Sunday School lessons for Gospel Doctrine Class

Saturday, December 15, 2018

“Let Us Rise Up and Build”



Scripture references have been highlighted in red and are hyperlinked to the LDS Scriptures at LDS.org and will open in a new window. Please click to read!    Resource quotes have been highlighted in blue and are noted at the end of the blog.

Here's a question for you today:  Have you ever been reading the scriptures and felt that a particular passage spoke directly to you?  If so how did it make you feel, did it effect you in any certain ways?

Elder Dallin H. Oaks tells us that:  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]).

This phenomenon, if you will, is not just privilege to us in our day. There was a man of the Old Testament who found that a passage of scripture written 150 years before his birth spoke to him personally—in fact, it mentioned him by name.  This man and his prophecy, because he listened to the spirit when reading; changed the life of the Jewish people of his time. He teaches us a hugely valuable lesson in the guidance of the Lord through written verse.  His name is King Cyrus and we are going to take a look at him through the writings of Ezra and Nehemiah that we too may learn to read ourselves and find direction in the scriptures.

The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah
The books of the Bible do not fall into chronological order. Their position is determined usually by whether they are historical or prophetic books.  The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are actually the last two historical books of the Old Testament.

These books of  were originally part of a compilation that included 1 and 2 Chronicles. Ezra 1:1–3and 2 Chronicles 36:22–23and are almost identical.  The following books of Zechariah and Haggai were prophets during this same period; and Malachi is the only prophet known to have served in Israel between the time of Ezra and Nehemiah and the beginning of the New Testament.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of Israel’s history from the first return to Jerusalem until the end of Nehemiah’s second term as governor of Judah, 538 B.C. to shortly before 400 B.C.
In the previous lesson, Esther’s sojourn in Persia belongs to the time between the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem and Ezra’s return (beginning in Ezra 7:1).

Who was Ezra? 
Ezra was of priestly descent, and his genealogy back to Aaron is given at the beginning of his record (Ezra 7:1-5). He is described as "a ready scribe in the law of Moses" (Ezra 7:6). A scribe was an instructor and interpreter of the Mosaic law. As such he was qualified to argue cases and render legal decisions from the Torah in a Jewish court. Subsequent generations of scribes and rabbinic leaders in Judaism looked back to Ezra as the great scribal prototype and the spiritual father of their tradition. 6

However impressive Ezra's credentials appear, he is never described as a prophet either in Ezra or in Nehemiah. Despite the assumption of the text that the Lord was guiding him (Ezra 7:6), we have no indication that the Lord ever revealed his will to him. Although he was a pious man, interested in the spiritual welfare of his people, he did not enjoy the Spirit of the Lord that characterized the call of a prophet in Old Testament times. 7

Because of Ezra's priestly lineage, his family was perhaps respected and influential in Babylon. That may explain why he gained the favor of King Artaxerxes, who "granted him all his request" in connection with his desire to go to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:6). Persian kings generally took an interest in the religions of their subject peoples, thereby gaining the respect and loyalty of their subjects and reducing the possibility of rebellion and dissent in their far-flung empire. 8

Artaxerxes gave Ezra a letter detailing the terms of his commission (Ezra 7:12-26), which had three general directives: (1) Any Jews in the empire who wished to accompany Ezra to Jerusalem could do so. (2) Ezra was given gold, silver, and precious vessels from the king's treasury to use in purchasing sacrifices and offerings for the temple and other aspects of temple worship, according to Ezra's discretion. He was also empowered to collect offerings from the Jews in Babylon for the same purpose and to draw money from the treasuries of local officials in Palestine, if necessary. (3) Ezra was given authority to order religious affairs in Judah and the power to punish those who did not cooperate with him. With the complete support of Artaxerxes, Ezra was now ready to depart on the Lord's errand.

Ezra was accompanied by a group of more than fifteen hundred men, thirty-eight Levites, and two hundred twenty temple attendants (see Ezra 8:1-20). With the addition of wives and children, the total number would have been considerably larger. 9 The group arrived at Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:7-8) and "furthered the people, and the house of God" (Ezra 8:36).  (Studies in Scripture Vol 4 Kent P Jackson) 

Who Was Nehemiah? 
Whereas Ezra was a religious reformer, Nehemiah was primarily a political reformer: Artaxerxes gave Ezra power to reform and regulate Jewish worship, but Nehemiah was given authority to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah had the distinction of being the cupbearer of Artaxerxes (Neh. 1:11-2:1), which means that he served the king's drink and sampled it to ensure that it had not been poisoned before it was given to the king. This practice was common in Near Eastern courts to prevent the assassination of the king.

