Facing the ‘Lion’
A terrible scream penetrated the camp. The terrified natives shouted, “‘Beware brothers, the devil is coming!’ But the warning cries would prove of no avail, and sooner or later agonizing shrieks would break the silence, and another man would be missing from roll-call next morning.”1
It was March 1898, and 31-year-old engineering student John Henry Patterson was in Kenya to build a railway bridge over the Tsavo River. Soon after his arrival, two ferocious, man-eating lions began terrorizing him and his workmen. Patterson wrote in his journal, “Nothing flurried or frightened them in the least, and except as food they showed a complete contempt for human beings.”2
So cunning were these beasts that the native workmen came to believe they were really devils in the shape of lions. By the time they were killed, they had devoured about 140 rail workers.
Scripture warns that Satan, like a lion, is also a predator that tirelessly stalks his victims. The apostle Peter, who learned by personal experience what it’s like to be in Satan’s grip, warned, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8; cf. Mt. 16:23).
Overcoming Satan requires daily, moment-by-moment vigilance. A life of faith in Jesus Christ is a life of relentless spiritual conflict. And if you fail to equip yourself, you will reap the consequences. Satan’s goal is to devastate humanity; but even more, to wreck the lives of biblical Christians.
Therefore, Christians must learn and apply three essentials to stand against the Evil One: Every Christian must (1) maintain a firm position in the conflict, (2) apply the proper protection needed for the conflict, and (3) always maintain the right perspective of the conflict.
A Firm Position
The lions of Tsavo were kings in their own land. To them, everyone was fair game. Scripture calls Satan “the ruler of this world” and “the god of this age” (Jn. 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4). Still, his reign is subject to God’s will (Job 1:12). With that in mind, the first lesson in warfare is to learn all you can about your enemy: “Give [no] place to the devil,…lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (Eph. 4:27; 2 Cor. 2:11).
Sadly, many Christians are ignorant, especially in Bible doctrine. Like lions, Satan and his demons prowl for opportunities to spread false teaching. The greatest defense is to study, know, and practice God’s Word daily. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:31–32). Satan is a liar (v. 44). The key is to measure all things by the Word of God.
It was an awful sight to find the gruesome remains of a workman who had been seized by the Tsavo lions. Patterson vowed to rid the area of them and finish his bridge. Christians must make the same resolution to stand firm against Satan. First, make certain in your heart that the Lord Jesus Christ truly is your personal Savior (3:16). Confess all known sin (1 Jn. 1:9). Be willing, with God’s help, to forsake the habitual practice of all known sin (Prov. 28:13). And finally, surrender your life and all you have to God: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).
The Proper Protection
John Patterson hunted the lions using an English bolt-action .303 caliber rifle and 12-bore (gauge) shotgun. He had them in his sights many times, even striking them on occasion. Still they lived on. In desperation, he knew he had to marshal all his gun training and skill to kill them.
We, too, must use specific weapons against Satan. Though different, they require practice and skill to be used competently.
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds (2 Cor. 10:3–4).
Our war gear is found in Ephesians 6:11–18. The imagery is of the tough Roman soldier. To stand against the Evil One, Christians must, without dispute, put on “the whole armor of God” (v. 11).
Belt. The first line of defense is “truth” (v. 14). The term means to have a mind free from pretense and falsehood. Satan depends on lies and deceit. Putting on the “belt of truth” is strong protection against hypocrisy.
Breastplate. A Roman soldier wore a breastplate to protect his heart and vital organs. A Christian is to wear the “breastplate of righteousness.” Satan is an accuser, constantly pointing out the unworthiness of Christ’s followers (Rev. 12:10). This tactic could be extremely discouraging.
But Christ dealt with the charges against us by imparting His righteousness to us: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). So there is no need to agonize: “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (1 Jn. 3:20).
By allowing God to conform us to the image of His Son, His holiness is displayed as a daily, strong defense; and we “put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).
