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    Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah

    Winter 2014-15 > Tony Evans, General Editor

    @ 2014 LifeWay

  • AdmitAdmit to God that you are a sinner. All persons need salvation. Each of us has a problem the Bible calls sin. Sin is a refusal to acknowledge God’s authority over our lives. Everyone who does not live a life of perfect obedience to the Lord is guilty of sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Since none of us is perfect, all of us are sinners (Romans 3:10-18).

    The result of sin is spiritual death (Romans 6:23). Spiritual death means eternal separation from God. By God’s perfect standard we are guilty of sin and therefore subject to the punishment for sin, which is separation from God. Admitting that you are a sinner and separated from God is the first step of repentance, which is turning from sin and self and turning toward God. BelieveBelieve in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and receive Jesus’ gift of forgiveness from sin. God loves each of us. God offers us salvation. Although we have done nothing to deserve His love and salvation, God wants to save us. In the death of Jesus on the cross, God provided salvation for all who would repent of their sins and believe in Jesus. “For God loved the world in this

    way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

    ConfessConfess your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord to others. After you have received Jesus Christ into your life, share your decision with another person. Tell your pastor or a Christian friend about your decision. Following Christ’s example, ask for baptism by immersion in your local church as a public expression of your faith. “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).

    THE ABC’S OF SALVATIONSome people think a personal relationship with God is something only theologians can comprehend. Actually, God’s plan of salvation is simple enough for everyone to understand. Here are the ABC’s of salvation.

    @ 2014 LifeWay

  • 3




    Dec. 7 Session 1: Deliverance Is Needed (Esth. 3:1-9) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

    Dec. 14 Session 2: God Provides Deliverance (Esth. 4:6-17) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15

    Dec. 21 Session 3: God Provides a Savior* (Luke 2:8-20) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19

    Dec. 28 Session 4: God Ordains Restoration (Ezra 3:1-7,10-11; 6:19-22) . . 23

    Jan. 4 Session 5: God Commands Obedience (Ezra 7:1-10) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27

    Jan. 11 Session 6: God Inspires the Work (Neh. 2:1-8,17-18) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31

    Jan. 18 Session 7: Protect Human Life** (Gen. 9:1-7; Ps. 8:4-8; Prov. 24:10-12; Phil. 2:12-16a) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35

    Jan. 25 Session 8: Be Faithful in Adversity (Neh. 6:1-19) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39

    Feb. 1 Session 9: Do Your Appointed Part (Neh. 7:1-8) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

    Feb. 8 Session 10: Get an Understanding (Neh. 8:1-12) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47

    Feb. 15 Session 11: Return to the Restoring God (Neh. 9:32-37) . . . . . . . . . . . . 51

    Feb. 22 Session 12: Commit Your Way to the Lord (Neh. 10:28-39) . . . . . . . 55

    BONUS SESSION*** Establish Justice in God’s Community (Neh. 5:1-13) . . . 59*Evangelistic Emphasis **Sanctity of Human Life Emphasis ***For use at any time or sequence


    The ABCs of Salvation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Writers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 From the General Editor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 How to Use QuickSource . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Introduction to Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 3 Powerful Words for Group Leaders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64 Coming Next Quarter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66 Map of Returns of Jewish Exiles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67

    @ 2014 LifeWay

  • 4 E x pl or e t h e Bi bl e


    WINTER 2014-15VOLUME 8 • NUMBER 2













    NASHVILLE, TN 37234-0175






    DAVID JENKINS is a retired pastor living in Gilmer, TX. He writes for many LifeWay Bible studies and periodicals.

    JOELLEN TAYLOR has 25 years ministry experience with her husband, Linc Taylor. She is currently serving as missions assistant at Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, TN.

    Explore the Bible: QuickSource (ISSN 1547-1764; Item 005075279) is published quarterly by LifeWay, One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN 37234, Thom S. Rainer, President. © 2014 LifeWay.

    For ordering or inquiries visit, or write LifeWay Church Resources Customer Service, One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN 37234-0113. For subscriptions or subscription address changes, email, fax 615.251.5818, or write to the above address. For bulk shipments mailed quarterly to one address, email, fax 615.251.5933, or write to the above address.

    We believe that the Bible has God for its author; salvation for its end; and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter and that all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. To review LifeWay’s doctrinal guideline, please visit

    Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers®. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

    AMP—Scripture quotations taken from The Amplified® Bible. copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by persmission. ( ASV—American Standard Version (public domain) CEV—Contemporary English Version® Copyright © 1995 American Bible Society. All rights reserved. ESV— The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV® Text Edition: 2011. All rights reserved. KJV—King James Version (public domain) MSG—Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group. NASB— Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. NIV— THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. NKJV— Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NLT— Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. NRSV—New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

    All Web sites in this resource were reviewed and verified on 14 March 2014.

    @ 2014 LifeWay

  • 5


    Providence is God using what is frequently called chance or mistakes to stitch events into a tapestry of meaning. It refers to God’s governance of all events as He directs them toward His intended end. The Old Testament Books of Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah provide a beautiful picture of God’s providence over the smallest of circumstances for the purpose of redeeming His people.

    Too often we miss rich truths that can be discovered from exploring Old Testament books of the Bible. Ancient peoples and

    distant lands don’t always appear, at first glance, to be the most relevant for our own situation. Yet we do ourselves a disservice if we neglect the study of God’s dealings with His people under the old covenant. We miss portraits of the God who calls, chastens, heals, nourishes, fights and provides for, and ultimately redeems His people. We too need this God.

    In the New Testament, Paul writes that Old Testament things were written for our instruction (1 Cor. 10:11). If a royal butler together with a theologian can rebuild a nation amid staunch opposition, if an attractive peasant girl can become queen just in time to prevent ethnic genocide, we can be encouraged that there is nothing God cannot do.

    We hope this study of Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah will strengthen your faith in the God who orders all things for His renown and for the joy of His people.

    Tony Evans

    Tony Evans is senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, and is founder and president of The Urban Alternative, a ministry that seeks to restore hope and transform lives through the proclamation and the application of the Word of God. For more information about the ministries of Dr. Tony Evans, please visit

    @ 2014 LifeWay

  • 6 E x pl or e t h e Bi bl e



    1. After completing your study using the commentary provided in the Explore the Bible Leader Guide, consult the Exploring Key Words section and the Talking Points page for additional insight or as a review.

    2. After creating your initial plans for guiding the group time using the suggestions included in the Leader Guide, supplement and refine your plan using the ideas found in QuickSource. You will also want to consult the Explore the Bible blog ( or Explore the Bible MinistryGrid page ( for additional ideas.


    1. Read and study the core passage.

    Use Exploring Key Words on the first page of the session content to gain an understanding of the passage. Consult a study Bible like the HCSB Study Bible (also available online at and a Bible commentary like the Explore the Bible Adult Commentary (available at in both print and digital formats) to gain additional insight into the passage.

    2. Review the outline provided on the Talking Points page (page 2 of each session).

    Record ideas and insights gleaned from your personal study time. Note: You may want to make a photocopy of the Talking Points page so you can use QuickSource again in the future.

    3. Review the questions on the Discussion Plan page (page 3 of each session).

    Identify the questions you believe would work best with the group you are leading. Reword the selected questions to reflect your personality and the personality of the group. Record the reworded questions on the Talking Points page (or the photocopy you made of the page) next to the point related to the question. Remember to arrange the questions so that you are leading the group to a conclusion or action.

    @ 2014 LifeWay

  • T wo Way s t o Use Q u ick S ou rc e 7

    4. Consider ways of using the Object Lesson idea (page 4 of each session).

    Brainstorm other ideas sparked by the object lesson suggestion.

    5. Read the Dig Deeper feature (page 4 of each session).

    Add insights gained from this page to the Talking Points page.

    6. Use the Personal Study Guide (PSG).

    Scan a copy of the Personal Study Guide (PSG), looking for additional questions and the Bible skill feature. Consider ways of incorporating the Bible skill into the session, recording your ideas on the Talking Points page. Record additional questions from the PSG on the Talking Points page as well.

    7. Review and refine.

    Consult the Explore the Bible blog ( or Explore the Bible Ministry Grid ( for additional ideas.

    8. Arrive early.

    The group time starts when the first person arrives. Make sure you are that person so you can set the tone and direction for the group Bible study time.

    9. Lead the group in a time of Bible study.

    Carry the Talking Points page into the class, using this page as your guide for leading the group.

