Pastor's Ponderings: Old Testament Ezra 2:1-67 Bible Study
Grace and Peace to you this morning.
Today is the day that you get to practice pronouncing more names that you ever wanted to, and then there is the listing of how many from each family which was exiled in Babylon have made the trip back to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the Temple.
We might ask why these people are so interested in getting back to their homeland. To understand the dynamic which drew them back all we have to do is look to all of the folks who travel to Europe every year to try to get a hold of where their ancestors lived, what work they did, what property they owned, and perhaps most importantly, why they left at all. For us today many of these places seem like romantic sites to get our lives reconnected, our marriages, and more back together again, yet the process of learning gives something to us that we didn't have before if family records were carelessly maintained. So, what we see before us in Chapter two of Ezra is an attempt to keep records of the Jewish tribes. For me, I am thankful that my grandmother knew so much about her side of the family. I even have a photo of my great great grandfather handling a team of draft horses as they pulled massive logs from the forest to the lake. I have heard the stories of the family's immigration to the United States during the civil war era, I also know the location of family homestead in Sweden. On my Dad's side of the family was a lot of British heritage, and some indigenous heritage as well. We also know that the family traveled two hundred miles by covered wagon from south east Michigan to the area where my Father was born, and the city where I was born and grew up, which is on the lakeshore of Lake Michigan. I know these things because I cared enough to ask, and search for the information. My forebears were the founders and charter members of the church where I grew up. But what about those Jews in exile for 50 years? Notice that all who are going back are descendants of those originally exiled, and they have never seen the Temple, and don't know what, at the time, will be filled with difficulties.
The names and numbers of people who are returning are significant historically for us. This list which is compiled in Ezra 2 helps us to understand who was taken away in the exile of Judah in 587 BCE, yet we know that the list appears to be incomplete because there are some who are returning who cannot prove themselves, or prove by the identification of others to have Jewish heritage. We really shouldn't be surprised by this, after all, it was not only the Jews who were over run by the Babylonians, but those who seized upon the opportunity to return to the area from which their families had come. It is impossible for us to know the totals of the numbers of people who came back, Without taking a few moments to total the numbers that are listed, we would not realize that the total mentioned is not the same as the adding up of all of the numbers. There is a very good reason for this. These names and numbers were recorded in different ways, sometimes people were listed by family name, sometimes by the name of the city from which they had come, or sometimes gathered together by a way that is unclear. Another thing that we would not know without expert Old Testament scholarship is that these numbers and names were gathered over a period of over one hundred years. Some of the returnees came much later than others, and folks trickled back to Jerusalem as the news of how things were going was encouraging.
There is another discussion that we need to have about his verses too. In some way do these passages indicate a failure of God to keep His covenant promises? Absolutely not! In spite of all that has happened to these people, the evidence that these widely varied peoples are returning, even when most of them have never been to their home land, or have never seen the Temple when it was in it's glory, but who still have a sense of being family to one another, with some having been adopted into this community of people, and are now, with the help of the Persian king, Cyrus, going home, is the firm indication that God is keeping His commitment to these heirs of the Hebrews. Another indication is that the people involved in worship at the Temple, all considered Levites of the priestly class, are still being identified in the listing of this passage as such, indicates that they and God have been continuing to be involved with one another while the people were in exile. The numbers of this Levite class indicate how active the Temple was every day before they were all removed in the exile. Just a quick note: the Pharisees gradually came into existence during this exile, and they will be ready to return with a heretofore unknown authority as they participate in re establishing the "true" faith.
One of the things that we can look for in Ezra, and in Nehemiah, is the animosity that will come between those who were taken away into exile, and those who for whatever reason were able to remain in Judah. The people who were left behind or who came back after the first exile of the northern kingdom, see these returning people as very imposing outsiders. There will be difficulties, and this may well be the indicator of the problems between Jews and Samaritans during the life of Christ.
Thanks for being with me today. Sorry that the study is a little late getting out to you today.
In Christ's Love for our Lives,