Old Testament Scriptural Selections
From the books of Ezra and Nehemiah
Gospel Doctrine Class, Sunday School Lesson #47
"Let Us Rise Up and Build" - Nehemiah 2:18
Reference: Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Manual, (2001), 220-24
Old Testament Student Manual Kings-Malachi, (1982), 311-316
From the Student Manual: “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).
The purpose of this lesson: "To encourage class members to help build Zion and to show Christlike love to those who oppose the work of the Lord."
"[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. [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" (Teacher's Manual).
King Cyrus the Great
Our story must begin with Cyrus. He was a man destined to rewrite the history of the world and the world of the Jews taken captive to Babylon when Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed in 587 B.C.
"Cyrus the Great emerged in history in 559 B.C. as ruler of the little province of Anshan, a district in northwestern Elam [southern Iran] just south of Media and east of the Zagros Mountains. …[Within] ten years Cyrus made himself master of the Median empire comprising modern Persia, northern Assyria, Armenia, and Asia Minor as far west as the river Halys"[a river in Asia Minor that flows into the Black Sea, (biblehistory.com/maps)]. Two years later he had extended his empire from Turkey to Greece.
"[In] 539 B.C., Cyrus advanced against Babylon, which opened its gates to him without a battle. [According to Daniel, [King] Belshazzar saw the handwriting on the wall telling him of the fall of Babylon the very night before Cyrus entered the city and brought an end to the Babylonian empire (see Daniel 5)]. Indeed, [Cyrus] seems to have been welcomed by the populace as a friend and benefactor. Thus Cyrus became master of all western Asia.
“Cyrus was a born ruler of men. He inaugurated a new policy in the treatment of conquered peoples. Instead of tyrannizing over them and holding them in subjection by brute force, he treated his subjects with consideration and won them as his friends. He was particularly considerate of the religions of conquered peoples. The effect of this policy was to weld his subjects to him in a loyalty which made his reign an era of peace.” (Elmer W. K. Mould, Essentials of Bible History, pp. 348–49; quoted from the Student Manual, 311.)
The Jewish historian Josephus wrote: “In the first year of the reign of Cyrus, which was the seventieth from the day that our people were removed out of their own land into Babylon, God commiserated [mourned] the captivity and calamity of these poor people, according as he had foretold to them by Jeremiah the prophet, before the destruction of the city, that after they had served Nebuchadnezzar and his posterity, and after they had undergone that servitude seventy years, he would restore them again to the land of their fathers, and they should build their temple, and enjoy their ancient prosperity. And these things God did afford them; for he stirred up the mind of Cyrus, and made him write this throughout all Asia: ‘Thus saith Cyrus the king: Since God Almighty hath appointed me to be king of the habitable earth, I believe that he is that God which the nation of the Israelites worship; for indeed he foretold my name by the prophets, and that I should build him a house at Jerusalem, in the country of Judea.’
“This was known to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1) left behind him of his prophecies; for this prophet said that God had spoken thus to him in a secret vision: ‘My will is, that Cyrus, whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations, send back my people to their own land, and build my temple.’ This was foretold by Isaiah one hundred and forty years before the temple was demolished [150 years before Cyrus was born] (emphasis added). Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the Divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfil what was so written; so he called for the most eminent Jews that were in Babylon, and said to them, that he gave them leave to go back to their own country, and to rebuild their city Jerusalem, and the temple of God, for that he would be their assistant, and that he would write to the rulers and governors that were in the neighbourhood of their country of Judea, that they should contribute to them gold and silver for the building of the temple, and besides that, beasts for their sacrifices.” (Antiquities of the Jews, bk. 11, chap. 1, pars. 1–2; quoted from the Student Manual, 312.)
King Cyrus allows the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple
Ezra Q & A from the Teacher's Manual
Q. Why did Cyrus decree that a temple should be built again in Jerusalem?
A. Ezra 1:1-2 -"Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah."
▶Cyrus knew of Isaiah's scripture: "That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid" (Isaiah 44:28). "Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut;" (Isaiah 45:1). Also, Cyrus was a leader who treated his subjects with consideration thus inspiring loyalty and peace.
Q. What did the Samaritans ask of the returning Jews?
A. Ezra 4:1-2 - "Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel; 2 Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esar-haddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither."
Q. What did the returned Jews answer?
A. Ezra 4:3 - "But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us." They refused their help.
Q. What did the Samaritans do when the Jews refused to let them help?
A. Ezra 4:4-7 - "Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, And hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue, and interpreted in the Syrian tongue."
Ezra 4:21 - (Artaxerxes, the king wrote back) "Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me." They wrote letters to the kings and Darius caused the work on the temple at Jerusalem to cease.
