Ezra 1–10

Old Testament Teacher Resource Manual, (2003), 147–48


Introduction

In the earliest Hebrew manuscripts, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were one book and an extension of 1 and 2 Chronicles (compare 2 Chronicles 36:22–23 and Ezra 1:1–3). The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are the last two historical books of the Old Testament and cover the period from approximately 540 B.C. to 430 B.C. The book of Ezra is named for its principal character, the priest and scribe Ezra, but it does not identify its author.

The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and carried the people away captive about 721 B.C. They were subsequently scattered and became known as the “lost ten tribes” because their location is unknown. Babylon conquered the southern kingdom of Judah and carried its people away captive about 587 B.C. They remained in captivity until the Medes and Persians overthrew Babylon, about 537 B.C., and Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem (see also Daniel 5).

The book of Ezra has two distinct sections: Chapters 1–6 record the return from Babylon of the first group of Jews, led by Zerubbabel, and their efforts to rebuild the temple. Chapters 7–10 record the return of a second group, led by Ezra, more than sixty years later.

This book reminds us of God’s power to deliver His people and fulfill His purposes, even to the point of inspiring unbelievers to assist Him. It also helps us understand the importance of temples and temple worship (for more information, see Bible Dictionary, “Ezra,” p. 669).

Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For

Suggestions for Teaching

weekly icon Ezra 1:1–6. God can inspire good people of all faiths to fulfill His prophecies. (20–30 minutes)

Have students imagine they are at a family gathering. Someone approaches them with a book and tells them that it is more than two hundred years old, that it has their name in it, and that it says they will do something remarkable. Ask them how they would react. Explain that something similar happened to a king of ancient Persia.

Have students read Isaiah 44:28–45:4 and identify who the prophet Isaiah said the king would be and what he would do. Show them the following chart:

YEAR

EVENT

740 B.C.

Isaiah begins to prophesy

539

Persians overthrow Babylon (see Daniel 5:30–31)

538–537

First year of Cyrus’s reign (see Ezra 1:1–4)

Abt. 537

Temple altar rebuilt (see Ezra 3:1–3)

536

Work on temple begun (see Ezra 3:8)

536–530

Samaritan opposition during Cyrus’s reign (see Ezra 4:1–5)

530–520

Work on temple ceased (see Ezra 4:24)

520

Work on temple renewed (see Ezra 5:2; Haggai 1:14)

516

Temple completed (see Ezra 6:14–15)

458

Ezra left Babylon and arrived in Jerusalem (see Ezra 7:6–9)

458

Ezra called upon the Jews to repent (see Ezra 10:9–17)

Point out the number of years that separated Cyrus and Isaiah. Have students read Ezra 1:1–4 and find out if Cyrus believed the prophecy. Read the rest of the chapter and ask students to identify what kind of man Cyrus was. Have them search Ezra 2:1, 64–70 and find how many of the Jews returned home.

Read the following scriptures and have students identify the person or persons the prophecy alludes to:

Ask students how reading those prophecies could have helped those people increase their faith. Have them read Joel 2:28; Mormon 8:34–41; Moroni 10:24–27; and Moses 1:7–8 and identify what those ancient prophets saw.

Read Ephesians 1:4–5. Discuss how each of us was foreordained to receive the gospel, and how prophets have testified that the latter-day work will continue to roll forth through us (see D&C 121:25–29). Ask students how knowing that ancient prophets have seen our day can give them courage to make right choices.

Conclude by singing or reading the words of a hymn that teaches that the youth are noble and have the power to succeed, such as “True to the Faith” (Hymns, no. 254), “Carry On” (Hymns, no. 255), or “As Zion’s Youth in Latter Days” (Hymns, no. 256).

Ezra 3:3–13; 6:16–22. Whenever the Lord gathers His people, He commands them to build temples. (20–30 minutes)

Display a map of the world and as a class identify the location of as many of the Church’s temples as you can. Discuss how members of the Church might feel when they have a temple close by them. Discuss how President Gordon B. Hinckley’s announcement about the construction of smaller temples is affecting the lives of Church members around the world (see Conference Report, Oct. 1997, pp. 68–69; or Ensign, Nov. 1997, pp. 49–50; see also Ensign, May 1998, 87–88).

Read Ezra 1:1–3 and ask students how the Jews might have felt when they were permitted to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple, after being without a temple for almost seventy years. Have them read Ezra 1:4–11 and 2:64–3:7 and look for evidence that many of the people were eager to help with the temple. Read Ezra 3:11–13 and discuss how the people felt when the temple’s foundation was laid. Read Ezra 6:16–22 and discuss how they felt when the temple was dedicated.

Temples are constructed according to the Lord’s timetable. Review Ezra 1:1–2; 4:23–24; and 6:1–15 with the class and note the influence political leaders had on whether or not the temple could be built. Ask: When the Lord is ready, can He influence political leaders to help fulfill His purposes?

Teach students that the construction of temples is also influenced by the righteousness of the members of the Church. To illustrate this, compare Doctrine and Covenants 57:3; 58:57; 88:119; and 95:1–14. Note the dates on which each of those commandments was given, and compare them to the date on which the Kirtland Temple was dedicated (see D&C 109). Ask: How might our spiritual preparation today influence the construction of future temples?

Read Ezra 5:1–2 and ask: Who made the most significant impact in beginning the temple construction? What do these verses teach about obeying prophets? (see also Haggai 1:1–8; 2:12–18; Zechariah 1:12–17). Read the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley:

“I have a burning desire that a temple be located within reasonable access to Latter-day Saints throughout the world” (in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1995, 77; or Ensign, Nov. 1995, 52).

Ask students what we can do to help President Hinckley fulfill his desire.

Ezra 7. The Lord works through those whose hearts are prepared to receive His counsel. (10 minutes)

Have students do activity A for Ezra 7 in their student study guides (p. 123).

Ezra 9–10. Learning from the experiences of others can help us follow the Lord. (15–20 minutes)

Bring a recent newspaper to class and browse through it with your students. As you do so, discuss why people sin when experience shows that the consequences are often tragic.

Quickly review the history of Judah’s captivity by Babylon (see 2 Kings 24–25). Read 2 Kings 21:13–16 and ask students why they think the Lord allowed them to be conquered. Have students read Ezra 9:1–2 and identify what sins the returning exiles were committing. Ask: How were those sins similar to the sins of their forefathers? Read Ezra 9:3–15 and discuss how Ezra felt about his people.

Help students understand that it is not enough just to know right from wrong—we must do what is right. Read Ezra 10:1–2 and ask if the people knew what was right. Ask students to identify phrases from verses 3–5 that show the people intended to do what was right.

Have them search verses 6–17 for evidence of Ezra’s love for his people. Ask:

  • What did Ezra do to show his love?

  • How can we follow Ezra’s example today?