Sabbath School Lesson for October 12-18, 2019
Ezra and Nehemiah were leaders of God’s people, called to specific tasks that fit into God prophetic timetable. This week we see how their call related to…
- their passion for doing their assigned missions (Sunday)
- the timing of God’s prophecies to restore Judah after the seventy-year captivity (Monday)
- the 70-week and the 2,300-day prophecies, as revealed in Daniel 8 and 9 (Tuesday)
- how we are predestined to be saved and restored in God’s image, and elected to perform specific duties within God’s church, as described in Romans 8 and 9 (Wednesday)
- our response to God’s calling (Thursday)
Many wonder what it means to be called by God. First, we are called out of the world to be Christians. And since we are then part of God’s church body, we are called to responsibilities that make the church function in a way that sends a message to the world that glorifies God.
Sometimes God prepares us by guiding us to those experiences that enhance our contribution in specific areas of service. At other times, we are chosen simply for our humble willingness to be used by God.
Ezra and Nehemiah were uniquely gifted for service at this important time of prophetic fulfillment. They each had overwhelming passion and experience for their important mission.
- Ezra, for example, with his devotion in carrying out the duties of priest and teacher, was enabled to be the leader of spiritual revival for Jerusalem’s inhabitants and returning exiles.
- Nehemiah, as cupbearer of the king and trusted governor in the Persian Empire, was equally prepared to lead Judah in its continued rebuilding and restoration program.
Memory Text: “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.” Ezra 7:27 NKJV
God moves on the hearts of individuals, both of His followers and even pagan kings, to fulfill His promises to us. The house of the Lord, His holy temple in Jerusalem, was sadly in need of repair.
Just as our relationship with the Creator becomes torn apart by influences of the world, Jerusalem had suffered desolation at the hands of the Babylonian armies. It was the hand of God who restored order in Judah, just as it is the work of the Holy Spirit to transform us into His beautiful image. Heeding God’s call is just the first step in this process.
Sunday: The Calling of Ezra and Nehemiah
Both Ezra and Nehemiah had hearts that were moved with a desire to seek and serve God.
- Ezra found his passion through study of the Law (he “had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord” Ezra 7:10).
- The fasting and prayers of Nehemiah likewise indicated his passionate desire to be involved in the mission of restoring Jerusalem (he “was fasting and praying before the God of heaven” Nehemiah 1:4).
It appears that both men were thrilled to be serving God in the roles chosen by God. This illustrates that one does not have to be uncomfortable with their missionary assignment in order for the call to be genuine. It may actually be something we love and desire to do.
Even the most difficult assignments may be seen as truly enjoyable, when love is the motivation for our actions. This love is often present when we are already walking with God in a meaningful way. The call to do something more or something else is strengthened by the close relationship we have developed with our Lord.
Read Ezra 7:10, Psalm 119:45, and Proverbs 4:12. How does seeking God’s law affect our walk with God? How does Bible study contribute to knowing the Law and not stumbling?
Read Nehemiah 1:4, 5. What motivated Nehemiah to pray and fast in such a manner? How was Nehemiah’s prayer used by God to call him to service?
Read Psalm 40:8. How did Ezra and Nehemiah show their love for God? How can we encourage that same love in our hearts, and how would that love affect our calling to serve?
Monday: Prophetic Timing
Ezra and Nehemiah were used by God to fulfill His predictions to former prophets. Daniel 9:25 tells us that “from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks”.
This was an important prophecy for the Jews, because everyone wanted to know when the Messiah would appear. But, this starting date of the prophecy may have been a problem because there were several decrees for the restoration of Judah by three different Persian kings (Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes).
Only one decree, however, focused on building the city itself, and even praised God for His intervention (Ezra 7:27, 28), and that was the one by Artaxerxes in 457 B.C. (Although there are some historians who use the year 458 B.C. for this decree, its enactment–when Ezra set out to Jerusalem–didn’t occur till 457 B.C., and this date matches the prophecy’s predictions about pivotal events 490 years later in 34 A.D.–Remember, there is no year zero, so subtract one year when you add 457 and 34, to equal 490.)
Counting 70 weeks or 490 prophetic years from the year 457 B.C. would then extend to the year 34 A.D. This was the year when Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned. From that point on, the Jews lost their special status as children of God and the gospel invitation was preached to the Gentile world as never before. (“Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city” Daniel 9:24 NKJV)
Daniel’s vision (Daniel 9:27) included the middle of the final week of those seventy weeks, during which the Messiah would be cut off (suffer the death penalty). And this happened precisely as scheduled three and a half years earlier, in 31 A.D., the year of Christ’s crucifixion.
Read Numbers 14:34, Ezekiel 4:5, 6, and Daniel 8:26. How do these verses help us understand the prophetic time determination of a day for a year? Why does God often disguise His prophecies in symbols and these different time calculations (similar to how Jesus’ parables often had hidden meanings)?
Read Daniel 8:14. Why would this prophecy shock Daniel as it did, especially if he understood it to be a literal 2,300 days? How do we then know it was referring to 2,300 years?
Read Romans 8:28. Who can count on God working things out for good? When will everything finally be worked out for our good?
Tuesday: The 70 Weeks and the 2,300 Days
The information provided in the book of Ezra about the rebuilding of Jerusalem is vital to understanding the two time prophecies in Daniel 8 and 9.
Briefly, these two chapters in Daniel contain predictions that span 70 prophetic weeks (or 490 years, 70 x 7) and 2,300 prophetic days or actual years. Both seem to have the same starting point, since the 490 years are “cut off” from the 2,300 years. So, it is important for us to establish when that beginning date was.
