At this point in their history, the Jews are still in captivity to the Persians (who overtook the Babylonians that originally forced them into exile). The book of Ezra covers the rebuilding of the temple and the book of Nehemiah covers the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.
Rebuilding the Temple
Cyrus was king of Persia, and God stirred his heart to be kind towards the Jews. He made a proclamation to allow them to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild God's temple. This had to be exciting for the Jews! The leaders from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (the Southern Kingdom) organized a group of leaders and anyone who was willing to go back to do the work. Cyrus also gave them back everything Nebuchadnezzar had stolen from the temple when he brought them out of Jerusalem to begin with. About 42,000 people returned to Jerusalem, back to their original towns.
Zerubbabel and Jeshua were the leaders of the work. The Samaritans (the Northern Kingdom - remember they had only evil kings?) heard that they were rebuilding the temple, they weren't happy. They tried to trick Zerubbabel into letting them work alongside them (just to sabotage the work), but Zerubbabel didn't fall for their trick. So they sent a letter to the Artaxerxes, king of Persia, scaring him and telling him that if he allows them to finish the temple and resettle Jerusalem, they will rebel against him. So the king forced the work on the temple to stop.
Later, when Artaxerxes was no longer king, and Darius became king of Persia (another Darius, not the same one from the book of Daniel), two prophets (Haggai and Zechariah) encouraged the people to ask King Darius to allow them to finish the work. King Darius agreed and the temple was finished. They held a dedication service and celebrated the Passover in the temple again.
Rebuilding the Walls of Jerusalem
Just about a decade after the temple was finished, the people who had come back to Judah were still not quite settled because the walls of Jerusalem were still broken down. In those times, city walls were very important because a city well-fortified by walls was nearly impenetrable given the methods of war available to them. Just ask the people of Jericho how important walls were!
Nehemiah was very sad that his home-city was still in shambles and so he prayed to God that King Artaxerxes would let him return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city's walls. The King agreed. Nehemiah got to Jerusalem and inspected the walls and found them in very poor condition and he convinced the leaders of Jerusalem to start a rebuilding project.
But not everyone was happy that they were rebuilding. Two guys named Sanballat and Tobiah mocked them and made fun of them. But Nehemiah and the people pressed on and began to have some success in the rebuilding. Once Sanballat and Tobiah saw that they were actually making progress, their mockery turned to anger and they got a bunch of Arabs together to fight the Jews as they were rebuilding.
So Nehemiah armed the people as they did their work. Half of the Jews built while the other half stood guard. Even those who were working kept a sword at their side, and those who were carrying supplies carried a weapon with one hand and the supplies with the others. Once their enemies saw that they were prepared for a fight, they backed off and the work continued.
Then their enemies decided that they would have to trick Nehemiah to get the work to stop. They started rumors that the Jewish people were rebuilding Jerusalem because they wanted to overthrow the Persians. They hired another Jew to try and trap Nehemiah in the temple alone where they could kill him. But Nehemiah pressed on and the work was completed. It took them 52 days to complete the walls of Jerusalem.
Have you ever built anything? What did you build?
Today, we are going to learn about how the Jews had to build their city (Jerusalem) back. They had to build a temple again and the city walls again because their city had been destroyed.
We highly encourage you to use a Bible story-book to tell these stories to your children. Specifically, the Egermeier's Bible Story Book in this case. The following stories could be read:
Or, tell the story yourself. Ensure you focus on the main characters in the story: Zerubbabel (who rebuilt the temple) and Nehemiah (who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem).
Scripture for Kids to Read Aloud Ezra 1:1-7, 4:1-5, 6:14-22; Nehemiah 1:1-11, 2:17-20, 6:15-16
First, ask the children if they have any questions about the story. What to do if you don't know the answer?