    @ 2014 LifeWay

  • 8 E x pl or e t h e Bi bl e | Q u ick S ou rc e

    INTRODUCTION TO ESTHER, EZRA, AND NEHEMIAHJohn Woolman, an 18th-century American Quaker, dedicated his adult life to the cause of abolishing slavery in colonial America. Woolman possessed such moral power and influence—especially among his fellow Quakers—that he convinced many slaveholders to free their slaves. In doing so, Woolman demonstrated the power of one person, under God, to stand for what is right.

    The impetus of Woolman’s example came straight out of Scripture. The Bible is filled with accounts of men and women who trusted in God and took courageous stands to live for Him. Some of them faced the fearful prospect of martyrdom, yet did not back down from their devotion to the Living God. God used such men and women to advance His kingdom purposes.

    These Bible studies focus on a trio of courageous, faithful individuals: Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah. The Bible books named for these individuals are part of the history of Israel, God’s Old Testament people. All three books are set in the fifth century B.C., as the long decades of the Babylonian exile were drawing to a close. Challenges and dangers still abounded for God’s people. Yet God called out bold leaders who were born for such a time as this.


    Writer(s)—The Book of Esther does not name its writer. Early Jewish and Christian traditions suggest that among the people named in the book, Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and guardian, was in the best position to record the events. The writer possessed great literary skill, especially in developing plot and narrative tension.

    Originally, the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah comprised one book, which, like the Book of Esther, do not identify the writer. Early Jewish tradition suggested that Ezra wrote the entire work. Some recent scholars have proposed that Ezra-Nehemiah was written (or at least compiled) by the same person responsible for 1-2 Chronicles. Portions of both Ezra (chap. 8–9) and Nehemiah (chap. 1–7; 12:27–13:31) are written in first person, indicating that the two men originally may have written those sections.

    @ 2014 LifeWay

  • 9I n t roduc t ion t o E s t h er , Ez r a , a n d Neh em i a h

    Date(s)—In terms of the events covered in the books, events in Ezra span a period from 538–457 B.C. Events in Esther cover 486–465 B.C., the years of the reign of Ahasuerus over Persia. Events in Nehemiah cover the period from 445 to 430 B.C.

    In terms of when the books were written, we cannot be certain. If written by Mordecai, Esther probably was written soon after the events described. Ezra-Nehemiah likely was written soon after Nehemiah’s ministry concluded in 430 B.C.


    These three books highlight several key themes, revealing that one believer can truly make a difference by demonstrating bold faith in the Living God.

    Dangerous times call for courageous stands. Mordecai suggested to Esther that she was born for such a time as the Jews faced under Ahasuerus. The events of Esther’s life unfolded so that God’s providential care for His people was realized. Because of her faith and boldness, God’s people were freed to defend themselves against and, ultimately, be delivered from evil.

    Dispirited people need hopeful leaders. Ezra the priest showed how God fulfilled His promises announced by the prophets. He led in the restoration of the patterns of true worship, rebuilt the altar and the temple, and demanded holiness within the community of God’s people. He was God’s man for the time, doing God’s work.

    Difficult situations require godly leadership. Nehemiah did more than lead a construction project; he led the people to correct injustices, to return to worship, and to be spiritually renewed.

    God will not allow His plan of salvation to fail. Whether behind the scenes (providence) or by direct answer to His people’s prayers, God ensures the success of His purposes. This includes preserving the people through whom He would send the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to provide salvation from sin to all who believe in Him.

    @ 2014 LifeWay

  • 10 E x pl or e t h e Bi bl e | Q u ick S ou rc e



    I. A Replacement Queen (Esth. 1:1–2:20)

    II. A Dangerous Threat to God’s People (Esth. 2:21–3:15)

    III. Esther’s Daring Decision (Esth. 4:1–5:14)

    IV. The Great Reversal (Esth. 6:1–10:3)


    I. Return from Exile (Ezra 1:1–6:22)

    II. Reform Through Ezra (Ezra 7:1–10:44)


    I. Rebuilding the Walls (Neh. 1:1–6:19)

    II. Restoration of the Community (Neh. 7:1–13:31)

    The outlines of Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah are adapted from the HCSB Study Bible © 2010 B&H Publishing Group, pages 806, 756, and 775. Used by permission.

    @ 2014 LifeWay

  • For additional commentary, see the Leader Guide or Adult

    Commentary, available for purchase at

    11Dat e of My Bi bl e St u dy: _________



    ESTHER 3:1-9 1 After all this took place, King Ahasuerusa honored Haman,b son of Hammedatha the Agagite. He promoted him in rank and gave him a higher position than all the other officials.c 2 The entire royal staff at the King’s Gated bowed down and paid homage to Haman, because the king had commanded this to be done for him. But Mordecaie would not bow down or pay homage. 3 The members of the royal staff at the King’s Gate asked Mordecai, “Why are you disobeying the king’s command?” 4 When they had warned him day after day and he still would not listen to them, they told Haman to see if Mordecai’s actions would be tolerated, since he had told them he was a Jew.f

    5 When Haman saw that Mordecai was not bowing down or paying him homage, he was filled with rage. 6 And when he learned of Mordecai’s ethnic identity, Haman decided not to do away withg Mordecai alone. He planned to destroy all of Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout Ahasuerus’s kingdom.

    7 In the first month, the month of Nisan,h in King Ahasuerus’s twelfth year, Pur (that is, the lot) was casti before Haman for each day in each month, and it fell on the twelfth month, the month Adar.j 8 Then Haman informed King Ahasuerus, “There is one ethnic group, scattered throughout the peoples in every province of your kingdom, yet living in isolation.k Their laws are different from everyone else’s and they do not obey the king’s laws. It is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. 9 If the king approves, let an order be drawn up authorizing their destruction, and I will pay 375 tonsl of silver to the accountants for deposit in the royal treasury.” m

    EXPLORING KEY WORDSa Hebrew name of the Persian emperor who ruled from 486–465 B.C. and made Esther his queen; also known as Xerxes I

    b The name “Haman” means “magnificent.” He held the position equivalent to prime minister over the Persian Empire.

    c “nobles” (NIV); “princes” (KJV); from the Hebrew meaning “to rule over, govern”

    d a place of public meeting

    e name meaning “little man”; Esther’s cousin who raised her after her parents died; counseled Esther in saving Jews from slaughter

    f originally applied to the two tribes of the Southern Kingdom, Judah and Benjamin; later this title was extended to embrace all descendants of Abraham.

    g literally “stretch out a hand against”

    h literally “the month of flowers”; Nisan was the first month of the Jewish year in which Passover occurred, corresponding to the month of April.

    i an object used in casting or drawing lots; consisted of bits or small tablets; the “lot” that fell out first was the one chosen; commonly used to determine the direction of God’s will (see Lev. 16:8-10; Num. 26:55; 34:13; Josh. 7:14,18; 1 Sam. 10:20-21; Acts 1:24-26).

    j the twelfth month of the Jewish calendar, corresponding to March and April

    k“separate” (NIV); “scattered” (NASB)

    l “10,000 talents” (NIV); “750,000 pounds of silver”

    m king’s treasure house

    @ 2014 LifeWay



    12 E x pl or e t h e Bi bl e | Q u ick S ou rc e

    MORDECAI HONORS GOD ONLY (Esth. 3:1-5)• Haman expected everyone to pay him homage per the king’s

    command. When Mordecai refused to do so because of his loyalty to the one true God, Haman responded with a fit of rage.

    GENOCIDE PLANNED (Esth. 3:6-9)• Haman cleverly secured a royal edict to eliminate Mordecai and all

    members of his people group, the Jews.

    • By securing a royal edict, Haman’s plot seemed sure and irreversible.

    SUMMARY STATEMENTS• God’s people can bring honor to God when facing persecution and


    • Pride left unchecked opens the door for greater sin, including the evils of ethnic and religious hatred.

    @ 2014 LifeWay


    13Se ssion 1 : Del i v er a nc e I s Needed

    ESTHER 3:6-9What evidences and effects of pride do you see in Haman and in his responses? How does arrogance set us up to respond in ungodly ways?• Pride and self-centeredness are nefarious and subtle, infecting

    the ways we view ourselves and others. Selfishness blocks our ability to value anything or anyone else but self, and justifies any means to remove obstacles between us and what we want.

    • Haman’s arrogance, and perhaps his grudge against God’s people, was well known and set him up for an irrational and hate-filled response.

    How did the life of every Jewish person living under the reign of King Ahasuerus instantly change when Haman obtained the decree from the king? What effect might the decree have had on the society as a whole? • What options did the Hebrews have after the edict was read?

