March 3, 2019 – Ezra 1:1 – 3:7
Lesson Date: March 3, 2019
Focal Scripture Passage: Ezra 1:1-11; 2:1, 70; 3:1-7
AIM: To lead students to discover that God sovereignly used a pagan king to help His people, and to ask God to work through our governmental leaders to accomplish His purpose.
Before class: Read the notes on Ezra 1:1 – 3:7 found in the Sunday School Teacher Book. Be sure to read the Historical Context of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther (pages 11-12) and study the Timeline of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther (on page 13). If possible, bring a world map or globe to class.
INTRODUCTION (Create Learning Readiness): If you brought a world map or globe, show the students where Iran is located. Read the following to the class:
The Iranian government is among the most oppressive regimes in the world. It is illegal to leave Islam, and Christians face the constant threat of imprisonment and being falsely charged with “acting against national security.” Known followers of Christ are often evicted from rented homes, routinely fired from their jobs, and then experience difficulties finding new employment. Many gather in secret fellowships and receive teaching through Christian media that’s either been broadcast via satellite television or smuggled into the country. Several Christians are currently imprisoned, and many others under house arrest are awaiting sentencing.
For more information about Christians being persecuted in Iran, look at the following articles:
Tell the class that Iran is one of the most dangerous places on earth for Christians. The country is run by hardline Muslims who believe it is their duty to oppress and kill Christians. Ask: “What would have to happen for conditions in Iran to improve for Christians?” (change of leadership, government leaders receiving Christ, etc.).
Ask: “What would you think if the leaders of Iran suddenly changed their policies – if they stopped persecuting Christians and started helping and blessing them instead?” (it would be nothing short of miraculous). Tell them today’s lesson is about just such a drastic change.
HEART OF THE LESSON (Bible Study):
- Introduction to Ezra.
- Be sure everyone present has a copy of the new Sunday School Member Quarterly for the spring quarter.
- Tell them after six months in the Gospel of John, we are returning to the Old Testament.
- Introduce the study of Ezra by using the following outline and pointing out events on the Timeline of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
- Jerusalem (locate Jerusalem on the map) fell to the Babylonians in 586 c.
- Read 2 Kings 25:8-11.
- The Temple was destroyed, the city walls were broken down, and the Jews were carried away into captivity in Babylon (locate Babylon on the map).
- Ask a volunteer to read Isaiah 44:28.
- This prophecy concerning King Cyrus of Persia (locate Persia on the map) was written 100 years before he was born. Only God could do that!
- Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 c., placing the captive Jews under his rule.
- Ask a volunteer to read Jeremiah 29:10-11.
- Jeremiah clearly prophesied that the Jews would be released and allowed to return to their land.
- King Cyrus Released the Jews and Sent Them Home to Rebuild the Temple.
- Read Ezra 1:1-3.
- Ask: “According to verse 1, who stirred up King Cyrus’ heart?” (the Lord).
- Ask: “What did Cyrus acknowledge in verse 2?” (God was the one who had allowed him to conquer so many kingdoms).
- Ask: “What did God charge Cyrus to do?” (build Him a house – a temple – at Jerusalem).
- Ask: “According to verse 3, what did Cyrus tell the Jews in his empire to do?” (go up to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple).
- Ask a volunteer to read Ezra 1:4-6.
- Ask: “What did Cyrus tell his citizens to do in verse 4?” (give the Jews silver, gold, goods, and animals; he also told them to give money to help rebuild the temple).
- Tell the class many Jews responded to Cyrus’ command (verse 5), and the people of his empire willingly gave them great riches (verse 6).
- Read Ezra 1:7-11.
- Tell the class that when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Jerusalem in 586 c., his forces looted all the gold and silver vessels stored in the Temple and used for its services.
- Ask: “What did King Cyrus do with those things?” (he returned them all to the Jews so they could take them back and use them in their new Temple).
- Explain that “Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah” was the Persian name of Zerubbabel, whom Cyrus appointed as governor of Judah (locate Judah or Judea on the map).