Q. What prompted the Jews to resume their work several years later?
A. Ezra 5:1-2 - "Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them. Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them."
Haggai 1:34; 7-8 - "Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying,
Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled [paneled] houses, and this house lie waste? Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord." The prophets inspired the people to begin working on the temple again.
Q. What did the Jews explain to King Darius who allowed the work to continue?
A. Ezra 5:13 - "But in the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon the same king Cyrus made a decree to build this house of God."
Ezra 6: 1-3 - "Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon. And there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a roll, and therein was a record thus written: In the first year of Cyrus the king the same Cyrus the king made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, Let the house be builded;"
Ezra 6:7 - [King Darius wrote back] "Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place." King Cyrus made a decree allowing the "house" to be built.
Q. What did the Jews do when the temple was finished?
A. Ezra 6: 15-16 "And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king. And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy." They dedicated the Temple, made sacrifices, kept the Passover, purified the priests and the Levites, "And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the Lord had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel" (Ezra 6:17-22).
Ezra leads another group of Jews back to Jerusalem
From the Teacher's Manual: "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 was] a famous priest and scribe who brought back part of the exiles from captivity (Ezra 7–10; Neh. 8; 12). The object of his mission was 'to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.' In 458 B.C. he obtained from Artaxerxes an important edict (Ezra 7:12–26) allowing him to take to Jerusalem any Jewish exiles who cared to go, along with offerings for the temple with which he was entrusted, and giving to the Jews various rights and privileges. He was also directed to appoint magistrates and judges" (Bible Dictionary).
Ezra had the people fast and pray for guidance and protection as they journeyed to Jerusalem. "Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem: and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way" (Ezra 8:31). On arriving in Jerusalem his first reform was to cause the Jews to separate from their foreign wives, and a list is given of those who had offended in this way (Ezra 10).
"The later history of Ezra is found in the book of Nehemiah, which is a sequel to the book of Ezra. Along with Nehemiah he took steps to instruct the people in the Mosaic law (Neh. 8). Hitherto 'the law' had been to a great extent the exclusive possession of the priests. It was now brought within the reach of every Jew. The open reading of 'the book of the law' was a new departure and marked the law as the center of Jewish national life" (lds.org/scriptures/study helps/bible dictionary).
Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem and leads the people in rebuilding the walls to protect the city
"[Nehemiah's name means] Comfort of the Lord. A Jew (either a Levite or of the tribe of Judah) who held the important office of 'cupbearer' [requiring Nehemiah to ensure that the king’s food and drink were safe] at the court of Artaxerxes, from whom he obtained a royal commission authorizing him to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The book of Nehemiah (which is a continuation of Ezra, the two being regarded by the Jews as forming one book) contains an account of the progress and difficulties of the work and its final completion" (lds.org/scriptures/Study Helps/Bible Dictionary).
Q. What did Nehemiah do when he heard of the difficulties of his people in Jerusalem?
A. He wept, fasted and prayed for the children of Israel (Nehemiah 1:4-11).
Q. How did King Artaxerxes respond to Nehemiah’s request to return to Jerusalem?
A. 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 (Nehemiah 2: 6-8).
Q. How did Nehemiah encourage the people to rebuild the walls around the city?
A. Jeremiah 2:17-18 - "Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach. Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work."
Q. 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?
A. Jeremiah 4:1, 11 - "But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews. And our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease."
Q. How did the Jews respond to efforts to stop the construction of the walls?
A. Jeremiah 4:9, 13-15 - "Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.
13 Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall, and on the higher places, I even set the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses. And it came to pass, when our enemies heard that it was known unto us, and God had brought their counsel [plan] to nought, that we returned all of us to the wall, every one unto his work."
Q. What did Nehemiah do when Sanballat asked him to stop working and meet with him?
A. Jeremiah 6:2-4 - "That Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief. And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you? Yet they sent unto me four times after this sort; and I answered them after the same manner."
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; quoted in the Teacher's Manual).
The people rejoice as Ezra reads the scriptures to them
When the walls of Jerusalem were finished, the people went to Ezra the scribe and ask him to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. And he brought the book before the congregation, both men and women, that they could hear and understand it. Ezra blessed the Lord "and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law:… So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading" (Nehemiah 8:1-2; 7-8).
"And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha [governor], and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. "Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength. So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved" (Nehemiah 8:9-11).
The book was read for seven days "and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner [of the feast of the tabernacles]" (see Zachariah 14:16) (Nehemiah 8:14).
“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. …[Our] 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" (From the Teacher's Manual).
"Temples Are for Eternal Covenants"
Family Home Evening Video Supplement 2 (53277)