Extra / World News

Mpeketoni, security and spiritual warfare

image: BBC

The attack last night at Mpeketoni (AFP, BBC) has taken the (in)security issues in Kenya to a new level. While details are still sketchy and it is unwise to speculate on motivations, BBC reports a local journalist confirming that this is a largely Christian town and all fingers are pointing at Al-Shabab as the attackers.

How to react to such an attack? Certainly an outpouring of grief and of compassion for those who have been bereaved or wounded. Understandably anger, fear and confusion. Three other common responses to such attacks have been:

  1. Fierce criticism of our leaders – some democratic feedback may be due but (I ask these things of myself) (a) are we doing it with humility and respect (Rom. 13:7), (b) are we first of all praying for our leaders in their incredibly difficult jobs (1 Tim. 2:1-2), and (c) are we placing messianic expectations on our human leaders?
  2. Calls to increase the presence of security forces – which may indeed be necessary – the state does bear the sword and should use it to punish evil (Rom. 13:4); good intelligence-led policing can make (and has made) a big difference; but there is a limit to the security even the best army can provide. Is it possible to guard every church, school and bus in this country? You can have a curfew, a state of emergency, maximum police and army presence and the determined Jihadist will be able to get something through.
  3. Spiritual warfare – by which is often meant offensive and defensive prayer, hedging believers with walls of fire and binding demonic forces, praying frustration and confusion on enemies, even calling down brimstone. But (a) remember the Sons of Thunder (Luke 9:54-55) and (b) question, is this the biblical emphasis or actually something more like the faith of those who attacked Mpeketoni?

For a church under attack 2 Kings 6:8-23 is a great passage. It doesn’t get much worse than this:

“behold, an army with horses and chariots was all round the city.” (v15)

But 2 Kings 6 brings us some deep truths about the living God and points us to another way to respond to attack.


It’s a chapter all about seeing…

  1. See the knowledge of God (v8-14) – Here is an all-seeing God. No terrorist attack takes him by surprise. He knows every plan being whispered in a bunker deep in Somalia or Yemen. In contrast to sovereign omniscience, the sovereign of Syria is a ridiculous picture of foolishness and blindness. You can hear the laughter of heaven as the king demands to know the double agent (v11), is told that his bedroom talk might as well be broadcast on Al Jazeera (v12), and bizarrely sends forces to capture the one who knows all his plans – and to arrest him for that very reason (v13)!! His foolishness is that he thinks that Yahweh is a limited, weak god like the gods he knows. “Sure, he knows a lot but maybe this time I can outwit him.” Do we sometimes slip into Syrian theology? Do we really believe God knows absolutely everything? And the king of Israel is also foolish in a more subtle way. If you look at the surrounding chapters (if it’s the same king) he’s not a great example of godliness but here he is receiving the undeserved blessing of early warnings of enemy attack (v9). He’s not convinced of God’s Word until he checks it out himself but at least he does heed it and is saved (v10). The great sadness and irony is that, while he is very happy to have early warnings of physical threats in the very near future, he is at the same time, like almost all the kings of Israel, ignoring the threats of God’s judgment on the idolatry and violence of his kingdom (e.g. Deut. 28:15-68; 1 Kings 14:15-16; 2 Chron. 21:12-15). Which are we more keen to hear and heed, a contemporary prophetic early warning of a terrorist attack or the longer term warnings from the Scriptures of eternal judgement?
  2. See the power of God (v15-17) – Here is a passage often turned to in relation to spiritual warfare. But what exactly happens here? There is Word (v16) and Prayer (v17). What the trembling servant needs first is the Word of God – the assurance from God’s mouth (Elisha is God’s mouth to him as the Scriptures are for us today) that, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave himself up for us all” (Rom. 8:31-32). The besieged church needs the Word of God preached – that’s where we find comfort, courage, Christ. And the besieged church also needs Prayer (v17). But what sort of prayer? For fire to fall on our enemies? Verse 17: “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” We pray for open eyes to see the reality of the Word that has just been preached – the word that those who are with us are more than those who are with them, that if God is for us, who can be against us. Turn to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – another classic place to turn when we’re thinking about spiritual warfare – and what do we find in his model Spirit-filled prayers? “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Eph. 1:18-19). And similarly in chapter 3 Paul prays that the Ephesians would grasp, know, see, experience the love of Christ that has been preached to them. That they would see what they already have in Christ. What our country needs, surely, is not just prayer against demonic strongholds but prayer that God’s Word about Christ would be preached boldly (Eph. 6:18-19) and that God would simultaneously, mercifully, miraculously be opening eyes to see the reality of those things.
  3. See the grace of God (v18-23) – What a fantastic twist to the story? What a massive surprise? We expect the fiery horses and chariots of the Lord of Hosts to descend on the Syrian army and burn them up. But that doesn’t happen. Interestingly the Greater Elisha didn’t call down the angelic defence force when he was under attack either (Matt. 26:53). Instead the enemy army is blinded (they’re spiritually blind already) and led like sheep (again there is laughter in heaven) into the capital city of their enemy, the ‘lions’ den’ and then (massive surprise) they’re not devoured but fed (v22)!  In fact they get “a great feast” (v23). What a fantastic picture of sovereign grace, of how we have experienced grace? Did the soldiers make a decision to come to the banquet? No they were chosen, drawn, led there like dumb animals. They were enemies (and we were all born enemies of God) taken captive by the Lord. They were blind people whose eyes were opened (v20). It’s pure grace and they go away changed, humbled (v23). The enemies of God’s people are defeated by grace. Won by grace. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons [i.e. like] your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:44). He then does that very thing on the Cross and his executioner is won – “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matt 27:54). I know a Pakistani man who wandered into a church and heard those verses and realised there was nothing like that in his religion in which you love your brothers but hate your enemies, where you have a God who hates his enemies. He was won and we will feast with him at the banquet table of grace for eternity. I have heard stories of amazing forgiveness and peace coming out of the church in Garissa after the terrible atrocity there. Surely that is the most impressive and powerful spiritual warfare of all.

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