8. What are Strongholds?


Introduction to Spiritual Warfare
Printer friendly PDF version


            Today a walled city is mostly outdated, modern warfare has made the walls useless.  Airplanes have taken away any advantage the walls can provide.  However, even before aircraft,  the development of the cannon demonstrated the days of walled cities were limited. Cannons allowed attackers to pulverize walls with artillery, causing the walls to crumble. Artillery also shocked the inhabitants inside the walls, who never faced anything like it before.  The smashing artillery caused a quick surrender of its inhabitants; therefore, the cannon caused the walled stronghold to cease.   

            In history strongholds played a vital role, no army could successfully defeat an opponent and let their stronghold stand within conquered territory.   One of the main objectives of armies were to remove strongholds within conquered territory.  We as the Lordís army need to take notice, of the objective to remove strongholds. Like conquerors of old, we need to target the spiritual strongholds of our enemy, Satan.

            Mehmett II demonstrated this point in 1453, with the fall of Constantinople.  He hired the famous Hungarian gunsmith Urban to construct cannons whose size was unheard of before.  With these cannons, he was able to pound the walls of Constantinople, also known as ancient Byzantium.  Over a thousand years before Mehmett II, Constantine created Constantinople (Byzantium) as the capital city, of the Eastern Roman Empire in 330. 

            Constantinople was a stronghold, the seat of Byzantine Christianity for more than 1100 years, now it became the seat of Islamic power.  The Muslim ruler changed the name from Constantinople to Istanbul.  From this city, Mehmett II planned to advance his kingdom throughout Europe and the Middle East, establishing world empire, he died before he could succeed.   

            The history of Constantinople allows us to illustrate the meaning of the term ďstrongholdsĒ, which Paul refers to both directly and indirectly.  

What is a stronghold? 

            Strongholds are an ancient part of human history, as populations of earth multiplied they formed communities called cities. People soon realized living in the open allowed you to become a victim to the fallen nature.  Invading or marauding people would attack unsuspecting or defenseless cities, taking goods and people.

            Putting walls around your settlement, with a gate, gave the inhabitants a source of protection and control, since the walls needed to breached, before contact made.  The better the defense, the more secure the inhabitants.  Soon builders of walled cities realized, walls also make good offense, because it allowed an army a secure base of operations.  An army could rest and relax between offensive campaigns.  The more secure the location, the more effective and powerful the force within.

            A city with strong walls and secure location, usually a hilltop or mountain would be able grow in stature and power enriching its inhabitants.  As the city prospered, it could then begin to exert control on the surrounding cities and villages, which were less secure.  Soon the city would become known as a city-states, examples of these city-states are Babylon, Nineveh, Damascus, Rome, Carthage and others too numerous to list.  Eventually some of these city-states became nations; some would become empires, like Rome and Assyria.  This was a common occurrence throughout the earth, as humanity spread following the days of Noah.  The importance of the walled city would diminish as technology became more pervasive.  Nonetheless, the picture of the walled city or fortress was known as a stronghold

            Strongholds were points, which were hard to defeat, because of their design, walls, located on a hilltop, along with the offensive capabilities of an army within.  The army could launch attacks, and then retreat to the safety of its walled city.    Thus, their point of operation became a ďstrong holdĒ.  This picture of the physical stronghold is used to also represent the spiritual stronghold.  Spiritual strongholds are represented in scripture, in the same way as physical ones.  They are points of operation, where attacks are waged on outlying areas.  The become points of offensive operations, which are hard to remove, unless concerted effort is made to remove them.

            Spiritually speaking, Paul defines strongholds as an ďargument or high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of GodĒ.  A stronghold is a point of operation from where Satan can keep the unbeliever captive or the believer incapacitated. See 2nd Corinthians below. 

3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,  
2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Israel an example of war 

            Waging war in the spiritual realms illustrates events in the physical.  Israel entering the Promised Land is an illustration of the faithful entering the land of promise and rest.  We see from Israelís example, a nation, who because of unbelief was not able to receive the promises of God, because they lacked faith.  Only when they believed, could they enter, but the faithless generation was kept out. In the same way today, many ďborn-again saintsĒ fail to receive the blessings promised because of disbelief.  We do not believe God is strong enough, to overcome the strongholds in our life.

            Before Israel was to enter the Promised Land, Moses had the nation of Israel send out 12 spies, into the land to see what the cities were like, including if there were any stronghold in the land (Numbers 13:19). 

17 Then Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said to them, "Go up this way into the South, and go up to the mountains, 18 "and see what the land is like: whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, few or many; 19 "whether the land they dwell in is good or bad; whether the cities they inhabit are like camps or strongholds
Numbers 13:17-19

            The twelve spies returned and reported what they saw; we get two different perspectives from the spies. Ten spies reported the land was too strong to take, cites were fortified (Strongholds) and large, the inhabitants were giants, according to the 10-spies. 

