Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sunday School Lesson for July 21st Fasting and Praying Ezra 7 - 8:23

Fasting and Praying
Ezra 7:6-10
New International Version (NIV)
6 this Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him. 7 Some of the Israelites, including priests, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers and temple servants, also came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes.

8 Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. 9 He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. 10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

Plans for the Trip

Ezra 7:6-10The second section of the book begins with a listing of Ezra’s credentials. Ruben Ratzlaff notes, “Like many of the genealogies of the Old Testament, it includes only the more significant names. There are frequent omissions.” Ezra was a priest (vv. 7, 11; 10:10), and v. 6 reports that he was also a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses. Some suggest this is the first mention of a scribe in the Bible, a group Ezra may have helped create. He not onlycopied the Law, but also taught it to others.
Artaxerxes, the king of Persia, approved Ezra’s leading the Jews in their return from Babylon to Palestine. Scripture makes clear exactly how it happened that the king had granted him everything he asked.  Put simply, “The hand of the Lord his God was on him”(v. 6). James Smith explains, “Ezra was able in some unexplained way to secure an appointment from the king to return to Jerusalem as a religious reformer.” This blessing came from God. Many years later James observed, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17). No doubt prayer undergirded all of Ezra’s efforts.
Returning with him was a broad mix of Israelites—priests, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers and temple servants. Especially mentioned are those who would be serving God in the new temple there. The dating of this trip is clearly indicated. In 458 BC Ezra and his entourage arrived back in Jerusalem. It had been almost 80 years since the first return, and 147 years since Daniel and his friends were taken to Babylon. Their travel time to get back home was four months.

Ezra 6:10 is a popular verse with preachers. It suggests a worthy goal for all God’s children, under three headings. Ezra was determined to do three things—study the Law of God, practice the Law, and teach the Law to others.
Ezra 8:21-23
New International Version (NIV)

21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. 22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Preparation for the Trip

Ezra 8:21-23Before leaving with his fellow travelers, Ezra called them together for a special time of prayer and fasting. The Day of Atonement was the one fast required of the people each year (see Leviticus 23:32). The people could add other voluntary fasts, however. C. F. Keil explains, “Fasting, as a means of humbling themselves before God, for the purpose of obtaining an answer to their petitions, was an ancient custom of the Israelites (Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 7:6; Joel 1:14; 2 Chronicles 20:3).”
Years later when Jesus was on earth, fasting was widely practiced. John the Baptist’s followers regularly participated in fasting (Luke 5:33-35). Jesus himself fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness before beginning his earthly ministry (Matthew 4:2). Not all those who fasted did so for the right reasons, however. Our Lord condemned the Pharisees who bragged about fasting twice a week, but whose hearts were far from what God wanted them to be (Luke 18:12). They tried to impress people with their spirituality, but they failed to impress God!
Leslie G. Thomas points out, “Jesus warns that one may soil this fine act of physical restraint by using it for the purpose of spiritual show.” Proper fasting is not done to show off for others, but is essentially between a believer and God (see Matthew 6:16-18). We are not to call attention to ourselves when we fast. One writer observed, “A lowly spirit doesn’t necessarily mean a long face!” In the first-century church, people fasted when elders were appointed (Acts 14:23) and before sending out Paul and Barnabas as missionaries (Acts 13:1-3).
Ezra opens his heart when he admits that he didn’t want to ask the king for military protection for them on the trip, since Ezra had assured the king that God was with them! This section closes with this powerful summation: “So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.” When we fast and pray, God will still do so today!
*Lesson based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2009, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.
July 15: 2 Chronicles 7:12-18
July 16: Psalm 69:9-18
July 17: Isaiah 66:1-4
July 18: Matthew 6:16-18
July 19: Ezra 7:1-10
July 20: Ezra 8:15-20
July 21: Ezra 8:21-23

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sunday School Lesson July 14, 2014 Dedication of Temple Ezra 6

Dedication of  Temple 
Ezra 6

Ezra 6:13-22 King James Version (KJV)

13 Then Tatnai, governor on this side the river, Shetharboznai, and their companions, according to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily.

