To encourage class members to help build Zion and to show Christlike love to those who oppose the work of the Lord.
Prayerfully study the following scriptures:
Ezra 1–6. King Cyrus reads his name in Isaiah’s prophecies and is filled with a desire to do the Lord’s will. He frees the Jews who have been captive in Babylon and invites them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (Ezra 1). Zerubbabel and Jeshua lead approximately 50,000 people back to Jerusalem, and they begin to rebuild the temple (Ezra 2–3). The Samaritans offer to help work on the temple, are turned down, and attempt to stop the work; the rebuilding ceases (Ezra 4). Several years later, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah exhort the Jews to finish the temple; the Samaritans continue to oppose it (Ezra 5; see also Haggai 1). King Darius renews the decree of Cyrus to rebuild the temple, and it is finished and dedicated in about 515 B.C. (Ezra 6).
Ezra 7–8. More than 50 years after the temple is dedicated, Ezra receives permission from King Artaxerxes of Persia to lead another group of Jews back to Jerusalem. Ezra and his people fast and pray, and the Lord protects them on their journey.
Nehemiah 1–2; 4; 6. Learning that the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem were “in great affliction and reproach, “Nehemiah receives permission from King Artaxerxes to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls (Nehemiah 1–2). The enemies of the Jews seek to prevent them from rebuilding the walls. Nehemiah arms the laborers and keeps the work going forward until the walls are finished (Nehemiah 4; 6).
Nehemiah 8. After the walls are rebuilt around Jerusalem, Ezra reads the scriptures to the people. When they hear the words of the law, the people weep and desire to obey them.
You may want to invite a class member to prepare to give a brief summary of the historical background given at the beginning of the first scripture account.
If the picture Temple Used Anciently is available, you may want to use it during the lesson (62300; Gospel Art Picture Kit 118).
Suggested Lesson Development
You may want to use the following activity (or one of your own) to begin the lesson.
Have a class member read the following quotation from Elder Dallin H. Oaks:
“We may … find that a specific verse of scripture that was spoken for quite a different purpose in an entirely different age will, under the interpretive influence of the Holy Ghost, give us a very personal message adapted to our personal needs today. … If we seek to liken the scriptures to our own circumstances, ‘that it might be for our profit and learning’ (1 Nephi 19:23), a loving Father in heaven can use them to bless us in highly individual ways” (Studying the Scriptures [devotional given in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, 24 Nov. 1985]).
Have you ever been reading the scriptures and felt that a particular passage spoke directly to you? (Invite class members to share their experiences.) How have the scriptures helped provide direction specifically for your life?
Explain that the events discussed in this lesson were set in motion by a man who found that a passage of scripture written 150 years before his birth spoke to him personally—in fact, it mentioned him by name.
Scripture Discussion and Application
As you teach the following scripture passages, discuss how they apply to daily life. Encourage class members to share experiences that relate to the scriptural principles.
1. King Cyrus allows the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.
Teach and discuss Ezra 1–6.
Present (or have an assigned class member present) a brief summary of the following historical information:
In 721 B.C., when the kingdom of Israel (the Northern Kingdom, or ten tribes) was taken captive by Assyria, the Assyrian empire was the greatest in the world. By 612 B.C., however, the Assyrian empire had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Under King Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon ruled most of the lands that had been conquered by the Assyrians. The Babylonian conquest of the kingdom of Judah (the Southern Kingdom) extended from about 605 B.C., when they took many Jews captive, to 587 B.C., when they destroyed Jerusalem.
After Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B.C., Babylon declined rapidly in power. In 539 B.C., Babylon fell to the Medes and the Persians, united under the leadership of Cyrus. Unlike Nebuchadnezzar, who treated those he conquered with cruelty, Cyrus was a benevolent ruler. By treating conquered peoples kindly and respecting their religions, Cyrus won the loyalty of those he ruled.
Shortly after conquering Babylon, Cyrus decreed that the temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt. He invited the Jews in his empire to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, and he returned the vessels of gold and silver that Nebuchadnezzar’s troops had stolen from the temple. (See 2 Chronicles 36:22–23; Ezra 1:1–3, 7. The prophecy of Jeremiah that is referred to in these verses is that the Jews would return to Jerusalem after 70 years of Babylonian captivity; see Jeremiah 25:11–12; 29:10.)