Nehemiah's record begins at Susa, one of the main royal residences in Persia (center of Map 12, LDS Bible), in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes' reign (445 B.C.). There at the court of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah learned that the Jews in Palestine were not faring well and that Jerusalem still lay in ruins (Neh. 1:1-3). Nehemiah then pleaded with the Lord on behalf of the Jews to deliver them from their suffering and to give him success in asking the king if he might go to Jerusalem and rebuild it (Neh. 1:4-2:5). The king granted Nehemiah's request, and an armed escort accompanied him to Jerusalem in 445 B.C. (Neh. 2:5-9).

Nehemiah is never called a prophet, nor does he appear to have been a priest or to have had any special religious credentials, as did Ezra. What he accomplished was done through royal authority, but he must have been a man of humble intentions in light of his prayer recorded in Nehemiah 1 and other statements wherein he asked the Lord to remember and bless him (Neh. 5:19; 13:31). There is one instance in Nehemiah's record where he mentioned receiving inspiration: "And my God put into mine heart to gather together the nobles, and the rulers, and the people, that they might be reckoned by genealogy" (Neh. 7:5). Nehemiah may have lacked religious credentials, but he was able to receive the Lord's inspiration and to receive answers to his prayers.

Nehemiah's letters of authorization are not written in the text (Neh. 2:7-9), but it appears that in addition to having authority to rebuild Jerusalem, he was made governor of the province of Judah as well (Neh. 10:1; 12:26). This circumstance helps explain the enmity of Sanballat, governor of Samaria, because the territory of Judah was probably under his jurisdiction until Nehemiah came. 15(Studies in Scripture Vol 4 Kent P Jackson) 


King Cyrus

Cyrus the Great emerged in history in 559 B.C. as ruler of the little province of Anshan, a district in northwestern Elam just south of Media and east of the Zagros Mountains. Anshan was then under the overlordship of Media. When Cyrus revolted against his overlord Astyages, the Median army went over to him in a body, surrendering Astyages as prisoner. Cyrus apparently was the voluntary choice of the Medes as their king. The empire’s capital, Ecbatana, with all its treasure, came into possession of Cyrus practically without a blow. Thus 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. 

After two years spent in organizing the empire Cyrus moved westward, bent on conquest. After conquering northern Mesopotamia he attacked and defeated the fabulously rich Croesus, king of Lydia, whose kingdom extended from the river Halys [in Turkey] to the Aegean Sea [in Greece]. …

Returning in 539 B.C., Cyrus advanced against Babylon, which opened its gates to him without a battle. [According to Daniel, 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.

The fall of Babylon marked the end of Semitic world power. With the triumph of Cyrus, a new race, the Indo-European, came into world dominion and the political destiny of the world was thenceforth in the hands of that race. This, therefore, marks a new and very important watershed in Biblical history.

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.)

This revolution in policy was to have a profound effect on the history of the world and particularly on Jewish history, for when Cyrus marched into Babylon, the Jews were still in exile there.



Historical Background

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. 2 Chronicles 36:22–23; Ezra 1:1–3, 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; 29:10.

When Ezra arrived at Jerusalem from Babylon in 458 B.C., he found the Jews in a weak temporal and spiritual condition. Although the temple had been rebuilt, Jerusalem's walls and much of the city still lay in ruins, and few people lived there. The sorry state of the Holy City was paralleled by a general neglect of the Law of Moses, and the Jews were in danger of losing their former cultural and religious identity through intermarriage with the local non-Jewish population. 

It was clear that the efforts of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah some sixty years earlier had failed to produce a permanent effect on the religious feeling of the Jews in Palestine, despite their success in motivating them to finish the reconstruction of the temple in 515 B.C. In addition, the ministry of the prophet Malachi probably fell between the completion of the temple and the coming of Ezra, and his writings contain a very negative picture of the Jews' religious devotion (see Mal. 1-2). With the era of the prophets already over, Ezra was left to do his best to keep the Jews in Palestine from assimilating into the surrounding environment and abandoning the law given to their fathers.

Ezra and Nehemiah both found favor in the eyes of the king of Persia, Artaxerxes I (465-424 B.C.), and came to Judah armed with royal authority to enforce strict observance of the Law of Moses and to strengthen the small Jewish community. Although scholars disagree over the dates of their arrival in Jerusalem, this essay will adhere to the traditional view that Ezra arrived in 458 and Nehemiah in 445. 1

Like other books in the Old Testament, the final version of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah probably represents the work of later editors, who arranged the records of these two men in the form in which we have them now. One indication of this process is the shift from first to third person that occurs in many places in the text (compare Ezra 7:6 with 7:28; 9:1 with 10:1; and Neh. 12:47 with 13:6). In addition, the record of Ezra's reading the law to the people is found in the middle of Nehemiah's record (Neh. 8-10) rather than with Ezra 7-10. 2 While these problems should be acknowledged, they do not justify the pessimistic conclusions of some critics that the Old Testament is historically untrustworthy as a whole. 3