14 And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.

15 And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.

16 And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy.

17 And offered at the dedication of this house of God an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.

18 And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses.

19 And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month.

20 For the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves.

21 And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the Lord God of Israel, did eat,

22 And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the Lord had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.
Tattenai, to his credit, carried . . . out the instructions of Darius, and did so with diligence (cf. ”with diligence“ in 5:8; 6:12; 7:21, 23). The work was done by the Jewish elders who were encouraged by the preaching of the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah (cf. 5:1). Ezra noted that the ultimate decree for the building of the temple was from God Himself. God worked through the commands of the pagan Persian kings, Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes. Workers, prophets, kings, and God were all involved. Artaxerxes had nothing to do with building the temple; apparently his name was added to round out the account, for he had decreed the building of Jerusalem’s walls (Neh. 2:1, 8). He also helped provide for sacrifices at the temple (Ezra 7:12-17). Some have suggested that Artaxerxes’ name may have been added by an early scribe but there is no textual evidence of that. Actually in the Hebrew the words ”the temple“ are not in 6:14. It reads literally, They finished their building, thus speaking in general terms of the total reconstruction of Jerusalem under the decrees of the three kings. But verse 15 specifically mentions the temple.

The temple was completed in Adar (February-March) of 515—21 years after the work started in 536, and 4 1/2 years after Haggai began his prophesying. This was 70 1/2 years after the temple had been destroyed on August 12, 586.

The dedication of the temple and the celebration of the Passover (6:16-22)

The Temple Dedicated (6:16-18)

After the temple was finished, it was then dedicated. The comparatively small number of animals sacrificed (100 bulls, 200 rams, 400 male lambs, and 12 male goats) contrasted sharply with the tremendous amount sacrificed by Solomon at the dedication of the first temple (22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats; 1 Kings 8:63). This points up the comparative poverty of the postexilic community. The 12 goats for the sin offering show that the postexilic community still envisioned a unified Israel consisting of all 12 tribes even though only 2 had survived with any strength.

The leaders of the sacrificial system—the priests and the Levites—were installed . . . according to . . . the Book of Moses, that is, according to that portion of the Law in which the legal system is described—in parts of Leviticus and Numbers (Lev. 8; Num. 3:5-10; 8:5-14). One of the motifs of Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 and 2 Chronicles is that the postexilic community was under the leadership of godly men who were steeped in the Scriptures and attempted to do everything according to the Law. This shows that they had learned from the Exile that God’s people suffer if they do not live up to their covenantal obligations.

The Passover Celebrated (6:19-22)

Beginning with verse 19 the text is again in Hebrew (4:8-6:18 are in Aramaic). On the 14th day of the first month (April 515 b.c.) the Passover was celebrated. The temple had been completed in the 12th month (Adar; v. 15) and fittingly, in the very next month, the Passover was reinaugurated. This was the first time in 70 years that the people partook of this feast which commemorated their forefathers’ release from Egyptian bondage (cf. Ex. 12:1-14; Lev. 23:5).

The Israelite returnees ate the Passover with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors. This second group might have been: (a) Gentiles living in Judah (cf. Num. 9:14), or more likely (b) Jews who had remained in the land and had defiled themselves by practices that went against the Law, and then repented of those sins, thereby ”separating“ themselves.

The seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread was on days 15-21 of the first month, immediately after the Passover (cf. Lev. 23:6-8). The reference to Darius as the king of Assyria is not an anachronism (though the Assyrian Empire had ended in 609 b.c.) for the Persian Empire included what was once Assyria. Perhaps this title was a grim reminder that Assyria’s harsh tactics were now ended. She was the first to deport Israelites from their land; but now a contingent of Jews was settled back in their land.

This eight-day celebration (the Passover, Ezra 6:19, and the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread, v. 22), 900 years after the first Passover, signaled the end of the Exile for a remnant of the nation was once again back in fellowship with Yahweh. Since the temple worship was restored, it was important for people who wanted to be in fellowship with God and live according to the covenantal obligations to be in the place where the sacrificial system was being practiced. The people had seen firsthand that God works through history, for He had caused pagan kings to issue decrees which let them return to the land of promise (much as He had caused Egypt’s Pharaoh to release Israel). The original readers of Ezra’s book would rejoice in that fact and would be encouraged to participate fully in the temple worship, which had been reestablished at such great cost.

Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. 1983-c1985. The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures. Victor Books: Wheaton, ILCommentary

Commentary II
Decree Obeyed
Ezra 6:13-15
In the first half of the book, Ezra explains how Cyrus permitted the Jews to return and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Today’s text names the other rulers who participated by supporting the temple project. As James Smith explains, “In so doing the Jews were obeying the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes. The mention of Artaxerxes in 6:14 suggests that it was the author’s purpose to lump together here the three great Persian patrons of the Lord’s people.”

When the people neglected their work on the temple, two prophets—Haggai and Zechariah—called them back to their task. Haggai brought a dramatic message from the Lord: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” (Haggai 1:4). The elders of the Jews were responsible to see that the temple was completed. Most scholars date this event in 515 BC.

Temple Dedicated
Ezra 6:16-18
Everyone rejoiced at the dedication time: the people of Israel—the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles. There were no tears shed this time (as in 3:12), only joy. In the past, dedications after extensive repairs had also been conducted by Josiah and Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 30:17; 35:11).

Male goats were sacrificed as a sin offering covering all the 12 tribes (Numbers 7). In addition, 100 bulls, 200 rams, and 400 male lambs were given as fellowship (or peace) offerings (Leviticus 3:1ff; 7:11-14). Reuben Ratzlaff adds, “It was an appropriate gesture, for this was the first time in almost four centuries, since the division of the nation under Rehoboam and Jeroboam, that all Israel had been able to worship together in one temple.”

Some emphasize the great contrast in the number of animals offered at this time when compared to the total of 120,000 at the original dedication of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 8:63). The bulk of the sacrifices on these occasions was eaten by the worshippers during the celebrations, and the community at this time was very small.

At the same time, the priests and Levites were appointed, according to their classes and divisions for service in the temple (see 2 Chronicles 23:4; 2 Kings 11:9). The Scripture specifies that this was done according to what is written in the Book of Moses.

 Passover Kept
Ezra 6:19-22
The Passover date is commonly understood to be April 21, 515 BC. Several weeks have passed since the dedication. Passover was observed by the Jews to remember the night that the Israelites left Egyptian bondage many years before. For this observance, the priests and Levites had purified themselves and were all ceremonially clean. Ezra adds that the Passover lamb was slaughtered for all the exiles, for their relatives the priests and for themselves.

This event marked the people’s commitment to follow God completely once more. Even though they are back near Gentile neighbors whose evil influence had corrupted them in the past, now they will seek the Lord, the God of Israel. J. Stafford Wright points out that this includes “those Jews and Israelites who had not been in captivity, and who were prepared to make a clean break with the idolatry and semi-Jehovah-worship of the Samaritans and surrounding peoples.”

This rededication time included a seven-day celebration of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. Ezra notes that they did this because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria. Rather than the king’s being their enemy and captor, God used him to assist them in the work on the house of God!


*Lesson based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2009, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.

July 8: Ezra 4:1-5
July 9: Ezra 4:11-16
July 10: Ezra 4:17-24
July 11: Ezra 5:1-5
July 12: Ezra 5:6-17
July 13: Ezra 6:1-12
July 14: Ezra 6:13-22

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Sunday School Lesson for July 7, 2013 Temple Restored


BIBLE BASIS: Ezra 3:8-13

BIBLE TRUTH: God is a restorer.


LESSON AIM: That you will know that God will provide joy in restoration.

 Question of the Week: Has God been really good to you?

Ezra 3:8-13

New International Version (NIV)

8 In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak and the rest of the people (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work. They appointed Levites twenty years old and older to supervise the building of the house of the Lord. 

9 Joshua and his sons and brothers and Kadmiel and his sons (descendants of Hodaviah[a]) and the sons of Henadad and their sons and brothers—all Levites—joined together in supervising those working on the house of God.

