The Jewish Persian Period

Study Questions

This series of lessons covers Jewish history when Persia was the controlling "world" government. The main source texts are the books of Ezra, Esther and Nehemiah, and the prophesies of Haggai and Zechariah. In an attempt to present the information in a chronological order, Ezra will be somewhat split up. The series is intended to be an intermediate level Bible study, designed primarily for personal study. However you may find it possible to use this as material for small group studies, and limited resources are provided to assist a teacher or advanced student in further study.

The suggested study method is quite simple. For each lesson, read the section of the Biblical text (at least once) and then answer the questions. I do not provide an answer guide. Most of my questions are intended to get you to think about the text, put yourself in the situation presented, and consider how you might react. Some of the questions have only one right answer, and I could provide that, but others depend on your life situation and experiences to answer, and your thoughts may be better than mine. Don't be concerned with questions that you cannot answer. Having questions is the first step in learning. In fact, it is very helpful to keep a pencil and paper with you during your study to write down additional questions which you have, and then periodically review them or discuss them with others. My personal comments on the text will be provided some time in the future, and they are NOT critical to understanding and applying the text to your life.

Lesson Index:

Lesson 1

Texts to read

Study Questions:

Background - (2 Chron. 36:11-23, Jer. 29:1-14)
Main Text (Ezra 1-2)

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does the genealogy listing in chapter 2 illustrate how the Jewish nation typically passed on the skills of a trade? Why do you think that they did it this way? Since the Jews passed on duties in the worship of God from generation to generation, is this a habit that we should adopt?
  2. When Cyrus allowed the Jews to return home, many of them stayed in Persia. How would you have felt if you had committed to go, and others were not interested? If you decided to stay in Persia, what things might cause you to have a bad attitude about those who were leaving? What happened to make this event a source of unity instead of a source of friction? What can we do in our lives to create unity instead of anger?
  3. When the state of Israel captured the west bank of the Jordan during a war in 1967, it caused a lot of Palestinians to leave the area as refugees. How did the refugees desire to return home, and the political friction between them and the Jews which occupied the territory, suggest the type of problems which the Jews faced when they returned to Palestine after being away for 70 years?

Advanced Research:

Lesson 2

Text to Read:

Study Questions:

Discussion Questions:

  1. The Jews were coming back as exiles to their former country. Many had never been in Israel before. There was no temple worship, no high priest, and no religious organization. They had a perfect chance to start fresh and do things any way they wanted. What did the Jews use as a pattern for their worship? Is there a way today to use a similar principle to resolve issues between Christian groups?
  2. How would you feel if you had seen a glorious temple ruined, waited for 70 years to see it rebuilt, and knew the new one was shabby in comparison with the old? How would you feel if you were a young believer in God, who saw the start of the building of God's temple? If you are excited about something, how do you feel that others are upset about it? The Jews had mixed reactions when the foundation of the temple was laid. Some of this reaction was based on their age. How could this have been a source of division among the Jews? How could it have been used to encourage each group? In your church, when people have mixed reactions to something in worship does it cause unity or division? If division, what might be done to help?
  3. Why do you think that the Jews refused the help of the people who offered to help them? Do you think that the Jews caused their own problems, or that they recognized their enemies early?
  4. Before the reign of Artaxerxes, it appears that the enemies of the Jews did not use force against the Jews. What techniques did they use? How effective were they? What can we learn from this? There is an old saying: "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Do you find this to be true in your life?

Advanced Research:

Lesson 3

Text to Read:

Study Questions:

Text of Ezra:

Haggai 1:1-11

Haggai 1:12-15

Haggai 2:1-9

Haggai 2:10-19

Haggai 2:20-23

Discussion Questions

  1. The entire message of this book is to motivate the Jews to rebuild the temple. Do you think that church buildings today are the equivalent of what the temple was to the Jews? Do you think that God's message in this book is that we should spend a lot of time and money on making fancy buildings?
  2. God removed his blessing from the Jews to teach them to consider their actions. Do you think that he act toward us the same way today? Can we use the circumstances of our lives to determine if we are living right before God?
  3. In God's questions to the priests about the defiled and holy things, God may have indicated that the Jews hidden desire to have a temple did not make things holy, while the ruined temple defiled them. Do you desire to live in service to God, but find that your life does not show it? What message might this book say to us?

Advanced Research:

Lesson 4

Text to Read:

Study Questions:

Note: This section does not attempt to deal with the entire book of Zechariah, nor will it help you answer all of the questions about the visions that you will want to know. I should help you get the main point of some of the visions, and from that you can understand the message that God wanted his people to hear. More than that is beyond the scope of this lesion material.

Zechariah 1:1-21

Zechariah 2:1-13

Zechariah 3:1-10

Zechariah 4:1-14

Discussion Questions

  1. If Zechariah 3:1-5 had been pictured in a modern courtroom, what roles would the following people have: Joshua, Angel, Lord, Satan? Did Satan cause Joshua to be wearing dirty clothes? What do you think the dirty clothes represent? What is the significance of the role that the Lord takes? How does this view of heaven, and the interplay of relationships, match with your concepts? What does it tell you about Satan? What does it tell you about how we can defeat him?

