The Strategies of Satan




The strategies of Satan, Part 1: The “Jezebel” tactic

First in a series on spiritual warfare: The satanic attack that exploits our fear, lust, wounds and lukewarmness

“But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel…” (Rev. 2:20) “Jezebel” is a name that is reviled throughout Scripture and Christian history. Parents would no more name their child “Jezebel” than they would name their child “Judas Iscariot.” We see her as an idolater queen in Israel in 1 Kings and 2 Kings, and we see her name denounced as a false and seducing prophetess in the Book of Revelation. What does she represent?

Beyond her historical identity in ancient Israel, Jezebel has come to be known as an “archetype,” that is, as a model or standard, of wickedness—specifically: seduction, manipulation, idolatry and murder. She represents a hatred of authentic prophecy and religious authority. As such, “Jezebel” is a human name for a satanic strategy—a strategy that depends on our fear, lust, weakness and lukewarmness to succeed. Studying that strategy, noting where, how and why it works, is the first step towards overcoming that evil design.

Saint Ignatius Loyola, calling Satan “the enemy of our human nature,” compares him to a general preparing to lay siege to a fortress. The general attacks on the weakest side. Likewise, Satan “…studies from all sides our theological, cardinal and moral virtues. Wherever he finds us weakest and most in need regarding our eternal salvation, there he attacks and tries to take us by storm.”

Satan deploys the Jezebel strategy similarly, looking particularly for emotional wounds that can afford entry into our soul. The Jezebel strategy uses seduction and manipulation against the weak and doubting, techniques that are ineffective against the strong and obedient. In other words, when our pain is allowed to sour into self-pity, the Jezebel strategy is ready to go to work.

Alcoholics Anonymous knows this. Their quip against self-pity describes the process accurately: “Poor me! Poor me! Pour me another drink!” (Alternatively: “If you had a life like mine, you’d drink too!”) The Jezebel strategy will dry your tears and kiss your bruises; the next step is to take you by the hand and lead you to where you should not go.

What can we learn from all this? Everyone is wounded. We cannot afford to let our spiritual wounds to be become infected. We mustn’t let our wounds to fester into the fever of resentment and self-pity. If we’re not vigilant, we leave an opening for the Jezebel strategy to gain entrance. If we don’t resist the seductions and manipulations of Jezebel with boldness and holy obedience, then, Saint Ignatius Loyola warns, “…no wild beast on earth is more fierce than the enemy of our human nature as he pursues his evil intention with ever increasing malice.”

Holiness, humility and healing are intertwined. Our weaknesses and wounds can be stumbling blocks on our path to holiness. We must have the humility to admit our need before the Lord and ask for his healing.

If we repent of our sin without asking our Lord for healing, we’ll commit the same sins repeatedly. Repenting without getting healing for those wounds which are the roots of sin is like trimming the tops of weeds and then becoming surprised that the weeds grow back. Sin more easily takes root in places where our hearts have been wounded. If we want to be free of our habitual sins, we must find healing for our hearts. We can’t receive healing if we don’t ask for it. The first step for the healing of our hearts, essential as a remedy for sin, is to look at the crucified Lord and then to see and name our wounds so that we may offer them to him.

There is another step, one which is often overlooked. The wounds in our souls must be filled in with goodness, virtue and grace. Therefore, repentance, real conversion, true transformation in Christ, is a matter of holy desire. It’s a matter of body, soul, commitment, will, mind, grace and blood. Any other account of conversion is a fantasy, an attempt to still play at being sinners, who can only play at being saved. The Jezebel strategy would rob us of our holy desires, and set our hearts upon the false promises of murderous idols.

This week, read through 1 Kings and 2 Kings. Take note of how the person of Jezebel is the embodiment of the satanic Jezebel strategy. Then meditate on the terrifying imagery of the Lord’s punishment for the followers of Jezebel in Revelations 2. Jesus says that we must be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16) Only then can we complete our task, which is both to resist the Jezebel strategy, and then to defeat it. I will be writing more about that in the coming weeks.