27 Then they told him, and said: "We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 "Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 "The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan." Numbers 13:27-29 

            Caleb and Joshua rejected the view of the 10-spies; they saw God as capable of giving them victory over the giants and strongholds of the land. The ten spies rejected Caleb plea, restating the hopeless situation of the nation found itself.   All hope was lost; the nation would need to find a leader to take them back to Egypt. 

30 Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, "Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it." 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, "We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we."  Numbers 13:30-31 

            You could almost see the struggle, the faithful minority versus the faithless majority.  The people were so defeated and faithless in Godís ability they would have stoned Moses, Joshua and Caleb if the Lord did not intervene (Numbers 14).  They were planning to go back to Egypt after they selected a leader. The Lord would have destroyed the faithless generation, but Moses interceded. God instead allowed the generation of faithless Israel to wander the deserts of Sinai and die there.  We must remember, this rebellion follows the miracles of Israelís deliverance from Egypt, and their seeing Godís presence leading them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. 

            Israelís plight illustrates a point, when we reject Godís promises because of unbelief; we end up wandering in a wilderness, because we refuse to take God at His word. This is the reason we need to put on the whole armor of the God.  Joshua and Caleb were able to see victory despite the strongholds in the Promised Land.  Joshua and Caleb were wearing Godís armor, as opposed to the 10-spies.  They were willing to wage war on the Canaanite cities, because they new it was not them, but the Lord who would give them victory.   

Wearing the Armor of God 

            Israel sets the example for the faithful; within the nation were two groups, those who believed the Lord and those who did not.  Because of the unbelief of the majority, the nation was forced to wander in the dusty and rocky Sinai desert for 40-years.  We (the saved), grafted into the covenant of Israel, should take notice, why did Israel fail to enter the land?  Was it because God was unfaithful? No, it was because the people would not trust Him.  Why did Israel tremble in fear at Goliath, and David boldly want to fight? In both cases, the faithful trusted the Lord, Joshua and Caleb saw God open the Red Sea, they saw Him in the cloud and fire, they knew their God.  David too, knew his God; He was more then capable of giving David victory (I Samuel 17). 

            Before the battle took place in the field, it was in the mind.  The minds of the 10-spies were controlled by fear.  The army of Israel before the Philistine Goliath, a giant, was defeated in the mind, before on arrow flew. The battle began in the mind, just as it does for us. 

            The armor of God gives us the ability to be victors in the battle of the mind.   Putting on the full armor of God, allows us to stand against the schemes of Satan, whose goal is to pin the faithful to the ground.   

            Here we stand, Godís warriors about to enter battle, how are we to wage war?  First, we must remember Paulís instructions, we need to put on the full armor God, having done that, we need to make the conscious decision to stand.  We need to choose to stand, as opposed to being taken down by our opponent Satan.

            We must prepare for battle, in the spiritual war; our objective should always be victory through the Lordís strength, not our own power.  Look in verse 10 and 11 of Ephesians, what is the key to success? 

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:10-12

The key to Joshua, Caleb and David was their reliance on the Lordís ability, His power and might. They were strong in the Lord.  In verses 10 and 11, our part is to make a conscious effort.  Verse 10 tells us,

be strong, verse 11, says put on. Are you willing to move forward in battle trusting the Lord? 

Preparing to assault strongholds: Spying out the land


            Using Israel as our example, what was their first action before they entered the promise land?Moses told them to spy out the land, to survey it, locate the stronghold.  We need to do the same; we need to locate places where the enemy has strongholds in our life.  Remember our battle is not physical but spiritual.   In Ephesians 6:10-18, only two pieces of the armor are offensive in nature, what are they?            They are the sword (vs. 17) and prayer.  In describing the armor, many times people stop at verse 17, but verse 18 is just as much a part of the armor.  

18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints Ephesians 6:18 

The sword of the Lord, the word of God and Prayer are offensive weapons against the strongholds, which allows Satan to keep people captive. With these two weapons, we can take the offensive, rather then being defensive.  We can pursue our strongholds, to pull them down.  We need to enter the battle wearing our armor, prepared to assault the stronghold with our sword and prayer.

Looking back at Israel, the first generation of the Exodus failed to enter the land of promise, however the next generation, now led by Joshua did not fail.  Because they believed, they prepared for battle against the stronghold of Jericho.  The Lord Himself led the battle as the commander of Lordís hosts; Joshua was merely to follow orders (Joshua 5).  They succeeded; Jericho fell because the nation obeyed the Lord (Joshua 6). However, the next battle was not so successful, because the nation disobeyed; the stronghold of Ai was able to defeat the armies of Israel (Joshua 7).  Why could a little stronghold defeat Israel?  The nation sinned, when Achan of Judah took garments from Jericho, he violated Godís command and the whole nation suffered, falling to the stronghold of Ai.