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally considered one book, which constituted a continuation of the history of Israel given in 1 and 2 Chronicles. The last two verses of 2 Chronicles (2 Chron. 36:22-23) are repeated in Ezra 1:1-3. This repetition was "used to indicate an original connection between the two parts." 4 Chronicles was written some time after the return of the Jews from Babylon, and the records of Ezra and Nehemiah were added to it later, perhaps around 400 B.C. 5 Ezra 7-10 and Nehemiah constitute the last chapter in this history of Israel. Although the Jews seemed determined to neglect the law and the prophets were taken from them, the work of these two pious men demonstrated that the Lord was still willing to grant his wayward people some degree of help and prosperity. 
(ADAM D. LAMOREAUX  quoted in Studies in Scripture Vol 4 Kent P Jackson)

Part 1: King Cyrus allows the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.  Ezra 1–6

In an overview of Ezra 1–6; King Cyrus reads his name in Isaiah’s prophecies and is filled with a desire to do the Lord’s will. He frees the Jews who have been captive in Babylon and invites them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (Ezra 1). Zerubbabel and Jeshua lead approximately 50,000 people back to Jerusalem, and they begin to rebuild the temple (Ezra 2–3). The Samaritans offer to help work on the temple, are turned down, and attempt to stop the work; the rebuilding ceases (Ezra 4). Several years later, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah exhort the Jews to finish the temple; the Samaritans continue to oppose it (Ezra 5; see also Haggai 1). King Darius renews the decree of Cyrus to rebuild the temple, and it is finished and dedicated in about 515 B.C. (Ezra 6).

Why did you think Cyrus decreed that a temple should be built again in Jerusalem?   Ezra 1:1–2
1 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,


2 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.

Babylon fell to Cyrus in 539 B.C. Shortly thereafter, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:22–23and Ezra 1:1–11, Cyrus decreed throughout his empire that any captive Jews in Babylonia who desired to could return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Cyrus even allowed the vessels of gold and silver stolen by Nebuchadnezzar’s troops to be returned.

What motivated Cyrus to make such a liberal proclamation? While Cyrus may have been influenced by the religion of his gods (see Ezra 1:7), including the emerging Zoroastrianism, to have respect for the God of Judah, it appears that Cyrus was motivated by the Spirit of the Lord to send the Jews back to their homeland. 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 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. 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.)

The prophecy of Isaiah alluded to by Josephus and implied in Ezra 1:2is found in Isaiah 44:28–45:1.

Adam Clarke suggested: “It is very probable that when Cyrus took Babylon he found Daniel there, who had been long famed as one of the wisest ministers of state in all the East; and it is most likely that it was this person who pointed out to him the prophecy of Isaiah, and gave him those farther intimations relative to the Divine will which were revealed to himself” (Old Testament Student Manual).  

How did Cyrus know the Lord wanted him to do this?  Elder Ezra Taft Benson spoke of the contributions of Cyrus: “King Cyrus lived more than five hundred years before Christ and figured in prophecies of the Old Testament mentioned in 2 Chronicles and the book of Ezra, and by the prophets Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Daniel. The Bible states how ‘the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, King of Persia.’ (2 Chron. 36:22.) Cyrus restored certain political and social rights to the captive Hebrews, gave them permission to return to Jerusalem, and directed that Jehovah’s temple should be rebuilt. “President Wilford Woodruff said: “‘Now I have thought many times that some of those ancient kings that were raised up, had in some respects more regard for the carrying out of some of these principles and laws, than even the Latter-day Saints have in our day. I will take as an ensample Cyrus. … To trace the life of Cyrus from his birth to his death, whether he knew it or not, it looked as though he lived by inspiration in all his movements. He began with that temperance and virtue which would sustain any Christian country or any Christian king. … Many of these principles followed him, and I have thought many of them were worthy, in many respects, the attention of men who have the Gospel of Jesus Christ.’ (Journal of Discourses, vol. 22, p. 207.)

“God, the Father of us all, uses the men of the earth, especially good men, to accomplish his purposes. It has been true in the past, it is true today, it will be true in the future.” (Conference Report, Apr. 1972, pp. 48–49.)

The words of Cyrus that are recorded in Ezra 1:2 refer to a prophecy in Isaiah 44:28 that mentioned Cyrus by name (see also Isaiah 45:1–5;).  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).

How would you feel if you were reading the scriptures and read a prophecy that gave your name and described specific things you would do?


The Samaritans
When Zerubbabel and Jeshua led the first group of Jews back to Jerusalem, they found the Samaritans there.  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.

“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.”)

What did the Samaritans ask of the returning Jews? Ezra 4:1–2.
1 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.


 How did the Jews respond to the Samaritans’ request?  Ezra 4:3
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.

The Jews refused to let the Samaritans help rebuild the temple because they felt the Samaritans were not true Israelites.  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.

