In about 539 B.C. Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, made a decree that set in motion a chain of events which became of incalculable import to all of Judeo-Christian history. It is recorded in the Book of Ezra that the Lord charged Cyrus with the release of the diaspora of Jews (who had been held in Babylonian captivity for 70 years) so that they might return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple:
Ezra 1:1-3 (KJV)
1 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,
2 Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
3 Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.
And thus was Israel free to return to the Promised Land to reinstate her walk with God. (This story is also referenced in 2 Chronicles 36, and Isaiah chapters 44, 45, and 48) The Bible records that in the second year of their return, bolstered by the Jewish leader Zerubbabel and high priest Jeshusa, the people began work to rebuild the Temple. The labor progressed to the successful completion of the foundation, much to the jubilation of all present:
Ezra 3:11 (KJV)
11 And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
But as we know, nothing lasts forever; on Earth all good things must come to an end.
“The trouble is, there is always a good adversary around when you don’t need one.” ~
Ezra recorded that at the time of the completion of the foundation, Israel began to find herself hindered, frustrated, by the surrounding peoples of the Judaean region:
Ezra 4:1 (KJV)
1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the LORD God of Israel…4 Then the people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building, 5 and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
The arrival of the adversary is usually a discouraging one, and this case was no different. Because of the continual beleaguering of the local enemy(s), for sixteen years the foundation would sit with no further construction of the Temple atop it. Not until the time of Zechariah and Haggai, almost two decades later, did work resume on the completion of the House of God. Imagine sixteen years with no progress, sixteen years without advance, breakthrough, or development. Envision having the exact foundation necessary for a glorious Temple, but no Temple.Truly, a foundation without a building is a foundation without a future; another lesson, for another time. But as it was for the Hebrew people seeking to rebuild the center of their religious and socio-economic community, so to is it for the children of God today. There are seasons of life in which it seems we are opposed on every side. There are moments and long stretches when we would rather just throw our hands in the air and scream in exasperation, because of the adversary.
Satan, and his minions, have become the living embodiment of this role. As Zechariah came into view, declaring the Word of God as he went, he described a vision of Jeshua (spelled “Joshua” in Zechariah) the high priest being strengthened by the angel of the Lord on one side while being beset by Satan on the other:
Zechariah 3:1 (KJV)
1 And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.
The word “resist” is, in the Hebrew, both an interesting, if not unsurprising, choice of wording for it is “śāṭan” (pronounced saw-tan’) and literally means to attack or accuse. Is it any wonder then that, beginning with the first ancient Hebrew writings ever penned in the Old Testament, all the way down to John’s Revelation on the Isle of Patmos, the word for adversary has also become the proper name whereby most now refer to Lucifer, the chief of devils, as Satan, the adversary and accuser?
Asaph begged God for some reprieve from the accusers, for an end to the ways of his adversaries:
Psalm 74:10 (KJV)
10 O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme thy name for ever?
Hannah’s rival, her adversary, poked fun and jeered at her inability to conceive a child (until Samuel came along of course):
1 Samuel 1:6 (KJV)
6 And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the LORD had shut up her womb.
Solomon, arrayed in all his opulent wealth and overflowing with wisdom, still had to deal with adversaries:
1 Kings 11:14 (KJV)
14 And the LORD stirred up an adversary unto Solomon, Hadad the Edomite: he was of the king’s seed in Edom.
And if you are not a songwriter, the mother of a prophet, or the wise, rich king of a nation, you will still have your dealings with the adversary, for he is not choosy about his next meal, so long as he eats:
1 Peter 5:8 (KJV)
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
But today, for once, we have not come to look down upon our adversaries with disdain but, instead, to thank them. Why, you ask? Because there are two very important facts you must know about the adversary in order to fully appreciate him.
The first is that you need him, you need your adversary, if for nothing more than a very good literary reason. You see, no story is complete without one, without the antagonist. Life almost requires one for your story to be wholly satisfying and interesting. Every good plot line needs a twist, a turn, a linchpin moment when the villain steps on the scene and brings turmoil to the protagonist. The adventure will always be lacking, the tension of the tale inadequate, if the heroic champion does not have an adversary to do battle with. No good story comes without one. A story with a good guy, but no bad guy, is a boring story. There must be some loss for an exciting recovery to take place. There has to be strong opposition for an entertaining clash of titans to unfold. On your worst day, when the bad guy has squashed your meager resistance, you can thank your adversary because he or she is nothing but a necessary component to your unfolding story. When the rapscallion scoundrel steals the princess out of your castle, thank him. For in the moment that libertine lowlife (Yes, Lucifer, we mean you) thinks his dastardly deed has you undone, the tide is about to turn. You see, God does not begin your account and leave the lines unwritten. The Lord does not start your story only to walk away from it incomplete and unfulfilled; God is going to finish what He started. In fact, as “author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2) the mighty God had preselected the heroes and heroins of His selected and few chosen narratives (Matt. 22:14), as well as the necessary villains to spice things up, long before we ever knew we’d been hand selected for the part He had designed EXCLUSIVELY for each of us. When thought of in these terms it becomes alarmingly flattering.
The second is much more entertaining, considerably more gratifying, and far more powerful. When God becomes the enemy of your enemy, it’s already over. While we are “in the thick of it” clear headed thinking can quickly become in short supply. But one thing is for certain in uncertain times; when it is the Lord’s turn to play His part, things are going to get ugly for the bad guy. Jesus spoke in no uncertain terms when He said that “all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Matt. 28:18) When the Lord Jesus spoke to Moses some 1,500 years earlier, the man of God wrote and spoke the Words of God for the good of the people of Israel:
Exodus 20:22 (KJV)
22 And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.
Exodus 23:22 (KJV)
22 But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries.
You can thank your adversary for signing up for the job because, unfortunately for him, he’s already sealed his own fate. You can thank your adversary for being who he is because his total annihilation is now only a matter of time. “Standing On the Promises of God“, like like that beautiful old song says, you can thank your adversary because once he has taken the job of being your enemy, his future is written, and it’s not a pretty one.
Kepp your chin up friend; the moment your adversary makes his intentions known, it’s the beginning of the end. Wait for it. Believe in it. Hold on to it. Smile, and thank your adversary, because now you will not have to lift a finger in this battle; “for the battle is not yours, but God’s.“(2 Chron. 20:15)