10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. 

11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:“He is good;   his love toward Israel endures forever.”

And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.

12 But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. 

13 No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.


3:7-9. There was a period of preparation for building the temple foundation for the work did not begin till the second month of the second year after their arrival (May-June 536, exactly 70 years after the first deportation in 605). Why this delay of seven months after the altar was built? Because they had to get organized and secure the building materials. The wood (cedar logs) came from Lebanon, shipped along the coast to Joppa and then carried overland to Jerusalem (see the map ”The Persian Empire“ near 1:1). Lebanon was well known for its cedar forests and its fine woodworkers. For the first temple, 430 years earlier (in 966 b.c.), Solomon had received much of his building materials (cedar, pine, and algum logs) and craftsmen from Lebanon (1 Kings 5:1-10, 18; 2 Chron. 2:1-16). Solomon began his project in the second month (May-June; 1 Kings 6:1), the same month this rebuilding began under Zerubbabel. Since Tyre and Sidon in Lebanon were under the Persian Empire, Cyrus had to authorize this transaction (cf. Ezra 6:3-4), in which the logs, as in Solomon’s time, were paid for by money . . . food . . . drink, and oil.
Zerubbabel appointed the Levites as supervisors of the construction project. Centuries earlier Levites were involved in the tabernacle construction (Ex. 38:21) and in caring for and transporting it (Num. 1:50-51; 3:21-37). Now they were involved in the temple construction. Three Levite groups of supervisors were mentioned (Ezra 3:9)—Jeshua and his family, Kadmiel (cf. 2:40) and his family, and the family of Henadad.
3:10-11. Nothing is mentioned about the actual process of laying the temple foundation or the length of time involved. This is because the focus was on the results of this project on that community of people who had braved the rugged conditions. They were following the command of Cyrus but, more importantly, they were following the command of their God with whom they were in covenant. As the foundation . . . was laid the people were careful to follow in the traditions of their forefathers who had been rightly related to God under the Mosaic Covenant. As the priests . . . and the Levites led the dedication service for the temple’s foundations, they did the things that were prescribed by David. The order followed was the same as when David brought the ark to Jerusalem. At that time priests blew trumpets and Asaph sounded cymbals (1 Chron. 16:5-6). Here the priests blew trumpets and sons (descendants) of Asaph played the cymbals. The order was also similar to the time when the ark was brought to the temple in Solomon’s day (2 Chron. 5:12-13), when Asaph and others played cymbals, harps, and lyres; and the priests blew trumpets. In this rebuilding service the priests and Levites sang, He is good; His love to Israel endures forever, words almost identical to the song of praise in 2 Chronicles 5:13 (cf. Ps. 136:1). This song of praise is highly significant for by it the religious leaders were acknowledging that Yahweh had again established His loving protection over the nation. The word ”love“ (ḥeseḏ) is God’s covenantal loyal love which exists forever with His people Israel. Now that the temple worship was being reestablished, the people again recognized the commitment of God’s unending covenantal love.
3:12-13. In contrast with the joy many people experienced on that occasion, a few of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple (destroyed 50 years earlier in 586 b.c.) were discouraged. Perhaps they contrasted the roughness of the current project with the grandeur of the Solomonic temple. Sixteen years later (in 520 b.c.) the same emotion of discouragement again hit the builders of the temple (Hag. 2:1-9). The two sounds, the joy and the weeping (from sadness), mingled together and were so loud that they were heard far away.
2.     the rebuilding opposed (4:1-6:12)
Ezra did not record all the events in those 21 years (from 536) till the temple was finished (in 515). That is because he was making a theological point that the temple of the Lord was completed despite opposition that might have stopped any other project. The temple was the basis for the postexilic community’s fellowship with God. Not till the temple was built could the people really live in accord with the covenant. Ezra’s account of this interim period differs in tone from Haggai’s account of opposition (from 520 to 518). Ezra did not dwell on the sinful condition of the people as they lived in the land as did Haggai (Hag. 1). Ezra’s account focused on external pressures from the surrounding peoples, whereas Haggai focused on the internal attitudes of the people who valued material possessions above spiritual things (Hag. 1:4-6).
cf. confer, compare
Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. 1983-c1985. The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures. Victor Books: Wheaton, IL