Advanced Research:

Lesson 5

Text to Read:

Study Questions:

Zechariah 5:1-4

Zechariah 6:9-15

Discussion Questions

Advanced Research:

Lesson 6

Text to Read:

Study Questions:

Ezra 5:1-17

Ezra 6:1-13

Ezra 6:14-22

Discussion Questions:

Advanced Research:

Lesson 7

Text to Read:

Study Questions:

Chapter 1:

Chapter 2:

Discussion Questions:

  1. The first chapter of Esther deals with a domestic argument between a king and his wife. What mistakes do you think the king made which started the problem? Why do you think he sent the eunuchs instead of going himself? What turned this from a personal disagreement into a national issue? How could the king have defused the problem? What options did Vashti have of avoiding or resolving the problem? How do we make problems worse than they started out to be? What can we learn from this situation to help us with disagreements in our families?

Advanced Research:

Lesson 8

Text to Read:

Study Questions:

Chapter 3:

Chapter 4:

Discussion Questions:

  1. The king allows Haman to talk him into destroying a race of people. Do you think that this shows a great trust, or a great indifference? What should the king have done? Do we allow others to persuade us to make important decisions based only on their opinion? Do you ever find yourself becoming angry with someone, or forming a low opinion about someone based on the comments of your friend? Is that different than what the king did?
  2. Mordecai seems to have a great confidence that God will assist the Jews. Yet he also demanded that Esther put her life at risk to save them. Do you think that Mordecai felt that someone could defeat the will of God? What do you think was Mordecai's concept of how we interact with the will of God? How does that make us responsible for the situation?

Advanced Research:

Lesson 9

Text to Read:

Study Questions:

Chapter 5:

Chapter 6:

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you have to ask a favor of someone, and the favor is very important to you, do you find it hard to face the person and directly ask the question? What things did Esther do to make the question easier to ask? What things can we do to make it easier to approach our boss or someone else? From the other side, what things does our society do to influence us in our buying habits?
  2. By the world's standards, Haman had it made. He had wealth, a good family, respect, power and position. Events in his daily life gave him joy. Yet one man, who he had ignored until he was pointed out, caused Haman to loose the joy in his life. There was no balance in Haman's thinking: he had a huge number of blessings with a tiny problem, so the net sum of Haman's life was a BIG disappointment. How do we often make the same mistake in our lives, and what could we do to prevent it?
  3. The book of Job shows that Satan has a lot of power and is able to coordinate events. How do the events of these last few chapters show the power of God to influence a kingdom by preparing years in advance and then carefully timing simple things like a sleepless night? How does this show God's ability to work in our lives without us knowing it?

Advanced Research:

Lesson 10

Text to Read:

Study Questions:

Chapter 7:

Chapter 8:

Discussion Questions:

  1. Were the Jews allowed to attack their enemies? Were they allowed to attack unarmed people who did not like them? How far could they take out their anger against armed opponents? How does this solution compare with current legal methods of solving problems between people? How does it compare with international law dealing with conflicts between nations or attempted racial extermination within a nation? What do you think of it as a solution within the Persian culture?

Advanced Research:

Lesson 11

Text to Read:

Study Questions:

Discussion Questions:

  1. The Jews killed over 75,000 people, without making any attempt at bringing complaints against these people before a Persian court. Do you believe that God wanted the Jews to act this way? If someone hates you, is that sufficient grounds for killing them? Is there any condition today which would justify people acting the way the Jews did? The Jews made this event into a national holiday. Would you want to celebrate it? Why?
  2. What differences existed in the edicts made by Haman, and Mordecai. How were they similar? What rights were given to the Jews that they did NOT take advantage of? Why do you think they chose not to use all of their rights? What situations today might make it a wise choice not to do everything that we are allowed to do?
  3. Think of things which show the character of: King Xerxes, Haman, Esther, Mordecai. What happened to these people because of their character?
  4. God allowed the Jews, and especially Esther and Mordecai, to experience a lot of intense worry, over a situation he fully intended to deal with. Why do you think that he did it that way, and gave no indication that things were going to work out? Have you been in situations where you thought there was no way that things could work out? How could Esther and Mordecai be examples to you?
  5. In what ways did the Jewish community support each other? Are these ways appropriate for us today? In what other ways can we help one another?

Advanced Research:

Lesson 12

Text to Read:

Study Questions:

Chapter 7:

Chapter 8:

Discussion Questions:

Advanced Research:

Lesson 13

Text to Read:

Study Questions:

Chapter 9:

Chapter 10:

Discussion Questions:

Advanced Research:

Lesson 14

Texts to read

Study Questions:

Ezra 4:6-23

Nehemiah 1:

Nehemiah 2:1-10:

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you feel that you must wear a mask and hide your emotions at work or at church? Why might hiding our feelings be a good thing to do at times? When does it become harmful to us? Do you have any suggestions about how we can be more open with one another?

Advanced Research:

Lesson 15

Texts to read

Study Questions:

Chapter 2:

Chapter 3:

Discussion Questions:

Advanced Research:

Lesson 16

Texts to read

Study Questions:

Chapter 4:

Chapter 5:

Discussion Questions:

Advanced Research:

Copyright (c) 1997 by Bruce J. Butterfield
All Rights Reserved.