Lesson 103

Ezra 1–6

“Lesson 103: Ezra 1–6,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)


Introduction

In fulfillment of prophecy, the Lord inspired Cyrus, king of Persia, to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Ezra 1–6 gives an account of the first group of Jews who returned to Jerusalem and began reconstructing the temple. However, opposition from adversaries halted the Jews’ efforts. Through the encouragement and help of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the Jews overcame the opposition and completed and dedicated the temple.

Suggestions for Teaching

Ezra 1

The Lord inspires King Cyrus to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple

Before class, write the following questions on the board: Do you think it is possible for the Lord to inspire someone who is not a member of the Church to accomplish His purposes? Why or why not?

Ask a few students to respond to the questions on the board. Invite the class to continue to ponder these questions as they study Ezra 1 and learn about the actions of King Cyrus, who was not one of the Lord’s covenant people.

Explain that after the Jews were carried away captive to Babylon, Cyrus, the king of Persia, conquered the Babylonians and became the new ruler of the Jews. (You might invite students to look at “The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah at a Glance” [see lesson 102].) The book of Ezra begins with an account of Cyrus’s interactions with the Jews.

Invite a student to read Ezra 1:1–3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Cyrus did.

  • What did Cyrus do?

You may want to point out the phrase “that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled” (Ezra 1:1). Explain that Cyrus’s actions were a fulfillment of prophecy. (You may want to suggest that students write Jeremiah 25:11; 29:10 and Isaiah 44:28; 45:1 in the margin of their scriptures next to Ezra 1:1. Explain that even though the books of Jeremiah and Isaiah come after the book of Ezra in the Bible, Jeremiah and Isaiah prophesied many years before the events recorded in Ezra took place.)

Point out the phrase “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus” (Ezra 1:1).

  • What do you think this phrase means?

  • What can we learn from this account about how the Lord can accomplish His purposes? (As students respond, emphasize the following principle: The Lord can inspire people, regardless of their religious background, to accomplish His purposes.)

  • Can you think of individuals from various backgrounds whom the Lord has inspired to accomplish His purposes? (If students need ideas, you might suggest people who were inspired to contribute to the translation or printing of the Bible, such as John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, or Johannes Gutenberg.)

Invite a student to read Ezra 1:4, 7–8 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Cyrus did to support the Jews in these efforts to rebuild the temple.

  • What did Cyrus do to support the Jews in their efforts to rebuild the temple?

Ezra 2–3

Many Jews go to Jerusalem and begin reconstructing the temple

Explain that Ezra 2 contains a list of Jews who were among the first to return to Jerusalem and indicates that this group included approximately 50,000 people.

Summarize Ezra 3:1–9 by explaining that the Jews first rebuilt the altar of the temple and began offering sacrifices. They were directed by Zerubbabel, the Jewish man appointed by the Persians to serve as the governor of the Jews, and Jeshua, the presiding high priest of the Aaronic Priesthood. Many Jews contributed time and resources to the reconstruction of the temple.

Invite students to read Ezra 3:10–13 silently, looking for how the Jews responded when the foundation of the temple was laid.

  • How did the Jews show their gratitude and excitement for the construction of the temple?

  • Why do you think their joy was so great? Why do you think that many of those who had seen the original temple wept?

Ezra 4–6

The Jews overcome opposition and complete and dedicate the temple

Display a soccer ball, and ask for a volunteer to come to the front of the class. Give him or her the ball. Tape a small image of a soccer goal on one of the classroom walls near the floor. Ask the student what he or she should do with the soccer ball to score. (Kick the ball into the goal.) Invite the student to softly kick the ball toward the goal on the wall and score.

  • What would make this experience more like attempting to score in an actual soccer match? (Having opponents and teammates.)

  • What is the opposing team trying to accomplish when you have the ball?

Draw a picture of a soccer field on the board and a circle representing the person with the ball. Then draw 11 X’s representing the 11 opponents who are trying to prevent the other team from scoring.

soccer field
  • How can the opposition someone faces in a soccer match be like what we experience as we try to keep the Lord’s commandments?

  • What are different forms of opposition we might face in our efforts to obey the Lord? (Label some of the X’s on the board with forms of opposition that students mention. They do not need to name 11.)

Invite students to look for truths as they study Ezra 4–6 that can help them overcome opposition to their efforts to obey the Lord.

Explain that when the Jews returned to Jerusalem, there was a group of people living nearby called Samaritans. The Samaritans were “people who lived in Samaria after the northern kingdom of Israel was captured by the Assyrians. The Samaritans were partly Israelite and partly Gentile. Their religion was a mixture of Jewish and pagan beliefs and practices” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Samaritans”; scriptures.lds.org).

Invite a student to read Ezra 4:1–2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how the Samaritans are described and what the Samaritans wanted to do.

  • In verse 1, how does the writer describe the Samaritans?

  • What did the Samaritans want to do?

Invite a student to read Ezra 4:3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for how Zerubbabel responded to the Samaritans’ request.

  • What did Zerubbabel and the leaders of the Jews tell these people?

Invite a student to read Ezra 4:4–5 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how the Samaritans responded after Zerubbabel and the other leaders rejected their offer.

  • How did the Samaritans respond when Zerubbabel and the other leaders rejected their offer?

Summarize Ezra 4:6–24 by explaining that these verses contain additional accounts of ways in which the Samaritans sought to oppose the Jews’ efforts to rebuild their temple and Jerusalem. The reconstruction of the temple halted for several years, largely because of the opposition of the Samaritans. After years of not working on the reconstruction, some Jews lost interest in rebuilding the temple (see Haggai 1:2–6).