- Summarize: In a miraculous reversal, King Cyrus of Persia freed the Jews and told them to go home to Jerusalem and rebuild the Lord’s Temple there. He also returned all the Temple treasures Nebuchadnezzar had taken and told his citizens to give the Jews money and valuables to help them rebuild the Temple.
- About 50,000 Jews Returned to Their Homeland.
- Ask a volunteer to read Ezra 2:1.
- Tell the students if they scan over chapter 2 they can see that it contains a detailed listing of all the families that went with Zerubbabel back to Judah.
- Tell them almost 50,000 Jews left Babylon and returned to their homeland.
- Read Ezra 2:70.
- Ask: “What did the Jews do when they got back to their land?” (settled in their ancestral cities).
- Summarize: As a result of King Cyrus’ decree, about 50,000 Jews left Babylon and returned home to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.
- The Jews Resumed Their Worship.
- Ask a volunteer to read Ezra 3:1.
- Ask: “What happened in the seventh month?” (all the Jews gathered in Jerusalem – locate Jerusalem on the map).
- Explain that the seventh month was very important on the Jewish religious calendar. It was the time of the annual Day of Atonement and the eight-day Feast of Tabernacles.
- Specifically, the date described in this verse was September/October of 537 c.
- Read Ezra 3:2-3.
- Tell the class that Jeshua (also written Joshua) was the high priest and Zerubbabel was the Jewish governor.
- Ask: “What did they do?” (built an altar so they could offer burnt offerings to the Lord).
- Explain that God had only ordained one spot on planet Earth in which the Jews were to worship and offer sacrifices. That spot was atop Mount Moriah (the Temple Mount) in Jerusalem.
- All the time the Jews were in captivity they could not worship through offerings, but as soon as they got back and settled in the land they built an altar and resumed their sacrificial system of worship.
- Read Ezra 3:4-6.
- Ask: “What did the people do once the altar was built?” (they kept the Feast of Tabernacles and began offering regular sacrifices to the Lord).
- Ask: “Had they laid the foundation of the Temple yet?” (no).
- Read Ezra 3:7.
- Ask: “What did the Jews do next?” (they willingly gave money to help rebuild the Temple).
- Summarize: As soon as possible, the Jews built an altar and resumed their regular sacrificial worship system. They also gave money to help rebuild the Temple.
PERSONAL APPLICATION: Tell the students that worship was obviously very important to the ancient Jews. As soon as they got settled back in their land they came together for worship. They rebuilt the altar and started offering the sacrifices prescribed in the Old Testament. Not only that, they willingly gave money to help pay for rebuilding the Temple. It’s safe to say that worship was very important to the ancient Jews. Ask: “Is worship that important to us?”
Ask: “Where were the Jews at the beginning of this lesson?” (in captivity in and around Babylon). Point out Babylon on the map and then ask, “In what modern country is Babylon located?” (Iraq).
Ask: “Who did God use to free the Jews and send them back to their land to rebuild their Temple and restart their worship?” (King Cyrus of Persia). Point out Persia on the map and then ask, “What is Persia’s modern name?” (Iran). Remind the class that Iran is a very strict Muslim country in which other religions are not tolerated. Ask: “How likely is it that the leaders of Iran would do something to help the Jewish people or the nation of Israel?” (very unlikely; in fact, they have repeatedly and recently vowed to wipe Israel off the map).
Stress the fact that God used a pagan Persian king to free the Jews, return their stolen Temple treasures, and tell his own people to give money to the Jews to help fund the building project. Only God could do such an amazing thing!
Tell the students that God is sovereign over the affairs of men: He can raise up and use whatever leaders He chooses to accomplish His will. Ask: “How does that make you feel in light of the many uncertainties and upheavals in our nation and around the world?”
Encourage the students to thank God for His sovereign control of world events and ask Him to work through our governmental leaders to accomplish His purpose. Lead a closing prayer.
CONCLUSION: Ask everyone to memorize Jeremiah 29:11. Tell them to pray regularly for our government’s leaders and for other world leaders. Encourage them to follow the Daily Bible Reading Guide each day.
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