The Hell Birds


On Friday, I attended a Bible study led by a friend who comments here from time to time. This friend knows the Scriptures because he dedicates himself not just to reading but to comprehending all their rich meaning.

The text covered Genesis 15. This section caught my attention:

And [the LORD] brought [Abram] outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. And he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
—Genesis 15:5-11

The Holy Spirit spoke to me powerfully while reading this, the kind of kick in the head,  “sit up and pay attention, son” shaking that led me to understand that if no one commented on the part of the passage that drew my attention, then I had to—or else I’d explode. That’s how it felt.

Fortunately, my friend ably covered the topic for me.

In this classic passage that all of us know, God makes a covenant with Abram concerning an heir and the numberless nature of the man’s descendents. Abram believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. So God makes a covenant with Abram, tells him how the necessary covenantal sacrifice must be prepared, and Abram obeys.

Then something happens to the offering:

And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

That passage gripped me.

Here was Abram in the midst of this most important covenant with God. He’d been obedient and done what God asked. He carried out the task of butchering the sacrifice as he’d been told.

'The Crow' by KessiyeAnd the birds of prey descended to snatch away his offering to God, threatening the blessing.

In Leviticus 11:13-19, God pronounces these same birds unclean.  In this passage of Genesis they do not serve the function of God, but they serve another master. They are the hell birds.

In the midst of Abram’s faithful response to God, the hell birds descended to wreak havoc. They smelled the sacrifice from afar and came winging in.

So it is that all of our faithful responses to God’s requirements of us attract the wrong kind of attention. Much truth exists in the old aphorism, “No good deed goes unpunished.” The Enemy opposes by his nature, and so he must oppose the saints when they obey God.

Expect it.

The Enemy will attack any work that advances the cause of God. The Enemy will attack any person who responds to God in obedience. This explains why a child acts up and distracts us at the most inopportune time in the midst of ministry. Why the car won’t start right as we are going to visit prisoners in jail. Why we get sick on the day we are to share our testimony with others. Why people who live simply so they can give their money to the needy end up hit with a massive, unforeseen expense they cannot pay.

I’m old enough to have seen this routinely in my life. I have shared my conclusion on this before, but it bears repeating:

If you are not experiencing active and relentless opposition from the Enemy in your life, you’re probably ineffective for the Kingdom of God. The hell birds don’t come a-swarming without a worthy offering to rend and devour.

Abram chased them away from his offering.

How are we to do the same when faced with the hell birds?

Satan has no authority over the believer. Christians have been rescued from His dominion, translated from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light.

Too many believers let the Enemy rend and savage their offering because they do not stand on the authority granted them at the cross by Christ.

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
—Revelation 12:10-11

Some Christians don’t even try to resist. They perpetually let the hell birds descend and make off with the blessing. Then they fall into a series of excuses, which leads to perpetual defeat.

But Abram chased off the forces of evil that threatened the covenant.

Don’t let the hell birds rob you! Do everything possible to stand on your authority as a believer, as one who is no longer under the thumb of the Enemy. Claim what Christ bought for you. Stand on the Lord’s promises. Fight back. He gave you the weapons:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints….
—Ephesians 6:10-18

I like that last line because it calls each of us into a community where you watch my back and I watch yours. Abram may have had to drive off the hell birds alone, but the Church exists to do so together. Band together, saints! God has given you everything needed to drive off the hell birds. Start doing so!

When Believers Stumble: Underestimating Satan


Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
—1 Peter 5:8 ESV

One of my post from last year that generated considerable buzz in the Godblogosphere was “The Chthonic Unmentionable.” Beyond the unusual word that everyone puzzled over, the gist of the post dealt with the odd lack of discussion of the demonic in many Evangelical circles. Considering Peter’s admonition above—and the prevalence of verses referring to demonic activity in the Scriptures—it’s foolish to be silent on this issue. Yet we play dumb and continue to blame ill on chance/fate, rather than on the Enemy of our souls.

Here’s just a few grenades out of Satan’s arsenal:

  • Causing disease—Job 2:7
  • Counterfeiting miracles—2 Thessalonians 2:9
  • Accusing the Righteous—Zechariah 3:1
  • Snatching away the message of God—Matthew 13:19
  • Tempting men to sin—Ephesians 2:1-2
  • Tormenting the saints—2 Corinthians 12:7
  • Mishandling the word of God—Matthew 4:6
  • Disguising himself as an angel of light—2 Corinthians 11:14
  • Opposing believers—Ephesians 6:12

And the list goes on and on.