 Some time shortly after Ezra's arrival at Jerusalem, he was informed that many of the Jews had intermarried with the surrounding peoples (Ezra 9:1). The text hints that the Jews had begun to adopt the religious practices of these peoples (Ezra 9:1, 14), but the references to the "abominations" of the non-Jews may simply mean that their religious practices made them unsuitable as marriage partners because of the potential for apostasy in a mixed marriage.
The scriptural prohibition against intermarriage that Ezra quotes at Ezra 9:11-12 is not found in our Old Testament. It was evidently once part of the scriptures and has since been lost. Intermarriage with seven specific Canaanite peoples is prohibited in Deuteronomy 7:1-4, and the Pentateuch generally discourages marriage with foreigners (see Gen. 26:34-35; 27:46-28:2; see also JST 1 Kgs. 3:1). There are some notable exceptions, however, such as Joseph (Gen. 41:45), Moses (Num. 12:1), and Boaz (Ruth 4:13). It is possible that the passage that Ezra quoted was given to a prophet some time after the ministry of Moses to clarify that the Lord did not want the Israelites to marry any foreigners.

The primary reason given in the Old Testament for discouraging intermarriage is that it would turn the Israelites away from the Lord to the worship of the false heathen gods of their spouses (Ex. 34:16; Deut. 7:4; 1 Kgs. 11:1-4). Ezra was no doubt aware of this, although it appears that his main concern was to avoid the Lord's retribution for breaking a commandment rather than the consequences of religious contamination (Ezra 9:10-15).

Ezra's strictness was in keeping with other post-Exilic instances of extreme concern for maintaining the separateness of the house of Israel (see Neh. 9:2). After the return of the Jews in 538 B.C., priests who could not prove their lineage were excluded from serving in the priesthood (Ezra 2:61-63), and the Samaritans, whose lineage was part Israelite and part foreign, were also excluded from association with the Jews (Ezra 4:1-3). Malachi also condemned the Jews for marrying outside of Israel (Mal. 2:11). These practices may seem extreme, but they need to be viewed in light of the near-destruction of Judah as a people and their need to follow the Lord's commandments strictly in order to avoid his further punishment and to obtain some measure of spiritual and temporal prosperity. 10
The people were apparently convinced of their wrongdoing, and they agreed to take the extraordinary step of divorcing all of their foreign wives (Ezra 10:1-5, 9-12). Even if the people were against this decision, there was little they could do, because Ezra had royal authority to enforce his interpretation of the Law of Moses (Ezra 7:25-26). This decision was reached four months after Ezra's arrival (Ezra 10:9), and a list of the priests who had married foreign wives was recorded (Ezra 10:18-44).  
(Studies in Scripture Vol 4 Kent P Jackson) 

What did the Samaritans do when the Jews refused to let them help?  Ezra 4:4–7, 11–24.
4 Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, 
5 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.
6 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. 
7 ¶ 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.

11 ¶ This is the copy of the letter that they sent unto him, even unto Artaxerxes the king; Thy servants the men on this side the river, and at such a time. 
12 Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations. 13 Be it known now unto the king, that, if this city be builded, and the walls set up again, then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings. 
14 Now because we have maintenance from the king’s palace, and it was not meet for us to see the king’s dishonour, therefore have we sent and certified the king; 
15 That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers: so shalt thou find in the book of the records, and know that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time: for which cause was this city destroyed. 
16 We certify the king that, if this city be builded again, and the walls thereof set up, by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side the river. 
17 ¶ Then sent the king an answer unto Rehum the chancellor, and to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their companions that dwell in Samaria, and unto the rest beyond the river, Peace, and at such a time. 
18 The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me. 
19 And I commanded, and search hath been made, and it is found that this city of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made therein. 
20 There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem, which have ruled over all countries beyond the river; and toll, tribute, and custom, was paid unto them. 
21 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. 
22 Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings? 
23 ¶ Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power. 
24 Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia

They tried to stop the rebuilding of the temple by complaining to the kings who succeeded Cyrus. 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 due to this trouble with the Samaritans work on the temple eventually ceased. This incident reveals the foundations of the tremendous bitterness between the Samaritans and the Jews so evident in Christ’s time.

Apparently it was not long after construction had commenced that work on the new temple was interrupted by the Samaritans, who wanted to participate with the Jews in rebuilding the house of the Lord (Ezra 4:1-4). 18 Under the direction of Zerubbabel and Jeshua, the returned exiles refused to allow Samaritan participation, whereupon the Samaritans took revenge and hindered the work of building. They also hired advocates to lobby against Judah at the court of Cyrus (who died in 529 B.C.) and the king who succeeded him (see Ezra 4:4-6). The phrase used in Ezra 4:4, which says the Samaritans "weakened the hands" of Judah, reflects a Hebrew idiom which means to cause someone to lose heart and become discouraged. The phrase was used in a nonbiblical source, a Hebrew ostracon from Lachish, in which a prophet was accused of lowering the morale of the country at a critical moment. 19 Thus, in their spiritually and emotionally weak state, the Jews, having little resolve, allowed harassment from the Samaritans to hinder their work on the new temple for several years.  (Studies in Scripture Vol 4 Kent P Jackson)

Work on the house of the Lord remained dormant for seventeen years, until the second year 520 B.C. of the reign of a new ruler; the second in succession after Cyrus, King Darius I of Persia.

