Use this children’s Sunday School lesson about Ezra and Nehemiah to teach kids about the forgiveness of God and the unity of Christians.
Needed: index cards with “Exile!” and “God Forgives You!” written on them, building blocks
Say, The two kingdoms of Israel and Judah had been conquered. God let the Assyrians and the Babylonians conquer Israel and Judah because the people of Israel and Judah had done so many bad things. They had believed in and worshiped fake gods instead of the real God, and they had done all the wrong things that God didn’t do want them to do. So, God let the Assyrians and the Babylonians conquer their kingdoms and carry the Israelite people back to Assyria and Babylon.
But God didn’t punish the Israelites forever. He had promised that after 70 years, He would let them go back to their homeland.
Game: Going Home
Print out or write the words “Exile!” and “God Forgives You!” on index cards. You should have an equal number of cards that say “Exile!” as “God Forgives You!” Place three each in a direct line for as many teams as you plan to have. You’ll have three “Exile!” cards and three “God Forgives You!” cards laid out in front of each team, stretching from one side of your play area to the other. Mix them up within each line, but always have a “God Forgives You!” card as the last one in the line.
Then, divide the kids into teams. Tell them that their goal is to make it to the other side of the room, their Home. When you say, “Go!” the first student on each team races forward and picks up the first card. If it says, “God Forgives You!” they can go on to the next. If it says, “Exile!” their turn is over. They go to the back of their team’s line, and the next student runs out to pick up the next card.
The team who picks up all their cards and makes it to the Home side of the room first wins. Play again if time allows.
In our story today, we’ll read about how God forgave the Israelites and let them go home to Israel and their capital city of Jerusalem.
After God’s hand wrote on the wall that He was bringing the kingdom of Babylon to an end, two kingdoms divided Babylon. One of the kingdoms was Persia, ruled by King Cyrus.
When Cyrus became king, he let the Israelites go back to their homeland. The Israelites were very happy.
Everyone, cheer to show that you’re happy for the Israelites getting to go back home.
King Cyrus even gave them back all the items Babylon had stolen from God’s Temple church. King Cyrus told the people of Israel to rebuild the Temple because the Babylonian army had destroyed it.
When the Israelites started rebuilding the Temple, other people in the area wanted to help.
Everyone, cheer for other people wanting to help.
But these other people believed in many gods, not the true God only.
Everyone, boo that the other people believed in other gods.
So, the Israelites told the other people that they couldn’t help rebuild the Temple church.
Do you think it was right that the Israelites wouldn’t let the other people help? Why or why not?
Remember that God’s number 1 rule is that we can only believe in Him as God. God wouldn’t want people working on His Temple if they believed in other gods.
So, the Israelites started building the Temple church themselves. They were doing well rebuilding the Temple, but it took a long time. They didn’t have trucks or power tools to help them build back then, so building the Temple took years and years. In fact, it took so long that King Cyrus died before they finished.
When Artaxerxes became King of Persia, Israel’s enemies wrote King Artaxerxes a letter telling him lies about the Israelites. They said that the Israelites would rebel against the king if they finished building the Temple.
Everyone, boo for the people telling lies about Israel.
Why do you think Israel’s enemies didn’t want them to finish the Temple?
They didn’t want the Israelites to come back to their home and start rebuilding the Temple. They wanted to take over and live in the Israelites’ homeland. People still want to take over and live in Israel even though God gave that country to the Israelites.
When King Artaxerxes read the letter from the Israelites’ enemies, he believed their lies and told the Israelites to stop building the Temple.
Everyone, boo for King Artaxerxes making the Israelites stop building the Temple.
Later, another king told the Israelites that they could finish the Temple, and they did.
Everyone, cheer for the Israelites rebuilding the Temple.
Game: Rebuilding the Temple
Divide the students into two or more teams and give and have them line up on one side of your play area. Place a set of building blocks in front of each team on the other side of the play area. The blocks can be any type or size. Tell the students that their goal is to build a Temple using their blocks, but that they can only retrieve one block at a time.
When you say, “Go!” the first student from each team runs to get a block. When they return, the second student runs to get one. The first team to retrieve all their blocks and use them to build a Temple wins. But to illustrate the lesson, you’ll yell “Bad king!” to signal each team to freeze in place and then, “Good king!” to unfreeze them.
When the game is over, remind students that the Israelites had to stop building the Temple for a while when Israel’s enemies told the king lies about them, but that they eventually finished it when another king said they could continue building.
Later, a man named Nehemiah was the cupbearer for the king. He was the one who would bring the king his drinks. He also tasted the king’s drink before he gave them to the king to make sure that no one had put poison in the king’s drinks.
One day, the king noticed that Nehemiah was sad. He asked Nehemiah why he was so sad, and Nehemiah said that it was because the people hadn’t finished rebuilding Jerusalem. Then, the king told Nehemiah that he could go back to Israel and finish building the walls around the city.
Why do you think it was important to have walls around Jerusalem?
A wall was important to keep Israel’s enemies out of the city if anyone wanted to attack them.
So, Nehemiah went back to Israel and told the people that they could start rebuilding the walls. Everyone worked together, and every family did their part to build a section of the wall.
Everyone, cheer for the Israelites working together!
It’s important for us to all work together too. As Christians, we can work together in our church to do great things for God. What are some things that we work together to do? (Provide suggestions based on your church’s ministries.)
And we can also work as Christians with other churches and Christians groups to do great things for God in our world. What are some things we can work with other Christians to do for God in the world? (Examples include supporting missionaries to evangelize and ending poverty.)
So, all the families in Israel worked together to rebuild the wall. The enemies of the Israelites tried to make them stop building the walls, but the Israelites didn’t listen to them. Sometimes, people try to make us stop being Christians, but we can’t listen to them either.
Why do you think some people don’t want us to be Christians?
Some people think that believing in God is silly. Other people don’t like the rules God gives us. But we know that God is real and that the rules He gives us helps us to be happy. So, we don’t listen to other people when they say we shouldn’t believe in God because we know that we should believe in Him.
Because God forgave the people of Israel for all the wrong things they did, He let them come back to their home. And, eventually, they were able to all work together to rebuild the Temple and the walls around Jerusalem.
Activity: Acting It Out
Divide students into groups of three or four. Have each group decide on and act out a scene in which a group of Christians from other churches or countries can work together to do something.
Father God, we thank You for forgiving us too when we do wrong things. And we ask that You’ll help us and all Christians work together to do what You want us to do in our church and in our world. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
You can also find this lesson for Kindle or in print in my book, Hope in Exile.