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Sunday School

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After a long reign as a world power (from about 626 B.C. until 539 B.C.), the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians in 539 B.C. led by King Cyrus II. Cyrus became king of Persia as a result of God’s sovereignty. In contrast to previous world rulers, especially the Assyrians, Cyrus was humane toward those he defeated. He was the Persian king who issued the decree allowing the Jews to return to their homeland following their long period of captivity by the Babylonians (see Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10). This week’s lesson takes place in 445 B.C. about 100 years after King Cyrus of Persia allowed the first group of Jews to return to Israel in 538 B.C. This first group of returnees (see Ezra 1:1-5) began rebuilding the temple (see Ezra 1:5-11; 3:1-8), but didn’t finish it because of local opposition (see Ezra 4:6-24). The second group of Jews returned in 521 B.C. under the Persian rule of King Darius I. They were led by Zerubbabel and Jeshua (see Ezra 2:1; 3:8) who also encountered opposition (see Ezra 5:3-5), but with the encouragement of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, they completed the temple (see Ezra 6:13-15). However, much of the city of Jerusalem was still in ruins. At this time, Artaxerxes was king of Persia. While serving as King Artaxerxes’ chief cupbearer (see Nehemiah 1:11-2:1) in Shushan, Nehemiah received word from a delegation from Jerusalem describing the devastation that still existed in Jerusalem (see Nehemiah 1:1-3). Hearing about the condition of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, Nehemiah became distraught. As a result, he prayed to the LORD confessing the sins of the people and asking Him to grant him mercy in the eyes of King Artaxerxes (see Nehemiah 1:4-11). The LORD answered Nehemiah’s prayer by moving King Artaxerxes to permit Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city (see Nehemiah 2:1-8). When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, during the night, he secretly surveyed the city and its destruction (see Nehemiah 2:9-16). It appears that the next day, Nehemiah spoke to both the political and religious leaders in Jerusalem encouraging them to build the walls even though he had been mocked by Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite for intending to rebuild the city (see Nehemiah 2:16-20). In response to Nehemiah’s encouragement to rebuild the city walls, the work soon started (see Nehemiah 3:1-32). Our lesson begins with chapter 4.

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