Ezra 2: The Return of God’s People

I. The leaders of the restoration (2:1-2a)

2:1 Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town.

The list of returnees is very well ordered: heading (v.1-2), lists of people (v. 3-35), list of priests (v. 36-39), list of Levites (v. 40), list of singers (v. 41), list of gatekeepers (v. 42), list of various temple servants (v. 43-58), list of those with unknown genealogy (v. 59-63), list of totals (v. 64-67), list of temple gifts (v. 68-69), and conclusion (v. 70).

Verse one implies that some Jews never did return to their homeland, and we are not given their motives. The references to Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon, Jerusalem, and Judah could emphasize the absence of returnees from the Northern Kingdom. The geography of their return moves from specific (Jerusalem), to general (Judah, and back to specific (each to his own town).

2:2a They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah.

The lists of names present in Ezra and Nehemiah are neither accidental or coincidental, but rather they give “the feeling of national unity in response to Cyrus’ decree, it ascribing importance to each individual,” and “giving the people a more central role than their leaders or the Temple” (Hayyim Angel, “The Literary Significance of the Name List in Ezra-Nehemiah,” 146). Zerubbabel is mentioned first because he was the governor of Judah after Sheshbazzar (Haggai 1:1), and God calls him “my servant” (Haggai 2:23). He is listed among the descendants of David (1 Chron. 3:19),and most importantly, he appears in Jesus’ genealogy (Matt 1:12-13; Luke 3:27). Although not given the title of governor in Ezra or Nehemiah, he could be identified with either one of the unnamed governors mentioned in Ezra 2:63 or 6:7.

Jeshua the son of Jozadak “was the grandson of the last officiating high priest before the exile” (Williamson, 33). He is the Joshua of Haggai and Zechariah who was given the high priesthood after the return (Zech 3:1-10). Seraiah is Ezra’s father (7:1) and he appears with Nehemiah’s list of priests (Neh 12:1). Reelaiah appears as Raamiah in Nehemiah 7:7 and as Resaiah in the apocryphal book of Esdras (1 Esd 5:8). Mordecai is a name associated with the Babylonian god Marduk, but he is not the Mordecai associated with the book of Esther. Nothing is known about Bilshan, Mispar (Mispereth in Nehemiah’s list), Bigvai, Rehum

(Nahum in Nehemiah’s list), and Baanah. Zerubbabel, Bilshan, and Mordecai are Babylonian names, while Bigvai is of Persian provenance (Meyers, 12).

II. Returnees identified by their name or geographical location (2:2b-20)

2:2b-35 The number of the men of the people of Israel: 3 the sons of Parosh [Parosh means “flea,” and it might be a nickname], 2,172. 4 The sons of Shephatiah, 372. 5 The sons of Arah, 775. 6 The sons of Pahath-moab, namely the sons of Jeshua and Joab, 2,812. 7 The sons of Elam, 1,254. 8 The sons of Zattu, 945. 9The sons of Zaccai [Zaccai is an abbreviated form of Zechariah, and it means “Yahweh has remembered], 760. 10The sons of Bani, 642. 11 The sons of Bebai, 623. 12 The sons of Azgad, 1,222. 13 The sons of Adonikam [Adonikam means “The lord has risen up”], 666. 14 The sons of Bigvai, 2,056. 15 The sons of Adin, 454. 16 The sons of Ater [Ater means “left-handed,” and it might be a nickname], namely of Hezekiah, 98. 17The sons of Bezai, 323. 18 The sons of Jorah, 112. 19 The sons of Hashum, 223. 20 The sons of Gibbar, 95.21 The sons of Bethlehem, 123. 22The men of Netophah, 56. 23 The men of Anathoth, 128. 24 The sons of Azmaveth, 42. 25 The sons of Kiriath-arim [Since there is no town named Kiriath-arim in the vicinity of Gibeon, it seems that this is a scribal error where the actual town was Kiritah-jearim (as in Neh 7:29).  If not a scribal error, this could be an archaic way  of writing the town name], Chephirah, and Beeroth, 743. 26 The sons of Ramah and Geba, 621. 27 The men of Michmas, 122. 28 The men of Bethel and Ai, 223. 29 The sons of Nebo, 52. 30The sons of Magbish, 156. 31 The sons of the other Elam, 1,254. 32 The sons of Harim, 320. 33 The sons of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, 725. 34 The sons of Jericho, 345. 35 The sons of Senaah [Mishna Taanith IV 5 affirms that Senaah was an important clan belonging to the tribe of Benjamin], 3,630.

