Lesson 1

Making Sense of History: Zerubbabel and Ezra

(Jeremiah 25, Daniel 9, Ezra 4 & 7)
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Introduction: Imagine being a citizen of Jerusalem when Babylon captures your city and destroys the temple constructed by King David and King Solomon. Could there be anything worse? Yes, actually. What is worse is that in Jeremiah 25:11 God tells His people that the "whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the King of Babylon seventy years." Guess where you will die? In captivity in a foreign land. What lessons can we learn from this difficult time? Let's explore the Bible and see what we can learn!

  1. Listen


    1. Read Jeremiah 25:3-5. What does God promise His people? (That they can live in their land forever.)


      1. What was required of God's people? (To turn from evil habits and practices.)


      2. The text says that God's people did not listen. Why do you think they failed to listen?


    2. Read Jeremiah 25:6-7. What, specifically, were the evil habits and practices of God's people? (They follow other gods. These are gods that they have made with their own efforts.)


      1. Put yourself in God's place. How insulting is this?


  2. The Future


    1. Read Jeremiah 25:8-9. What logic do you find in God having a pagan king destroy the land of God's people? Does it fit the sin? (This makes perfect sense to me. If God's people are going to rely on something they have made instead of the power of God, then God says, "Let's see how you do under your own power?")


      1. What is the lesson for us today? What might we rely on that we have made?


      2. Why do you think God calls Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan king, His "servant?"


      3. Last quarter we studied "The Least of These." There is a lot of instruction in the Bible about being blessed if you are faithful and cursed if you are not. What does the situation that Jeremiah writes about teach us? (On the one hand it confirms that obedience brings blessings. But, it creates a warning that just because we think we are God's faithful people, we might not be correct. We might have a problem with listening to God.)


        1. Notice that pagans who make no pretense of following God destroy God's people. What does that say about the bad being cursed?


    2. Read Jeremiah 25:11-12. What does the long-term future hold? (After 70 years an end will come to Babylon. The pagans will be punished. There is hope for the future. There is the promise that the pagans will not win in the long term.)


    3. Read Daniel 9:1-2. What is Daniel's understanding of the prophecy of Jeremiah that we just read? (He understands it to mean that punishment will last only 70 years.)


  3. Reliance on God


    1. Read Daniel 9:3-6. How does Daniel approach God? Does he trust in his works? (No. Daniel confesses that they failed to listen.)


    2. Read Daniel 9:17-19. How would you characterize Daniel's plea to God?


    3. Read Daniel 9:20-23. How soon does an answer come to Daniel?


      1. Does this reflect the travel time between earth and heaven?


    4. Read Daniel 9:24-25. What great news does Gabriel bring? (He brings lots of great news, but we will only focus on the nature of Daniel's prayer - Jerusalem will be restored and rebuilt!)


  4. The Return


    1. Read Ezra 4:1-2. What has happened? (God's people have returned to Jerusalem and are starting to rebuild the temple!)


      1. Isn't it great when you move into a new neighborhood and your new neighbors offer to help?


      2. Why do the existing residents want to help? (They say that they have been sacrificing to the true God ever since they were brought to this place.)


    2. Read Ezra 4:3. Are God's people being rude and obnoxious? Why turn down a friendly offer of help? (This is where things get complicated. The existing residents are "Samaritans," Gentiles who have intermarried with the Jews the Babylonians did not think worth taking as slaves. Their offer of help may have been motivated by a desire to be allowed to worship in the new temple. It might have been motivated by a desire to dominate the returning Jews.)


    3. Read Ezra 4:4-6. Are the Samaritans being vindictive because they have been rejected? Or, does this show the true nature of their offer? (If the Samaritans wanted to worship the true God, if they wanted to be helpful, they would not have taken all of these measures to stop the building.)


    4. Let's skip ahead. As a result of the efforts of the Samaritans, the rebuilding gets stopped. Ezra chapters 5 and 6 record the back and forth battle to rebuild. We won't get into this in more detail because one reliable source states that chapters 5 and 6 take place before the writing of the official accusation letter mentioned in Ezra 4:6 and recorded and the verses that follow.


    5. Read Ezra 7:6 and Ezra 7:10-13. What important event is this? (Things are changing. King Artaxerxes, the King of the Persia ( Ezra 7:1), has now decreed that Ezra and any volunteers can return to Jerusalem. The roadblocks coming from Artexerxes have now been lifted. Joy!)


      1. Have you ever experienced the government being a roadblock for building your church? (When we were building a church, the government was a regular source of concern and delay. When we wanted to improve our church school, the government stopped the construction and the improvement was never made. Local government making trouble for church building was such an issue in the United States, that the federal government passed a law allowing churches to sue local government for creating unwarranted problems.)


    6. Read Ezra 7:15-16. Is there anything wrong from God's perspective with the government helping to support the church? (This governmental aid is reported with approval. There is no theological problem with government giving back to God what is already His.)


      1. Notice how Artaxerxes refers to the God of the Bible. Does he accept the God of Israel as being the true God over all other gods? (No. This languages suggests just the opposite. This reference seems to say that He is God of one country. God lives in Jerusalem. This reflects the ancient view that a god had jurisdiction over a certain territory.)


      2. Is the fact that Artaxerxes is a non-believer a problem with accepting help from him? (Once again, God is sovereign over all. The fact that pagans advance God's kingdom is not a problem. It is the way life should be.)


    7. Read Ezra 7:21-23. What motivates Artaxerxes to be so generous to Ezra and the God of Heaven? (He is concerned about God's wrath falling on him and his sons.)


      1. Let's look at this more closely. Is it a problem that the government supports God's program out of fear? Should help be based on love? (What most Christians are concerned about is the joining of church and state to eliminate religious freedom for minority views. Having the government operate from the fear of God is probably a good thing. It is likely safer than the government loving a specific religion and trying to enforce its religious practices.)


    8. Friend, do you face problems in life? Has your world been turned upside down, and the "bad guys" have come into power? Rest in the knowledge that God is in charge. Will you trust Him with your future?


  5. Next week: Nehemiah.

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