“Let Us Rise Up and Build”
Lesson 47 – Ezra 1-8; Nehemiah 1-2; 4; 6; 8
Elder Dallin H. Oaks: “We may … find that a specific verse of scripture that was spoken for quite a different purpose in an entirely different age will, under the interpretive influence of the Holy Ghost, give us a very personal message adapted to our personal needs today. … If we seek to liken the scriptures to our own circumstances, ‘that it might be for our profit and learning’ (1 Nephi 19:23), a loving Father in heaven can use them to bless us in highly individual ways” (Studying the Scriptures [devotional given in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, 24 Nov. 1985]).
Have you ever been reading the scriptures and felt that a particular passage spoke directly to you? Have the scriptures helped provide direction specifically for your life?
The events discussed in this lesson were set in motion by a man who found that a passage of scripture written 150 years before his birth spoke to him personally—in fact, it mentioned him by name. Today’s lesson is designed to encourage us to help build Zion and to show Christlike love to those who oppose the work of the Lord.
King Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.
In 721 B.C., when the kingdom of Israel (the Northern Kingdom, or ten tribes) was taken captive by Assyria, the Assyrian empire was the greatest in the world. By 612 B.C., however, the Assyrian empire had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Under King Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon ruled most of the lands that had been conquered by the Assyrians. The Babylonian conquest of the kingdom of Judah (the Southern Kingdom) extended from about 605 B.C., when they took many Jews captive, to 587 B.C., when they destroyed Jerusalem. After Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B.C., Babylon declined rapidly in power. In 539 B.C., Babylon fell to the Medes and the Persians, united under the leadership of Cyrus. Unlike Nebuchadnezzar, who treated those he conquered with cruelty, Cyrus was a benevolent ruler. By treating conquered peoples kindly and respecting their religions, Cyrus won the loyalty of those he ruled. Shortly after conquering Babylon, Cyrus decreed that the temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt. He invited the Jews in his empire to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, and he returned the vessels of gold and silver that Nebuchadnezzar’s troops had stolen from the temple. (See 2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-3, Ezra 1:7. The prophecy of Jeremiah that is referred to in these verses is that the Jews would return to Jerusalem after 70 years of Babylonian captivity; see Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 29:10.)
Ezra 1:1-2 - Cyrus decreed that the Lord had chargged him to build a temple in Jerusalem again.
Cyrus knew the Lord wanted him to do this. The words of Cyrus that are recorded in Ezra 1:2 refer to a prophecy in Isaiah 44:28 that mentioned Cyrus by name (although the story of Cyrus comes before the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, Isaiah lived about 150 years before Cyrus was born). The ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus reported that Cyrus read his name in Isaiah’s prophecies, was touched by the Spirit of the Lord, and desired to fulfill what was written (The Works of Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, trans. William Whiston [n.d.], bk. 11, chap. 1, pars. 1-2).
When Zerubbabel and Jeshua led the first group of Jews back to Jerusalem, they found the Samaritans there. The Samaritans were descendants of Israelites who had escaped at the time of captivity and had intermarried with Assyrian and Babylonian colonists whom the kings had sent to occupy the land.
Ezra 4:1-2 - The Samaritans asked to be included iin the temple building project.
Ezra 4:3 - The Jews refused to let the Samaritanns help rebuild the temple because they felt the Samaritans were not true Israelites since they had intermarried with those outside the covenant.
Ezra 4:4-7, 11-24 - When the Jews refused to let them hellp, the Samaritans tried to stop the rebuilding of the temple by complaining to the kings who succeeded Cyrus. Work on the temple eventually ceased.
Ezra 5:1-2; Haggai 1 - The Jews were prompted to resume theiir work several years later when the prophets Haggai and Zechariah provided inspired direction.
Haggai 1:3-4, 7-8 - The Lord, through Haggai, told the Jeews in Jerusalem that it was time to rebuild the temple. A disbelieving attitude among the Jews was hindering the rebuilding of the temple (see Haggai 1:2.)
The Samaritans again tried to stop the rebuilding of the temple when construction resumed. But the Jews explained the decree of King Cyrus, and King Darius allowed the work to continue.
Ezra 6:15-22 - When the temple was finished, the Jewws celebrated with a joyful feast.
Ezra led another group of Jews back to Jerusalem.
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 7:27-28; see also verses 11-26).
Softening the hearts of government leaders toward the Church also occurs in the latter days (See, for example, Thomas S. Monson, Ensign, May 1989, 50-53.) To encourage government leaders’ hearts to be softened toward the Church, we can obey the laws of the land, do good, prepare to teach the gospel to all the world, and pray for the Lord to soften the hearts of the leaders. (See D&C 58:21, D&C 58:27; D&C 98:4-6.)
Ezra 8:21-23, 31 - Ezra proclaimed a fast to ensure thatt the group of Jews he was taking to Jerusalem was protected.
Nehemiah went to Jerusalem and led the people in rebuilding the walls to protect the city.
Nehemiah was the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes of Persia. This was a position of great trust and responsibility, requiring Nehemiah to ensure that the king’s food and drink were safe. Even though Nehemiah was in a position of importance in Persia, he cared about his people in Jerusalem and sought to help them when he heard of their difficulties.
Nehemiah 1:4-11; 2:1-5 – When Nehemiah heard of the difficulties of his people in Jerusalem, he mourned and fasted for them and then asked the king for permission to go to Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 2:6-8 - King Artaxerxes responded to Nehemiahh’s request by granting Nehemiah permission to go, providing guards and an escort for safety, and authorizing the use of timber from the forest to rebuild the city walls.
Nehemiah 2:17-18 - Nehemiah encouraged the people to rebbuild the walls around the city by testifying of the truth and sharing his spiritual experiences.
Sanballat was the governor of Samaria, and he and his people were enemies of the Jews who had returned with Zerubbabel. Sanballat opposed the plans to rebuild the city walls. The Jews responded to the efforts to stop the construction of the walls by preparing for battle to protect themselves (See Nehemiah 4:9, 13-15.) Sanballat asked Nehemiah to stop working and meet with him to try to distract him from the work (See Nehemiah 6:1-4.)
Some people try to distract Church members from the Lord’s work today. Because that happens, 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” (Ensign, May 1978, 8).
The people rejoiced as Ezra read the scriptures to them.
After the people had finished rebuilding the city walls, they requested that Ezra read the scriptures to them. Most of the Jews had been in captivity so long that they had never heard or read the scriptures. Ezra read to the people for days. (See Nehemiah 8:3, 17-18.) The people responded by listening attentively, bowing their heads, weeping, and being joyful. (See Nehemiah 8:3, 6, 9, 12.)
Nehemiah 8:8 - Ezra read distinctly to help his peopple understand the scriptures.
“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).
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, but it is our responsibility to show Christlike love to them but not allow them to distract us from our efforts to build the kingdom of God.
These lesson are posted on the Internet at http://www.geocities.com/jeninstitute/