How to Avoid an Ambush

Teach me your way, O LORD; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Ps 27:11

Last night I watched on national TV, with millions of other viewers, the horrible aftermath of a man who was ambushed.  He appeared to have possessed everything life in America could offer. The governor of a state, national prominence, mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, a lovely wife and four young boys, money, power, fame, living the American dream.  But, there he stood, trying to explain why he betrayed the trust of his wife, his family, his state and his own integrity. The scene was sad, embarrassing, shocking, and tragic. Deluded by months of lies and deep betrayal, he rambled on and on, one moment taking responsibility for his behavior, the next moment exhibiting self-pity.

I write this not to “pile on” to this man who is obviously in deep trouble. I write to remind us all of the terrible enemy we face and his subtle schemes devised to surprise, capture and destroy the souls of men and women. This man did not wake up one day and say, “I think I will give up all of these things for an illicit love affair.” No, it happened over time, as he was led down a path that looked safe and exciting and oh so rewarding. Then, one day he found himself surrounded. He was trapped. He was controlled by desire that would destroy his integrity and give great pain to the innocent. He couldn’t get out. What we saw yesterday was the tragic results of being ambushed by an adversary who is evil, devious and totally committed to the destruction of the souls of men. We are all vulnerable to his attack. There is only one way we can survive the devil’s treachery: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. [Ps 119:11]         

Ambushes have always been one of the most effective tactics of war. They have literally changed the course of history. One example is the battle that took place at the Teutoburg Forest. It was between the Germanic forces of Arminius and the Romans. The Germanic forces executed a perfect ambush against the famed Roman elite. They took cover in a forested terrain and using the element of surprise, they sprung their attack when the Romans were most vulnerable- after they had left their fortified camp and were marching in a heavy rainstorm. They attacked quickly, using a massive series of short, rapid, vicious charges along the whole length of the Roman line. The ambush resulted in the slaughter of three Roman legions and the end to Roman expansion, establishing the Rhine River as the boundary of the Roman Empire for the next four hundred years.     

An army training manual gives this simple but profound counsel: “The best way to survive an ambush is not to encounter them." It goes on to describe how this would happen.
Patrol movement mustn't be predictable in timing or route, and should avoid the most obvious routes. Rather than moving at a constant speed and direction, the patrol should vary these, with occasional stops to observe both the route ahead, and changes behind. Units should move in such a way that they are close enough together for mutual support, but far enough apart so that one burst of automatic fire wouldn't take out the entire unit. When on foot, if possible, the patrol should move in such a way as to maximize their firepower; for example, with the arrowhead and spearhead formation, they should not allow themselves to be skylined. Units on foot should have a point man some way ahead of the main body, and, if possible, a rearguard as well.”

The whole point of this instruction is to tell the soldier to expect the unexpected. Preparation is everything. The battle is real. The enemy is clever. The weapons kill. Lives are destroyed. If the soldier is not equipped with a wise strategy, he will be ambushed.
The psalmist was a soldier like us. The bad news was that evil men were advancing against him to “devour his flesh.” [1-2] It is possible that their numbers were so great that they had him surrounded. [3] At any moment, all hell might break out against him [3]. The good news was that the Lord was his light and his salvation [1], the Lord was the stronghold of his life [1]. He was safe under the protection of the Lord, the Supreme Commander of the hosts of heaven who has at his disposal all of the “firepower” of the universe.    

However, the nature of the war demanded that he go out on patrol. God’s army is not to hold up in a fortress, but are to go out to “seek and destroy” enemy forces. My son Chad is now in training as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marines. If you are a Marine, you don’t put in for a “cushy” deployment. Marines go to where the battle rages. Yesterday he called me on Father’s Day. He told me that last week his platoon went out on maneuvers. Their first orders were to go on a night patrol in search of “enemy forces.” Chad was at the point, so it was his job to lead the platoon and to be ready at any moment to react to any hostile forces that might lay in ambush of the patrol. He is not playing soldier. In a matter of months he will be facing real enemies, shooting real bullets, alert to real ambushes.  

We are in a similar battle with spiritual forces of evil. They hate God and his army. They are led by a wily veteran of spiritual warfare who seeks to deceive and kill God’s people. Peter described him as “a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” [1 Peter 5:8] Don’t misunderstand, he doesn’t roar until after he has caught his prey. He lies in the brush, silently strategizing and scheming how he can deceive and ambush the passing, unsuspecting soldier. That is why Peter tells us that we must be “self-controlled and alert.” We never know when or from where he will launch his next attack.   

