The Old Testament hero Gideon learned the principles of war by revelation from God, and one of them was “surprise.” The account in Judges tells us that the amassed armies of the “Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the east lay along in the valley like grasshoppers” (7:12). This force consisted of one hundred thirty-five thousand. Fewer than fifteen hundred got away. We can say that Gideon with three hundred men surprised the enemy and won a battle of annihilation.

There are only a few elements with which surprise can be effected: time, place, and method, or any combination of the three. However, surprise also depends upon two additional and essential factors, namely, ignorance on the part of one commander, and intelligence on the part of the other. This ignorance may be natural (e.g., incompetence or inadequate security) or it may be induced (e.g., deception).

Gideon’s victory, Hannibal’s victory at Cannae, the German invasion through the Ardennes in 1940, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor were all aided by the ignorance of the surprised nation. In the first two cases, deception helped immensely in the execution of the surprise, and in all four cases the surprising belligerent kept his intentions and plans secret.

The surprise of Gideon was one of time (night), method (lamps, torches, voices, trumpets), and place (three sides of the camp). The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise of time and place; the weapon was not unusual. The United States’ surprise at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was primarily one of weapon, although the time and place were a part of the surprise.

In the spiritual warfare we may use any or all of these elements. Surprise can be very effectively used in evangelism, whether mass evangelism (strategic surprise) or in personal evangelism (tactical surprise).

In the spiritual war, there are two commanders: God and the devil. One of them is the Creator; the other a created being. God is omniscient; Satan is not. Since surprise depends upon the ignorance (natural or induced) of one of the commanders, it becomes obvious that God cannot be surprised. God is omniscient. He has no limitation in His intelligence, nor can He be deceived.

This is not true of the devil. He has been surprised before. God did not deceive Satan; He just withheld information from him. The Bible speaks of it over and over as a mystery (cf. 1 Cor. 2:7–8).

“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6–8).

*Excerpted from Principles of War. To purchase, visit