We should not feel inadequate about our ability to understand these prophecies. Daniel, who received the vision, was also bewildered. After intense fasting and prayer, the angel Gabriel was sent to expand Daniel’s understanding of the vision, especially as it related to his people, the Jews.
Basically, the prophecies given to Daniel pertain to critical actions of the Messiah, as He ministers to us, both on earth and in the heavenly sanctuary. The final event at the end of the 2,300 days/years (which would have extended to 1844 A.D.), was to be the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary.
Although 1844 was at first thought to be the end of the world, it is now understood to be the beginning of the end, when Christ, our High Priest, entered the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary to begin His cleansing work for the final phase of His ministry. We are now indeed in the final days of earth’s history.
Read Daniel 9:24-27. Why was the 70-weeks prophecy important to Daniel and to us?
Read Daniel 8:9-14. Why was the 2,300-day prophecy important to Daniel and to us?
Read Daniel 8:14, 26, 27. Why would Daniel still be troubled, even if the prophecy was for a long time in the future?
Wednesday: God’s Election
A careful reading of Romans 8 and 9 helps us understand the call of God that people either receive or reject. We are chosen, or elected, in two ways…
- God chooses all of us to be candidates for salvation, so we might be transformed into the image of Jesus (which was His original plan for mankind).
- God also chooses various people at different times to perform specific tasks that further God’s purpose on earth
Although the term predestined is used in these chapters, God does not arbitrarily choose one person over another to save. He is said to be “without partiality” when it comes to the salvation of any person or people group (Romans 2:11).
Our original destination was to be with the Lord forever. And if we choose God as our Lord, we are then elected to serve Him in different ways. This is what it means to be called of God, to be His chosen ones (1 Peter 2:9).
Read Acts 4:12, Romans 9:31, 32, and 1 Corinthians 1:23. What is our only salvation and why was it a stumblingblock for the Jews? What other stumblingblocks might there be in our own lives to keep us from choosing God?
Read Romans 8:29 and Ephesians 1:4. How is predestination the same as foreknowledge and when were we predestined to be saved?
Read Revelation 21:3. When will God’s original plan be fulfilled for His chosen ones?
Thursday: Our Responsibility
Our responsibility in receiving a call from God is the same as when someone calls us on the phone or knocks on our door. We can either answer the call, or ignore it.
If we choose to accept the call, however, there are different ways to have a discussion with God about our calling. Ezra and Nehemiah’s response to God’s call was without questioning whether they would do it or not. They merely asked God when and how they would accomplish the task He had in mind for them, and they set out to do it.
Others, like Moses, we discover, required further persuasion on God’s part. Moses did not feel adequate for the job, and most of us can sympathize with that feeling. He made excuses and repeatedly asked God to choose someone else. The task ahead did not look welcoming, and Moses felt it would take more skills than he had mastered while shepherding in the wilderness all those years.
Nevertheless, he fully committed himself to do as God proposed, and the end result was amazing. Moses, even with his faults and imperfections, became a powerful leader and brought the children of Israel out of their land of slavery.
King Saul, on the other hand, was not fully committed, even after accepting the call to be Israel’s first king and being anointed to that position. He later found himself drifting away from God, and finally, losing everything.
We find from many other examples in the Bible that God always values our freedom of choice when it comes to accepting God’s call to service. It’s the only way we can experience the kind of love that makes that service possible.
Read Exodus 4:1-5. Why should we not worry about whether our service is going to be successful or not, if it is something God has asked us to do?
Read Exodus 4:10, 11, 12. Was Moses qualified for the job God was calling him to do? Why was this concern not important to God?
Read Exodus 4:13. After God answered his questions about the difficulty of the task and his lack of ability, why did Moses still want someone else to do it? And why did God partially answer his request by sending Aaron to work with him?
Through the story of Ezra and Nehemiah, we see how God used humble, willing human beings to fulfill even the most important prophecies in His holy word, such as the ones in Daniel, involving 70-days and 2,300 days, or prophetic years.
All of us have wondered if God is calling us, and what action that calling might involve. Surely, all of us have some kind of responsibility in spreading the gospel to those in our sphere of influence. But is there more for us to do?
Recognizing our spiritual gifts is certainly helpful, but not necessary. God knows us better than anyone, and listening to His voice is the primary way God calls us to do His will. Through prayer and Bible study, we become closer to God and are more likely to know our gift and hear our calling.
Keep in mind that we are all “body parts” in the church of God. Whatever your assigned part, take it seriously, and know that you have been called to do something to further God’s will in a way that embraces eternity.
Our calling, whatever it is, is just as important as any of the prophets in the Bible. The church is not be nearly as effective without the contribution of every member.
Here’s some examples of those in the Bible who answered God’s call, fulfilling important divine predictions…
- Noah–preached about the Flood
- Abraham–called to be the father of God’s people, and the promised Messiah
- Moses–led God’s people during the exodus from slavery in Egypt
- Joshua–brought God’s children back to Canaan
- Samuel–most well-known judge and prophet of the monarchal period
- Hosea and Amos–prophesied before the fall of the northern kingdom (722 B.C.)
- Ezekiel and Daniel–prophets during the Babylonian captivity
- Haggai and Zechariah–served after their return from exile
- Ezra and Nehemiah–helped rebuild Jerusalem at the beginning of the 2,300 year prophecy (457 B.C.)
- John the Baptist–preached just prior to Christ’s ministry
- Stephen–the first Christian martyr, ending the 70-week prophecy (34 A.D.)
Surely, in the final days we are living, we are called to important work that will lead to the establishment of New Jerusalem. Be ready for your call!
Next Week’s Lesson: Facing Opposition
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
Other Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/