What prompted the Jews to resume their work several years later? Ezra 5:1–2; Haggai 1.
1 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. 
2 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.

The prophets Haggai and Zechariah provided inspired direction.  After many years, prophets of God appeared in Jerusalem to provide the inspired direction and incentive to continue the temple building. In the first year of the reign of King Darius, the prophet Daniel petitioned the Lord about Jeremiah’s prophecy of the seventy years Danniel 9:1–2). Zerubbabel had returned to Jerusalem about sixteen years previously and had been frustrated in his temple building project. Daniel 9:17–19 shows Daniel’s prayerful concern for the sanctuary (temple) and the city Jerusalem. The Lord answered Daniel and raised up two prophets in Jerusalem: Haggai and Zechariah. Haggai 1:1–5, 12–14; Zechariah 4:9; and Ezra 6:14 show how these two prophets inspired Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the people to complete the holy temple in spite of persecution, hard times, and governmental red tape, much as prophets in this dispensation have inspired the Saints to sacrifice much to build temples.

 What did the Lord, through Haggai, say to the Jews in Jerusalem about the temple?  Haggai 1:3–4, 7–8.

3 Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying, 
4 Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste?

7 ¶ Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. 
8 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.

What attitude among the Jews was hindering the rebuilding of the temple? Haggai 1:2.
2 Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.


What attitudes hinder us from regular worship and service in the temple?


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 5–6 
 Darius recognized the role of God in human affairs. During his reign, Darius adopted the religion of Zoroastrianism for the Persian Empire which taught respect for other religions. Darius probably thought that the god he worshiped also wanted the temple of Judah rebuilt. And, the decrees of one king were often honored by his successors.

More attempts were made to obstruct progress on the temple by Tatnai, the general governor over the region west of the Euphrates under whose jurisdiction the Jews fell, and by leaders of Samaria. This time, however, the resolve of the people was strong and work did not cease, because they heeded the prophetic counsel: "Be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work: for I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts" (Hag. 2:4). In fact, so tenacious and bold had the people become that when Tatnai the governor asked to know who had authorized the commencement of construction and who were the leaders of the project, the elders answered, "We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and set up" (Ezra 5:11). Furthermore, the people of Judah requested that a search be made of the Persian archives to find the original decree issued by Cyrus that gave them legal right to build the temple. When the document was found, King Darius issued another proclamation not only to permit the continuation of construction but also to assist financially. All this was made effective by penalty of death for those who tried to alter the king's declaration. So work on the Lord's house continued until the second temple was finally finished in 515 B.C.  (Studies in Scripture Vol 4 Kent P Jackson)

What did the Jews do when the temple was finished? Ezra 6:15–22.
15 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. 
16 ¶ 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, 
17 And offered at the dedication of this house of God an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. 
18 And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses. 
19 And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month.
20 For the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves. 
21 And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the Lord God of Israel, did eat, 
22 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

Those who had returned from Babylon to the now desolate, but once holy, city of Jerusalem observed the dedication of the new temple with joy. The priesthood holders who attended were seated in their proper divisions and courses much like the arrangement followed in solemn assemblies today, as one supposes (Ezra 6:15-22). Though inferior to Solomon's temple, the dedicated second temple meant that God would again personally come to Jerusalem to reveal his will.

The second temple in Jerusalem was completed in 516 B.C., exactly seventy years after the temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. Thus, Jeremiah’s prophecy was fulfilled (see Jeremiah 29:10–14).

“It is known in history as the Temple of Zerubbabel. In general plan it was patterned after the Temple of Solomon, though in many of its dimensions it exceeded its prototype. The court was divided into a section for priests only and another for the public; according to Josephus the division was effected by a wooden railing. An altar of unhewn stone was erected in place of the great brazen altar of old. The Holy Place was graced by but one candlestick instead of ten; and by a single table for the shew-bread instead of the ten tables overlaid with gold which stood in the first Temple. We read also of a golden altar of incense, and of some minor appurtenances. The Most Holy Place was empty, for the Ark of the Covenant had not been known after the people had gone into captivity.


“In many respects the Temple of Zerubbabel appeared poor in comparison with its splendid predecessor and in certain particulars, indeed, it ranked lower than the ancient Tabernacle of the Congregation—the sanctuary of the nomadic tribes. Critical scholars specify the following features characteristic of the Temple of Solomon and lacking in the Temple of Zerubbabel: (1) the Ark of the Covenant; (2) the sacred fire; (3) the Shekinah, or glory of the Lord, manifested of old as the Divine Presence; (4) the Urim and Thummim, by which Jehovah made plain His will to the priests of the Aaronic order; (5) the genius or spirit of prophecy, indicative of the closest communion between mortals and their God. Notwithstanding these differences the Temple of Zerubbabel was recognized of God and was undoubtedly the site or seat of Divine revelation to duly constituted prophets.” (Talmage, House of the Lord, pp. 42–43.)