The people listed here appear with the formulas “sons of X” and “men of Y.” In these verses, the sons of X are clearly identified by their family name. Some scholars actually translate Bünê as “the family of” (Williamson, 21ff). Pahath-Moab (v. 6) means the governor of Moab and it reflects a state of affairs developed during the united monarchy when Moab was under Judean control. It is not clear why some people are identified by their personal name while others are identified by their geographical location. It is possible that those identified by their geographical location are the poor who did not own land or property (Williamson, 34).

III. The Priests (2:36-39)

2:36-39 The priests: the sons of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, 973. 37 The sons of Immer, 1,052. 38 The sons of Pashhur, 1,247. 39 The sons of Harim, 1,017.

More priestly families returned from the exile than the four mentioned here; however, their number is significant because they make up about ten percent of the total number of returnees. Williamson suggests that “in the postexilic period there is a steady development of the priestly hierarchy, a development attested to in various lists in the OT which culminated in the emergence of the system of twenty-four priestly courses” (Williamson, 35). Jedaiah, Pashhur, and Immer occur also in 1 Chronicles 9:10-13 and Nehemiah 11:10-14.

IV. The Levites (2:40-42)

2:40 The Levites: the sons of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the sons of Hodaviah, 74.

The shortest list belongs to the Levites. Without the temple the Levites became a neglected group, forced to do other work. “Their disengagement is why a special appeal had to be made to them later to join in the task of rebuilding Jerusalem and its temple institutions (Ezra 8:15ff)" (Meyers, 18). It is notable that the Levites and the Priests are recognized as being part of distinct classes.

2:41 The singers: the sons of Asaph, 128.

Since the singers have not yet attained Levitical status, they are also treated separately from the Levites. It could be that “they were appointed by the king for service in the temple,” and they “played by their own accompaniment (1 Chron. 15:16)" (Loring Batten, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, 85). Asaph was David’s contemporary and he is credited with being the author of Psalms 50 and 73-83. While other musicians returned with Ezra later (7:7), only the Asaphites are mentioned here.

2:42 The sons of the gatekeepers: the sons of Shallum, the sons of Ater, the sons of Talmon, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hatita, and the sons of Shobai, in all 139.

The initial group of gatekeepers is divided into 6 divisions, although more would come with Ezra (7:7). Blenkinsopp explains that “one of their principal functions was to protect the ritual purity of the temple precincts (2 Chron. 23:19), and some of them were in charge of the temple stores (1 Chron. 9:6-27)” (Blenkinsopp, 89). They play an important role in Nehemiah as they are frequently mentioned in the same context with the priests and Levites (Neh. 10:28, 12:47, 13:5).

V. The Temple servants and the descendents of Solomon’s servants (2:43-58)

2:43-58 The temple servants: the sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth, 44 the sons of Keros, the sons of Siaha, the sons of Padon, 45 the sons of Lebanah, the sons of Hagabah, the sons of Akkub, 46 the sons of Hagab [Hagab means “locust,” or “grasshopper,” and it might be a nickname], the sons of Shamlai, the sons of Hanan, 47 the sons of Giddel [Giddel is an abbreviated form of Giddeliah, and it means “Yahweh has made great”], the sons of Gahar, the sons of Reaiah, 48 the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda,the sons of Gazzam, 49 the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah, the sons of Besai, 50 the sons of Asnah, thesons of Meunim, the sons of Nephisim, 51 the sons of Bakbuk [Bakbuk means “flask,” and it might be a nickname], the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur, 52 the sons of Bazluth, the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha, 53 the sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Temah, 54 the sons of Neziah, and the sons of Hatipha. 55The sons of Solomon’s servants: the sons of Sotai, the sons of Hassophereth, the sons of Peruda, 56 the sons of Jaalah, the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel, 57 the sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth-hazzebaim, and the sons of Ami. 58 All the temple servants and the sons of Solomon’s servants were 392.