    Ignition of the countdown to genocide had begun. Doomsday was a on the calendar, and none were free to leave.

    • Those in the Persian melting pot who opposed God and hated His people were now unconstrained in their threats toward the Jews.

    When all you can see is a foreboding fortress of evil around you—unbearably hard steps forward, disease, hopelessness, injustice—how do you stay focused on knowing that God will guide and encourage you? • Remembering the truths we know about God and His ways is

    helpful: He is good, we can’t see all He is doing, but we know God can and will save and heal.

    SUMMARIZE AND CHALLENGEWhat helps us as believers to stand firm in our confession of Christ even in fearful situations? What biblical truths can we lean on in times of hopelessness and fear? How can Christ-followers prepare for these kinds of challenges? • Be secure in the truths you know about God from Scripture.

    Look for wisdom in what you know to be true, not to feelings or circumstances.

    • Determine at your core that you will worship God first, giving His place of priority to no one else.

    • Personal Challenge: Opposition, and even persecution, comes to all believers, and we shouldn’t be surprised when it happens. We can trust God to give us the courage we need in the moment to stand for right, even if we have to do it alone.

    FOCUS ATTENTIONWhat fears and factors make it difficult to choose the right thing, especially when opposition will certainly come?• When God’s people choose to do and say godly things, opposition,

    and even hatred, can quickly spring up against them. We shouldn’t be surprised when this happens, and we can respond wisely by communicating God’s truth and love clearly. Sometimes the opportunity to stand for the right thing is actually a defining moment that shapes and defines our faith journey. We can trust God for courage and wisdom in these moments of decision.

    EXPLORE THE TEXT ESTHER 3:1-5Based on Esther 1–2, what can we gather about the character of Esther and Mordecai? How would you explain the relationship between a person’s character and his or her ability to respond to challenging circumstances in a godly way? What can we discern about Esther and Mordecai’s relationship with God? • The Jews were a conquered people living in an alien society at

    the pleasure of a succession of fickle kings. Many generations had, in Esther’s time, been born in Babylon, far from the homeland of the Jews (God’s promised land). Esther was queen during the period of exile between the time of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and the return of the Israelites back to Jerusalem under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra.

    • Mordecai had a profound understanding of both the culture he lived in and the importance of preserving the Jewish people as a nation. He demonstrated solid faith that God would deliver them.

    Why did Mordecai refuse to bow to Haman? What can we learn about Haman and Mordecai from their actions? • We don’t know all the reasons Mordecai’s conscience would not

    allow him to bow down to Haman. Yet, in that instance, yielding homage to Haman went against everything Mordecai stood for—so much so that he risked his life by remaining standing.

    • God wasn’t finished unfolding His plan through His chosen people. He was working through their judgment and for their restoration and deliverance as a nation. And through them, He was also working for the restoration and deliverance of all people through the coming Christ.

    What worldly things today pressure us to bow to them? How can believers respond when confronted with conflicting religious and political demands? • Then and now, His followers can stand in polite but firm defiance

    against counterfeit gods.

    @ 2014 LifeWay



    14 E x pl or e t h e Bi bl e | Q u ick S ou rc e1. Anna B Warner. “Jesus Loves Me,” Worship Hymnal (Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 2008), 652.

    or brush? Compare the size of the match flame to its potential for destruction.

    Say: Haman held a reserve of hatred for the Jews that was ready to burn, and he had gained the influence to make his vendetta into a kingdom-wide genocidal reality.

    Ask: When have you recently seen anger and pride burn out of control in a destructive way? How do pride and self-centeredness, like Haman’s, create an atmosphere that’s friendly to out of control anger, like dry grass is to fire?

    BOX OF MATCHES As the group begins to focus, take out the box of matches, placing it in plain sight. Remove one match from the box.

    Summarize: The nation of Israel was a conquered people living in the cities of Babylon decade after decade under the shifting control of foreign conquering powers. Their homeland was a distant wasteland; the temple in Jerusalem destroyed. As the memories of their promised home faded, God preserved Israel’s uniqueness as His people through prophets and taught them it was possible to remain set apart, even during long seasons of exile. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had lived beautiful examples of faith under duress, but more and more of the Jews only remembered them through stories. As the years passed, it became easier to blend into this Persian/Median melting pot of cultures.

    Time and again the identity of God’s chosen people was endangered and His plan seemed failed and far away. But God, ever at work to save His people again, used the faithfulness and integrity of a man named Mordecai.

    Call for a volunteer to read Esther 3:1-5. Then ask: How are anger and fire alike? While the match burns, recall Mordecai’s refusal to bow to Haman. Mordecai’s refusal was the flashpoint that ignited Haman’s pride and irrational anger into a dangerous flame. (Note: Refrain from striking the match to avoid setting off smoke alarms.)

    Ask: What happens when a lit match or spark lands on dry grass

    GOOD GUYS AND BAD GUYSFrom fairy tales to in-depth novels, many good stories revolve around the relationship between a hero and a villain. This passage introduces us to both characters. The villain is Haman—recently promoted to a position above all other officials, ambitious, full of “swagger,” and possessing a cutthroat determination to destroy anything standing between him and his ambitions.

    In contrast, we also meet our hero, the mild-mannered Mordecai. As a Jew, Mordecai was part of a small minority of the population of Persia. Yet, through faithful service, he had risen from the place of a former Babylonian exile to a place of leadership in the administration of King Ahasuerus. In fact, Mordecai’s alertness stopped an assassination attempt on the king (see Esth. 2:21-23). In addition, he was a devoted father figure to his adopted niece, Esther (see Esth. 2:7).

    Mordecai’s allegiance to the administration of Ahasuerus ceased when Haman required reverence that God alone

    deserves. Mordecai was one individual among all the king’s officials. (Look again at the meaning of his name on p. 11.) Many would identify his dissent as small and insignificant in the grand scheme, but not Haman. People often mistakenly think bigger is better. However, Scripture repeatedly affirms how effectively God uses small things: Gideon’s 300-man army defeated the massive Midianite forces (Judg. 7:1-22); merely five loves and two fish fed 5,000 people (John 6:1-13); Jesus said the faith of a mustard seed was sufficient to move a mountain (Matt. 17:20). And ultimately, it was the small team of Mordecai and Esther that averted the destruction of the Hebrew people.

    To God, less can be more. Jesus told His followers: “You are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13a). Just as a little salt seasons a much greater quantity of food, our small, devoted actions can make a difference against the challenges we face in this world. Remember the truth expressed in Anna B. Warner’s classic children’s hymn: “They are weak, but He is strong.”1

    @ 2014 LifeWay

  • For additional commentary, see the Leader Guide or Adult

    Commentary, available for purchase at

    15Dat e of My Bi bl e St u dy: _________



    ESTHER 4:6-176 So Hathacha went out to Mordecai in the city square in front of the King’s Gate. 7 Mordecai told him everything that had happened as well as the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay the royal treasury for the slaughter of the Jews. 8 Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decreeb issued in Susac ordering their destruction, so that Hathach might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and command d her to approach the king, implore his favor,e and pleadf with him personally for her people. 9 Hathach came and repeated Mordecai’s response to Esther.

    10 Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to tell Mordecai, 11 “All the royal officials and the people of the royal provinces know that one law applies to every man or woman who approaches the king in the inner courtyard and who has not been summoned—the death penalty. Only if the king extends the gold scepterg will that person live. I have not been summoned to appear before the king for the last 30 days.” 12 Esther’s response was reported to Mordecai.

    13 Mordecai told the messenger to reply to Esther, “Don’t think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king’s palace. 14 If you keep silent at this time, liberationh and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal positioni for such a time as this.”

    15 Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fastj for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, day or night. I and my female servants will also fast in the same way. After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law. If I perish, I perish.” 17 So Mordecai went and did everything Esther had ordered him.

    EXPLORING KEY WORDSa servant of the Persian emperor; assigned to Queen Esther; served as faithful messenger between Esther and Mordecai at a critical time

    b law, edict, regulation

    c capitol of the Medo-Persian Empire

    d “instruct” (NIV)

    e “mercy” (NIV); “supplication” (KJV, ASV); to be gracious, show favor, or pity (see Job 9:15; Prov. 16:14-15; Ecc. 10:4)

    f to seek, require, desire, exact, request (see Neh. 2:3-5; Prov. 21:1)

    g a rod or mace used by a sovereign as a symbol of royal authority; while most scepters were made of wood, the description of Ahasuerus’ scepter as being “gold” probably means it was solid gold.

    h “enlargement” (KJV); “relief” (NIV)

    i “kingdom” (KJV); “royalty” (NASB)

    j literally “to afflict soul or self” as a means of appealing to God’s pity. While Jewish fasts had varying degrees of strictness, Esther’s fast appears to involve a complete absence of food.

