My Josiah, who loves military history and strategy, tells me that there was a battle during Genghis Kahn’s wars where he sent his men against a larger enemy force, then feigned a 5 day retreat. This feint retreat led the enemy straight into a storm of arrows, wiping them out.
Muhammad Ali’s famous “rope-a-dope” strategy against his powerful opponent George Foreman in 1974 was a brilliant implementation of such a method. Ali, unable to prevail over Foreman by normal means, taunted Foreman into hammering him with a barrage of blows as Ali leaned back on the rope. After Foreman exhausted himself, Ali dropped him.
Israel used a similar strategy in their second battle with Ai (Josh. 8). The fleeing Israelites drew out the overconfident men of Ai, leading to their defeat. (If I had Phil or Frank’s mad Photoshop skilz, this would be the place for a Pyrotized variation of this image.)
God Himself executes some strategic feint retreats, to disastrous effect. If one skips ahead to the book of Revelation, with all the outward and final outpouring of God’s wrath and His hammering of the earth and the world, one observes another mighty feint retreat. God allows His two mighty prophets, after a ministry of withering blasts of miraculous power, to be overcome, conquered and slain (Rev. 11). Yet even then, God has the final word, resurrecting them and bringing them up — an ominous reminder to the world of the utter futility of its long war against God.
But of course the greatest feint retreat in all of history, so to speak, will be marked this Friday, in the death of Christ on the Cross. When Christ the mighty Maker died for man the creature’s sin, we saw the “weakness” of God (2 Cor. 13:4). For all outward signs and appearances, it seemed that the very worst of mankind, and the very worst of the dark forces, had finally won. God was killed. They were celebrating.
And yet, in that apparent defeat, the decisive battle was fought and won (Jn. 12:31). It was a feint retreat. The victory it accomplished was literally devastating to the opposition. That tilted the world, for all time. They’ve never been the same, and their eventual doom, by that very feint retreat, is sealed.
It should not surprise us then to see that the history of Christ’s church is marked by many setbacks, some indeed coming before brilliant flashes of Gospel power.
Nor should it surprise us that God’s battle strategy for our own lives may involve many apparent defeats, many setbacks, many feint retreats.
But we should never forget: the outcome is absolutely certain (Rom. 8:18-39).
All because of God’s grand feint retreat at Calvary.
That’s a good sermon illustration for Christ’s work on the Cross and His works against Satan.