While the temple servants were not slaves, many of them were of non-Israelite background. Blenkinsopp proposes that some of the names are of Egyptian, Arabian, Babylonian, Edomite, and Ugaritic descent (Blenkinsopp, 91). Batten suggests that these servants “were subordinate temple officers, performing the humblest functions at the sanctuary” (Batten, 87). It could be that many of them “have come to Israel initially as prisoners of war, since these are the names of tribes whom we know were defeated during the period of the monarchy” (Williamson, 36). Their inclusion together with the sons of Solomon’s servants, however, further reveals that they were not slaves, but rather servants.

VI. Returnees without a family record (2:59-63)

2:59-63 The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addan, and Immer, though they could not prove their fathers’ houses or their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: 60 the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, and the sons of Nekoda, 652. 61 Also, of the sons of the priests: the sons of Habaiah, the sons of Hakkoz [Hakkoz means “the thorn,” and it could be a nickname], and the sons of Barzillai [Barzillai means “man of iron,” and it could be a nickname] (who had taken a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called by their name). 62 These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but they were not found there, and so they were excluded from thepriesthood as unclean. 63 The governor told them they were not to partake of the most holy food untilthere should be a priest to consult Urim and Thummim.

While most Jews kept their family records intact, some did not. Some of these were proselytes since they could not even prove that “they belonged to Israel” (2:29b). These are only identified with their Babylonian towns from which they came, although the location of those towns is unknown. The concern for purity was dominant, which is why verse 62 explains that these “unclean” ones were excluded from the priesthood. Olyan affirms that “lineage defilement is passed on from generation to generation, apparently disqualifying all males in the polluted line from priestly service” (Saul M. Olyan, “Purity Ideology in Ezra-Nehemiah,” 9).The title “governor” is a translation of the Persian word haTTiršäºtä´ used for Nehemiah (Neh. 7:65, 69; 8:9; 10:2). Here, the governor is not named although some assume that it could be Sheshbazzar or Zerubbabel (1 Esdras 9:49 names Nehemiah as the governor; Myers identifies him as Zerubbabel (20); Williamson suggests that both Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel are likely candidates (37)).Williamson explains that

Urim and Thummim were sacred lots from which answers to direct questions could be received. They could have been two small objects, such as pebbles or sticks, which were marked in some way and which were drawn out ofthe Ephod to give, according to the combinations, a “yes,” “no” or “no answer” response (Williamson, 37).

VII. Statistics and settlement (2:64-67)

2:64-67 The whole assembly together was 42,360, 65 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337, and they had 200 male and female singers. 66 Their horses were 736, their mules were 245, 67 their camels were 435, and their donkeys were 6,720.

The total given in verse 64 is about 11,000 higher than the sum of the preceding numbers. The discrepancy could be explained by the fact that their women were included in the total number. While this seems like a small number compared with the total, it is feasible that the majority of the returnees were young, unmarried men. The animals listed here were used both for travel and burden.

2:68-70 Some of the heads of families, when they came to the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem, made freewill offerings for the house of God, to erect it on its site. 69 According to their ability they gave to the treasury of the work 61,000 darics of gold, 5,000 minas of silver, and 100 priests’ garments. 70 Now the priests, the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants lived in their towns, and all the rest of Israel in their towns.

Verse 68 reveals that the temple was not yet rebuilt, thus the need for the freewill offerings. Their giving “according to their ability,” reminds us of Jesus’ words to the woman who poured out the ointment of pure nard upon His head, “She has done what she could” (Mark 14:8). God never asks us to do more than we can, but what we can do, we should do. Even though the repatriated community was poor, the amount of money they raised is estimated at around $238,000 (Meyers, 21).

The lists of returnees remind us of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises. Through Jeremiah God foretold that the exile will last 70 years. The return from the Babylonian is not an abstract concept, but can be seen in the faces of those who return. Just as there is a God behind the return promise, so there are people who are named and seen as the face of the return fulfillment. Today’s Christian leader must always be mindful of God’s faithfulness, but also that the people whom we serve have names and faces. We are not called to serve numbers but needy people. We are not called to minister to statistics but to saints.

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