Rebuilding The Altar (Ezra 3:1 – 6)

Scripture Text:

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Ezra 3:1 – 6

1. What’s first on your to-do list of building projects?

2. Why are they assembling “as one man” (verse 1; see Leviticus 23:23 – 36)?

3. What is first one Jeshua’s list?

4. What is the value (symbolic and real) of building the altar on “its foundation” and in accord with the Law (verses 2 – 4)?

5. Why have the people sacrificed before laying the temple foundation (verses 3 – 6)?

6. How does their zeal compare to yours? Does worship come first for you? Why?

7. On what basis are you building your altar to God? What do you sacrifice?

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The List of Exiles Who Returned (Ezra 2)

Scripture Text:

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Ezra 2

1. If you didn’t have lists or numbers recorded anywhere, what would you be unable to do?

  • Buy groceries?
  • Keep appointments?
  • Call or write friends?
  • Balance checkbook?
  • Remember birthdays?

2. Which of these items could you still do without a list? Who in your family is the biggest list keeper? Who has absolutely no need for lists?

3. Can you recall the names of any neighborhood kids you grew up with? Name a few.

4. What is the connection between this chapter and the previous one? What transfer of leadership occurs?

5. Nehemiah chapter 7 parallels this chapter, with some important variation in names and numbers. How does verse 2 compare with Nehemiah 7:7? Why might Nehemiah want to include 12 tribes of Israel, but Ezra only 11?

6. Three had Babylonian names (Zerubbabel, Bilshan and Mordecai) and one a Persian name (Bigvai). What does that tell you about the religious and ethnic integration among these Babylonian Jews?

7. What forms the seven organizational divisions for Ezra (verses 3 – 58)? When grouping people by their points of departure (verses 21 – 35), why do you think Ezra omits any reference to towns in the Negev? (Note: The Negev was a large area south of Judah, which was occupied by the Edomites after Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah in 597 BC).

8. Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 agree on the priestly family names, their order and the numbers assigned to each (verses 36 – 39). What does that say about their relative importance?

9. What is the ratio between the total number of priests (verses 36 – 39) and the total membership for the restored community (verse 64)? Does that ratio sound top-heavy to you? What long-term needs of the community would be served by that many priests?

10. What other professional groups or classes of people are returning from exile? What do their small numbers say about their relative importance?

11. Moses, Joshua and David gave captives to the Levites for service at the Lord’s altar (see Numbers 31:29, 30; Joshua 9:22 – 27). Yet Ezra and Nehemiah talk of temple slaves differently, tracing their heirs by name (verses 43 – 54). What change is indicted by their inclusion in this list of returnees?

12. What happened to returnees who could not properly document their family ties (verses 61 – 63)? What situation parallels this today? What does that tell you about the importance of keeping family records? What’s the “Urim and Thummim” (see Exodus 28:30)? Why would they be necessary?

13. What priorities are evident in the inventory of extras (verses 64 – 67)? In their designated gifts (verses 68 and 69)? Why is it often easier to raise money for a building (as in verse 68) than a church program?

14. In what towns do they all settle after 70 years of exile (verse 70)? How do you explain that: Good collective memory? Fine-tuned honing instincts? Divine guidance?

15. What is the most ethnically diverse group, of which you are an active part? How does that group help you to celebrate differences?

16. What family records do you keep? And why do you keep them?

  • Diary?
  • Old letters?
  • Memorabilia?
  • Photo album?
  • Other: ____?

17. In reference to Question #16, what would an inventory of these items indicate about the kind of person you are, or the kind of family you come from?

18. When have you experienced a time of spiritual restoration?

  • After lapsing in your faith?
  • After moving away from organized religion?
  • After a time out to explore other things?
  • After an interaction by someone else?

19. This chapter underscores the importance of spiritual ancestors to Israel. Do you know who are your spiritual ancestors? What has been passed on to you, spiritually, from your ancestors?

20. What one quality are you now developing as one of God’s people that you want to pass along to any children or grandchildren? How do you intend to do this? What ideas does this chapter give you in that regard?

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King Cyrus Helps The Exiles Return To Jerusalem (Ezra 1)

Welcome to the book of Ezra!

This book is named for the principle character, Ezra, but it does not state its author. Whoever it was may also helped compile the book of Nehemiah and perhaps 1 and 2 Chronicles. Originally the book of Ezra was one book with Nehemiah. The book’s theme: the restoration of Israel after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. This is accomplished through the help of three Persian kings (Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes I).

The traditional view is that Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the 7th year of the reign of Artaxerxes I (458 BC) and Nehemiah in the 20th year of the reign (445 BC). God is shown using Jewish leaders and Persian kings to bless and discipline His people. Ezra is often seen as the “father of Judaism” because he promotes a way of life renewed by and centered on unswerving allegiance to the Torah. You may notice that beginning with this book, the nation of Israel becomes more like a church or religious group rather than a nation. Remember they no longer have political independence but will cling to Old Testament Scriptures and temple worship.

As to how to read and study this book? Several highly emotional events are described. Yet it reads like a historical report, citing official documents, letters and list written over an 80-year span. A dry and confusing read at times. Take the time to imagine how the scenes must have looked and to reflect on how the people must have felt.

Scripture Text:

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Ezra 1

1. What historical events here most scattered or restored your family? War? Civil Rights Act? Amnesty? Economic opportunity? Emigration? Persecution? Baby Boom?

2. In reference to Question #1, where do you fit in this?

3. How does Cyrus’ decree strike you?

  • Deja vu (see 2 Chronicles 36:22, 23)?
  • Unusual?
  • Note-worthy?
  • Legally binding?
  • Predictable (see Jeremiah 25:11, 12; Jeremiah 29:10)?
  1. In what sense is Jeremiah’s prophecy fulfilled by King Cyrus? By “the people any place” (verse 4)? By their neighbors? By God? Who moves whom to do what?

5. Compare this decree (chapter 1:2 – 4) with its “memo” version (chapter 6:3 – 5). What do you make of the variation?

6. What do you make of the missing or uncounted articles in verses 7 – 11a (see 2 Kings 25:13 – 15)?

7. What factors from Cyrus’ story have also shaped who you are?

  • building projects?
  • mercy toward others?
  • service offerings?
  • family ties?
  1. God moves hearts of kings and families alike to do His will. How has God “moved your heart” (verses 1, 5)?

9. If you must wait, as Israel did, for God to restore your place in His service, are you content to do so? Or pushing for change? How so?

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