Shoes. A sturdy, hobnailed sandal gave a warrior confident footing. However, it was dangerous on smooth surfaces due to lack of good traction. Christ’s followers obtain the security of sure footing through the gospel of peace: Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, arose again the third day, and was seen by many (1 Cor. 15:3–6). The enemy has many smooth-looking, counterfeit doctrines and programs; and believers must take care not to slip into his traps. The good news of Christ is the only solid surface on which to stand.
Shield. A Roman foot soldier never went into battle without his shield. It usually was large and rectangular, with a slight curve along the sides for bodily protection.
Scripture tells us Satan constantly shoots “fiery darts” in the form of many temptations. The main purpose of “taking the shield of faith” is to deflect his projectiles (Eph. 6:16). A Roman shield was also designed to join with other shields to create the effective Roman tortoise battle formation. Hooking up shields of faith with other believers creates a formidable defense against spiritual assaults (Ps. 37:40).
Helmet. The helmet was also purposeful. It had a neck guard in the back to protect the neck from any blows. The cheek guards on each side protected the face, and a brow guard defended against downward hits to the head or face. Obviously, this gear was crucial.
The “helmet of salvation” points to our “hope of salvation” (1 Th. 5:8). The word hope means having the “joyful, confident expectation of eternal deliverance.” The Evil One aims for a head blow to plant seeds of doubt and despair. But a true believer’s helmet is firmly positioned. First, faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross guarantees salvation from the penalty of sin (2 Tim.1:9). Second, by walking in faith in the Lord, we have salvation from the power of sin (Phil. 2:12–13). Finally, we can look forward to our future salvation from the presence of sin: “Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Ti. 2:13).
Sword. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
On the right hip of every Roman soldier hung his primary weapon: a gladius. It was a relatively short sword that was sharp on both edges. In a trained warrior’s hand, it was deadly. The believer’s sword is the Bible. In fact, it was the Word alone that Jesus used effectively against Satan’s attack in the wilderness (Mt. 4:1–11).
When studied and applied, God’s Word is the ultimate defense against the Evil One’s trickery. To speak the Word with authority is the best offense to pull down Satan’s strongholds (Isa. 49:2).
The lions of Tsavo stalked their prey in complete silence. The horrific roar came after their victim was cornered or killed. Satan also is silent and persistent; he doesn’t alert the child of God to his presence. But when he snares his victim in sin, then he roars in glee. Therefore, a properly protected Christian must be alert at all times, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18).
The Right Perspective
The Tsavo lions were terrifying. From nose to tip of tail, they measured about nine feet, eight inches long. Patterson wrote that they would try to scare him by glaring in his direction, showing their teeth in an angry snarl.
Satan, too, seeks to intimidate us with his ferocious growl. What we need is Christ’s perspective of the conflict. Satan is not equal to God. As a created being, he has limitations (Ezek. 28:12–19). He is powerful, but not all-powerful (Rev. 12:8; 20:2). He cannot be everywhere at once. Instead, he rules over subordinate demons worldwide who do his bidding (Mt. 12:24; Eph. 6:12). Nor does he possess God’s omniscience (1 Chr. 28:9). He is not all-knowing.
Consequently, although the Devil is an ardent antagonist, he should not terrorize us. He is no match for Christ, who has already provided our victory through the power of His shed blood (Rev. 12:11). Only in Christ is there deliverance from Satan’s power (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13). Christ, who dwells within all who have truly been born again, is greater than Satan (1 Jn. 4:4).
John Henry Patterson eventually got his lions. They are on display in America at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. Even now, looking into their dark, cold eyes evokes terror. But they are dead and cannot harm anyone. One day the Devil will be cast into the eternal darkness of the Lake of Fire, never again to torment the faithful (Rev. 20:10).
Until that day, no matter how difficult life’s challenges, we can be confident that we have the necessary armor to face the “lion” and be more than conquerors. After all, nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:37–39).
- H. Patterson, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and Other East African Adventures, Project Gutenberg Etext <gutenberg.org/dirs/etext03/tsavo10.txt>.