Illusions

A lesson from history that things are not what they appear

In May 1863, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, with a worn out band of less than 600 soldiers, managed to talk 1,466 Federal troops into surrendering to him. How? He created a convincing illusion.

Union Colonel Abel Streight’s men were being doggedly pursued by Forrest’s cavalry. The men became so tired they could not stay awake to fight or even eat. Forrest demanded that Streight surrender. Streight initially refused, unless it could be proved that he was outnumbered. At this point, two pieces of Confederate artillery came into sight. Unknown to Streight, these were the only two cannons Forrest had on hand. Forrest gave a knowing nod to one of his captains, who had the cannons removed from sight. As minutes ticked by, Streight watched with mounting agitation as the same two cannons were pushed into his view, only to be pulled back and then made to reappear at another place. Finally, Streight exclaimed, “How many guns have you got? There’s fifteen I’ve counted already!” To that, Forrest nonchalantly replied, “I reckon that’s all that has kept up.”

To magnify the illusion, Forrest began giving orders to his captain which were to be relayed to phantom units that did not even exist. Taking their cue from this trickery, the few Confederate troops Forrest had began marching into and out of Streight’s line of vision, giving him the appearance of greater numbers than actually existed. So, even though Streight’s men outnumbered Forrest’s by more than two to one, the Union troops surrendered, thanks to quick thinking and ingenious deceit on the Rebels’ part (see Nathan Bedford Forrest, A Biography by Jack Hurst, pp. 123-124).

What’s the point? The Devil is a master of illusion. Though he is pure evil, he can nevertheless give the appearance of being an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). He can make the righteous feel outnumbered, outgunned, and overpowered, when such is not the case at all. He can talk us into surrendering on his terms by getting us to overlook the vast spiritual resources God puts at our disposal.

Long ago, the prophet Elisha was surrounded by a Syrian army bent on his capture (2 Kings 6:8-17). Elisha was not bothered by this, but his servant was greatly distressed. Elisha told his servant, “Fear not; for they that are with us are more than they that are with them.” Elisha then prayed for God to open the eyes of his servant so he could see what Elisha already saw. God did so, and the servant was able to see “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” God had the matter well in hand, and was more than able to conquer the Syrians, which he did. Elisha’s servant gained a new perspective that he must have carried the rest of his life. He learned the enemy’s strength was illusory, and that, if God is for you, there is more power at work than can be defeated. And there is more to a battle than meets the eye.

So the next time you feel surrounded and outnumbered, don’t surrender. Dig in. After all, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:31).