When I write next, I will speak of another satanic strategy that works hand-in-glove with the Jezebel strategy. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

The strategies of Satan, Part 2: The “Ahab” tactic

Second in a series on spiritual warfare: The satanic attack that exploits our passivity, weakness and shame

“…there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord, urged on by his wife Jezebel.” (1 Kings 1:25)

Last week, we began a series on spiritual warfare, starting with the Jezebel strategy—a satanic effort that exploits our fear, lust, wounds and lukewarmness. This week we’ll consider Ahab, Jezebel’s enabler.

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We read in 1 Kings that Ahab was king of Israel, with a calling to be the righteous protector of the people and nation entrusted to his care. He failed and Israel suffered. A true king is a wise warrior who offers his people protection and vision; said another way, a true king gives his people boundaries that may not be crossed and horizons that must be reached. Without protection, the vulnerable suffer, and without horizons, the people wither.

How does this affect us? We live in the age of democracy, not monarchy, and I doubt that any reader of this column is a head of state. Nonetheless, all Christians are called to do what Ahab failed to do: All are called to protect the people and truths entrusted to our care by God; all are called to obey when God’s anointed prophet speaks; all are called to resist evil, whether evil whispers its seductions or shouts its demands.

Hesitant, passive, weak—Ahab fails to act when he should, and Israel suffered. When we fail to act, people entrusted to our care will pay a terrible price.

Ahab was more than passive—he was also selfish, brooding, spiteful and crafty. When he couldn’t get his way, like a petulant child he sulked, refused to eat, and stayed in bed, with his face turned to the wall. (1 Kings 21:4) Childish, Ahab was also shrewd. He knew that his passivity and selfishness provided a perfect environment for his wife, Jezebel—a master manipulator, seducer and schemer—to operate. Theirs was a match made in hell. He surrendered his morality and authority, she usurped his power and prerogatives, and both got what they wanted. He got what he could not earn, and she obtained what she did not deserve. Wherever a Jezebel operates, there’s an Ahab allowing it to happen. Remember: The abdication of God-given authority (like Ahab) is just as sinful as its complement, which is aggressively hijacking the authority of others (like Jezebel).

What’s the moral of the story? What can we learn about Satan’s strategies by studying Ahab’s self-defeating passivity and Jezebel’s destructive aggression?

Ahab’s pattern goes back to Adam in the Garden of Eden. There, Adam surrendered his God-given authority, failed to stand up to evil, shifting blame to his wife, Eve. (Genesis 3:12) He didn’t act according to who he was and he didn’t act according to whose he was. In the first instance didn’t accept his office as steward of creation and husband of Eve. In the second instance, he didn’t live according to his identity as the crown of creation, made in the image and likeness of God. Thinking like an orphan, rather than as a son and heir, he believed the lie of the serpent that God did not have the best for him. Lacking confidence in God’s love and fearing conflict with Eve, he took the easy way out—capitulating to her and trying to hide from God. All creation paid the price.

The satanic Ahab strategy works on those lacking a firm grasp of their identity as beloved children and heirs of a loving Heavenly Father. Insecure, hesitant, drowning in shame, worthlessness and discouragement, these wounded souls crave human approval and worldly consolations. And the Jezebel spirit has an unerring eye for detecting the wounds of an Ahab spirit, and a boundless capacity to exploit them.

What recourse does the wounded Ahab spirit have? How can we serve those we love who suffer and hide as an Ahab spirit? We can intercede for them and affirm them, of course. But eventually, the wounded and craven Ahab spirit must accept the person and promises of Christ.

We see in Matthew 4:1-11 Jesus battles Satan, who would have Jesus forget the Fatherhood of God. Satan would have Jesus believe that fulfillment can only be had in surrendering God-given authority in exchange for the things of this world. Jesus doesn’t yield. He rebukes Satan, and the tempter flees from Jesus. The good news of Christian revelation is that Jesus shares his God-given authority and victory with us. As adopted children of God, the enemy has no right to oppress us. Refusing to be passive (like Ahab), refusing to be aggressive (like Jezebel), we can like Christ assert our identity and authority as heirs to the Divine Kingdom. We must never forget that!

When I write next, I will discuss what is perhaps the most insidious satanic strategy of all. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

The strategies of Satan, Part 3: The “Cain” tactic

Third in a series on spiritual warfare: The satanic attack that poisons our heart and worship

“If you don’t want to go to Mass, why would you want to go to Heaven?” That’s not a flippant question—it points to the deepest root of spiritual warfare.