One of the sad outcomes of scientific rationalism is that Satan has been transmogrified from a real entity into a myth, a psychological malady, or a pointy-tailed object of mirth. Long before Nietzsche announced the death of God, Satan was well on his way to being mentally expunged from his role as ruler of this world, relegated by sections of American pseudo-Christianity to a box in the far corner of the basement. Keith Green, assuming the voice of the Enemy, once sang:

Still my work goes on and on
Always stronger than before
I’m gonna make it dark before the dawn
Since no one believes in me anymore
Well now I used to have to sneak around
But now they just open their doors
You know, no one watches for my tricks
Since no one believes in me anymore
Well I’m gaining power by the hour
They’re falling by the score
You know, it’s getting very easy now
Since no one believes in me anymore
No one believes in me anymore
No one believes in me anymore

With the inroads that modern psychology made in the 20th century, evil had its persona stripped away. Our culture of victimization effectively eliminated the idea of a personal devil even as we chatted up Jesus as our personal Savior. 21st century devil?The language of psychology routed the hellfire and brimstone language of the 19th century Church and Christians bought the lie. Pay no attention to the devil behind the curtain!

The result is that too many of today’s Christians have a pathetically underdeveloped understanding of the Enemy and the strategies he uses to oppose us.

Now yes, there are some parts of the American Church that have elevated the Enemy to a place of importance he does not deserve. As C.S. Lewis once opined, there are two errors: ignoring the demonic and giving it unnecessary attention. I’ve seen both sides. I once visited a church where people carried around copies of This Present Darkness with their Bibles (no joke) and would try to cast demons out of the metal folding chairs set up for use by congregants for the morning’s church service. Stupidity doesn’t file a flightplan.

Still, for every church that shows an unhealthy obsession with the chthonic, there’s a dozen shrugging it off altogether.

Bitterness has derailed more than one Christian, and when it’s directed at God it’s an especially foul misplacement. Satan long ago threw up his hands and said, “Hey, bub, don’t look at me,” so we did. Instead, we made God the culprit when evil creeps into our lives and the seed of bitterness takes root. We’re told that it’s okay to get mad at God. We forget the words of Jesus:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
—John 10:10 ESV

We need to do a better job in the American Church of understanding the opposition of Satan, ascribing the blame to him rather to God. Yes, we know from the Book of Job that Satan has no ability to afflict apart from the sovereignty of God over the affairs of all men, but this does not change the fact that

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
—1 John 3:8b ESV

We don’t take that verse seriously enough. We talk about many reasons for Christ coming, but in too many sectors of the Church today we tend to focus on rainbows and ponies, love and peace, not on the annihilation of the Enemy’s work.

How many instances of what we see every day played out around us are the result of Satan’s handiwork? I would venture to guess a lot more than we usually care to admit.

We all know about the Full Armor of God in Ephesians 6. But do we really believe there’s an enemy to fight, a real “someone” who wants nothing more to crush us out of the sheer joy of seeing us in pain?

When we hear the lion roaring, what do we tell ourselves that sound is?

When I was a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in the early 1980s, free-standing arcade video games were in their Golden Age. I dropped a lot of quarters into a few of them to pass the time, but I was the undisputed champ at one game in particular, Atari Tempest. (In fact, I ran across the Guinness Book of World Records officially sanctioned top score and I had once easily surpassed that in a five hour marathon playing session in Pittsburgh in 1982, quitting only to save my bladder from bursting. One quarter, five hours of play. But I digress.)

The one thing I’d mastered about that game was the perfect timing of the ultimate panic button, the “Superzapper.” With one button push, a Tempest player could wipe out every enemy on the screen (and a handful with a reduced-power semi-zap later in the same round.) You get in deep doo-doo in that game and the Superzapper becomes your ultimate weapon.

God has equipped us with a series of Superzappers for overcoming Satan that never fizzle out during a round. We have the Full Armor, and we also have the Blood of Christ and the word of our testimonies (Revelation 12:10-11)—they are the ultimate arsenal against the enemy.

The tendency in Tempest was to forget that the Superzapper was available, and I believe that too many of us forget about the weapons God has made available to overcome the Enemy. We fail to discern demonic activity, too, ascribing it to bad luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so on. We should not be surprised, then, when some Christians flail uselessly against problems that have their source in forces of darkness, fighting them with earthly weapons. Too often, we’re prescribing an aspirin for a case of flesh-eating bacteria.

Which of us would want to confront Satan and have him say to us:

Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?
—Acts 19:15b ESV