It was the temple of Zerubbabel that King Herod refurbished and made very beautiful. He added many courtyards and surrounding buildings that made it one of the wonders of the world at the time of Jesus. (Quoted in Old Testament Student Manual)


Part 2: Ezra leads another group of Jews back to Jerusalem
Ezra 7–8

In Ezra 7–8. More than 50 years after the temple is dedicated, Ezra receives permission from King Artaxerxes of Persia to lead another group of Jews back to Jerusalem. Ezra and his people fast and pray, and the Lord protects them on their journey.

 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 11–26

27 ¶ Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem: 
28 And hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his counsellors, and before all the king’s mighty princes. And I was strengthened as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me. 

11 Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the Lord, and of his statutes to Israel.

12 Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time.

13 I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee.

14 Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counsellors, to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand;

15 And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem,

16 And all the silver and gold that thou canst find in all the province of Babylon, with the freewill offering of the people, and of the priests, offering willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem:

17 That thou mayest buy speedily with this money bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meat offerings and their drink offerings, and offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem.

18 And whatsoever shall seem good to thee, and to thy brethren, to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, that do after the will of your God.

19 The vessels also that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, those deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem.

20 And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy God, which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king’s treasure house.

21 And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily,

22 Unto an hundred talents of silver, and to an hundred measures of wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine, and to an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much.

23 Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?

24 Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them.

25 And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not.

26 And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.

Josephus spoke of the circumstances in Jerusalem at the time of Ezra and how he was assigned to correct the situation (Ezra is known as Esdras in the Josephus account). Ezra was a man of great faith, and one moved by the Spirit of the Lord. He petitioned King Xerxes for permission to return with more Jews. Xerxes agreed and wrote a letter to the governors of Judah. Josephus wrote:

“When Esdras had received this epistle, he was very joyful, and began to worship God, and confessed that he had been the cause of the king’s great favour to him, and that for the same reason he gave all the thanks to God. … So he gathered those that were in the captivity together beyond Euphrates, and staid there three days, and ordained a fast for them, that they might make their prayers to God for their preservation, that they might suffer no misfortunes by the way, either from their enemies, or from any other ill accident; for Esdras had said beforehand, that he had told the king how God would preserve them. …

“Now these things were truly done under the conduct of Esdras; and he succeeded in them, because God esteemed him worthy of the success of his conduct, on account of his goodness and righteousness.”
(Quoted in Old Testament Student Manual from  Antiquities, bk. 11, chap. 5, par. 3.)

What are some examples of the Lord softening the hearts of government leaders toward the Church in the latter days?  (See, for example, Thomas S. Monson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1989, 65–69; or Ensign, May 1989, 50–53.)

What can we do to encourage government leaders’ hearts to be softened toward the Church? 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.  D&C 58:21, 27; 98:4–6

What did Ezra do to ensure that the group of Jews he was taking to Jerusalem was protected?  Ezra 8:21–23, 31.
21 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.

22 For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.

23 So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was entreated of us.

 31 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.

How have you, your family, or others you know been blessed by fasting?


Part 3:  Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem and leads the people in rebuilding the walls to protect the city Nehemiah 1–2; 4; 6
In these chapters, after learning that the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem were “in great affliction and reproach, “Nehemiah receives permission from King Artaxerxes to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls Nehemiah 1–2. The enemies of the Jews seek to prevent them from rebuilding the walls. Nehemiah arms the laborers and keeps the work going forward until the walls are finished Nehemiah 4; 6.
Nehemiah's record begins at Susa, one of the main royal residences in Persia in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes' reign (445 B.C.). There at the court of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah learned that the Jews in Palestine were not faring well and that Jerusalem still lay in ruins Neh. 1:1-3. Nehemiah then pleaded with the Lord on behalf of the Jews to deliver them from their suffering and to give him success in asking the king if he might go to Jerusalem and rebuild it Neh. 1:4-2:5. The king granted Nehemiah's request, and an armed escort accompanied him to Jerusalem in 445 B.C. Neh. 2:5-9.
Nehemiah is never called a prophet, nor does he appear to have been a priest or to have had any special religious credentials, as did Ezra. What he accomplished was done through royal authority as he 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.he must have been a man of humble intentions in light of his prayer recorded in Nehemiah 1 and other statements wherein he asked the Lord to remember and bless him Neh. 5:19; 13:31. There is one instance in Nehemiah's record where he mentioned receiving inspiration: "And my God put into mine heart to gather together the nobles, and the rulers, and the people, that they might be reckoned by genealogy" Neh. 7:5. Nehemiah may have lacked religious credentials, but he was able to receive the Lord's inspiration and to receive answers to his prayers.