    @ 2014 LifeWay



    16 E x pl or e t h e Bi bl e | Q u ick S ou rc e

    MORDECAI’S REVEAL (Esth. 4:6-9)• Mordecai provided Esther with information about Haman’s plot,

    anticipating her taking action.

    ESTHER’S HESITATION (Esth. 4:10-12)• Esther was hesitant, fearing for her life if she took action. • She knew there would be a risk if she approached the king without

    being summoned.

    MORDECAI’S APPEAL (Esth. 4:13-14)• Mordecai appealed to common sense and God’s providence in an effort

    to prod Esther to action.

    ESTHER’S RESOLVE (Esth. 4:15-17)• Esther agreed to approach the king but only after a time of fasting. • She left the results in the hands of God, knowing she had little control

    over the reaction of the king.

    • Note: Fasting in Jewish culture was a form of prayer and submission to God.

    SUMMARY STATEMENTS• Believers have the responsibility to act upon the truth we have. • Obedience can involve risks, but not as great a risk as failing to obey. • We can plead with others, helping them understand reality. • We can take action within God’s providence, leaving the results to Him.

    @ 2014 LifeWay


    17Se ssion 2 : G od P rov i de s Del i v er a nc e

    FOCUS ATTENTIONWhen have you seen God provide the exact thing you needed to help or encourage you? • Mordecai’s act of refusal set off a firestorm of hatred and an

    edict, mandating genocide of the Jews. Due to Mordecai’s advice, no one in the palace knew Esther was Jewish. She had the faith, people skills, and position to make a unique difference.

    EXPLORE THE TEXT ESTHER 4:6-9Why was Mordecai intent on making Esther understand what was happening outside the palace? How have you experienced God’s equipping, protection, and provision for something He’s called you to do?• Like Esther, we shouldn’t dwell on evil, but we need to be aware

    of the spiritual battle taking place against God and His purposes.

    • God provided Esther with a trustworthy messenger who could translate, explain the ramifications of the law, and convey crucial messages between her and Mordecai.

    What experiences from their history could the Jews draw from to be reminded that God is able to rescue His people? How would you explain the value of remembering and reflecting on God’s faithfulness?• The defining account of Israel’s history, the exodus, provided

    evidence and encouragement that God does not forget His people. In fact, He refines them through the difficulty.

    Who would you look to as an example of how to live a courageous faith in a dangerous place? How can we pray consistently for Christians in dangerous circumstances today?• Esther faced the possibility of losing her life, but she was the only

    Jew in the kingdom who placed her life at risk by choice.

    ESTHER 4:10-12 Esther’s response to Mordecai implied, “Do you realize what you’re asking me to do?!?” What might cause you to ask God the same question? • Through prayer, Scripture, and other believers (such as Mordecai

    was to Esther), we will be encouraged to be strong and courageous. God won’t abandon us.

    What Scripture passages and biblical examples are comforting for you in times of fear? • Upon hearing the news that all the Jews were to be killed Esther

    became “overcome with fear” (4:4).

    • God gave boldness, conviction, and faith stronger than fear to Joshua, David, Esther, Paul, and so many others—and He does for us as well. Share a time God has helped you overcome fear.

    • Esther was hidden in plain sight because neither Haman nor the king knew she was Jewish. Mordecai asked her to move from

    relative safety right into the crosshairs—to lay her life down for her people. He wanted her to tap into the faith he had nurtured in her throughout her life.

    How can the courage or fear we display affect the body of Christ as a whole?• If we yield to fear in our Christian lives, the people we influence

    can get the message that God isn’t strong enough to be trusted. Our actions in every area affect the health of the body of Christ.

    ESTHER 4:13-14When have you sensed that God positioned you (or another believer) at just the right place and time to do something for His glory? How did this change your response to the people and situations around you? • As Christians mature, they begin to understand trials and find

    opportunities to stand up for the right things as a part of God’s larger plan.

    How would you explain Mordecai’s confidence that God would rescue the Jews from extinction some other way if Esther chose not to intervene? • Mordecai knew God had promised to restore them.

    Understanding God’s bigger redemptive story, promises, and plan can help us trust Him confidently.

    In what ways was Mordecai’s direct statement to Esther in verses 13-14 a turning point for her? • Mordecai didn’t hesitate to remind Esther of truth, even if it

    made her uncomfortable or required a costly response.

    • There’s more at stake than our own plans, comfort, or perspective. God asks us to yield to His plans over our own.

    ESTHER 4:15-17How did God use those days of prayer in Esther’s life? • God used Esther to deliver His people, reminding them who they

    were and to Whom they belonged.

    • God rescues and is completely able to save. SUMMARIZE AND CHALLENGEIn your experience, what is one outcome of courage and faith in God through hard times? • Hard times, where new levels of trust in God are needed,

    enable us to see with clearer perspective and grow us in our understanding of the character of God. Ask: How are our lives different when we pray with Esther’s kind of urgency?

    • Personal Challenge: Silently consider this question: If you aren’t taking any risks, are you fully obeying God right now?

    @ 2014 LifeWay



    18 E x pl or e t h e Bi bl e | Q u ick S ou rc e1. Billy Graham, “God’s Hand On My Life,” Newsweek, March 29, 1999, 65.


    PHOTOS OF FIREFIGHTERS PUTTING OUT A RAGING FIRE OR FOREST FIRE. (Note: This is a continuation of the previous week’s lesson in Esther, where the match was the object lesson. If possible, bring the matches again to show while reviewing the previous week’s truths. Given the historical nature of the book, it is important to connect the larger story.)

    Explain: A fire extinguisher is valuable because of its ability, but only useful because of its availability. If it’s not in the right place at the right time, it can’t be used to put out fires. Having a healthy understanding and awareness of where God has put us makes us more useful to Him.

    Being in the right place at the right time goes beyond the physical. When we remain focused on the Lord throughout every aspect of our lives, we are right where He wants us to be, available to be used by Him as He sees fit.

    God used Esther to put out the fire of hatred and genocide Haman ignited. God had placed her in just the right place at just the right time to be used to bring reason and justice to the situation.

    Ask: How does this fire extinguisher symbolize Esther’s life? How might God use you where you’ve been placed to bring glory to Him?

    DIVINE GUIDANCETo encourage Esther to risk interceding with the king about averting Haman’s plan, Mordecai appealed to the idea of God’s providence (see Esth. 4:14b). Was Esther’s selection as queen a tribute to her natural beauty and charm? Was it simply good fortune? Or was this actually the fulfillment of a divinely orchestrated plan? Mordecai suggested that everything occurred in just such a way so that Esther would be strategically placed where she could prevent a massacre of the Hebrew people.

    While Esther accepted her role as an agent of God’s plan, we see also that she was very intentional in her own actions, beginning with fasting and prayer (see Esth. 4:16). We witness here a balance between God’s endeavors to bring about His chosen plan alongside Esther’s choice to influence this same outcome.

    The dynamic working relationship between the sovereignty of God and the free will of humanity is beyond our ability to

    grasp fully. However, what Christians can do is make choices in harmony with God’s great schemes. Like Esther, we should pray for faith to know and to do His will. Rest assured, God wants us to be where He lead, even more than we want to be there. As the proverb leads, “Think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths” (Prov. 3:6).

    It is comforting to know that in an infinite number of ways, God is at work to bring us where we need to be to fulfill His purpose. In dimensions beyond number—with us, through us, for us, and even in spite of us—His kingdom comes together. Billy Graham said, “I am convinced one of the joys of heaven will be discovering the hidden ways that God, in his sovereignty, acted in our lives on earth to protect us and guide us so as to bring glory to his name, in spite of our frailty.”1

    “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

    @ 2014 LifeWay

  • For additional commentary, see the Leader Guide or Adult

    Commentary, available for purchase at

    19Dat e of My Bi bl e St u dy: _________



    LUKE 2:8-20 8 In the same region, shepherdsa were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock.b 9 Then an angel of the Lordc stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good newsd of great joy that will be for all the people: 11 Today a Savior,e who is Messiahf the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. 12 This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”g

    13 Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

    14 Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!h

    15 When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehemi and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

    16 They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the feeding trough.i 17 After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditatingj on them. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told.

