About 60 years after the temple was rebuilt at Jerusalem, Artaxerxes, the king of Persia, appointed Ezra to lead another group of Jews to Judah and provided him with money and supplies to beautify the temple. Ezra fasted and prayed that God would protect them as they traveled to Jerusalem. Ezra sorrowed when he learned that some of the Jews in Jerusalem had married out of the covenant. He counseled the people to repent, and they made a covenant to put away their sins.
Provide students with a copy of the following statement by Sir Winston Churchill, prime minister of the United Kingdom during World War II. Invite a student to read the statement aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how it relates to us today.
“To every man there comes … that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a special thing unique to him and fitted to his talent. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour” (as quoted by Jeffrey R. Holland, “Sanctify Yourselves,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 40).
Explain that in Ezra 7–10 students will learn about Ezra, who prepared and qualified himself to have God’s help as he faced challenges and fulfilled his mission in life. Invite students to look for principles that will help them qualify for God’s help as they fulfill their missions in life.
Explain that the events in Ezra 7 occurred more than 60 years after the temple in Jerusalem was finished and dedicated. Summarize Ezra 7:1–5 by explaining that Ezra, a descendant of Aaron who held the priesthood, lived in Shushan, the capital of the Persian Empire, when Artaxerxes reigned as king of Persia.
Invite a student to read Ezra 7:6 aloud, and ask the class to look for how Ezra was described.
What do you think “a ready scribe” means? (Explain that scribes had the responsibility to study and teach the scriptures. A “ready scribe in the law of Moses” was someone who was skillful in explaining the law.)
According to verse 6, why was Ezra successful as he made requests of the king?
Summarize Ezra 7:7–8 by explaining that Ezra and hundreds of Jews were allowed to leave captivity and travel approximately 900 miles from Shushan to Jerusalem. This journey was extremely dangerous because the Israelites had to travel through thief-infested deserts carrying the large amounts of gold, silver, and other treasure that Artaxerxes had given them to beautify the temple in Jerusalem (see Ezra 7:15–23).
Invite a student to read Ezra 7:9 aloud, and ask the class to look for what helped Ezra safely make the dangerous journey to Jerusalem.
What do you think it means that Ezra had the “good hand of his God upon him”?
Invite a student to read Ezra 7:10 aloud, and ask the class to look for what Ezra did to invite God’s hand to be upon him.
What did Ezra do so that God’s hand could be upon him?
Explain that the phrase “for Ezra had prepared his heart” implies that Ezra had tried his best to seek to know and live God’s commandments and to teach them to others.
What principle can we learn from this account that will help us have the Lord’s hand upon us? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify a principle similar to the following: As we try our best to fully live and teach the commandments, then the Lord’s hand will be upon us to bless our lives.)
Why do you think we need to try our best in order to receive the blessings of the Lord in our lives?
Ask students to think about a time when they felt the Lord’s hand in their lives. Invite a few students to share their experiences. You may also want to share an experience from your life.
Remind students of the statement by Sir Winston Churchill that you shared at the beginning of the lesson. Then ask:
How might having the hand of the Lord upon you help you prepare to perform a good work that you have been uniquely prepared to do?
Ask students to ponder a commandment they could obey more fully. Invite them to write a goal describing what they will do to try their best to more fully live this commandment and receive the Lord’s blessings.
Summarize Ezra 7:12–26 by explaining that these verses recount the letter King Artaxerxes wrote authorizing Ezra to lead the group of Jews back to Jerusalem and to appoint government leaders in Jerusalem.
Invite a student to read Ezra 7:27–28 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for Ezra’s response to King Artaxerxes’s letter.
To whom did Ezra give credit for the king’s generosity?
According to verse 28, what blessings did Ezra say he had received from God?
Summarize Ezra 8:1–20 by explaining that these verses list those who traveled with Ezra to Jerusalem. Invite a student to read Ezra 8:21–23 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Ezra asked these people to do before they began their journey.