Nehemiah stands out as one of the noble men in the Old Testament. As he fulfilled a necessary mission in his day, he demonstrated the highest level of dedication and courage, both in the practical matter of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and also in the spiritual matter of rebuilding the religious life of his people.

“The book of Nehemiah carries the history of the Jewish people down to a later date than any other of the avowedly historical works in the canon of the OT. Its interest is manifold, since it describes not only the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, but the reconstruction of the Jewish ecclesiastical organization; and as an authority for the events it relates, is first-rate, since it is largely based upon contemporary materials. And its value is augmented by its vivid portrayal of the noble character of Nehemiah himself. His career presents an exceptional combination of strong self-reliance with humble trust in God, of penetrating shrewdness with perfect simplicity of purpose, of persistent prayerfulness with the most energetic activity; and for religious faith and practical sagacity he stands conspicuous among the illustrious personages of the Bible.”
(J. R. Dummelow, ed., A Commentary on the Holy Bible, p. 278.)

  What did Nehemiah do when he heard of the difficulties of his people in Jerusalem? Nehemiah 1:4–11; 2:1–5

4 ¶ And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,
5 And said, I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:
6 Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned.
7 We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.
8 Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:
9 But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.
10 Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.
11 O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king’s cupbearer.

Little is known about the background of Nehemiah except that he was a Jew born while the Jews were in exile. His age is not given, but it is likely that he was born after Cyrus had decreed the Jews could return to their homeland. Only a small number of the Jews in exile chose to return. Nehemiah’s family must have been one of those that did not. They were probably of some influence, since Nehemiah was the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes  Nehemiah 2:1. Assassination was a constant threat to a king, and poisoned food or drink was one of the most effective ways to accomplish it. The cupbearer, the one who ensured that the king’s food and drink were safe, was in a position of great trust and responsibility. Even though he was in Persia enjoying power and importance, Nehemiah had not forgotten his people and homeland. When he heard of their sad condition, he fasted and prayed for his people.

How did King Artaxerxes respond to Nehemiah’s request? Nehemiah 2:6–8
6 And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,) For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.
7 Moreover I said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah;

8 And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.

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.

What can we learn from Nehemiah that can guide us when we are troubled by the suffering of others?

How did Nehemiah encourage the people to rebuild the walls around the city? Nehemiah 2:17–18.
17 ¶ 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. 
18 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.

Why do you think testifying of the truth and sharing spiritual experiences have such power to inspire others to do good? 

How have the testimonies and spiritual experiences of others inspired you?


Sanballat was the governor of Samaria, and he and his people were enemies of the Jews who had returned with Zerubbabel. 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.  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 and made it necessary for Nehemiah to arm those who worked on the walls of Jerusalem  chapters 4 and 6.

How did Sanballat react to the plans to rebuild the city walls?  Nehemiah 2:10, 19; 4:1–3, 7–8, 11.
10 When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.

19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king?

1 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.

2 And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?

3 Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall.


7 ¶ But it came to pass, that when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth,

8 And conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it.


11 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.


Nehemiah faced a formidable task in rebuilding Jerusalem's walls, because of the opposition of other local officials. In addition to Sanballat, Tobiah, the governor of the province of Ammon, and Geshem, a prince from the province of Arabia to the south of Judah, opposed the rebuilding program (Neh. 2:19). 16 Their motives for opposing Nehemiah's work were political: they wanted the Jews to remain weak and feared that a strong province of Judah would erode their own power and influence.  (Studies in Scripture Vol 4 Kent P Jackson)

How did the Jews respond to these efforts to stop the construction of the walls? Nehemiah 4:9, 13–15.
9 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.

14 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.

15 And it came to pass, when our enemies heard that it was known unto us, and God had brought their counsel to nought, that we returned all of us to the wall, every one unto his work.
 


The names of the families assigned to repair the walls and gates are given in Nehemiah 3. But the leaders of the surrounding communities were angry that the Jews were fortifying Jerusalem and resuming their former religious practices. Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, was especially angry. But the plan they laid to attack and prevent the repair of the walls, now about halfway up (see Nehemiah 4:6), was frustrated by Nehemiah, who had those who guarded and those who labored arm themselves by day and by night. Nehemiah’s encouragement to the Jews to defend their families and homes is similar to the charge Moroni gave in the Alma 43:46–47; 46:12.