    EXPLORING KEY WORDSa responsible for defending the sheep from attackers, healing the wounded and sick sheep, finding and saving lost or trapped sheep, loving them, and earning their trust; Jesus called Himself “the good shepherd” (John 10:11); later associated with the office of pastor (see John 21:16; 1 Pet. 5:1-2)

    b a literal flock of sheep; in other places, the word is used metaphorically of Christ’s followers (see Matt. 26:31; Luke 12:32; Acts 20:28).

    c supernatural being who bears a message on behalf of God; in the KJV, “angel of the LORD” occurs approximately 64 times, always in the singular.

    d from the Greek meaning “evangelism”; refers to the glad tidings of the coming kingdom of God—of the salvation to be obtained through Christ and what that means for the believer

    e literally “one who saves”; refers to Jesus Christ (see John 4:42; Acts 5:31; Eph. 5:23; Phil. 3:20; 1 Tim. 2:3; 2 Tim. 1:10, Titus 1:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:2,18; 1 John 4:14).

    f “anointed one”; “Christ” (KJV, NASB)

    g The place in a stall or stable where the food of cattle was placed. An ancient manger could be a free-standing trough, or a ledge or “shelf” in a wall on which food for the animals was placed. This resting place of the baby was the unique characteristic that led the shepherds to Jesus.

    h The people whom God favors are those who have found God’s undeserved grace through His Son Jesus Christ.

    i approximately six miles south of Jerusalem; prophesied as the birthplace of Jesus in Micah 5:2

    j “pondering” (ESV, NASB); to bring together in one’s mind; confer with one’s self; to treasure

    @ 2014 LifeWay



    20 E x pl or e t h e Bi bl e | Q u ick S ou rc e

    THE SAVIOR ANNOUNCED (Luke 2:8-14) • Angels announced the arrival of the Savior to shepherds and praised

    God for showing His favor.

    THE SAVIOR FOUND (Luke 2:15-16) • The shepherds sought Jesus based on the angel’s message about

    Jesus’ birth.

    • They found Jesus just as He had been described by the angel.

    THE SAVIOR PROCLAIMED (Luke 2:17-20)• The shepherds told others, including Joseph and Mary, what the angel

    told them about the One they found.

    SUMMARY STATEMENTS• The gospel message still amazes and awes people today.• We can find evidence that Jesus came as the Messiah to

    provide salvation.

    • Believers are responsible for telling others about the Messiah, focusing on the truth of the gospel.

    @ 2014 LifeWay


    21Se ssion 3 : G od P rov i de s a Sav ior

    FOCUS ATTENTIONHow do you and your family members typically respond when something shocking and unpredictable happens? • We are a people accustomed to making plans. Disappointment,

    irritation, or even fear can overwhelm the enjoyment of an unexpected outcome, even if it’s a good one.

    EXPLORE THE TEXT LUKE 2:8-14Why might God have chosen to announce His Son’s birth to shepherds? • Think of all the places in Scripture we read about shepherds or

    sheep. This seems to be a picture that’s dear to God with many implications that help us understand the character of God and our own helplessness without the Shepherd.

    • It’s amazing to think that these shepherds who raised lambs whose blood temporarily covered the sins of the people got to meet the Lamb of God first.

    What significance do you see in the angels’ appearance happening at night? • The sheep were most vulnerable at night. Some shepherds slept,

    while others listened to every noise, keeping alert in the stillness.

    • The hillsides around Bethlehem slope significantly and are filled with caves. The angels’ voices reverberating off the rocky slopes and supernatural light bathing every inch of ground surely stunned the shepherds. What if the angel “choir” was more like an army bursting forth in an exultant victory chant? The shepherds were among the few privileged to see, like Elijah’s servant, the divider between earth and heaven drawn back for a moment.

    • It’s hard to escape the significance of the Light of the world arriving in the middle of a night dark as pitch. It’s important to understand darkness in order to fully appreciate the gift of light. Nothing illustrates the reality of being lost as well as disorientation in a completely dark place.

    • Sin brings about separation, confusion, and death. They were, and we are, a people desperately in need of Light.

    Why did the angel identify Jesus so specifically as “Savior” and “Messiah the Lord” (v. 11)?• No secrecy surrounded Jesus’ identity. All of history—specifically

    the promises made to Adam and Eve, Abraham, and all of Israel—was made whole and given meaning by the arrival of Messiah. God’s Word was verified, and Jesus was the proof.

    LUKE 2:15-16Explain the significance of the shepherds finding everything just as the angel said it would be. • The angel’s proclamation confirmed everything the shepherds

    were told—most importantly Jesus’ identity.

    What can you appreciate about the immediacy of the shepherds’ response? • Not everyone in Jesus’ day responded immediately to the

    good news that Jesus had come. Responsiveness to God says something about a person’s heart condition.

    • The shepherds may have been simple men in regard to education, but they knew a God moment when they saw it. Granted, this bright moment would have been hard to miss, but many who saw miracles still did not follow.

    Who else in Scripture, besides the shepherds, responded immediately once they realized who Jesus was? • The childlike faith Jesus pointed to in Mark 10:15 as genuine

    is known by responsiveness. Children respond in love without processing first or worrying—willingly responding and trusting God to have answers for the questions that will come later.

    LUKE 2:17-20What qualified the shepherds to be the first news-bearers regarding the birth of Christ? How did they respond? • We don’t need special knowledge to share the wonder of Jesus

    with people. We just need to have met Him ourselves.

    • People respond to genuinely transformed lives. What would it have meant to Mary and Joseph to see the shepherds and hear their story? • The appearance of the shepherds confirmed God was at work.

    This confirmation came at a welcome time, since every new parent feels vulnerable when considering the responsibility of raising a baby; yet they were charged with rearing God’s Son.

    • The shepherds responded to seeing Baby Jesus and gave all honor and recognition to God for sending Him—and for including them in the celebration.

    Since the message of Christ is entrusted to us, what is our responsibility regarding that message? • The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 gives us clear

    instruction from Jesus. We are to bear the good news of who Jesus is and what He’s done everywhere we go.

    SUMMARIZE AND CHALLENGEHow do you think the shepherds are a good model for people today? • Perhaps most of us are more similar to the shepherds than to

    anyone else in the Nativity account. We are pursued by God, amazed at His goodness in sending Jesus, and we have the opportunity to respond the way they did.

    • Personal Challenge: Record the pattern the shepherds left for us on a prominent place you’ll see every day. Give some thought this week to mimic the shepherds: 1) hear, 2) respond, 3) share.

    @ 2014 LifeWay



    22 E x pl or e t h e Bi bl e | Q u ick S ou rc e1. Charles Wesley, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” Worship Hymnal (Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1991), 88.

    SEVERAL SHEPHERDS FROM NATIVITY SETS—AS DIFFERENT AS POSSIBLE.Bring several shepherds from Nativity sets you have, or enlist class members to bring the shepherds from theirs.

    Explain: Though all the shepherds will be different, they will have the same expressions on their faces—likely calm, serene, and peaceful. We are so used to the cultural images we see regarding the night of Jesus’ birth, but let’s imagine the shepherds’ faces.

    Ask: What do you think the shepherds’ faces would have really looked like at the angel’s announcement? When the multitude filled the sky to declare glory to God? (The Bible doesn’t mention singing.)

    At the manger, they experienced the proof of everything the angels said.

    Ask: What might your face have looked like? Encourage the group to demonstrate what their faces may look like or to draw or use text emoji to illustrate their expressions.

    Lead in a discussion of how we can maintain childlike expressions of wonder and amazement at Christ throughout our lives.

    HOME SWEET HOMEThe word “nativity” comes from the same Latin origin as the word “native.” Yet the irony is that, in the Nativity story, none of the characters were in their native place: the shepherds left their fields; Mary and Joseph were away from their home of Nazareth; later the wise men travel from a foreign land in their quest to find the one born King of the Jews; and most amazing is that Jesus left His heavenly home to dwell in our world.

    For most folks, the Christmas season holds a close association with home. People make great efforts and travel long distances just to be home for Christmas. Yet when Jesus was born, He left His native heaven to be with us. As John puts it in the first chapter of his Gospel: “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us” (John 1:14). Paul describes Jesus’ journey in this way: “(Jesus) who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men

    (Phil. 2:6-7a). The familiar Christmas carol, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” offers this simple yet profound theological statement: “Mild He lays His glory by.”1 Think of it! He came to where we are so we could go to be where He is!

