Sabbath School Lesson for December 21-27, 2019

[Reminder: The Bible verses in blue allow you to reference the Bible verse
by clicking or hovering the mouse over the verse.]


Thinking about leaders in Israel and in God’s church today, we considered the fact that…

  • leaders can have a good or bad influence on the people they serve (Sunday)
  • especially important is our spiritual influence in the world, whether we draw people to God or away from Him (Monday)
  • courage and empowerment are given to leaders to achieve God’s goals (Tuesday)
  • leaders must have purpose and a passion for God’s will (Wednesday)
  • serving others requires humility and perseverance (Thursday)


Ezra and Nehemiah represent church leaders who were willing to serve, delegate responsibilities to others, and most of all, make a difference in the lives of God’s people. Their positive achievements allowed the remnant of Israel to once again thrive and influence the nations around them for good.

The way they succeeded in their efforts to promote God’s cause depended in large measure on their dependence on the Torah (the five books of Moses). The reading of the law was crucial for making the reforms that were so strongly needed after the captivity.

In addition, their habits of prayer and fasting enabled them to accomplish everything they read about in the law. Keeping the law was the result of searching for God with all their heart, revealed by their many hours spent in prayer.

Spiritual leaders anywhere and any time must have the same dedication and humility of these two servants after the Babylonian captivity.

Memory Text: “And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.” Nehemiah 8:12 NKJV

What joy there is in discovering Bible truths in God’s word that previously had been overlooked or misunderstood. God’s leaders in church today have a responsibility to make sure that all members have a clear understanding of God’s requirements when it comes to our salvation.

Is your congregation a happy one? If not, why not? Joy should be a by-product of knowing God. If it is lacking, reforms are needed, just like for the returning exiles. We, too, can be, once again, a happy family of God, serving Him cheerfully, with a heart of gratitude and love.

Sunday: The Influence of Leaders

People easily forget some things about leaders…

  1. They are capable of both good and bad behavior. After all, they are only human.
  2. The influence of leaders is multiplied, so expectations are understandably higher. But we all have an influence on someone, and should be just as careful about our influence, especially our spiritual one (how others see God through us).

Some Bible leaders had more of an impact than others. And we have examples of those who succeeded and those who failed to guide in a godly way.

The bad kings of Israel failed most notably for accepting bad counsel from those around them. And the good kings were the ones who were able to root out pagan idolatry from the country. They listened to God.

Although many of the prophets were good examples and were recognized as such, there were also prophets who made mistakes. And, unfortunately, many of the good prophets were ostracized and persecuted for their efforts to reform Israel. Showing us that it’s not always the leaders who are at fault, but the people also make unwise choices in who they will follow.

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Kings 12:6, 8, 13, 1 Kings 21:25, 26, and Isaiah 8:20. What should we look for in a good counselor? If we have the Bible to guide us, why are human counselors still needed?

Read Judges 4:4, 8, 14, 15. What does Deborah’s leadership tell us about the influence of women for good among God’s people?

Read Acts 1:14, 15:7-9. Why did the Jerusalem council listen to Peter, despite his earlier mistakes? How had he gained the disciples’ trust?

Monday: Evil in the Sight of the Lord

When thinking about the influence we have on others, we must remember the legacy for either good or evil we are leaving our children. As recorded in the Bible, many kings of Israel were at least partially responsible, not only for their own character and actions, but for generations that followed. The worse a king’s behavior, the longer it took to break out of that negative mold that was set.

Ezra and Nehemiah were evidently aware of their influence. This awareness drew them repeatedly to prayer and fasting, fervent attempts to connect with God and seek His counsel on matters that they knew were beyond their ability to handle. As seen in the events recorded by these prophets, we sense their overwhelming urge to walk with God. And, for the most part, the nation walked with them and grew in spirituality.

Not everyone they toiled for remained faithful to the reforms that were established, however. This reminds us that we each, individually, are responsible for the spiritual direction of our lives. Never are we justified in blaming a leader, a friend, or any other individual for our own personal choices. We are accountable to God for our influence for good or evil.

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Kings 15:26, 34. Why is it so common for us to “walk in the way” of our parents? Why is a parent’s influence so important? How can we honor and love our parents, but also decide to take a different course in life, if theirs wasn’t in line with God’s will?

Read 2 Kings 13:1-3. How can one leader’s bad example cause so many to reap the consequences of their sin? Why is God justified in allowing bad things to happen when we stray from His word?

Read John 11:48-53. Why did Caiaphas, and those in power at the time, plot to kill Jesus? Why does everyone come to the point when they must choose what they will do with Jesus, and how does that affect their power and influence over others?

Tuesday: Courage and Empowerment

Nehemiah’s faith in God allowed him to have faith in the nobility and rightness of his actions. From the beginning, his conviction that he could make a difference in the return of the exiles propelled his ability to confront the king with his desire to lead his people.

