Ezra 1; 3-7; Nehemiah 2; 4-6; 8: “I Am Doing a Great Work” (July 18-24)

Nehemiah Inspects The Walls of Jerusalem,” by Robert Theodore Barrett

Seventy years after being taken captive by the Babylonians, the former inhabitants of Judah were permitted to return. Jeremiah had prophesied, “After seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10). About a hundred years before Jeremiah, Isaiah had prophesied that a king named Cyrus would please God by “saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid” (Isaiah 44:28).

Now, King Cyrus of Persia fulfilled those prophecies by issuing a decree that the people of Judah return to Jerusalem and rebuild the house of the Lord. “The Lord God of heaven…hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem,” he said. (See 2 Chronicles 36:22-23, Ezra 1:1-4.) Two of the people who participated in that rebuilding effort were Nehemiah and Ezra.

Nehemiah: “Why should the work cease?”

As a trusted servant of the king, Nehemiah was authorized to travel to Jerusalem and supervise the rebuilding of the walls around the city. Multiple times, detractors tried to convince him to come down from the walls, either to slow the work or potentially to lure him into a dangerous situation. Nehemiah’s answer was always the same: “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3).

The Lamanite military leader Lehonti faced a similar challenge as Amalackiah tried to convince him to leave his strong position on the top of a mountain for a meeting. Several times, Lehonti said no, but in the end, he agreed to meet. That meeting cost him his life and led to a horrific war between the Lamanites and the Nephites. (See Alma 47.)

Here’s the lesson I take from these stories: Our best defense against the erosive effect of temptation is to stay busy doing our duty. When we are diligent and conscientious, we are less likely to be worn down by inappropriate influences.

Here is a blog post about the experiences of Lehonti and Nehemiah: He Durst Not Go Down – Alma 47:10-12.

Ezra: “Ye are holy unto the Lord; the vessels are holy also.”

In response to questions from civil authorities in the land of Judah, a later king of Persia confirmed that his predecessor, Cyrus, had decreed the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. He directed the civil authorities not to interfere with the work, and in fact instructed them to support it financially (Ezra 6:1-12).

Not long after, a scribe named Ezra obtained permission to assemble a group of priests to carry the vessels (instruments and utensils used for temple worship) back to the newly completed temple (Ezra 7:6-10). As they prepared to make their journey, Ezra and his team fasted and prayed for protection (Ezra 8:21-23). Then, he instructed them to take their mission seriously: “I said unto them, Ye are holy unto the Lord; the vessels are holy also…. Watch ye, and keep them” (Ezra 8:28-29).

This was consistent with prophetic guidance given by Isaiah nearly 200 years earlier: “Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord” (Isaiah 52:11).

During His visit to the American continent following His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ quoted this admonition from Isaiah. (See 3 Nephi 20:41.) Clearly, it has broader application than just to Ezra’s mission, which had already been completed.

Here’s the lesson I have learned from this event: Any time that we are asked to contribute to the work of the Lord, we ought to take that assignment seriously. We not only need to do the work well. We also need to be as good as we can be while we are doing the work.

Here is a blog post on the topic: What Are the “Vessels of the Lord?”

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