Why did Cyrus decree that a temple should be built again in Jerusalem? (See Ezra 1:1–2.) How did Cyrus know the Lord wanted him to do this? The words of Cyrus that are recorded in Ezra 1:2 refer to a prophecy in Isaiah 44:28 that mentioned Cyrus by name (see also Isaiah 45:1–5; explain that although the story of Cyrus comes before the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, Isaiah lived about 150 years before Cyrus was born). The ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus reported that Cyrus read his name in Isaiah’s prophecies, was touched by the Spirit of the Lord, and desired to fulfill what was written (The Works of Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, trans. William Whiston [n.d.], bk. 11, chap. 1, pars. 1–2).
How would you feel if you were reading the scriptures and read a prophecy that gave your name and described specific things you would do?
When Zerubbabel and Jeshua led the first group of Jews back to Jerusalem, they found the Samaritans there. You may want to explain that the Samaritans were descendants of Israelites who had escaped at the time of captivity and had intermarried with Assyrian and Babylonian colonists whom the kings had sent to occupy the land.
What did the Samaritans ask of the returning Jews? (See Ezra 4:1–2.) How did the Jews respond to the Samaritans’ request? (See Ezra 4:3. The Jews refused to let the Samaritans help rebuild the temple because they felt the Samaritans were not true Israelites.) What did the Samaritans do when the Jews refused to let them help? (See Ezra 4:4–7, 11–24. They tried to stop the rebuilding of the temple by complaining to the kings who succeeded Cyrus.)
Work on the temple eventually ceased. What prompted the Jews to resume their work several years later? (See Ezra 5:1–2; Haggai 1. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah provided inspired direction.) What did the Lord, through Haggai, say to the Jews in Jerusalem about the temple? (See Haggai 1:3–4, 7–8.) What attitude among the Jews was hindering the rebuilding of the temple? (See Haggai 1:2.) What attitudes hinder us from regular worship and service in the temple?
The Samaritans again tried to stop the rebuilding of the temple when construction resumed. But the Jews explained the decree of King Cyrus, and King Darius allowed the work to continue (Ezra 5–6). What did the Jews do when the temple was finished? (See Ezra 6:15–22.)
2. Ezra leads another group of Jews back to Jerusalem.
Teach and discuss Ezra 7–8.
Just as the Lord had earlier moved the heart of King Cyrus to free the Jews, He moved the heart of King Artaxerxes to let Ezra’s group of Jews return to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:27–28; see also verses 11–26). What are some examples of the Lord softening the hearts of government leaders toward the Church in the latter days? (See, for example, Thomas S. Monson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1989, 65–69; or Ensign, May 1989, 50–53.) What can we do to encourage government leaders’ hearts to be softened toward the Church? (Answers could include obeying the laws of the land, doing good, preparing to teach the gospel to all the world, and praying for the Lord to soften the hearts of the leaders. See D&C 58:21, 27; 98:4–6.)
What did Ezra do to ensure that the group of Jews he was taking to Jerusalem was protected? (See Ezra 8:21–23, 31.) How have you, your family, or others you know been blessed by fasting?
3. Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem and leads the people in rebuilding the walls to protect the city.
Teach and discuss Nehemiah 1–2; 4; 6. You may want to point out that Nehemiah was the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes of Persia. This was a position of great trust and responsibility, requiring Nehemiah to ensure that the king’s food and drink were safe. Even though Nehemiah was in a position of importance in Persia, he cared about his people in Jerusalem and sought to help them when he heard of their difficulties.
What did Nehemiah do when he heard of the difficulties of his people in Jerusalem? (See Nehemiah 1:4–11; 2:1–5.) How did King Artaxerxes respond to Nehemiah’s request? (See Nehemiah 2:6–8. The king granted Nehemiah permission to go, provided him guards and an escort for safety, and authorized him to use timber from the forest to rebuild the city walls.) What can we learn from Nehemiah that can guide us when we are troubled by the suffering of others?