            Take a personal inventory of your life. What areas of your life cause you to fail?  Like faithful Joshua and Caleb, we need to spy out the land. We need to determine where Satanís strongholds are.  Our goal is to enter the ďPromised LandĒ of Godís promises.  The issue here is not salvation, but victorious Christian living (See chart at the bottom). In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-28), the seed is sowed on different types of soil, in the end, the abundant crop comes from good ground. Why did the good soil produce a fruitful crop?  Good ground was clear of those things, which prevented growth.  In the parable, the weeds, stones and thistles, choked off the seed (word) planted by the sower (Jesus). Jesus describes the weeds as the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches

"But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty."  Matthew 13:23 

Jesus tells us the key to bearing an abundant crop in this life requires we 

  • Hear the word
  • Understand the word
  • Bear fruit

      Satan does not want us to bear fruit, his goal is to defeat us, and prevent us from having fruit.  The strongholds are points of operation, allowing Satan to maintain power over us. 

      Only through the Lordís power will we be able to be break free from Satanís control.  We have no power from within or without, except for the Lord.  Godís word reveals the control of Satan in our lives, through strongholds.  Satan uses these strongholds to launch attacks on us.  Therefore, we need to identify where these stronghold are, and remove them.  Just like an ancient army first had to remove strongholds, to hold the land, we need to do the same. 

Identifying your strongholds


            Wearing the armor of God, prepares us for battle, we need to identify just where our strongholds are located.  Paul in several portions of scripture identifies specific areas, where the flesh is opposed to the spirit.  The scripture below lists areas or strongholds where Satan can wage war.  Therefore, we need to identify these strongholds in our own life.   How does Satan continue to cause us to fall?  What area of our life gives him the ability to wage war with us?  Read the scriptures below, can you identify your strongholds?








19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness,20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:19-21

17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. Ephesians 4:17-19 

5 Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, 7 in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. 8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, Colossians 3:5-10 

20 For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults; 21 lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced.
2 Corinthians 12:20-21

            Once we begin to identify the strongholds, we need to wage war against them.  Paul describes the type of warfare the Spiritual warrior is to engage in.

            For example, Satan had a stronghold in my life (the author); he made me think money was the only way to have friends, power or value.  Therefore, from the age of 15, I remember making a concerted promise to gain wealth, so I could master the world around me.  My whole life from that point was focused on money and power; I made it my god and idol.  Only after my idol was crushed in my early twenties did I out of desperation, seek to find truth.  Satan ruled over my life from his stronghold, from there, he was able to keep his hold on me; I was a bitter and angry person, who did not want to live. I found Christ and my life changed.  The strongholds of life still existed however, Satan was able to wage war with my thinking, causing me defeat and fear. Through scripture, I was able to make these thoughts captive to Christ.

            I learned from scripture the riches of this world were very temporary, that even if I was able to gain the whole world, I would be broke when I died.  Scripture revealed to me, true treasure was what you could keep forever.   The words of Jesus became instrument of spiritual warfare, Jesus said in Mark 8

35 "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. 36 "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? 37 "Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  Mark 8:35-36 

Therefore, every time Satan would whisper to my mind, the importance of great wealth and fame, I learned to quote this verse back. Soon I was able to wage war against this stronghold in my life, and claim victory, no longer trusting in earthly riches as my hope.  I soon learned to move on to other strongholds and areas where Satan would launch attacks. Like the armies of old, my goal was to claim territory from the enemy, I needed to assault his strongholds, and free the ďPromised LandĒ from his control.   Once free from strongholds, I learned to rest in His promises. 

Waging war on your stronghold 

            In 2nd Corinthians 10 verses 3 to 5, we are instructed on how to war against strongholds, where Satan launches his attacks. What can we learn from this portion of scripture about spiritual warfare? 

3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,  
2 Corinthians 10:3-5

  • The battle is not physical
  • Our weapons are not physical
  • Our weapons are able to pull down strongholds, arguments and high things
  • The war is that which exalts against the knowledge of God (The Word)
  • Victory is achieved by bringing every thought into captivity of obedience of Christ.

            We have two offensive weapons in this battle, one the sword of the Lord (Godís word) and two, prayer.  These are two mighty weapons, which allow us to pull down strongholds.  Our warfare is against that which is opposed to the knowledge of God.  The revelation of Godís word exposes these strongholds, for that reason it is important to combine Godís word, the sword with prayer to overcome these points of satanic power. 

            Satan knows if we are able to remove these strongholds, a mighty warrior will emerge.  His goal is to prevent the victorious spiritual warrior from taking the field.