Scripture reading – Ezra 1; Ezra 2
Our chronological study of the Scriptures continues with our focus being the Book of Ezra. Ezra, the author, will not be introduced to until chapter 7; however, he has given us a record of Judah’s return from Babylonian captivity to the Promised Land.
A Historical Perspective
If you are a student of history, you are aware it is a miracle for any people to return from captivity, and once again become a nation. Apart from Israel, I can give no example of an ancient people who recovered from the desolation Israel suffered. The nations of Philistia, Edom, Moab, Ammon, Amalek, Phoenicia, the Hittites, and Amorites no longer exist. The great empires of Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome are mere footnotes in the history of mankind; yet, there is one populace identifiable as an ancient people in today’s world – the Jews.
Although a powerful, influential nation during the reigns of David and Solomon, Israel was and is geographically no more than a sliver of land. Never a great population, or known for military conquests, the Jews, though beloved and despised continue to exist. Of all ancient peoples, why have the Jews continued as a distinctive people?
The presence of a Jewish people in the 21st century is a testimony of God’s Covenant promises to Abraham. God’s promise to bless Abraham and his seed as the stars of heaven, is a promise which continues to this day (Genesis 22:17). Not only has God been faithful to His covenant promises with Abraham, He has also been faithful to His promises to all those who by faith in Christ, become sons of Abraham, of which the apostle Paul wrote, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).
The Book of Ezra opened with a statement that set the date and timeline of our study, for it was “in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that…the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom” (1:1). The year was about 538 B.C., and the proclamation was issued when Daniel, though aged, was still God’s prophet to God’s people in Babylon. Daniel was near the end of his ministry (having been captive in Babylon for 70 years), but the LORD had chosen a young priest named Ezra to serve Him and His people. While Daniel ministered to a generation who suffered the consequences of their sins, Ezra would be priest to a new generation that would return to Israel, and rebuild their lives and nation.
What an exciting time! Remembering, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Proverbs 21:1), the opening verses of Ezra remind us the God of Israel is Sovereign over heaven and earth (1:1-2). Having conquered Babylon, Cyrus, declared the God of heaven had moved his heart to build His Temple in Jerusalem (1:1-2).
The Liberty to Go Home (1:3-11)
Fulfilling the LORD’s promise to restore Israel and Judah to their land, Cyrus granted the Jews liberty to return home. The king challenged them, asking, “3Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem” (1:3).
Facing formidable hardships, for Jerusalem was in ruins and the Temple destroyed, only a small number (estimated 50,000), responded to the call. Those Jews who chose not to return home, were challenged to financially support those willing to return, providing them with silver, gold, goods, and beasts, “beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem” (1:4).
Only two of the twelve tribes (Judah and Benjamin) responded to the challenge to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple (1:5). The Spirit of God also stirred the hearts of the priests and Levites, who were moved “to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem” (1:5).
As commanded by the king, the remaining Jewish people in Babylon gave of their wealth and possessions to support those returning to Israel (1:8). Also, king Cyrus retrieved the gold and silver vessels of the Temple that were taken by Nebuchadnezzar (1:8). After accounting for the number of vessels, the king sent them with those going “up from Babylon unto Jerusalem” (1:11).
Ezra 2 – A Census of Families
A census was taken of those departing Babylon, and returning to Israel. The names of families and households were forever recorded in the Word of God, and we will briefly consider them by their occupations. Two men were principal leaders of those returning: Zerubbabel represented the civic leadership of the people (2:2; Haggai 1:14), while Jeshua represented the spiritual leadership (2:2; 3:2; Haggai 1:14). Individual families were recorded (2:3-20), as well as the villages and cities of their lineage (2:21-35). There were priests (2:36-39), Levites (identified as singers and gatekeepers, 2:41-42), and servants who oversaw the menial tasks of the Temple (2:43-54). There were also families identified as “the children of Solomon’s servants” (2:55-58).
There were also some who accompanied and identified with the children of Israel; however, when the records were examined, there was no record of their lineage (2:59-60). Some aspired to be priests, but when it was found there was no genealogical record of their lineage, they were put out of the priesthood (2:61-63).
Closing thoughts (2:64-70) – The total of those who returned to Jerusalem was 42,360; however, it is believed the number did not include children 12 years and younger. Altogether, I suppose there were more than 50,000 who left the comforts and pleasures of Babylon, and embraced the liberty of believing God’s promises and trusting Him. Sadly, I fear the same might be observed in our day.
Are you numbered among those who live by faith, love the LORD, and obey His Word?
Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith
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