His boldness and courage shone throughout his governorship in Jerusalem. He recruited exiles to embark on a dangerous journey and motivated them to defend themselves against their enemies and to rebuild the wall, an arduous, seemingly hopeless task. He empowered people to be courageous with him, to get things done in a way that glorified God.

Nehemiah understood the power of God that is available to all who serve Him with unwavering faith. All true spiritual leaders must have this same understanding and faith in God’s power, in order to instill courage and empower others to serve God in unusual, challenging times.

Discussion Questions:

Read Nehemiah 4:7-9 and Psalm 50:15. If God would deliver them, why did they have to set a watch over the enemy?

Read Nehemiah 4:14, 15. Which was more of a deterrent to their enemies, the fact that they were armed, or their realization that God was going to protect them? How does this impact our source of protection?

Read Nehemiah 4:17, 20. What kinds of empowerment were the people of God given to complete their tasks? Why is it important to be empowered physically, mentally, and spiritually for success to be achieved in any project for God? How does this show that healthful living is needed to serve God most effectively?

Wednesday: Purpose and Passion

Ezra led mostly by studying and teaching the word of God, instilling in the Jews a desire to return to the covenant found in Scriptures. Nehemiah, on the other hand, was a leader who taught by courageous example, encouraging God’s people to act on their beliefs and do all they could show their loyalty to God.

What these two leaders had in common was a strong purpose to do God’s will and a passion to do it in a way that glorified God. Much like Moses and Aaron were chosen to lead God’s people following their enslavement in Egypt, Ezra and Nehemiah provided much needed leadership following their captivity in Babylon.

Having a holy purpose enabled these leaders to bravely reprove wrong decisions and sometimes demand that certain actions be undertaken to ensure the overall success of their mission. Regardless of the challenges they faced, they listened to God for their marching orders and didn’t hesitate in performing their God-given duties.

Discussion Questions:

Read Ezra 7:10 and Psalm 119:50. Why is Bible study such a strong comfort and guide when we have a difficult mission for God? How does it prepare our hearts to do His will?

Read Nehemiah 1:4, 5, 11. How did Nehemiah also prepare his heart to be a leader in this enormous mission of rebuilding God’s city and nation? Why is it important to combine Bible study and prayer to be spiritually fortified?

Read Ezra 8:21. How did fasting during these times of extreme need help prepare their hearts to know God’s purpose?

Thursday: Humility and Perseverance

The enormous obstacles facing both Ezra and Nehemiah required a persevering faith. In order to have that faith required equal amounts of humility. Only with a humble attitude toward God and the people they served could they accomplish the mission before them.

Ezra demonstrated this quite well, when deciding after much prayer and fasting with the people to make the journey home without the king’s protection. Together, they relied on God to get them through safely to their homeland.

Ezra could not have had the strength to do it alone. He not only needed God on his side, but he knew he couldn’t have done it without the prayers of his countrymen who were with him. They gladly joined their humble leader in seeking God’s protection.

Nehemiah, too, showed perseverance against mounting opposition from Jerusalem’s neighbors. Even his own people seemed to be against him at times.

But Nehemiah determined to remain humble by generously refusing preferential treatment from his brothers-in-arms. His refusal to materially benefit from his position sent a message of humility and service to those under his leadership. This added to his ability to lead effectively despite overwhelming challenges.

Discussion Questions:

Read Ezra 8:21. How did Ezra show humility by uniting in prayer with his fellow travelers? Why is it important to show humility to others, as well as to God?

Read Nehemiah 5:15 and 2 Corinthians 11:9. Why did Nehemiah and Paul try not to be a burden on the people they served?

Read Mark 9:35. Why is this style of servant-leadership gaining popularity today? What are the benefits derived from such a leadership model?

Final Thoughts

In a world that has seen an abundance of bad leaders, both past and present, it is vitally important for us to understand what makes a leader great. The record of accomplishments of the returning exiles are largely attributed to the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah.

As we look back on the events of how Israel was rebuilt after the Babylonian captivity, we are amazed that God brought them through such challenging times. Having the servant-leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah helped God’s people return to His original purpose of having a people ready for the Messiah.

Only as leaders depend on God, are they able to change the course of history for the better of those under their leadership. Character traits of humility, courage, perseverance, and discipline are needed now to carry out the greatest and most challenging mission of preparing the world for Christ’s Second Coming.

Our faith is strengthened by studying this time in history, and archaeologists continue to verify the events that are recorded in Scripture. We can believe and be fortified by the stories of courage and vision of the characters in these stories.

Read this article and see how archaeology is proving the biblical account of this time in Jewish history.

Next Week’s Lesson: From Reading to Understanding–new quarter on “Daniel”

To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to

Other Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at