GOD’S PEOPLE RETURN HOME
Scripture: Ezra 1:1-11; 3:1-2, 7-13; 4:4,24; 6:19-22; Isa. 45:1-4; Daniel 1:17-20
Memory verse: Psalm 126:3
"The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy."
Help the students gain an understanding of the circumstances the people of Judah encountered in Babylon. God’s people were taken from their homes to a faraway place. The people of Judah had to adapt to new customs and a new way of life.
Impress this upon your students by giving a short description of the life and customs of another country. If you have some people in your church who were raised in another country or who have lived in another country, invite them to visit your class and talk about the differences between their old home and their present home. If the style of dress is different in their home country, ask them to wear a typical outfit from that country when they come to speak to the students.
Ask the students what they would like or dislike about moving to a foreign country. Ask if they think they would get homesick for the things we take for granted in our country. Then explain that this is what the people of Judah experienced when they were taken captive to Babylon. Encourage the students to listen to find out how God helped them with their homesickness.
Hearing God’s Word
It is hard for God’s people to leave their homes and go to live in a foreign country. The customs and ways of living were different from what they had known. They didn’t know what they would find or what kind of life they would have when they reached Babylon.
Life In Babylon
Although the Jews were living in captivity, they were not persecuted as they had been when they were slaves in Egypt many years before. In fact, some of the most intelligent and skilful Jewish captives were looked upon quite favourably. Daniel and his friends were among this group. They held important positions in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court. (Ask students to read Daniel 1:17-20.)
Most of the captive Jews, however, lived in the country south-east of Babylon. They were allowed to have their own homes. Many even had their own businesses. But their freedom was gone and they missed their homeland.
God Takes Care Of His People
Although God was punishing His people for their sins by allowing them to be taken into captivity, He never stopped loving them. God had told them that their captivity would last for 70 years. During this time, He sent prophets to teach them how to live and to keep the hope alive that one day they would return to the homeland God had given to them.
Many changes took place in Babylon during the 70 years of captivity. Several different kings ruled the nation.
Nebuchadnezzar was king when Daniel and his friends began their work in the king’s court. Later in Daniel’s life, Belshazzar came to the throne. During his reign Daniel interpreted the mysterious handwriting that appeared on the wall one night when Belshazzar was having a party. That same night Babylon was conquered by the Persians and Darius became the new ruler. During the time Darius was in power, Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den because he dared to pray to the one true God.
Ask: “How did God take care of Daniel?” (Allow responses. Briefly review this event with the students.)
Then, about the time the 70 years of captivity was over, another king, Cyrus, became the ruler. The prophet Isaiah spoke of Cyrus over a hundred years before Cyrus was even born. Cyrus did not know God and may not have been aware of these prophecies. However, it is possible that Daniel told him about them. Perhaps he even read them to Cyrus. (Ask students to read Isaiah 45:1-4.)
Cyrus Sets The People Free
Whether or not Cyrus knew about Isaiah’s prophecies, God gave Cyrus the desire to fulfil them. Cyrus decided God’s people should be set free so they could go back to their homeland. There they would be able to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem once again.
How excited the Jews were when King Cyrus made the announcement that they were free to go back home! Those who were unable to make the trip or had decided to remain in Babylon helped the ones who planned to go. They gave the travellers money, horses, camels, donkeys, mules, clothing and supplies for the journey. Cyrus even gave back all of the sacred vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple at Jerusalem. (Ask volunteers to read: Ezra 1:1-7 aloud.)
Soon God’s people were on their way home. They were led by a man named Zerubbabel (Ze-RUB-a-bel). The journey home was long. The people had to walk most of the way.
When they finally arrived, a sad sight met their eyes. Their beloved Jerusalem was in ruins and the beautiful temple was destroyed. Also, there were enemies on every side. Still, the people were happy to be home at last.
One of the first things the people did after they arrived was to meet in Jerusalem. There they built an altar to God. They offered sacrifices to God and thanked Him for bringing them back home. He had been faithful to fulfil His promise that they would return home after 70 years in captivity.
Work Begins On The Temple
About a year later, the people were ready to lay the foundation for the temple. Carpenters and masons were hired. They gave meat and oil in exchange for cedar wood from Lebanon. When the foundation was finally laid, everyone worshiped God together. (Ask the students to read Ezra 3:10, 11.)
It took 20 years from the time the temple was first begun until it was finished. During this time other people tried to make them stop rebuilding. God’s people became very discouraged. The work on the temple was even stopped for a while. But God sent prophets to encourage the people and finally they started to work on the temple again.
When the temple was completed, the people gathered to make their offerings and dedicate the temple to God. Once again they kept the Passover Feast. God’s people had repented and turned their hearts back to worship Him instead of idols.
What a wonderful time this was for God’s people! They sang and praised God for all He had done for them. God had seen them through 70 years of captivity and had brought them safely home again. Their praise to God must have sounded like this week’s memory verse. (Review the verse several times with the students.)
God Is Faithful
What God says, He will do. God had warned His people that if they disobeyed Him and turned away from Him, their enemies would take their land and carry them into captivity.
Ask: “Did God keep His Word?” (Allow response.)
While they were in captivity they repented and God promised to bring the people of Judah back to their homeland.
Ask: “Did He keep His Word?” (Allow response.) Ask the students to read Ezra 6:21, 11 together.
He brought them back to the land He gave them and helped them rebuild the temple so they could worship Him once again. When God said He would judge the people’s sin, He did. When He said He would restore the people to their homeland, He did. God is faithful!
People don’t always keep their promises, but God does. Even when people want to keep their promises, sometimes they are unable to because of situations out of their control. But God is not controlled by any situations. Just the opposite is true. He alone is all-powerful and we can always depend upon God to do what He says He will do. We can be sure He will never fail. The Jewish people learned that when they disobeyed God they had much trouble and sorrow. When they repented and put Him first in their lives, He helped them.
God is faithful to us in many ways. He provides for our daily needs, protects us even when we are unaware of it, and helps us as we obey and trust Him. God promises to give us the strength we need to resist temptation and obey Him. It’s important to keep close to God through obedience and spending time with Him. Then, when we have problems, and face difficult situations we can be assured God will help us work them out.
Accepting God’s Word
Explain that the people of Judah were overjoyed when they were able to return home after 70 years of captivity. Stress what a wonderful blessing freedom is and how we need to cherish this privilege. Then explain how all of us are prisoners to sin until we ask Jesus into our lives. When we are sorry for our sin and ask Jesus to forgive us, He breaks the chains of sin that keep us from doing what God wants and gives us freedom from sin’s punishment. Explain the plan of salvation.
Lord Jesus, it is with a grateful heart that I approach You today. Thank You for making me in Your image; giving me a soul by which I can communicate with You in the realm of the spirit.
The Bible declares in Psalm 145:13: "The Lord is faithful to all his promises." Over the years as I have presented requests to You through prayer, I have watched You answer in ways far beyond my expectations.
Today I submit to You a request in behalf of the Mandinka people. They know that You alone are God, but they have failed to recognize Jesus as the revelation of Yourself. Consequently, they fall short of receiving the great salvation Jesus has provided for them.
Gracious Lord, help the Mandinka to understand and grasp the truth, to believe and receive Your gift of eternal life. I stand on Your promise, "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer" (Matthew 21:22). Amen.
Study 15 | God's Character/O.T. Kings | africaatts.org/go-teach