    Yet in the story of the Nativity we do find the characters eventually returning home. The shepherds are the first. But because of their encounter with Jesus, they go back as far different people than when they arrived. Returning to their fields, “they reported the message they were told about this child, all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:17-18).

    The good news of Jesus’ arrival continues to bring great joy to those who receive it. It is the privilege of those people who have received the good news to evangelize by sharing the message of the Savior’s birth to all who will hear. Someone told you about Jesus’ birth. Who will you tell?

    @ 2014 LifeWay

  • For additional commentary, see the Leader Guide or Adult

    Commentary, available for purchase at

    23Dat e of My Bi bl e St u dy: _________



    EZRA 3:1-7,10-11; 6:19-22 3:1 By the seventh month, the Israelites had settled in their towns, and the people gathered together in Jerusalem.a 2 Jeshua son of Jozadak and his brothers the priests along with Zerubbabelb son of Shealtiel and his brothers began to build the altar of Israel’s God in order to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses, the man of God. 3 They set up the altar on its foundation and offered burnt offerings for the morning and evening on it to the LORD even though they feared the surrounding peoples. 4 They celebrated the Festival of Boothsc as prescribed, and offered burnt offerings each day, based on the number specified by ordinance for each festival day. 5 After that, they offered the regular burnt offering and the offerings for the beginning of each month and for all the LORD’s appointed holy occasions, as well as the freewill offerings brought to the LORD. 6 On the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD, even though the foundation of the LORD’s temple had not yet been laid. 7 They gave money to the stonecutters and artisans, and gave food, drink, and oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre, so they could bring cedar wood from Lebanon to Joppa by sea, according to the authorization given them by King Cyrusd of Persia. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 When the builders had laid the foundation of the LORD’s temple,e the priests, dressed in their robes and holding trumpets, and the Levitesf descended from Asaph,g holding cymbals, took their positions to praise the LORD, as King David of Israel had instructed. 11 They sang with praise and thanksgiving to the LORD: “For He is good; His faithful love to Israel endures forever.” Then all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD because the foundation of the LORD’s house had been laid.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6:19 The exiles observed the Passoverh on the fourteenth day of the first month. 20 All of the priests and Levites were ceremonially clean, because they had purified themselves. They killed the Passover lambi for themselves, their priestly brothers, and all the exiles. 21 The Israelites who had returned from exile ate it, together

    EXPLORING KEY WORDSa Both Micah (Jer. 3:12) and Jeremiah (Jer. 7:14) prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem for her unfaithfulness to God. This destruction occurred at the hands of the Babylonians in 587 B.C. During the days of Ezra, the city was being rebuilt.

    b grandson of King Jehoiachin; taken to Babylon in the first exile in 597 B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar

    c or “Feast of Tabernacles”; one of three pilgrimage feasts; reminder that their ancestors dwelt in tents in their wilderness journeys (see Lev. 23:34; Deut. 16:13,16; 31:10; 2 Chron. 8:13)

    d founder of the Persians who defeated the Babylonians. His decree in 539 B.C. (see 2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4) set free the captive Hebrews that Babylon took during its rule.

    e The people who saw the first temple wept as construction began on the second because they knew it would not compare to the splendor of the first.

    f consecrated to God to perform the duties at the tabernacle (Ex. 29:1; Lev. 8:1); assisted the priests in their responsibilities (see 1 Chron. 6:31-48; 23:1-13,24-32; 2 Chron. 29:12-19).

    g Following tradition established by David, Asaph’s descendants sang in the temple daily.

    h “to spare”; an annual celebration of the exodus, commemorated with a meal, imitating the last meal of the Hebrews as slaves in Egypt

    i Paul referred to Christ as “our Passover [who] has been sacrificed“ (1 Cor. 5:7; see also 1 Pet. 1:19).

    j Hebrews who were not part of the exile but had remained faithful to the Lord. A New Testament title for Christians is “saints,” meaning “holy ones” who are separated from evil and devoted to God.

    k Unleavened bread reflected the fact that the people had no time to put leaven in their bread before their hasty departure from Egypt.

    @ 2014 LifeWay

  • 24 E x pl or e t h e Bi bl e | Q u ick S ou rc e

    NOTESwith all who had separated themselvesj from the uncleanness of the Gentiles of the land in order to worship Yahweh, the God of Israel. 22 They observed the Festival of Unleavened Breadk for seven days with joy, because the LORD had made them joyful, having changed the Assyrian king’s attitude toward them, so that he supported them in the work on the house of the God of Israel.

    THE ALTAR REBUILT (Ezra 3:1-7)• A first step in reestablishing Jewish worship was rebuilding the temple

    altar. The temple altar was required for sacrifices to be made.

    • The rebuilding of the altar made it possible for the exiles to be obedient to the law, including the observance of the Festival of Booths.

    THE TEMPLE FOUNDATION REESTABLISHED (Ezra 3:10-11) • The exiles focused on the rebuilding of the temple. • The leaders followed the practices established by David as they

    celebrated the rebuilding work on the temple.

    • Although opposition to the work surfaced, eventually the temple was completed.

    WORSHIP RESTORED (Ezra 6:19-22)• Upon the restoration of the temple, the Jews observed the Passover

    and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

    • This marked the renewal of religious life for the Jews who could once again live and worship in obedience to God’s Word.

    SUMMARY STATEMENTS• Worship of God involves a sacrifice through which we find our greatest

    joy (Rom. 12:1).

    • Believers are to follow biblical guidelines for worship without compromising personal and cultural expression.

    • We can acknowledge God’s grace and goodness by participating in regular worship.

    @ 2014 LifeWay


    25Se ssion 4 : G od Or da i ns R e s t or at ion

    FOCUS ATTENTIONIs there a certain home place that gives meaning to the past and origin of identity for you? Why do you believe families, schools, churches, athletic teams, and military units all place priority on reunions and homecomings? • Returning back to our roots gives a context and a frame for our

    future. For Christians, reflecting on God’s great gift, Jesus Christ, gives proper perspective on everything else.

    • The people knew that their own disobedience and idolatry had required the discipline of God and resulted in their humiliation and exile from their land. Once again, God acted in mercy and brought them home—physically and spiritually.

    EXPLORE THE TEXT EZRA 3:1-7What do these verses reveal about sin and God? • Hopes and dreams, as well as healthy relationships and our

    view of self, others, and God, can be wrecked by sin. God is the only one who can bring restoration in these wasted and broken places.

    • God’s ability to deliver and restore a relationship with His people is evident throughout Scripture. Being brought to right relationship with Him through Christ is the ultimate demonstration of restoration and renewal—from death to life.

    What parallels do you see between the exiles’ return and the scattered stones of the altar being identified, gathered, and carefully put back into place? How did restoring sacrifices in Jerusalem help ready the people for the coming Messiah? • Though the altar builders faced fierce and persistent opposition

    from others who had moved into Jerusalem, their desire to honor God motivated them beyond the fear.

    • If the next generation of Israel—and the ones to follow—were to know God and worship Him, they needed the temple for the Day of Atonement. Provision for the covering of sin had to be made so the nation of Israel could be in right relationship with God—that is, until Jesus made the once-for-all blood payment.

    • The sacrifices of animals at the altar were a constant reminder of the severity of sin. Though the people expected Him differently, the Messiah would not come as a political leader, but as the sacrificial Lamb, to take away the sins of all people.

    EZRA 3:10-11What indications do you see that God preserved Israel’s identity during exile? • Scriptures had been preserved, along with an understanding

    of the roles of priests, Levites, and the descendants of Asaph (temple singers and musicians).

    • It’s likely that Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the other priests working to rebuild the altar and the temple foundation had never even seen it before its destruction. Their fathers demonstrated great faith in God by teaching their sons priestly principles without knowing if or when they would return to Jerusalem or rebuild the temple.

    How does participation in worship encourage the worshiper? How does our worship affect other members of the community of faith?• Returning from exile brought exceptional significance for the

    people. When context or circumstances drive people to want more of God, worship is sweet and brings deep healing in the soul.

    • Unified, corporate worship is vital. One way believers enjoy unity is to celebrate with joy when God delivers and restores. Remember to take time to hear about other believers’ journeys and celebrate God’s faithfulness with them.

    How hard are you willing to work to lay the proper foundational disciplines for your family’s faith? • Many times we don’t want to put the work into preparation

    steps, or spend time on important behind-the-scenes effort that we think won’t show, like the foundation of the temple. Yet Israel needed complete restoration—and that meant no shortcuts.

