“Unit 21: Day 2, Ezra 1–6,” Old Testament Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2014)
“Unit 21: Day 2,” Old Testament Study Guide
In fulfillment of prophecy, the Lord inspired Cyrus, the king of Persia, to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Ezra 1–6 gives an account of the first group of Jews who returned to Jerusalem and began reconstructing the temple. However, opposition from adversaries halted their efforts. Through the encouragement and help of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the Jews overcame the opposition and completed and dedicated the temple.
Imagine that you are having a hard day and you pray for help. Later, a friend who belongs to another religion approaches you and says, “I felt a need to come talk with you. How is your day going?” Would you believe that someone who is not a member of the Church could be inspired by the Lord to accomplish His purposes? Why or why not?
Continue to ponder these questions as you study Ezra 1 and learn about the actions of King Cyrus, who was not part of the Lord’s covenant people.
After the Jews were carried away captive to Babylon, Cyrus, the king of Persia, conquered the Babylonians and became the new ruler of the Jews. (Consider looking at “The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah at a Glance” for a reminder.) The book of Ezra begins with an account of Cyrus’s interactions with the Jews.
Read Ezra 1:1–3, looking for the proclamation Cyrus made.
Note the phrase “that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled” in Ezra 1:1. Cyrus’s actions were a fulfillment of prophecy. You might consider writing Jeremiah 25:11; 29:10 and Isaiah 44:28; 45:1 in the margin of your scriptures next to Ezra 1:1. These verses contain prophecies about the return of the Jews to Jerusalem and about Cyrus. Even though the books of Jeremiah and Isaiah come after the book of Ezra in the Bible, Jeremiah and Isaiah prophesied many years before the events recorded in Ezra took place.
Note the phrase “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus” (Ezra 1:1). What do you think this phrase means?
From this account we learn that the Lord can inspire people, regardless of their religious background, to accomplish His purposes.
After discussing the virtues of King Cyrus, President Ezra Taft Benson spoke of the way our Heavenly Father can work through individuals on the earth to accomplish His purposes: “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” (“Civic Standards for the Faithful Saints,” Ensign, July 1972, 59).
- Think about individuals who were inspired to perform works that ultimately contributed to the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the latter days (such as John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, or Johannes Gutenberg, who were inspired to contribute to the translation or printing of the Bible). Also think about members of other faiths whose actions have had a positive influence on you personally. In your scripture study journal, write about two or three examples of individuals of various religious backgrounds whom the Lord has inspired to accomplish His purposes.
Read Ezra 1:4, 7–8, looking for what Cyrus did to support the Jews in their efforts to rebuild the temple.
Ezra 2 contains a list of Jews who were among the first group to return to Jerusalem. It indicates that approximately 50,000 people returned to the land of Judah from captivity in Babylon.
Ezra 3:1–9 records that under the direction of Zerubbabel, the Jewish man appointed by the Persians to serve as the governor of the Jews, and Jeshua, the presiding high priest of the Aaronic Priesthood, the Jews first rebuilt the altar of the temple and began offering sacrifices. Many Jews contributed time and resources to the reconstruction of the temple.
Read Ezra 3:10–13, looking for how the Jews reacted when the foundation of the temple was laid.
Why do you think the joy of the people was so great? Why do you think many of those who had seen the original temple wept?
Imagine that you are playing a game of soccer. You understand that your purpose is to kick the ball into the goal. If you had the ball in your possession, what would the opposing team be trying to do?
- Consider the picture of a soccer field. The circle represents you, and the 11 Xs represent the 11 opponents on the other team who are trying to prevent you from scoring a goal. Then complete the following assignments in your scripture study journal:
Write two or three sentences about how the opposition someone faces in a soccer match can be like what we experience as we try to keep the Lord’s commandments.
List at least six different forms of opposition we might face in our efforts to obey the Lord. (Try to list 11 forms of opposition—one for each of the opponents.)
As you study Ezra 4–6, look for truths that can help you overcome opposition to your efforts to obey the Lord.
