Old Testament lesson 47:“Let Us Rise Up and Build”

1. King Cyrus allows the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.

Cyrus

‘It was a strange thing that in the days of Isaiah the Lord revealed to him that the greatest of all the nations in the earth should be humbled, and He gave the name of the man, Cyrus, whom the Lord referred to as His anointed, and told Isaiah that Cyrus would overthrow Babylon and rebuild Jerusalem  (Isa. 44:28  Isa. 45:1-5  Ezra 1:1-3). The prophet had said that Jerusalem would be in bondage seventy years  (Jer. 25:8-12  Dan. 9:2). It was just seventy years when Cyrus gathered together and took back to Jerusalem the Jews who had been taken captive to Babylon. Cyrus took artisans and skilled men  (Ezra 3:7) and the vessels that had been stolen from the temple by those who had lived in Babylon and went back to rebuild Jerusalem  (Ezra 1:7-11  Ezra 5:13-17).’ (George Albert Smith, General Conference, October 1943)

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Ezra 4:1–10. Who Were the Samaritans Who Hindered the Work on the Temple?

‘“At the final captivity of Israel by Shalmaneser, … the cities of Samaria were … depopulated of their inhabitants in B.C. 721, and … they remained in this desolated state until, in the words of 2 Kings 17:24, ‘the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava (Ivah, 2 Kings 18:34), and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.’ Thus the new Samaritans were Assyrians by birth or subjugation.” (William Smith, A Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “Samaritans.”)

The Assyrian foreigners were idolaters and had no desire to serve Jehovah or worship rightfully in the temple. Later when these foreign Samaritans intermarried with some of the Israelites, both a mixed race of Samaritans and a variant form of the worship of Jehovah developed. Such were the circumstances in the New Testament times. This variant religion was heavily intermingled with pagan and other unauthorized religious practices, which the Jews saw as highly offensive. When Zerubbabel refused their help, the Samaritans were understandably angry and sought revenge by writing to the king of Persia and accusing the Jews of rebellion.

Elder James E. Talmage explained: “The claim was made that of old the people of Judah had been a trouble to other nations, and that with the restoration of their Temple they would again become seditious” (The House of the Lord, p. 41; see also Ezra 4:19).

Eventually the Jews proved that they had received permission to rebuild the temple and the problem was resolved, but this incident reveals the foundations of the tremendous bitterness between the Samaritans and the Jews so evident in Christ’s time.’ (Institute Old Testament Manual)

Ezra 5:2 Then rose up Zerubbabel

 ‘Here we find three classes of men joining in the sacred work: Zerubbabel the civil governor; Jeshua the high priest or ecclesiastical governor; and Haggai and Zechariah the prophets. How glorious it is when we see the civil government joining with the sacerdotal and prophetic for the establishment and extension of true religion!’ (Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible)

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2. Ezra leads another group of Jews back to Jerusalem.

Ezra 7:27-28 And I was strengthened

‘In what the king decreed he saw the hand of God; he therefore gave him the praise, and took courage. There is a most amiable spirit of piety in these reflections. Ezra simply states the case; shows what the king had determined, and tells what he said; and then points out the grand agent in the whole business – it was the Lord God of his fathers. Thus God had put it into the king’s heart to beautify the house of Jehovah; and, as that house was built for the salvation of the souls of men, he gives God praise for putting it into the king’s heart to repair it: he who loves God and man will rejoice in the establishment of the Divine worship, because this is the readiest way to promote the best interests of man.’ (Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible).

Ezra 8:21 Then I proclaimed a fast there

‘The dangers to travelling caravans from the Bedouin Arabs that prowl through the desert were in ancient times as great as they still are; and it seems that travellers usually sought the protection of a military escort. But Ezra had spoken so much to the king of the sufficiency of the divine care of His people that he would have blushed to apply for a guard of soldiers. Therefore he resolved that his followers should, by a solemn act of fasting and prayer, commit themselves to the Keeper of Israel. Their faith, considering the many and constant perils of a journey across the Bedouin regions, must have been great, and it was rewarded by the enjoyment of perfect safety during the whole way.’ (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)

3. Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem and leads the people in rebuilding the walls to protect the city.

