analyzed liberation theology and the critical race theory. I researched what a movement back to Africa would entail. I fought to break through “glass ceilings.” I fought to eradicate poverty. I fought to change laws and legislation. I fought the system, the man, and everything and everybody who sought to keep my people down.
My fight was fueled by my quest for justice, my quest to be seen and heard, and my quest to shed my hurt and anger. I was just a swingin’ and swingin’ and swingin’. But after a while, all my swingin’ felt like shadow boxing. I was fighting, but I’d lost sight of who I was fighting and what I was fighting for: “the man” – was this all men, white men, or figuratively all white people? Or was I fighting the “the system” – was I fighting our community and local governments, or was I fighting the federal government? Was I fighting to add more laws and legislation? Or is the fight against the criminal justice system? Or the welfare system? Or am I fighting the nightmare of my history from which I am trying to awake (James Joyce)?
I’ve realized that before we can win the battle against injustice, we must first know ourselves, and that’s what I sought to understand through my study of Africa and the descendants of Africa (Discovering My Biblical African Roots Bible Series). I’ve also come to understand that to engage in combat requires that we know the enemy against whom this battle is waged. Sun Tzu, a Chinese general, military strategist and author of The Art of War, said, “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”
Fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong way leads to a space where the very core of you can no longer breathe. And I, for one, was tired and out of breath. And God, in His infinite wisdom, showed me that perhaps my exhaustion and inability to breathe has more to do with me fighting the wrong enemy than it does with the act of fighting itself.
Some years ago, I participated in group therapy, a retreat of sorts. And one of the activities was designed to help us let go of our anger and ultimately forgive. We were asked to bring a picture of a person or persons who had hurt us. The pictures were tacked to a wall, we were given darts, and we were directed to aim away. And with every dart, my anger, hurt, and pain were unleashed. I began to feel vindicated as the picture of my tormentor became distorted and disfigured as it shred under the blows of my darts. As we sat down with tears running down our faces, the facilitator began removing our shredded pictures until the image that remained was an image of a shredded Jesus. The gasps were audible. I would never, ever have thrown darts at my Jesus! But the facilitator’s point, and a point that would soon come to remember, is that we are all image-bearers (Genesis 1:27). Not just those who do good or live holy, but every man and woman created. So when I fight “man” or “woman,” I’m fighting God’s created and loved.
Please hear me out. Targeting our true enemy does not diminish our hurt, pain, or experiences. Nor does it excuse those who have inflicted our pain. And it doesn’t mean that we stop fighting. But it does help us to understand that our real battle is not with people but against principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness, and the spiritual hosts of wickedness (Ephesians 6:12). According to Priscilla Shirer, “Everything that occurs in the visible, physical world is directly connected to the wrestling match being waged in the invisible, spiritual world. The effects of the war in the unseen world reveal themselves in our strained and damaged relationships, emotional instability, mental fatigue, physical exhaustion and many other areas of life. Many of us feel pinned down by anger, unforgiveness, pride, comparisons, insecurity, discord, fear, etc. But the overarching, primary nemesis behind all these outcomes is the Devil himself.”
When we look at our enemy in non-spiritual terms, we’re most likely to seek non-spiritual solutions to ease our pain or “combat” our enemy. However, when we understand that this battle is much bigger than us and that the mastermind of our oppression, our trials, and our pain is satan, whose primary goal of his kingdom is to stand between our Savior and us and to keep us from glorifying God and fulfilling our purpose. He wants us to forget that we indeed have a Savior, who not only cares about us, but Who is powerful, mighty, and has already defeated our foe (Hebrews 2:14, Romans 16:20).
And not only that, but God has also provided us with the game plan for how we can overcome our enemy. We have not been left defenseless. So be encouraged and give God the glory, knowing that our enemy is an already-defeated foe (Revelation 20:10).
- How does I Peter 5:8 speak to you?
- What battles have you been fighting in your life? How have you been fighting?
- Why is it important to be aware of who the enemy is?
- How does viewing your “enemy” or the one who has hurt you as an image-bearer impact your perspective?
- In what ways do you find yourself engaged in spiritual warfare? Where are some areas where the enemy “attacks” your faith?
- How does knowing that Jesus has already won our war and defeated the enemy change how you approach battles?
- What are your personal LIFE Lessons?
- Liberation: What new insights have you gained that have freed you from past thoughts and practices?
- Inspiration: In what ways have you been spiritually, emotionally and mentally motivated to live for Christ?
- Fortification: What additional scriptural texts, passages, or stories can reinforce and strengthen you against the enemy’s attacks?
- Edification: How might you share your story to edify others and bring glory to God?
As you process, digest, and apply what’s been shared, here are a couple of songs from “My Black Life” Playlist. Listen and let the music infiltrate your soul. Read the lyrics and let the words encourage you. And I pray that you’ll be blessed as I was.
No Hold On Me by Matty Mullins – Matty Mullins – No Hold on Me (Official Lyric Video)
Waging War by CeCe Winans – Cece Winans-Waging War With Lyrics.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You so much for being big enough, powerful enough, and loving enough to handle my pain. I want to lash out, to fight back, to get revenge. I want to fight, and I ask that You help me see things through Your eyes. Help me understand the nature of my true enemy. Help me not be deceived by the devil and to remain vigilant, keeping my eyes on You. I am so grateful, dear Father, that Your Son Jesus Christ triumphed over satan. Now I ask that You help me overcome the enemy through Your power of Your Holy Spirit. I claim that same victory in my life today. Work in my life that there be no ground to give satan a foothold against me. I rebuke all the insinuations, accusations, and temptations of satan in Your name, Jesus. I affirm that Your Word is true, oh God. And today, I choose to live in the light of Your love. In Your most holy name Jesus, I pray, Amen.