Invite a student to read Ezra 5:1–2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for why the Jews eventually resumed their efforts to rebuild the temple.

  • Why did the Jews resume their efforts to rebuild the temple?

Explain that when local Persian-appointed governors learned that the Jews had resumed building the temple, they questioned the Jews’ authority to do so and opposed the Jews’ renewed efforts. Invite a student to read Ezra 5:5 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for why the local governors could not hinder the Jews’ efforts to rebuild the temple. (You may need to point out that by this time, a new king, Darius, ruled the Persian Empire.)

  • What do you think it means that “the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease”? (God was watching over the Jews and preventing the local governors from stopping them as they rebuilt the temple.)

  • What truth can we learn from Ezra 5:5 that can encourage us when we face opposition? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following principle: God watches over and helps those who seek to obey Him. Consider writing this truth on the board.)

  • What are some ways in which God watches over and helps His people when they are faced with difficulties in their lives?

Summarize Ezra 5:6–6:6 by explaining that the governors over the region wrote a letter to King Darius informing him of what the Jews were doing. They reported that the Jews claimed Cyrus had made a decree allowing them to rebuild the temple and provided them with resources for the endeavor. Darius ordered the king’s records to be searched, and Cyrus’s decree was found.

Invite a student to read Ezra 6:7–12 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for what Darius wrote back to the local governors.

  • What did Darius order the local governors to do?

  • In what ways might Darius’s response have strengthened the faith and courage of the Jews?

Invite a student to read Ezra 6:14–16 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what happened after Darius’s decree was received.

  • What were the Jews able to do after King Darius’s decree was received?

  • What influence did the prophets have on the Jews’ efforts to rebuild the temple?

  • What principle can we learn from the example of the Jews following the prophets? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following principle: By following the prophets, we can overcome opposition and prosper in our efforts to obey the Lord.)

Direct students’ attention to the different forms of opposition listed on the board.

  • What teachings or examples set by prophets can we follow to overcome these different forms of opposition?

  • When have you seen someone overcome opposition and prosper in his or her efforts to obey the Lord by following the prophets?

Invite students to reflect on opposition they might be experiencing in their efforts to obey the Lord. Ask them to respond to the following question in their class notebooks or scripture study journals:

  • What will you do to follow the prophets so you can overcome opposition and prosper in your efforts to obey the Lord?

Summarize Ezra 6:15–22 by explaining that the Jews offered generous sacrifices as part of the dedication of the temple. They also celebrated the Passover. You may want to invite students to read Ezra 6:22 silently, looking for an illustration of the first truth identified in this lesson.

Conclude by sharing your testimony of the truths discussed in this lesson.

Commentary and Background Information

Ezra 1. The Lord can inspire people, regardless of their religious background, to accomplish His purposes

After discussing the virtues of King Cyrus, President Ezra Taft Benson spoke of the way our Heavenly Father can work through individuals on the earth to accomplish His purposes:

“God, the Father of us all, uses the men of the earth, especially good men, to accomplish his purposes. It has been true in the past, it is true today, it will be true in the future” (“Civic Standards for the Faithful Saints,” Ensign, July 1972, 59).

The Lord can bless anyone with inspiration, including those of other faiths. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:

“No denomination—not even the restored Church—has a monopoly on the blessings of the Lord. He loves and blesses all of His children” (“Miracles,” Ensign, June 2001, 12).

Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of individuals during the Reformation whom the Lord inspired to accomplish His purposes:

“While some were inspired to translate the Bible, others were inspired to prepare the means to publish it. By 1455 Johannes Gutenberg had invented a press with movable type, and the Bible was one of the first books he printed. For the first time it was possible to print multiple copies of the scriptures and at a cost many could afford.

“Meanwhile, the inspiration of God also rested upon explorers. In 1492 Christopher Columbus set out to find a new path to the Far East. Columbus was led by the hand of God in his journey. He said, ‘God gave me the faith, and afterwards the courage’ [quoted in Mark E. Petersen, The Great Prologue (1975), 29]” (“Preparations for the Restoration and the Second Coming: ‘My Hand Shall Be over Thee,’” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2005, 89).

The following statement by President Ezra Taft Benson further illustrates how the Lord inspired the explorer to accomplish His purposes:

“God inspired … Christopher Columbus, who testified that he was inspired in what he did.

“‘Our Lord,’ said Columbus, ‘unlocked my mind, sent me upon the sea, and gave me fire for the deed. Those who heard of my enterprise called it foolish, mocked me, and laughed. But who can doubt but that the Holy Ghost inspired me?’ (Jacob Wasserman, Columbus, Don Quixote of the Seas, pp. 19–20.)” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [1988], 577).

Ezra 2:2. Who was Zerubbabel?

“Zerubbabel was a descendant of Jehoiachin, the king who was carried away captive into Babylon … , which descent means he was of the royal Davidic line. Zerubbabel was also an ancestor of Jesus Christ [see Matthew 1:12]. … Zerubbabel was the governor of Judah (see Haggai 2:2)” (Old Testament Student Manual: 1 Kings–Malachi, 3rd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 320). Zerubbabel served under the Persian-appointed governor of the province in which Judah was located.

Ezra 4:3. Why did the Jews reject the Samaritans’ offer to help rebuild the temple?

Jewish leaders cited King Cyrus’s decree that the Jews were the ones who were to rebuild the temple. The leaders of the Jews may have rejected the Samaritans’ offer because the Samaritans were not faithful worshippers of Jehovah. Furthermore, the Samaritans’ participation could have led to future conflicts if they claimed shared ownership of the reconstructed temple.