Nehemiah

‘Nehemiah of the Old Testament is a great example of staying focused and committed to an important task. Nehemiah was an Israelite who lived in exile in Babylon and served as cupbearer to the king. One day the king asked Nehemiah why he seemed so sad. Nehemiah replied, “Why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ [graves], lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?” Nehemiah 2:3

When the king heard this, his heart was softened, and he gave Nehemiah the authority to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. However, not everyone was happy with this plan. In fact, several rulers who lived near Jerusalem grieved exceedingly “that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.” Nehemiah 2:10 These men “took great indignation, and mocked the Jews.”  Nehemiah 4:1

Fearless, Nehemiah did not allow the opposition to distract him. Instead, he organized his resources and manpower and moved forward rebuilding the city, “for the people had a mind to work.”  Nehemiah 4:6

But as the walls of the city began to rise, opposition intensified. Nehemiah’s enemies threatened, conspired, and ridiculed. Their threats were very real, and they grew so intimidating that Nehemiah confessed, “They all made us afraid.”  Nehemiah 6:9 In spite of the danger and the ever-present threat of invasion, the work progressed. It was a time of stress, for every builder “had his sword girded by his side, and so builded.” Nehemiah 4:18

As the work continued, Nehemiah’s enemies became more desperate. Four times they entreated him to leave the safety of the city and meet with them under the pretense of resolving the conflict, but Nehemiah knew that their intent was to do him harm. Each time they approached him, he responded with the same answer: “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.”  Nehemiah 6:3

What a remarkable response! With that clear and unchanging purpose of heart and mind, with that great resolve, the walls of Jerusalem rose until they were rebuilt in an astonishing 52 days. Nehemiah 6:15

Nehemiah refused to allow distractions to prevent him from doing what the Lord wanted him to do.’ (Dieter F Uchtdorf, General Conference, April 2009)

Image result for 3. Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem and leads the people in rebuilding the walls to protect the city.

Nehemiah 2:1–11. The King Sent Nehemiah to Jerusalem

‘The favor in which Nehemiah was held by King Artaxerxes is evident not only in that he granted him permission to return but also in that he gave him guards, an escort, and a safe conduct through the lands on his return to Judah “beyond the river,” or west of the Euphrates. The king also granted him permission to use timber from the royal forests to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem as well as the gates and his own house.’ (Institute Old Testament Manual)

Nehemiah 2:10. Who Was Sanballat?

‘Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, and the governors of other nearby areas opposed the plans of the Jews for Jerusalem and resented the protection given them by the Persian king. A deep bitterness had developed between the Samaritans and the Jews who had returned with Zerubbabel (see Notes and Commentary on Ezra 4). For Nehemiah to return with full power from the emperor to refortify Jerusalem was a great setback for the Samaritans, and they openly opposed it. Sanballat of Samaria led this group (see v. 19) and made it necessary for Nehemiah to arm those who worked on the walls of Jerusalem (see chapters 4 and 6).’ (Institute Old Testament Manual)

Nehemiah 2:17 – 18 Let us build up the wall of Jerusalem

‘When Nehemiah had considered the matter, he told the Jews that God had put it into his heart to build the wall of Jerusalem. He does not undertake to do it without them. By stirring up ourselves and one another to that which is good, we strengthen ourselves and one another for it. We are weak in our duty, when we are cold and careless.’ (Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)

Nehemiah 4:9 And set a watch

‘The human means of defence are not neglected although the confidence rests in a higher protection.’ (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

Nehemiah 6:1-4 I cannot come down

‘We too have a great work to do, which will not be accomplished if we allow ourselves to stop and argue and be distracted. Instead we should muster Christian courage and move on. As we read in Psalms, “Fret not thyself because of evildoers”  Psalm 37:1′  (Robert D Hales, General Conference, October 2008)

4. The people rejoice as Ezra reads the scriptures to them.

Nehemiah 8:1–12. Establishing the Synagogue and the Feast

‘The reading of the law to the people by Ezra the scribe is of particular importance because it appears to have been the first time a synagogue, or a place to read and expound the scriptures, was established in Jerusalem after the return from Babylon. One Bible scholar commented on verse 8 as follows: “The Israelites, having been lately brought out of the Babylonish captivity, in which they had continued seventy years,according to the prediction of Jeremiah, [25:11], were not only extremely corrupt, but it appears that they had in general lost the knowledge of the ancient Hebrew to such a degree, that when the book of the law was read, they did not understand it: but certain Levites stood by, and gave the sense, i. e., translated into the Chaldee dialect. … It appears that the people were not only ignorant of their ancient language, but also of the rites and ceremonies of their religion, having been so long in Babylon, where they were not permitted to observe them. This being the case, not only the language must be interpreted, but the meaning of the rites and ceremonies must also be explained; for we find from ver. 13, &c., of this chapter, that they had even forgotten the feast of tabernacles, and every thing relative to that ceremony.” (Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible … with a Commentary and Critical Notes.) (Institute Old Testament Manual)

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