“The Story” – Chapter 21: Rebuilding the Walls - March 2, 2014 Zion Lutheran Church and School Bible References: Ezra 7, Nehemiah 1-2, 4, 6-8, Malachi 1-4 Key Points The Word of God brings revival, reformation and strength. Prayer, work, courage and faith make a great combination for achieving great things. God's people cannot adequately fulfill the role of a faithful witnesses when they are living compromised lives. Chapter Summary 1. Chapter 21 introduces Ezra, an Israelite living in Babylon about 50 years after the temple was rebuilt. The Bible describes Ezra as "a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses". 2. The king of Persia, Artaxerxes, wrote a letter giving Ezra passage to Jerusalem and all he needed to safely do so. The letter states its purpose as "You are sent by the king…to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God". The letter also gives Ezra the right to appoint judges and similar for "all who know the laws of your God". 3. Upon arriving at Jerusalem, Ezra found that many Israelites had returned to the practice of intermarrying which (as in the past) led to worshiping other gods. Ezra tore his clothes in grief, wept and prayed. The people repented. 4. The story moves ahead about 13 years where we meet Nehemiah, an Israelite who was cupbearer to the king of Persia. Nehemiah learned that things were not well in Jerusalem, in particular the lack of fortification (walls and gates). 5. Nehemiah asked King Artaxerxes for help and, as with Ezra, the king gave Nehemiah all he needed to return with others to Jerusalem. 6. At Jerusalem, Nehemiah found things as described and convinced the people that God would help them rebuild the city's walls and gates. 7. Once the Israelites began rebuilding the walls, as with the temple rebuild, their neighbors became concerned. (Actually, the Bible says the governor was “angry” and “greatly incensed”.) 8. When the fortifications were about at the halfway point, Jerusalem’s enemies plotted an attack. In response, Nehemiah had half working while the other half stood guard. And, “those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon with the other”. 9. Once the walls were complete – though the gates had not been installed - Judah’s neighbors tried to set a trap for Nehemiah but he refused to go along. In frustration, they prepared a letter stating several falsehoods about the Jews’ plans for revolt against Persia. Again, Nehemiah and the people stood firm and the fortifications were completed. When the enemies learned that fortifications were complete they were “afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God”. 10. Now that the people were secure, Ezra (as priest) and Nehemiah (as governor) gathered the people for an extensive re-learning of the Law of Moses. 11. Unfortunately, as in times past, the Israelites once again began to stray from God’s will so God sent the last prophet of the OT, Malachi, to address them. Among their sins was hypocrisy. For example, sacrificing diseased animals. They were going through the motions but their hearts were not right with God. The people were moved by God’s word and prepared a “scroll of remembrance”. 12. The chapter ends with the promised that God “will send the prophet Elijah to you before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes”. It took about 400 years but “Elijah” (John the Baptist) did come to prepare the way for Jesus. This ends the Old Testament portion of “The Story”. Discussion 1. List the three things to which Ezra devoted himself (p. 292). What is significant about this order that also applies to the successful Christian life of every believer? 2. Why is it important for Bible and Sunday School teachers to be like Ezra – “well versed” and “learned” (p. 291) in God’s word? Is there a Sunday School/Bible Study teacher who has been influential in your life? If so, how? 3. Compare the “first exodus,” Exodus 11:1-3 and 12:35-36, with this second exodus. How can you tell that this was clearly God’s response to Ezra’s prayer (p. 294)? 4. Why do you suppose Nehemiah did not reveal to anyone the plan that God had put in his heart (p. 295-296)? 5. When the people heard the Law preached to them by Ezra and others they responded enthusiastically and restored forgotten practices prescribed under the Law. Can you recall a time when you read something in the Bible that you had forgotten about? Or heard something in a sermon that opened your eyes to a more God-like view of a situation or understanding? 6. Nehemiah prayed for protection, but he also posted guards. Does this show a lack of faith on Nehemiah’s part? How should we “follow-up” after we pray for something? 7. Nehemiah’s enemies tried to use the false prophet Shemaiah to distract him from the rebuilding project. How do you determine if a message from God or another source? (What does the Bible say about this?) 8. What can you learn from Nehemiah about leadership? 9. What does Nehemiah teach us about prayer? Do you notice any particular patterns in his prayer life? 10. Years after the walls had been rebuilt, the prophet Malachi was sent to correct the priests and the people (p. 302). What were they doing that dishonored God? 11. According to the prophet Malachi, what is the correlation between one’s relationship with God and one’s treatment of their spouse? For Next Week 1. Thank God for His Word, faithful witnesses to Him, and proper preaching and teaching, all of which lead us to Him and ongoing sanctification. 2. Ask God to help you know and practice an appropriate balance between prayer and action.