How did Nehemiah encourage the people to rebuild the walls around the city? (See Nehemiah 2:17–18.) Why do you think testifying of the truth and sharing spiritual experiences have such power to inspire others to do good? How have the testimonies and spiritual experiences of others inspired you?
Sanballat was the governor of Samaria, and he and his people were enemies of the Jews who had returned with Zerubbabel. How did Sanballat react to the plans to rebuild the city walls? (See Nehemiah 2:10, 19; 4:1–3, 7–8, 11.) How did the Jews respond to these efforts to stop the construction of the walls? (See Nehemiah 4:9, 13–15.)
What did Nehemiah do when Sanballat asked him to stop working and meet with him? (See Nehemiah 6:1–4.) How do some people try to distract Church members from the Lord’s work today? How should we respond to such distractions?
Elder Marvin J. Ashton counseled: “Certain people and organizations are trying to provoke us into contention with slander, innuendos, and improper classifications. How unwise we are in today’s society to allow ourselves to become irritated, dismayed, or offended because others seem to enjoy the role of misstating our position or involvement. Our principles or standards will not be less than they are because of the statements of the contentious. Ours is to explain our position through reason, friendly persuasion, and accurate facts. Ours is to stand firm and unyielding on the moral issues of the day and the eternal principles of the gospel, but to contend with no man or organization. … Ours is to be heard and teach. Ours is not only to avoid contention, but to see that such things are done away” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1978, 10; or Ensign, May 1978, 8).
4. The people rejoice as Ezra reads the scriptures to them.
Teach and discuss Nehemiah 8.
After the people had finished rebuilding the city walls, what did they request of Ezra? (See Nehemiah 8:1–2. Note that most of the Jews had been in captivity so long that they had never heard or read the scriptures.)
How long did Ezra read to the people? (See Nehemiah 8:3, 17–18.) How did the people respond? (See Nehemiah 8:3, 6, 9, 12.) How can we be more attentive as we read the scriptures? (Discuss how to be more attentive to the scriptures themselves and to the whisperings of the Spirit that come while reading the scriptures.) How can we develop the kind of excitement for the scriptures that these people had?
What did Ezra do to help his people understand the scriptures? (See Nehemiah 8:8.) What has helped you in your efforts to understand the scriptures and to help your family understand them? (You may want to invite class members to share specific things they have done to improve their personal and family scripture study.)
What did Ezra and the other leaders say when the people began to weep as they heard the scriptures? (See Nehemiah 8:9–11.) How have the scriptures caused you to rejoice?
“Nehemiah’s energy, ability, unselfish patriotism, and personal integrity brought a new, exuberant Judah into existence once again. The restoration of Jerusalem, which had lain in ruins for a century and a half, was begun. Ezra, a righteous, dedicated priest, joined Nehemiah in this work, and together they succeeded in restoring a Jewish community in Jerusalem once again” (Old Testament Student Manual: 1 Kings–Malachi , 314).
Explain that just as the Jews had the responsibility to rebuild Jerusalem, Latter-day Saints have the responsibility to build Zion throughout the world. To help us do this, we need to follow the teachings in the scriptures and participate in temple work. Testify of the truthfulness of the scriptures and the importance of temple work.
Remind class members that some people will try to stop the work of the Lord. We should show Christlike love to them but not allow them to distract us from our efforts to build the kingdom of God.
Additional Teaching Ideas
The following material supplements the suggested lesson outline. You may want to use one or more of these ideas as part of the lesson.
1. “The work is great and large, and we are separated” (Nehemiah 4:19)
While rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, the Jews separated themselves so they could work simultaneously on different sections of the wall (Nehemiah 3; 4:19). At times they were far apart, but they were all working toward the same goal, and by working together they were able to complete the wall. Remind class members that the Church is divided into different units (such as families, wards, branches, stakes, districts, and quorums) throughout the world. Sometimes a unit may seem far from other units. But all the Saints are working toward the same goals, and if each individual and each unit works diligently, the entire Church will continue to grow.
2. “Temples Are for Eternal Covenants”
If Family Home Evening Video Supplement 2 (53277) is available, you may want to show “Temples Are for Eternal Covenants,” a six-minute segment, as part of a discussion on the importance of temples.