“Ezra” series: (post #5)
The book of Ezra’s general list of the people who left Babylon and made the four-month-long trek (Ezra 7:9) to return to Judah is given in Ezra 2:1-61. Even though the list provides only a handful of the actual names, it is nevertheless fairly thorough. Since the list is divided into no less than eight sections, let’s take them one at a time.
Section #1 (2:1-2) gives us the names of 11 men. Apparently, these were the most prominent leaders among the group. As we might expect, the first two names on the list are Zerubbabel (the governor) and Jeshua (the High Priest). In keeping with the interpretation that “Sheshbazzar” was merely another name for Zerubbabel, “Sheshbazzar” isn’t listed as being one of the 11. (By the way, the Nehemiah who is listed wasn’t the Nehemiah from the Bible’s book of Nehemiah, and the Mordecai isn’t the same one who is featured prominently in the book of Esther.)
Section #2 (2:3-21) offers the names of 18 Jewish families and the numbers of people from each of them who made the journey. There were 2,172 people from the family of Parosh (2:3), 372 from the family of Shephatiah (2:4), 775 from the family of Arah (2:5), 2,812 from the family of Pahath-Moab (2:6), etc., etc., etc. All of these families returned to settle down again in the cities and towns they had once called home in Judah (Ezra 2:1). Interestingly, Judah is referred to as “the province” in Ezra 2:1. This indicates that it was now just one small territory of the massive Medo-Persian empire rather than an autonomous kingdom in its own right.
Section #3 (2:21-35) shifts gears from talking about families to talking about various cities and towns. 21 such places are named. 123 people resettled Bethlehem (Ezra 2:21), 56 resettled Netophah (2:22), 128 resettled Anathoth (2:23), 42 resettled Azmaveth (2:24), etc., etc., etc.
Section #4 (2:36-39) deals with the number of priests from bonafide priestly families. 973 priests from the family of Jedaiah made the trip (2:36), as did 1,052 from the family of Immer (2:37), 1,247 from the family of Pashhur (2:38), and 1,017 from the family of Harim (2:39). The numbers add up to a total of 4,289 priests.
Section #5 (2:40-42) mentions non-priests from the tribe of Levi. While all of Israel’s priests came from the Aaronic line of the tribe of Levi, not every member of that tribe was a priest. So, in addition to the 4,289 priests who made the journey back to Judah, 74 Levites did as well. According to the Mosaic law, the Levites were to be the caretakers of the temple (Numbers 3:5-8). Also, 128 singers from the tribe of Levi (specifically, the family line of Asaph) and 139 gatekeepers from the tribe were part of the group. These gatekeepers would have the job of keeping unauthorized people from entering forbidden areas of the new temple.
Section #6 (2:43-54) speaks of the Nethinim. These were temple servants of low standing who were neither priests nor Levites. In Hebrew, the word Nethinim means “those given.” Most likely, these laborers were the descendants of the Gibeonites who had once deceived Joshua and thus been allowed to live alongside the Jews in Canaan, but only as common laborers who did the most inglorious jobs (Joshua 9:1-27).
Section #7 (2:55-58) refers to “the children of Solomon’s servants.” Apparently, these temple workers could trace their ancestry back to forefathers who had performed similar menial tasks as part of Solomon’s temple staff during his reign. No doubt these servants performed the same type of lowly temple duties as the previously mentioned Nethinim, and the combined number of these servants and the Nethinim totaled up to 392 workers.
Finally, section #8 (2:59-63) talks about all the Jews who made the trip even though they couldn’t officially prove their Jewish ancestry by way of family genealogies. This group included members of three families of common people (2:59-60) as well as members of three priestly families (2:61). Despite supposedly being from these three priestly families, these men were disqualified from being considered for the priesthood. Even though the passage doesn’t tell us what became of the members of all six of these families, it seems likely that Zerubbabel at minimum granted them the basic rights the Mosaic law gave to strangers and foreigners who chose to live among the people of Israel (Exodus 22:21,24; 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34; and Deuteronomy 10:18; 14:29).
Well, by now you are probably beginning to get so bogged down in all the minutia of these groupings and numbers that you are losing sight of the passage’s main teaching. So let me crystalize that teaching for you: Somewhere in the ballpark of 50,000 real people, inwardly stirred up by a real God, made a real four-month trip, from one real place to another real place, to fulfill that real God’s real will. It wasn’t just Zerubbabel and Jeshua who had actual names. No, every last one of those approximately 50,000 people did as well. This shows us that there are times when God purposefully uproots specific individuals and relocates them to faraway places.
Perhaps God will stir you up to make such a life-changing move one day. For that matter, perhaps He is doing it right now. If He is, the best you can do is obey Him and trust Him with the results. Just as He had a divine plan for the life of each of those people who relocated from Babylon to Judah, He has a divine plan for your life too. You just have to trust Him, step out in faith, and make that big move whenever He burdens you to make it. Summing up the situation, don’t ever try to make any move apart from God’s will, but don’t ever drag your feet when you know what He wants you to do, either.