Lesson for July 7, 2013: Restoring the Temple (Ezra 3:8-13)

By Sam E. Stone
This is the second week of studies from the book of Ezra. It describes the time when God’s people were able to worship in Jerusalem once again. Being released from Babylonian captivity was not enough. Now they needed not only to rebuild the altar but also to restore the entire temple, following God’s directions for worship. The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther contain the inspired record of what took place at this time period.
James E. Smith explains, “The first six chapters of the Book of Ezra cover a single generation, 538-515 BC. The major concern of this period was the rebuilding of the house of God. For forty-nine years the ruins of that magnificent structure bore testimony to the sin which led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.”

Laying the FoundationEzra 3:8, 9In last week’s lesson we studied the construction of a new altar of burnt offerings in Jerusalem. It was used on the first day of the seventh month. In today’s lesson seven months have passed since then. During this time the people gathered the necessary supplies to rebuild the temple itself. The two leaders mentioned last week—Zerubbabel and Joshua—directed the project. Zerubbabel represented the Davidic line and Joshua the priestly line. At their side were other priests and Levites. Responsibility was given to even the younger Levites (age 20 and older) to supervise the work. Ruben Ratzlaff points out that previously such responsibilities did not begin until a person reached the age of 30 (Numbers 4:46, 47) or 25 (Numbers 8:24). “They are the only group for whom the age requirement is made; perhaps this is to tell us their care in conforming to the sacred ordinances.” The Levites could be counted on to make sure everything was ritually correct.

Celebrating CompletionEzra 3:10, 11Once the foundation was completed, the people were ready to celebrate! The importance of the occasion is seen both by the special vestments the priests wore and the music that was included. Cymbals are mentioned (compare 1 Chronicles 16:4, 5; 25:1) as well as trumpets (compare Numbers 10:8). Some suggest there were two choirs singing antiphonally as well (see Psalm 136:1; Jeremiah 33:11). C. F. Keil suggests, however, that since there is no definite allusion to responsive singing, it may simply refer to their use of Psalms like 106 and 107, both of which encourage praising the Lord for his goodness. Regardless, surely they made the heavens ring with their hosannas. Those who like a high-decibel level in their worship music would have felt right at home in Jerusalem that day!
Whether in our worship or theirs, the Lord looks at the hearts of those participating, not at their accuracy of pitch, volume level, or musical skill. Bible students note that when David celebrated moving the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem (about 1000 BC), it was Asaph who played the cymbals (1 Chronicles 16:5). He played them again at the dedication of the first temple in 959 BC (2 Chronicles 5:12). Now it was thesons of Asaph who played on this significant occasion. The praises being sung by the people were, “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.”
In addition to the music, there was shouting as well. These uninhibited worshippers wanted to give praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. This had been prophesied by Jeremiah before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. God assured him that, after a time of desolation, the Lord’s praises would again be heard in the holy city (Jeremiah 33:1-11).

Contrasting ResponsesEzra 3:12, 13Some 50 years before, Jerusalem had been destroyed. Many of the older priests and Levites and family heads . . .  had seen the former temple. Many of them wept now. Their weeping might indicate their sorrow that the new temple would not be nearly as grand as the previous one. But they might also have been remembering their years of captivity and mistreatment, their long trip back home, and the difficult days as they worked to rebuild the foundation of the temple.
Ratzlaff sums it up: “Verse 13 concludes the scene as the two emotions, the shout of joy and the sound of weeping, are blended into one distinguishable but impressive tone. For in worship there is a place for both: the tears of sorrow and the shout of joy.”
*Lesson based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2009, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.
July 1: 2 Chronicles 2:1-9
July 2: 1 Kings 8:14-21
July 3: 1 Kings 8:22-30
July 4: Matthew 21:10-16
July 5: Psalm 66:1-12
July 6: Psalm 5
July 7: Ezra 3:8-13