When the Jews returned to Jerusalem, there was a group of people living nearby called Samaritans. The Samaritans were “people who lived in Samaria after the northern kingdom of Israel was captured by the Assyrians. The Samaritans were partly Israelite and partly Gentile. Their religion was a mixture of Jewish and pagan beliefs and practices” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Samaritans”; scriptures.lds.org).
What did the Samaritans want to do? How did Zerubbabel and the leaders of the Jews respond?
The Jewish leaders cited King Cyrus’s decree that they were the ones who were to rebuild the temple. The leaders of the Jews may have rejected the Samaritans’ offer because the Samaritans were not faithful worshippers of Jehovah. Furthermore, the Samaritans’ participation could have led to future conflicts if they claimed shared ownership of the reconstructed temple.
Read Ezra 4:4–5, looking for how the Samaritans reacted after Zerubbabel and the other leaders rejected their offer.
Ezra 4:6–24 contains additional accounts of ways in which the Samaritans sought to oppose the Jews’ efforts to rebuild their temple and Jerusalem. The reconstruction of the temple halted for several years, largely because of the opposition of the Samaritans. After years of not working on the reconstruction, some Jews lost interest in rebuilding the temple (see Haggai 1:2–6).
Read Ezra 5:1–2, looking for why the Jews eventually resumed their efforts to rebuild the temple.
Who encouraged the Jews to resume their efforts and helped them rebuild the temple? Why would seeing the prophets physically working on the temple encourage the people to resume their efforts to help?
When local Persian-appointed governors learned that the Jews had resumed building the temple, they questioned their authority to do so and opposed the Jews’ renewed efforts. Read Ezra 5:5, looking for why the local governors could not hinder the Jews’ efforts to rebuild the temple. (By this time, a new king, Darius, ruled the Persian Empire.)
The phrase “the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease” (Ezra 5:5) means that God was watching over the Jews and preventing the local governors from stopping them as they rebuilt the temple. From this verse we learn that God watches over and helps those who seek to obey Him.
- Answer the following questions in your scripture study journal:
What are some ways that God watches over and helps His people when they are faced with difficulties in their lives?
What are examples from your life or from the lives of people in the scriptures that show that God watches over and helps those who seek to obey Him?
Ezra 5:6–6:6 explains that the governors over the region wrote a letter to King Darius, informing him of what the Jews were doing. They reported that the Jews claimed Cyrus had made a decree allowing them to rebuild the temple and provided them with resources for the endeavor. Darius ordered the king’s records to be searched, and Cyrus’s decree was found.
Read Ezra 6:7–12, looking for what Darius wrote back to the local governors.
In what ways might Darius’s response have helped to strengthen the faith and courage of the Jews?
Read Ezra 6:13–16, looking for what happened after Darius’s decree was received.
What influence did the prophets have on the Jews’ efforts to rebuild the temple?
From this experience we can learn that by following the prophets, we can overcome opposition and prosper in our efforts to obey the Lord.
- Refer back to the different forms of opposition you listed in your scripture study journal. Then answer one or both of the following questions:
What teachings or examples set by prophets can we follow to overcome these different forms of opposition?
When have you seen someone overcome opposition and prosper in his or her efforts to obey the Lord by following the prophets?
- Reflect on opposition you might be experiencing in your efforts to obey the Lord. On a separate piece of paper, answer the following question: What will you do to follow the prophets so you can overcome opposition and prosper in your efforts to obey the Lord? After you have written a goal, write Completed this activity in your scripture study journal.
Ezra 6:15–22 explains that the Jews offered generous sacrifices as part of the dedication of the temple. They also celebrated the Passover. Read Ezra 6:22, looking for an illustration of the first truth identified in this lesson.
- Write the following at the bottom of today’s assignments in your scripture study journal:
I have studied Ezra 1–6 and completed this lesson on (date).
Additional questions, thoughts, and insights I would like to share with my teacher: