Week 39: Ezra and Nehemiah

Prepare these questions for Sunday, January 5, 2014. We will not meet on December 22 or 29 due to Christmas break.

The book of Ezra again refers to the time period when Jerusalem was conquered by Babylon and the people of Israel/Judah were scattered. As we learned in previous books, the Persians conquered the Babylonians and the Persian king allowed the people to return to their homes and rebuild. This book may have been written by the prophet Ezra, but is probably a collection of writings compiled by an editor of some sort. The first half of the book talks about the first groups returning to Jerusalem around 538 B.C. The second focuses on Ezra's time (about 70 or so years later) and the concern over other religious influences due to intermarriage.

1. In Chapter 3 of Ezra, the author describes the beginning of the rebuilding of the altar and temple in Jerusalem. Why would this account be important to the Jewish people at that time? What purposes did the temple serve in their culture?

2. In Chapter 9, Ezra addresses the intermarriage of the Israelites with the people groups that surround them. The conflict is not so much about the marriages themselves, but rather about adopting the religious practices of these other people when the marriages happened. Why would it have been so important to the Israelites to maintain their separate status from the other people around them?

Nehemiah is primarily the story of one man who organizes the returned people of Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls. He faces opposition to the wall and men who are trying to kill him. He deals with trying to aid the poor and running out of money for the wall. His leadership and personal sacrifice to see the job done are impressive and inspiring.

3. Nehemiah used his own money, his own labor, and his own talents to get the wall built for Jerusalem even when it was frustrating and overwhelming. What goals, projects, or activities is God calling you to do right now? How can you use Jeremiah's response to distractions (verse 6:3) to encourage you today?

4. This book references Ezra (they were probably originally one book made up of the personal memoirs of both Ezra and Nehemiah) and his prayer for the people and the people's repentance. However, Nehemiah left to return to the king's court and when he returned to Jerusalem years later he found the people again ignoring what they knew was right and disobeying God's will for them. (Chapter 13) How did Nehemiah deal with what he found in Jerusalem? How can you use Nehemiah's story to help deal with frustrations and disappointments in the work you are trying to do in you own life?

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