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we saw Satan using our weaknesses and wounds to lead us to deep habits of sin. Let’s consider the “Cain tactic,” by which Satan steals our highest calling and joy, which is to worship God worthily.

In Genesis 4, Cain and Abel offered sacrifice to God. Abel’s was accepted, and Cain’s was not. Cain refused to receive God’s correction, and in his anger murdered his brother, Abel.

What’s the moral of this story? Refusing divine correction, rejecting the call to offer the worthy worship that is God’s due, our hearts are poisoned. Perhaps we’re not inclined to fratricide like Cain; in our times, the Cain tactic works more subtly.

At the root of Cain’s sin is the stubborn “MY will be done!” as he offers sacrifice. He refuses to learn the duty and joy of worthy worship. Are we sure that we’re so unlike Cain?

When I was a new priest, someone who should’ve known better told me, “You’re new, so you don’t know yet that over time you add your own personal additions and subtractions to the Mass, to make it more your own.” Because I was a new priest, I recalled easily that before ordination I was required to take an oath not to “personalize” the Mass at all. I swore to offer the identifiable public prayer of the Church according to the mind of the Church Christ founded. If I “personalized” the Mass, it wouldn’t be the Mass—it would be my private prayer made public, masquerading as the Mass. That’s not what God deserves and not what his people need.

The example of Cain teaches us why we dare not stand at the altar and declare, “MY will be done!” Yet more must be said: The satanic Cain strategy would have us rationalize our “second-best” worship. It would have us rationalize our resignation to poor preaching, banal music, threadbare vestments, ugly churches, and careless ritual. It would have us stubbornly insist on “reaching-out-by-dumbing down,” which our youth have rejected for two generations.

We speak of the Eucharist as the “source and summit of Christian life,” but when we succumb to the Cain strategy, our young people won’t believe us, because we don’t believe it ourselves. If we believed without reservation that the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life, we wouldn’t compromise the rites, and we wouldn’t settle for half-hearted, empty-headed worship. We would worship, knowing that the fate of the world and the state of our souls depend on itSaint Bernard of Clairvaux taught: “You will gain more from one single Mass than you would from distributing all your goods to the poor or making pilgrimages to all the most holy shrines in Christendom.” What would our Sunday mornings look like if we really believed that? What about the rest of our lives look like?

Saint John Vianney, clothed in tatters, sleeping on the floor, subsisting on potatoes, when it came to objects to be used for Mass, could not find anything beautiful enough. How different from the spirit of Cain!

Advent has begun—a season marked by the lighting of candles, symbolizing our need for light to come into our darkness. Has the Cain strategy darkened our hearts? Has it robbed us of the joy of worship? Has it numbed us to the summons to join with Christ in his Holy Sacrifice? Has it caused us to insist on our own will over Christ’s command?

Sheen shows us the way: “Picture then the High Priest Christ leaving the sacristy of heaven for the altar of Calvary. He has already put on the vestment of our human nature, the maniple of our suffering, the stole of priesthood, the chasuble of the Cross. Calvary is his cathedral; the rock of Calvary is the altar stone; the sun turning to red is the sanctuary lamp; Mary and John are the living side altars; the Host is His Body; the wine is His Blood. He is upright as Priest, yet He is prostrate as Victim. His Mass is about to begin.”

If we had that vision inscribed in our soul before, during and after every Mass, the satanic strategy of Cain would have no power over us. We would prefer nothing to the greater glory of God offered to us in Mass, and secured for us in Heaven. May this Advent see the time of our enlightenment, when we renounce the spirit of Cain, and offer God the worship he deserves.

When I write next, I will speak of God’s holy weapons for spiritual warfare. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.


By Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ

Father Robert McTeigue, SJ, is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has taught and lectured in North and Central America, Europe and Asia and is known for his classes in both rhetoric and medical ethics.  He has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry and religious formation and is a member of the National Ethics Committee of the Catholic Medical Association. His book on preaching, “I Have Someone to Tell You:  A Jesuit Heralds the Gospel” is now available at Amazon in both paperback and electronic form.





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