And, that is why the palmist prays to the Lord, “Teach me your way, O LORD; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. [Ps 27:11] He is much wiser than most of us. Few of us think in terms of warfare or oppressors. Oh, we have our frustrations when our wishes and desires don’t come through, but we seldom look at life as a constant battle between a scheming devil and a reigning Lord. Consequently, we are undisciplined and unprepared soldiers, easy marks and vulnerable to ambush.

The psalmist asks for two things: 1] To be trained in the way of godly warfare; and 2] to be led in places not given to ambush.

First, The most important thing we must learn is the way of the Lord. We must be trained in the tactics of God. When you know someone is going to be shooting at you in a matter of months, it makes a difference in how you train. A U S Army officer stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, told of the different responses of his artillery students in two different eras. In 1958-1960, the attitude was so lax that the instructors had a hard time keeping the students awake. During the 1965-67 classes, however, the men, hearing the same basic lectures, were alert and took copious notes. The reason: these men knew that in less than six weeks they would be facing the enemy in Vietnam.

The psalmist actually prays that God will take the point, that he will lead him to victory. Those who follow God’s way win. Righteousness and godliness fulfills God’s purpose for his people and brings them safely home to glory. Our great enemy is sin. Our war manual is the Bible. Everything depends upon preparation and training. We must become experts in the use of our primary weapon. It is like a Marine’s rifle. It is his closest friend. He eats with it, sleeps with it and fights with it. It is protected, inspected and tested. In times of battle, it is the one weapon that will silence the fiery missiles of the enemy. God’s truth enables us to uncover and blast the enemy’s position.

Second, we need to be schooled in the tactics of the enemy. That is why the psalmist prays that God will lead him in “straight paths.” That word comes from the Hebrew miyshowr, which means a plain or flat area. He is actually praying that the Lord would lead away from the narrow, forested, rough terrain that lends itself to ambushes. The enemy does not fight fair, if you haven’t noticed. He seldom announces his next attack. He lies in wait looking for an opportunity to catch us vulnerable and unprepared. So, the psalmist prays that on one hand, he will be kept from deliberately entering into areas that will subject him to surprise attack; on the other hand; he prays for wisdom and insight to anticipate and avoid the ambushes that lie ahead.  

Like the psalmist, like the governor, we have an evil adversary who seeks to devour our soul. He will not roar until after he has us in his mouth. We heard him roar on national TV yesterday. The good news is that this tragedy, like all sin, can be reversed. What is impossible with man is possible with God. By God's grace, this man can be forgiven, restored and reconciled. The scars and the consequences of his sin will go on. But, the mercy of God and his grace are infinitely more powerful than the destructiveness of sin. We need to pray for this family.   

This a warning for all who love Jesus. It reminds us that we could be caught in a similar tragedy if we don't adopt this strategy: “The best way to survive an ambush is not to encounter them.” We must be very careful in choosing the paths we take. We must avoid the dangerous and narrow passages that lead to temptation, if we can. When we can’t, we must have a strategy. We must vary our speed, taking occasional stops to observe the road ahead and the changes behind. We must align ourselves with fellow soldiers for mutual support. We must plan our advance to maximize our firepower. We must be self-controlled and alert to every movement in the bush. Surprise is the enemy’s favorite tactic.

That is why we must follow the orders that come down from, our Point Man, Jesus Christ. He is the seasoned veteran. He has never been defeated. His Word will show us the paths that will keep us safe. We are called to do battle. We know what to do. And, when surrounded, we can get on the walkie talkie and call for help. Reinforcements are on the way. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me." [Ps 50:15] 

Churchill once said something like this: “There is nothing more exhilarating than being shot at and missed.” When France fell to the Germans and the British were left alone to fight, many of his cabinet felt great gloom and dread. Walking into the war room and seeing the faces of his colleagues, he said, “Gentlemen, I find this rather inspiring.” We are also engaged in a great battle, and at times it looks like the enemy is winning. But, like Churchill, we are not going to be intimidated or back off. Our Point Man has never lost a battle. So, let us train ourselves in his ways and be wise to the enemy’s traps. One man has fallen, but, it is not the time to withdraw or retreat. We are God's Marines! Let us go out on patrol to expose and dispose of the enemy. In the power of the Spirit and in the wisdom of the Word, let us go to where the battle rages, for the deliverance of those held in bondage and for the glory of our God!

May we finish the fight, wounded, bruised and scarred, but faithful, standing to the end. Then, we will be able to stand with Paul and say, "I have fought the good fight , I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." 2 Tim 4:7