The book of Ezra takes place about 50 years after the Babylonians’ final destruction of Jerusalem and removal of the people of Judah into exile. During that time, the Persian empire, led by King Cyrus, conquered the Babylonians. Thus, when our story begins in the year 536 BC, King Cyrus and the Persians are ruling over the exiled Israelite people. The book of Ezra moves us into the RETURN era of the Old Testament, focusing on two people and two events: Zerubbabel and the restoring of the temple, and Ezra and the restoring of the Israelite people.
The book opens with King Cyrus, moved by the Lord, issuing the following proclamation: “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all His people...let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel.” (Ezra 1:2-3) Zerubbabel leads a group of Israelites back to Jerusalem to begin the process of rebuilding God’s temple and reinstituting His worship.
The book then moves to an account of Ezra, a teacher of the Law. About 60 years after Zerubbabel began rebuilding the temple, during the reign of the Persian king, Artaxerxes, Ezra leads a second wave of people out of exile to their home in Jerusalem. Thanks to the leadership of Zerubbabel and Ezra, the book of Ezra ends with God’s people once again living in community under His Law, worshiping Him in the Promised Land. There is hope for the Israelites following the despair of their years in exile.
9 Eras of the Old Testament
Ezra 6:6-10, 15-16
The Father God never forgets His promises and He is always at work redeeming people to know Him and bring Him glory. In the book of Ezra, we have constant examples of God working through the most unlikely foreign kings to accomplish His purposes. The exiled Jews return to their homeland to rebuild their temple and resume worship to Him. Though opposition to His will comes, He is not thwarted. The temple is rebuilt and the people rejoice before God! The family ingredient of Knowing God builds a rich faith in who He is. His decrees will come to pass. Teaching our family to place their trust in Him will pay rich dividends in our children’s future walk with Christ.
- In Ezra 1:1, it states that God “moved the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia." What does that mean?
- What project did the Lord move King Cyrus to do? Hint: Ezra 1:2-4. What does this show us about God’s power?
- What did King Cyrus return to the Jews who were going back to their homeland to rebuild the temple?
- Did the Jews encounter any opposition?
- When we are doing something for God, is it likely that we will run into some challenges along the way? Discuss some examples. Pray together that God will help you to know Him better and better so you will not give up.
Activity 1: Rebuilding the Temple
Supplies: building blocks and pillows.
A favorite children's activity from the time of Ezra and Nehemiah is rebuilding the wall and defending it. Divide into two teams. Give one team a small section of room (about three feet long) and have them try to build a wall three blocks high. Meanwhile, the other team tries to steal the blocks. The kids defend with pillows and it is a big messy fun game.
Activity 2: A Place to Worship
Using tables, chairs, blankets, rubber bands, or clothespins, build a temple. One of the first acts of worship in the newly rebuilt temple was to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. After your temple is built, act out the celebration of the feast. Enjoy a snack together and sing a worship song. Traditionally part of the feast included reading Psalm 27. Read Psalm 27:4-6. Pray that God will help you know Him better and share Him with others.
Source: Activities adapted from Adventures in Mommydom
Small Group Discussion
- What promise is there to claim?
- How have you humbled yourself before God to seek His help?
- How is fasting the means to humbling ourselves? Ezra 8:21