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Relevant Verses: Ezra 4:1-7; 7:1-28

Leading Question: To what extent can we trust in Providence to make things happen when human beings have such powers to derail God’s plans?

In this new series of lessons on Ezra and Nehemiah, we also bring into focus several other important biblical characters: the prophets Haggai and Zechariah; and Zerubbabel, the governor of the province of Judah who is always associated with Joshua the high priest and who spearheaded the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.

A crucial issue that will remain important throughout the quarter is the comparison between the methods and message of Jesus with the often harsh approach represented by Ezra and Nehemiah. If Jesus is the clearest revelation of God, then how does the revelation of God in Jesus relate to other revelations that don’t seem to be so clear?

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were not written by the men whose names are attached to them. But both books include some first-person accounts featuring both men. For that reason scholars often speak of the books as containing the “memoirs” of Ezra and Nehemiah.

It is also worth noting that the conclusion of 2 Chronicles (36:22-23) and the first verses of Ezra (1:1-3a) are virtually identical. The question has been raised whether or not they might have been together as one book at an earlier point in their history. Most scholars do not consider that likely.

Question: Why did the first returnees under Zerubbabel immediately begin worshiping at the temple site, even though the temple had not been rebuilt? (Ezra 3:1-6)

Question: Why was there both weeping and rejoicing when the foundation of the temple was finally laid? (Ezra 3:8-13)

A prophesied return? The official study guide emphasizes the precision of the predicted return, citing Jeremiah 25:11-12 and 29:10, and Daniel 9:1-2. While some prophecies in the Bible seem to be precise fulfillments, others, such as Jonah’s 40-day pronouncement against Ninevah, turn out to be conditional. Is there any way of knowing in advance if a prophecy is conditional? Ellen White’s 1883 statement declares that all God’s “promises” and “threatenings” are alike conditional:

The angels of God in their messages to men represent time as very short. Thus it has always been presented to me. It is true that time has continued longer than we expected in the early days of this message. Our Saviour did not appear as soon as we hoped. But has the Word of the Lord failed? Never! It should be remembered that the promises and the threatenings of God are alike conditional. – MS 4, 1883, unpublished until Evangelism, 695 [1946], and then more completely in 1 SM 67 [1958]. The original response was apparently never sent to anyone.

Getting the job done. Finding the right person for the right job can be a challenge. Ezra was known as a scholar and a student of the law (cf. Ezra 7:6, 10). But what Jerusalem really needed was a man of action. That was Nehemiah. He had the wall of Jerusalem built in 52 days after his arrival! Just how remarkable that is can be seen in a survey of the dates involving Jerusalem and its temple. These are the important ones:

587/586 Destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar
538/537 Cyrus’ decree that the Jews may return to Jerusalem
515 Temple completed under the direction of Zerubbabel in the reign of Darius
458/457 Decree of Artaxerxes to rebuild Jerusalem/arrival of Ezra
445/444 Arrival of Nehemiah in Jerusalem/City walls rebuilt in 52 days.

Question: Given the remarkable delays and large gaps, what do terms like “prediction,” “providence,” “conditionalism” mean when interpreting events described in Scripture?

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