    • The foundation of a believer’s life is Jesus. Everything else rests on the framework of knowing Christ as Savior. Surrendering to Christ and embracing His death on the cross as payment for our sin is the essential relationship on which all others depend.

    EZRA 6:19-22How do you feel when things are made right in a strained relationship? How do you think the Israelites felt when they could once again live in right standing before God? • The words “joy” and “joyful” are used multiple times to

    describe the Israelites’ frame of mind as they worshiped God and remembered His faithfulness in the past and in their own lives.

    • As Christians, we have deep, unchanging reasons to be joyful no matter our circumstances.

    SUMMARIZE AND CHALLENGE• What lessons will you take away from these passages about the

    faithfulness of God and His people? How can you know that God always wants to restore those who are far from Him?

    • Personal Challenge: Today, reflect on the moment when your relationship with Jesus Christ began. Spend time recording what/where you were before being saved and how that decision has influenced your life.

    @ 2014 LifeWay



    26 E x pl or e t h e Bi bl e | Q u ick S ou rc e

    Pray with the group for courage to recognize the need for and to yield to God’s restoring power.

    PAINT ROLLER—HANDLE WITH ROLLER Display a paint roller with a handle. Share about a time you have painted a room, and the difference it makes. Paint is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to change the look of a room in your home or office.

    Share a time your home needed a fix that paint couldn’t help. There are some things paint can’t fix—like holes in the wall,

    structural damage, and so forth. The only thing a coat of paint can do is change the outward appearance.

    Israel needed a total reset, in more ways than one. No shortcuts, temporary, or outward appearance spruce-ups would make a difference. When the exiles returned home, family by family, the Jerusalem they saw was much different than the one their parents and grandparents had been forcibly removed from. The temple was completely ruined, stones scattered and pushed down the mountainside.

    Physical rebuilding, spiritual renewal, rekindling, and reforming the Jewish society in their homeland were all desperately needed. God had readied the right people to lead this process and opened the way through the Persian king.

    We often try to gloss over or conceal our need for God to do major work in our hearts, priorities, and relationships—which is about as helpful as painting over a hole in the wall and expecting it to be fixed.

    NEVER BEYOND REPAIRThe Book of Ezra records a season in the history of the Hebrew people when God fulfilled the prophetic words of Jeremiah (see Jer. 27:22). In Ezra, restoration is the theme. But the greatest restoration needed was far more than just the geographical return to their homeland. They needed to be restored spiritually.

    Ezra tells of steps the Hebrews actively took to express their faith in the Lord. Note that this spiritual restoration also included the restoration (rebuilding) of the temple and the restoration (reinstitution) of the religious festivals of Booths, Passover, and Unleavened Bread—outward reflections of an inward restoration that God was doing in His people.

    God is in the restoration business. The beloved words of the 23rd Psalm exclaim “He restoreth my soul” (Ps. 23:3a, KJV). Home improvement TV shows often feature restored houses, vehicles, and furniture. With work and expertise, these items return to their original splendor. Like the ancient Hebrew

    children, our lives are in desperate need of restoration. The sins, mistakes, and transgressions we commit destroy

    the beauty of our souls beyond our ability to repair. We are no more capable of restoring our own soul than a scuffed, scarred, and scratched piece of furniture is capable of restoring itself. Fortunately, the Lord restores us through the skillful touch of His grace. As a result, Paul says, “For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

    A skilled craftsman sees an item not for what it is but for what it can be. He or she knows there is richness in a relic, art in an antique, and wealth in something weathered. Likewise, God lovingly sees us for the treasure He can make us, not the sinner we have made ourselves. The heavenly home He promises is a holy place restored from the curse of sin (see Rev 22:3a). Until then, He is faithful to continue working His restoration in us (see Phil. 1:6).

    @ 2014 LifeWay

  • For additional commentary, see the Leader Guide or Adult

    Commentary, available for purchase at

    27Dat e of My Bi bl e St u dy: _________



    EZRA 7:1-10 1 After these events, during the reign of King Artaxerxesa of Persia,b Ezrac— Seraiah’s son, Azariah’s son, Hilkiah’s son, 2 Shallum’s son, Zadok’s son, Ahitub’s son, 3 Amariah’s son, Azariah’s son, Meraioth’s son, 4 Zerahiah’s son,Uzzi’s son, Bukki’s son, 5 Abishua’s son, Phinehas’s son, Eleazar’s son, Aaron the chief priest’s son 6 —came up from Babylon.d He was a scribee skilled in the law of Moses,f which Yahweh, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he requested because the hand of Yahwehg his God was on him. 7 Some of the Israelites, priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and temple servantsh accompanied him to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes.i

    8 Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, during the seventh year of the king. 9 He began the journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month and arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month since the gracious hand of his Godj was on him. 10 Now Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the LORD, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel.

    EXPLORING KEY WORDSa the Greek form of the name for the Persian king, Longimanus; reigned between 464 and 425 B.C.

    b means “pure” or “splendid”; the empire of Persia (550 and 330 B.C. ) encompassed the territory from India to Egypt. It also included the whole of western Asia, the Arabian Desert, the Persian Gulf, and portions of Europe and Africa.

    c a descendant of the ancient priest Aaron; a priest by birth. Ezra received permission from Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem to teach the law of the Lord.

    d capital of the Babylonian Empire; Hebrews were taken into exile in Babylon following the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 597 B.C. Later, after Babylon fell to the Persians in 539 B.C., the Hebrews were permitted to return to Israel.

    e part of the priests and Levites; while scribes carried out various other functions—such as recording events and transcribing copies of the law—during the exile in Babylon, educated scribes became the experts in God’s written Word—copying, preserving, and teaching it.

    f ancient laws of the Hebrews attributed to Moses and contained in the first five books of the Old Testament. As a scribe, Ezra was a student of the law.

    g The “hand of the Lord” is the symbol of His power (Ps. 138:7; 1 Pet. 5:6), denoting His favor (Ezra 7:6,28; Isa. 1:25; Luke 1:66), punishment (Ex. 9:3; Acts 13:11), protection (Ezra 8:31; Ezek. 1:3; John 10:29), and the fear it causes (Isa. 19:16).

    h It’s estimated that Ezra organized 40,000+ Hebrews to return with him to Israel.

    i interpreted as 458 B.C. (see Dan. 9:24-27)

    j The hand of God usually carried a negative conno-tation, but not in the Books of Ezra or Nehemiah.

    @ 2014 LifeWay



    28 E x pl or e t h e Bi bl e | Q u ick S ou rc e

    EZRA’S HERITAGE (Ezra 7:1-6)• As a direct descendant of Aaron, Ezra was uniquely qualified to be a

    leader in the return.

    EZRA’S JOURNEY (Ezra 7:7-9) • Ezra was part of a larger group that traveled to Jerusalem to

    reestablish the Jewish nation. This reestablishing was part of God’s redemptive plan.

    EZRA’S GOAL (Ezra 7:10)• Ezra arrived in Jerusalem with a clear goal of teaching God’s statutes to

    His people.

    • To do so, Ezra would need to know those statutes and be an example for all to see.

    SUMMARY STATEMENTS• God gifts individuals to serve His people, placing them in positions

    where they can best use their gifts and talents. It is within this serving that we find our greatest liberty.

    • God is at work bringing about His plan of redemption.• Teaching others the truths of God requires us to be students

    and examples.

    @ 2014 LifeWay


    29Se ssion 5 : G od Com m a n ds Obedi enc e

    FOCUS ATTENTIONHow would you describe the purpose of obedience? In a military setting? When your child faces an unseen danger? In daily life? What’s the relationship between trust and obedience?• Our obedience displays our trust of the one asking us to obey.

    God asked Israel to be His faithful people. In delivering them out of exile and bringing them home, they had a new opportunity to live obedient and fruitful lives, trusting He had their best in mind.

    EXPLORE THE TEXT EZRA 7:1-6Based on what you know about Aaron and the priesthood, why was Ezra’s heritage important to include in this passage? How important would the role of a scribe be in the context of exile?• Ezra had a responsibility by birth to be devoted to God in the line

    of the priesthood.

    • With no other routines of temple worship in place, the keeping of God’s Word during exile took on an even greater role in the preservation of Israel.

    What role did Ezra’s reputation play in his involvement in God’s plan for Israel?• As a scribe, Ezra was occupied with carefully copying the Scripture,

    and reading and wisely interpreting it for others.

