Last week we learned that the Bible is true and trustworthy. Also, the empires, Assyria and Babylon, had taken over Israel and Judah, respectively.

Ezra and Nehemiah

The prophet Jeremiah (25:11) announced that the Israelites would be in exile for 70 years.

70-year Exile

A new king named Cyrus came to power. Cyrus was the first Persian king because the Persian Empire conquered the Babylonian Empire. This is the third empire.

Persian Empire

The Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that Cyrus actually read Isaiah’s prophecy (44:24 – 45:13) and was so amazed he was referred to in it that he did was the prophet predicted (Antiquity of the Jews, Book XI, ch. 1).

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are about the Jews going back to the land of Israel because Cyrus let’s them return to rebuild.

Cyrus Proclamation


Cyrus tells some people they can go back and rebuild the Temple in 538 BC.

538 BC Return to Jerusalem

Led by a man named, Sheshbazzar, it took three years to plan and then actually arrive in Jerusalem which would have been around 535 BC. It took a lot of work to rebuild the Temple. The Jews were focused on rebuilding the Temple and it took 20 years to complete it.

Why did it take so long to rebuild the Temple?

It took so long because their neighbors were trying to stop them from rebuilding. Why? When Israel was divided into two nations (Israel in the north, Samaria, and Judah in the south, Jerusalem) these two countries often fought against each others. After the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom (Israel) with the capital city of Samaria, they placed (settled) new people in that land. This happened after 722 BC. By the time of the Persians in 538 BC, the land of Samaria was in charge of all the land that used to be the whole kingdom of Israel (including Jerusalem). The people in charge of that land under the Persians didn’t want Jerusalem to be rebuilt because they didn’t want that city and that land to get strong again (and eventually take back the land again). So the people in charge did whatever they could to slow down the rebuilding of the Temple. Men named, Joshua and Zerubbabel, led the work on rebuilding the Temple.

Ezra Book

The first six chapters in Ezra are about the trip back to Jerusalem and about the work rebuilding the Temple while neighbors try to stop them. The Jews eventually have to go to the king of Persia to get help. This king is not Cyrus anymore because he had died. This was two kings later… King Darius. Darius reviewed Cyrus’ proclamation and gave the Jews the green light to continue rebuilding.

In 516 BC, the Temple was rebuilt. It took almost 20 years to rebuild the Temple!

Second Temple Rebuilt

Who is Ezra?

Ezra was a priest still living in Babylon. He was an expert in teaching God’s law. Jump ahead 60 years, Artaxerxes, the Persian king, sent Ezra to Jerusalem to teach the people there God’s law.

Artaxerxes Sends Ezra to Jerusalem

Why did King Artaxerxes do that?

The Persians believed in many gods and a favor for one god might pay off in the long run. After all, a peaceful, non-revolting group of kingdoms was good for the stability of the empire.

When Ezra came to Jerusalem, 80 years after Cyrus said the Israelites (Jews) could return to their land, he didn’t like what he saw.

Do you remember what caused King Solomon’s downfall? He collected many wives from other lands that worshiped other gods. This led Solomon and the people of Israel (God’s people), to worship idols. When Ezra went to Jerusalem he saw that the Israelites had married women from the land all around them and they worshiped other gods. Ezra freaked out! He tore his clothes and ripped out his hair.

Ezra Tears Clothes and Rips Out Hair

Ezra called out to God and confessed sin… this led to the people calling out to God and confessing their sin… which all led to repentance: changing your ways, turning from what you’re doing wrong. The women that worshiped other gods were sent back to their families and Israel tried to get back on track.

Ezra Leads Israelites to Repent


The story of Nehemiah picks up where the book of Ezra leaves off. If Ezra is about rebuilding the Temple, then the book of Nehemiah is about the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls.

Strong walls keep a city safe. (Brother Louie)

Nehemiah Cupbearer to Artaxerxes

There was an Israelite named Nehemiah who was a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. Because a cupbearer was a trusted person who guarded the life of the king, they were often some of the king’s closest friends. Nehemiah heard a report about the condition of the Jerusalem and its walls. It had been 90 years since the return to Jerusalem and the city was unprotected.

Nehemiah went to King Artaxerxes and asked if he could go to Jerusalem to help rebuild the walls and he even asked for the supplies to do it! Artaxerxes gave Nehemiah everything he asked for. So Nehemiah went to Jerusalem to help rebuild its walls.

Nehemiah Rebuilds Jerusalem Walls

What about those pesky neighbors that gave the Israelites all that trouble when they were rebuilding the Temple?

The neighbors, the Ammonites, sent threatening letters to Nehemiah to try to stop the work. Then they got soldiers to try to force Nehemiah and the Jews from completing the walls. Nehemiah heard about the soldiers and stationed his own soldiers to protect them… even some of the workers kept their swords on them to protect them all the time. Trumpets were sounded to signal if any enemies were approaching the workers. Nehemiah prayed for God’s protection. Before the neighbors could do anything to actually stop them, the walls were done.

Jerusalem Completed Walls

Did it take 20 years (like the Temple) to rebuild the walls?

No. It only took 52 days! Because Nehemiah was such a good leader and because the Israelites worked so hard, it only took 52 days. Jerusalem was safe once again. Nehemiah became the governor and Ezra was the priest.

Nehemiah Book

The first half of Nehemiah talks about the rebuilding of the wall, while the second half calls all the people to get together so Ezra could read to them the law of Moses, which tells the story of their ancestors and the rescue from Egypt and the law on Mt. Sinai and the whole reason for their existence in the first place: to be a blessing to the whole world.

Ezra Reads Law of Moses

What do we learn from these two books: Ezra and Nehemiah?

  • God is true to his promises
  • God can use anyone to make his rescue plan happen (even powerful rulers who don’t follow him)
  • Repentance is important
  • God never gives up on humanity

source What’s in the Bible? Curriculum Unit 7 Week 2