What did Ezra ask the people to do before they began their journey?
According to verse 22, why didn’t Ezra ask the king for a military escort from Babylon to Jerusalem? (Ezra had testified to the king that God’s hand would be upon all those who seek Him. Ezra was unwilling to ask the king for an escort because he was concerned that the king would then question Ezra’s words.)
Summarize Ezra 8:24–30 by explaining that Ezra divided the treasure among several people and gave them charge to deliver it safely to Jerusalem.
Invite a student to read Ezra 8:31–32 aloud. Ask the class to look for what God did for those who traveled with Ezra. You may need to explain that the terms “enemy” and “such as lay in wait by the way” in verse 31 refer to those who would try to stop the Israelites from returning to Jerusalem or rob them of the treasures they carried.
What blessing did Ezra’s group receive because they fasted and prayed?
What principle can we learn about fasting and prayer from this account? (After students respond, write the following principle on the board: If we fast and pray, we can receive the Lord’s help with challenges we face.)
Invite students to share an experience, if not too personal, when they or someone they know fasted and prayed and received the Lord’s help with a challenge they were facing.
Invite students to consider a challenge they are facing. Encourage them to apply the principles they have learned in this lesson to receive the help they need from God.
Read the following scenario:
After a young man learns the seriousness of sexual sin, he feels a strong desire to repent but is not sure how to do it. Ask students to silently ponder if they have ever wondered what they need to do to repent of their sins.
Invite students to look for truths as they study Ezra 9–10 that can help them know what they need to do to repent of their sins.
Invite a student to read Ezra 9:1–3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for what Ezra learned about the people when he arrived in Jerusalem.
What did Ezra learn the people had done?
Why was it a transgression for the Israelites to intermarry with other groups of people?
Explain that marriage is a sacred covenant and the Lord desires that each married couple should work together to be worthy of the blessings of eternal marriage. The law of Moses forbade Israelites from marrying those who worshipped idols and other false gods (see Deuteronomy 7:3–6). Yet many Israelites in Jerusalem had intermarried with these unbelieving people, which led the Israelites to adopt false religious practices.
Summarize Ezra 9:4–15 by explaining that Ezra prayed and acknowledged the sins of the people. He also recounted the consequences that had come to the Israelites in the past because of their sins.
Invite a student to read Ezra 10:1–3 aloud, and ask the class to look for what the people needed to do to repent of their trespass against God. (You may want to explain that the term “strange wives” refers to women who worshipped idols and had married Israelites.)
What did the people need to do to repent?
Summarize Ezra 10:4–9 by explaining that Ezra called for all of the Israelites living throughout Judah to meet together at Jerusalem in three days. Invite students to read Ezra 10:10–12 silently, looking for what Ezra told the people when they came to Jerusalem.
What was Ezra’s message to the people? (Ezra told them that they needed to confess their sin and separate themselves from their wives who worshipped idols.)
Explain that it may have been very difficult for the Israelites to repent and separate themselves from their wives who worshipped idols.
What does the people’s response in verse 12 reveal about them?
Based on what Ezra told the people, what can we learn about what we must do to repent of our sins? (To repent, we must confess and forsake our sins. Consider suggesting that your students mark the phrases that teach this truth.)
Invite a student to read the following statement by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“I testify that of all the necessary steps to repentance, the most critically important is for you to have a conviction that forgiveness comes in and through Jesus Christ. It is essential to know that only on His terms can you be forgiven. You will be helped as you exercise faith in Christ. [See 2 Nephi 9:22–24; Alma 11:40.] That means you trust Him and His teachings” (“Peace of Conscience and Peace of Mind,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2004, 17).
Testify that students can exercise faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and receive forgiveness as they confess and forsake their sins.
Summarize Ezra 10:13–44 by explaining that Ezra appointed priesthood leaders to travel among the Israelites to help them do what the Lord had commanded.