    • There is no effective substitute for spending time reading and studying God’s Word.

    Based on Ezra and other biblical examples, how would you describe the life of someone who has the favor of God? • God’s favor does not necessarily correlate with material success.

    He often removes obstacles and opens doors to make a way for the efforts of His people to share the truth of Christ. God’s favor isn’t about us—it’s about Him.

    EZRA 7:7-9How was God’s provision for Ezra evident? For His people? How has He shown His provision for you? How could God’s provision be viewed as preparation? • Perhaps Ezra reflected on God’s faithfulness to keep His promises

    as he traveled the ground he had studied in Scripture. God had indeed made a great nation of Abraham’s descendants and was returning them to the land.

    • Early in Ezra’s life God gave him a job to do: learn the Scriptures. Because he had been faithful in his study through the years of his life, Ezra was ready for the crucial task he faced.

    • God made a way for His Word to be preserved through the exile (and through all other generations). He also provided all the talents and skill sets needed to start fresh and rebuild from scratch in Jerusalem in the host of returning exiles.

    How would you describe your journey from exile to freedom, from death to life, in your relationship with God? How do you think God could use your journey from exile to freedom to encourage others? • Serving within the gifts and talents God gives us is where we

    find our greatest liberty.

    EZRA 7:10How might Ezra’s lifelong determination to study, obey, and teach God’s Word have made him useful in ways he could not have foreseen? Why do you think God doesn’t give us the entire vision He has for our future? • We have a responsibility to one another to function as mature

    believers. Handling Scripture humbly and accurately and helping others to do the same is a blessed responsibility of every believer.

    • While we aren’t given much information about the ways God may use us in the future, we do have a few solid assurances: God will be with us, and nothing we go through is wasted if we surrender it to Him. We are to trust God and be ready.

    How did Israel’s years of exile and then return to a destroyed Jerusalem necessitate Ezra’s determination to know and teach the law of the Lord? • Scripture was the one continuous reminder of God’s relationship

    to them. They looked to it for comfort and their source for restoring the temple and worship practices. Ezra’s role as caretaker and teacher of the Law was crucial.

    What could we be giving up if we ignore opportunities to spend time in individual Bible study and prayer?• We allow Scripture study and prayer to be crowded out of our

    days, and out of our conversations by matters that seem more urgent in the moment.

    • We assume we’ll have more time to study later.• We wouldn’t put a thirteen year old behind the wheel of a car

    because they lack wisdom to make good driving decisions; but we often don’t think twice about facing life’s challenges without applying the wisdom of Scripture.

    SUMMARIZE AND CHALLENGE• How has Ezra’s life inspired you to study Scripture and focus on

    intentional mentoring relationships? How have you personally experienced liberty through obedience to God’s Word?

    • Personal Challenge: This week, share what God is teaching you through His Word with one person. Take time to hear from his/her journey with the Lord as well. Discipline yourself to spend time in Scripture in some new ways.

    @ 2014 LifeWay



    30 E x pl or e t h e Bi bl e | Q u ick S ou rc e1. G.K. Chesterton, “What’s Wrong with the World?” The American Chesterton Society. Online. Cited June 18, 2014.

    BREAD OR ANOTHER FOOD ITEMBring some bread or other food item to share with the group. Before the session, enlist someone who has made the food many times to share his or her process. Ask the volunteer to explain how he or she learned to make bread and how long it took to perfect the recipe.

    Explain: Making great bread is more of an art than a science. Though anyone can follow a recipe, it takes experience to get the feel of the dough, knead just the right amount, or know when to add a pinch of flour. The only way to gain the experience is to make bread—and make more bread, and make more bread.

    Ask: In what other aspects of our lives do we get out of the process what we put into it? How does that same principle apply to Bible study?

    We can’t pass on knowledge and understanding that we don’t

    have. In order for Ezra to feed the Word of God to the families of Israel as they returned from exile—and help them live in it—he needed working knowledge of God’s Word himself. He had devoted himself to a lifetime of study as a scribe. As he began to understand the magnitude of resettling Israel into its homeland and its relationship with Yahweh, Ezra recommitted himself to study and obey Scripture so he could model and share it well.

    People learn best by discovery and experience, which doesn’t just come second-hand.

    SELF-AWARENESSIf you could change one thing about your church, what would it be? I’ve received a wide variety of replies to that inquiry. Responses often relate to facility items, ministry needs, or worship preferences. But one gentleman’s answer stands far and above any other reply. This man simply said, “The one thing I would change is me.” Ezra had a passion for God to use him to change the direction of his people. But notice that he first desired to change himself by studying and obeying God’s law. This spiritual growth became the foundation upon which he later taught God’s ways to a generation of Hebrews.

    Jesus affirmed the priority of self-examination and self-improvement through an extraordinary illustration:

    “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself don’t see the log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly

    to take out the speck in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:41-42).Notice that by the end of both Jesus’ story and Ezra’s story,

    everyone’s life improves. Two brothers see better because the first addressed his own shortcomings and then assisted his brother. The Hebrews revive their faith because Ezra looked first at himself, then taught a nation.

    A beloved story tells of the London Times requesting people to submit their answer to the question: What’s wrong with the world? G.K. Chesterton’s simple reply was, “Dear Sir, I am.”1

    Acknowledging our personal shortcomings is essential for improving our discipleship. But the greatest impact our lives make is when we, like Ezra, take what we have gained and apply the ministry of teaching to others. Heaven alone can measure the impact of a life that studies, obeys, and teaches God’s ways to others.

    @ 2014 LifeWay

  • For additional commentary, see the Leader Guide or Adult

    Commentary, available for purchase at

    31Dat e of My Bi bl e St u dy: _________



    NEHEMIAH 2:1-8,17-181 During the month of Nisana in the twentieth yearb of King Artaxerxes,c when wine was set before him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had never been sad in his presence, 2 so the king said to me, “Why are you sad, when you aren’t sick? This is nothing but depression.”d I was overwhelmed with feare 3 and replied to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should I not be sad when the city where my ancestors are buriedf lies in ruins and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 4 Then the king asked me, “What is your request?” So I prayedg to the God of heaven 5 and answered the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, send me to Judahh and to the city where my ancestors are buried, so that I may rebuild it.” 6 The king, with the queen seated beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you return?” So I gave him a definite time,i and it pleased the king to send me. 7 I also said to the king: “If it pleases the king, let me have letters written to the governorsj of the region west of the Euphrates River,k so that they will grant me safe passage until I reach Judah. 8 And let me have a letter written to Asaph,l keeper of the king’s forest, so that he will give me timber to rebuild the gates of the temple’s fortress,m the city wall, and the home where I will live.” The king granted my requests, for I was graciously strengthenedn by my God. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 So I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned down. Come, let’s rebuildo Jerusalem’s wall, so that we will no longer be a disgrace.” 18 I told them how the gracious hand of my God had been on me, and what the king had said to me. They said, “Let’s start rebuilding,” and they were encouraged to do this good work.

    EXPLORING KEY WORDSa first month in the Jewish calendar; three months had passed since Nehemiah learned about Jerusalem (see Neh 1:1).

    b approximately 445 B.C.

    c most likely the king also known as Longimanus; this would be the same individual to whom Ezra made his appeal in Ezra 7.

    d “sadness from the heart”; the Hebrew word is typically translated as “evil” or “wickedness.”

    e “very much afraid” (ESV) or “sore afraid” (KJV)

    f “the place of my fathers’ tombs” (NASB)

    g Nehemiah routinely prayed in intense moments (see Neh. 1:5-11; 4:5; 6:14; 13:14,22,29,31).

    h the kingdom comprised of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin which occupied the southern part of Canaan after the nation split upon Solomon’s death

    i “appointed time” (see Esth. 9:27,31; Ecc. 3:1)

    j occasionally translated as “captain”; during the Persian Empire, the homeland of the Hebrews was portioned out among “governors” who were under the rule of the Persian king.

    k The Persian Empire at this time reached from the India to the Mediterranean. The Euphrates was considered a natural divider of its two parts, eastern and western.

    l different than the worship leader in Ezra 3; this man was the keeper of the royal forest.

    m often translated “palace” (KJV)

    n The “laying on of hands” is biblically understood as a conveying of blessing.

    o Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonian army in 587 B.C.

    @ 2014 LifeWay



    32 E x pl or e t h e Bi bl e | Q u ick S ou rc e

    DISTRESS EXPOSED (Neh. 2:1-3)• The condition of Jerusalem left Nehemiah distressed to the