The Feigned Retreat
A feigned retreat is a military tactic in which a force pretends to flee before their opponents. Typically this “show of weakness” before the enemy is executed to draw the opponent into a vulnerable position or into an ambush.
Military commanders have used this tactic throughout history. In the Battle of Lechfeld/Augsburg (AD 910), the Hungarian cavalry repeatedly feigned retreats before the German forces of King Louis the Child. This tactic lured the Germans into their own destruction. According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, the Spartans used a feigned retreat to defeat a force of Persian Immortals at Thermopylae in 480 BC.
More than 700 years earlier, God instructed Joshua to use this tactic in the second battle against the city of Ai (Joshua 8:3-17). With two reserve forces lying in wait, Joshua led his main force up to the walls of the city. But when the army of Ai responded to their attack, Joshua fled, as if he and his soldiers were panicking. This succeeded in drawing out the entire enemy force from the city, which one of Joshua’s reserve forces attacked and burned to the ground. Then the pursuing force, now far from their stronghold, was attacked by both Joshua’s second reserve force and his main force. Joshua’s feigned retreat proved very effective. It’s for a good reason that Sun Tzu, in his treatise The Art of War, warns prospective combatants, “Do not pursue an enemy who simulates flight.”
Why do I mention this bit of military lore? While reading through the story of the Exodus of Israel it appears as if God Himself employs this “show of weakness” before Pharaoh. And it succeeded in drawing Pharaoh into a clash that demonstrated God’s power and glory to Israel, Egypt, and all the world.
God made this “show of weakness” before Pharaoh on at least two occasions. The first took place on Moses and Aaron’s first encounter with Pharaoh.
Now God had previously explained to Moses that Pharaoh would not let the Israelite slaves go unless forced to do so (Exodus 3:19). So Moses should have expected resistance. But he didn’t expect his first meeting with Pharaoh to be an unmitigated disaster, yet that’s what happened. Moses meekly asked Pharaoh to let Israel to travel three days into the desert to celebrate a feast to their God. In response Pharaoh showed utter contempt for Moses and his God. He flatly refused and punished Israel by adding to their labors. This destroyed Israel’s confidence in Moses and made the prophet question God’s wisdom in sending him on this mission (Exodus 5:1-23).
But it was all part of God’s tactic to lead Pharaoh into believing God was a “pushover” and embolden him into resisting God to his own humiliation and defeat. And sure enough, Pharaoh kept resisting God and got hammered with one plague after another.
The second time God feigned weakness before Pharaoh was after Israel departed Egypt. In Exodus 14:1-4, God commanded Moses to lead Israel around in circles. Why? It was to make Pharaoh think, “They are wandering aimlessly; the wilderness has hemmed them in.” It was another “show of weakness” – to make Israel look like an easy kill before the predator Pharaoh. And Pharaoh took the bait and pursued Israel right into the Red Sea – to his own destruction (Exodus 14:5-31).
Does God ever feign retreat in the conflict that surrounds us? Does He ever make a “show of weakness before Satan and the enemies of the Gospel, only to score a strategic victory in the process? Of course – didn’t this happen at our Lord’s Crucifixion? Yes. “He was crucified in weakness” so that God might demonstrate His omnipotent power in accomplishing our redemption (2 Corinthians 13:4). And God executes “feigned retreats” all the time in our lives to win victories for us.
One dramatic example occurred on September 15, 1999 when a gunman entered the Wedgwood Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and opened fire on the worshippers. By the time shooting stopped, eight people were dead (including the gunman) and seven were wounded.
But far from being a tragic defeat for the church, the deaths of these Christian believers led to tremendous opportunities for the Gospel.
The pastor, Rev. Al Meredith, was invited to Larry King Live and was able to make a beautiful presentation of the Gospel. CNN also broadcast the memorial service live. One of the victim’s families lives and works in Saudi Arabia. On this person’s behalf, Saudi Arabia, which outlaws even the public mention of Jesus’ name, allowed the live memorial service to be broadcast. This constituted the first televised broadcast of the Gospel in that country.
CNN also broadcast the service in Japan, a country that is hardened toward the Gospel, and thirty-five people emailed Wedgwood Baptist indicating that they had accepted Jesus Christ. In the wake of the seven deaths, more than 150 students at local schools made public confessions of Christ and hundreds of others heard the Gospel from teachers who found a new freedom to share their faith. Wedgwood Baptist’s own webpage received more than 70,000 visits and which displayed a powerful presentation of the Gospel. From the televised and radio broadcasts, an estimated 200 million persons heard the Gospel and Christian testimonies as a result of this “defeat turned to victory.”
Yes, in all those defeats, humiliations, tragedies, and retreats God is orchestrating a consummate victory. Perhaps He’s luring hell’s hordes to their own destruction. Maybe He’s also softening hardened hearts. Possibly God is allowing some initial grief and sorrow to enter our lives. But at the expense of our pain, He will achieve great gain for Christ’s eternal Kingdom.
So, let’s never become discouraged in this tumultuous process. Our part is to view those defeats and retreats through the eyes of faith and to trust the Almighty to win the ultimate victory.
PRAYER: Dear Father in heaven, please open my eyes to see what You are doing behind the scenes and through life’s chaotic events – to establish Your justice among nations and Your reign upon the earth. When I fail to understand Your ways, please help me to walk by faith and trust in Your power, wisdom, and love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
(Information from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feigned_retreat; J. John and Mark Stibbe, A Box of Delights, 2001)