Members of the Church earlier in this dispensation experienced similar opposition. Consider what President George Q. Cannon, who was a member of the First Presidency, said of the persecution in Utah around 1884: “It is very encouraging to think that, in the midst of the assaults which are being made upon the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the threats that are in circulation concerning us and our future fate, there is faith enough found in the midst of the people to pursue, without discouragement and without cessation, the great work which we feel that our Father has laid upon us. We have not been situated as we were in Nauvoo, when we finished our temple there, for then the workmen who labored upon it, were like the Jews in the days of Nehemiah, when they undertook to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and had to labor a portion of the time at least, and a great portion of it too, with their instruments of labor in one hand, and weapons to defend themselves in the other. We were surrounded by mobs, and living in a constant state, it may be said of fear, because of the threats which were made and the combinations which were formed, and the attacks upon our outlying settlements in the burning of houses, in the destruction of grain, in the shooting down of cattle, and in the driving out of the people from their homes.” (In Journal of Discourses, 25:167.)

What did Nehemiah do when Sanballat asked him to stop working and meet with him?
Nehemiah 6:1–4.
1 Now it came to pass, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had builded the wall, and that there was no breach left therein; (though at that time I had not set up the doors upon the gates;)
2 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.
3 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?
4 Yet they sent unto me four times after this sort; and I answered them after the same manner.


How do some people try to distract Church members from the Lord’s work today? 

How should we respond to such distractions? 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” (Conference Report, Apr. 1978, 10; or Ensign, May 1978, 8)


Part 4: The people rejoice as Ezra reads the scriptures to them Nehemiah 8

For this final chapter, after the walls are rebuilt around Jerusalem, Ezra reads the scriptures to the people. When they hear the words of the law, the people weep and desire to obey them.

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, 2:781–82;)

After the people had finished rebuilding the city walls, what did they request of Ezra? Nehemiah 8:1–2. Remember that most of the Jews had been in captivity so long that they had never heard or read the scriptures.

1 And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel.
2 And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.


How long did Ezra read to the people? Nehemiah 8:3, 17–18.
3 And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law

17 And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.
18 Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner.

How did the people respond? Nehemiah 8:3, 6, 9, 12.
6 And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

9 ¶ And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, 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.

12 And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them.


How can we be more attentive as we read the scriptures? 

How can we be more attentive to the scriptures themselves and to the whisperings of the Spirit that come while reading the scriptures.

How can we develop the kind of excitement for the scriptures that these people had? 

What did Ezra do to help his people understand the scriptures? Nehemiah 8:8
8 So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.

What has helped you in your efforts to understand the scriptures and to help your family understand them? 

What did Ezra and the other leaders say when the people began to weep as they heard the scriptures?  Nehemiah 8:9–11
9 ¶ And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, 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.
10 Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto 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.
11 So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved.


How have the scriptures caused you to rejoice?

Conclusion


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

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. Because the scriptures are true and if the scriptures are ture then the importance of temple work stands at the first of our list of services for the Lord.

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.  As we prayerfully seek the help of the Lord and Angels we will be able to do this just as Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ would have us do.  


The work of Ezra and Nehemiah in the last half of the fifth century B.C. saved the Jewish community at Jerusalem from the dangers of cultural and religious assimilation and from a wholesale defection from the Law of Moses. They lived in a period of religious twilight, at a time when prophecy had ceased. They themselves were not prophets and never spoke in the name of the Lord. But as God-fearing men, they did their best to persuade the Jews to obey the law that their fathers had long neglected. Their success was due to their faith and their royal authority, with which they felt the Lord had mercifully blessed them (Ezra 7:6; Neh. 1:11; 2:18).

Ezra and Nehemiah constantly fought against the Jews' laxness regarding the law. It is remarkable that the Jews did not turn from the law again after these influential leaders died. Something happened in subsequent years to awaken in the people a burning desire to obey the Law of Moses. Perhaps they took the efforts and examples of Ezra and Nehemiah to heart. Perhaps they realized that their situation as a people was hopeless if they continued to disobey. Perhaps the absence of the prophets and the withdrawal of the Lord's Spirit helped them to recognize that their complete spiritual death was imminent. For whatever reason, the Jews clung to the only light and knowledge that the Lord had left them with, and that was the law and the records of the now-departed prophets. They looked back on the work of Ezra and Nehemiah with admiration and gratitude and maintained a hope that the Lord would not forget them. Their hope was not in vain, for the righteous Jews of a later generation recognized Jesus of Nazareth as their Lord and Messiah. After the mortal ministry of the Lord was finished, the believers among them fully understood that the law that their fathers had lived pointed to him and meant nothing without his atoning sacrifice and resurrection. 
(Studies in Scripture Vol 4 Kent P Jackson) 


Resources


Old Testament Student Manual

Studies in Scripture Vol 4 Kent P Jackson

Conference Reports

Ensign

Journal of Discourses

Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible … with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 2:781–82;

Studying the Scriptures [devotional given in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, 24 Nov. 1985]

J. R. Dummelow, ed., A Commentary on the Holy Bible, p. 278.

The House of the Lord, p. 41

The Works of Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, trans. William Whiston [n.d.], bk. 11, chap. 1, pars. 1–2

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