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THE REGISTER OF THE RETURNED EXILES
Very little comment is needed on this chapter. The purpose of the sacred author was that of establishing the continuity of the nation of God's chosen people; and, just as the return itself was presented by him as a "Second Exodus," so this list of names was designed to link the present company of returnees with the glorious names of their previous history, with the implied teaching that they were still the Chosen People and that God would continue to bless them.
"This same list of names appears in Nehemiah 7:6-73 and in Esdras 5:4-46. It is not easy to account for the discrepancies." In fact, we have never seen any attempt by any scholar to harmonize the lists. They satisfied the people who returned from Babylon; and that is really all that matters.
"Seven distinct groups of people are mentioned." These are: (1) the leaders; (2) the men of Israel; (3) the priests; (4) the Levites; (5) the temple servants; (6) the sons of Solomon's servants; and (7) those of uncertain genealogy.
The return from exile was not an "all at once" experience. It went on somewhat gradually over a period of years; and this list might have been revised or corrected from time to time; and some scholars believe that it included some who had never been in captivity at all, "but who were in full sympathy with the returnees."
It is amazing that Sheshbazzar to whom Cyrus' treasurer counted out the sacred vessels is not mentioned here; and it is not at all impossible, as suggested by Hamrick, that the author of Ezra here identified him and Zerubbabel as the same person.
Regardless of our questions, many of which are impossible of any perfect solution, these names are of abiding interest in their own right. These are the names of those who kept alive the sacred hope, who did not give up, even when it seemed that all was lost, and whose children lived to turn their backs upon their shameful humiliation in Babylon, cross the burning sands of the desert, and return to that sacred elevation in Jerusalem where they built again the altar of Jehovah and faithfully resumed the worship of the God of their fathers.
"This chapter is certainly among the most uninviting portions of the Bible for the modern reader both because of its tedious nature and because of its overtones of racial exclusivism and pride." However, the importance of the chapter lies in the evidence it presents concerning the development of that priestly heirarchy that came to be, in time, the total ruin of Israel.
THE LIST OF THE LEADERS
"Now these are the children of the province, that went up out of the captivity of those that had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezar the king of Babylon had carried away into Babylon, and that returned unto Jerusalem and Judah, everyone into his city; who came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, Baanah."
"The children of the province" (Ezra 2:1). "This expression indicates that the Jewish exiles, although now released from captivity and allowed to return to their own land, were nevertheless still under the sovereignty of Cyrus, occupying a tributary province of the Persian empire." This was a dramatic contrast with the glory days of David and Solomon.
"Who came with Zerubbabel" (Ezra 2:2). "Here Zerubbabel appears as the leader of the return to Jerusalem. The name means seed of Babylon, indicating that he was born there. He is usually described as the son of Shealtiel (Ezra 3:2); but 1 Chronicles 3:19 shows him to have been the son of Shealtiel's brother Pedaiah. Probably Shealtiel died childless, whereupon a Levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5ff) resulted in the birth of Zerubbabel, who was thus the actual son of Pedaiah but the legal son of Shealtiel."
A LIST OF WHAT MAY BE CALLED "THE LAITY"
"The number of the men of the people of Israel: the children of Parosh, two thousand a hundred seventy and two. The children of Shephatiah, three hundred seventy and two. The children of Arah, seven hundred seventy and five. The children of Pahath-moab, of the children of Jeshua and Joab, two thousand eight hundred and twelve. The children of Elam, a thousand two hundred fifty and four. The children of Zattu, nine hundred and forty and five. The children of Zaccai, seven hundred and threescore. The children of Bani, six hundred forty and two. The children of Babai, six hundred twenty and three. The children of Azgab, a thousand two hundred twenty and two. The children of Adonikam, six hundred sixty and six. The children of Bigvai, two thousand fifty and six. The children Adin, four hundred fifty and four. The children of Ater, of Hezekiah, ninety and eight. The children of Bezai, three hundred twenty and three. The children of Jorah, one hundred twelve. The children of Hashum, two hundred twenty and three. The children of Gibbar, ninety and five. The children of Bethlehem, a hundred twenty and three. The men of Netophah, fifty and six. The men of Anathoth, a hundred twenty and eight. The children of Azmaveth, forty and two. The children of Kiriath-arim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, seven hundred and forty three. The children of Ramah and Geba, six hundred twenty and one. The men of Michmas, a hundred twenty and two. The men of Bethel and Ai, two hundred three. The children of Nebo, fifty and two. The children of Magbish, a hundred fifty and six. The children of the other Elam, a thousand two hundred fifty and four. The children of Harim, three hundred and twenty. The children of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, seven hundred and twenty and five. The children of Jericho, three hundred forty and five. The children of Senaah, three thousand and six hundred and thirty."
"The children of Bethlehem, a hundred twenty and three" (Ezra 2:21). "Thus without any warning or transition, the list ceases to identify families by ancestors and begins to identify them by hometowns." "Why this was done remains most uncertain."
THE LIST OF THE PRIESTS WHO RETURNED
"The priests: the children of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, nine hundred seventy and three. The children of Immer, a thousand fifty and two. The children of Pashhur, a thousand two hundred forty and seven. The children of Harim, a thousand and seventeen."
It is very significant that the priests listed here numbered 4,287, a tenth of the entire number who returned. Why was this? "It reflects the fact that they had most to gain from it." Furthermore, "In the post-exilic period, there was a steady development of the priestly hierarchy," resulting finally in that godless concentration of evil men who controled and exploited the temple and all who worshipped there, who engineered the crucifixion of the Son of God, rebelled against Rome, and brought total ruin upon Jerusalem and their entire system.
THE LEVITES WHO RETURNED
"The Levites: The children of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the children of Hodaviah, seventy and four. The singers: the children of Asaph, a hundred twenty and eight. The children of the porters: the children of Shallum, the children of Ater, the children of Talmon, the children of Akkub, the children of Hatita, the children of Shobai, in all a hundred thirty and nine."
Only 341Levites returned to Palestine. Evidently, something important had happened during the closing years of the monarchy and during the captivity that had resulted in the wholesale discouragement and disaffection of the Levites. Rawlinson explained this as due to the, "Jealousy of the priests, like that which animated Korah (Numbers 16:1-10), must have grown up during the captivity." The priestly conclave had also succeeded in reducing the importance and significance of the Levites and their office, By the times of Christ, the High Priest and his hierarchy had seized complete control over the whole nation, except that of the secular government; and shortly after the crucifixion of Christ they would rebel against Rome in their vain attempt to make their control total. Right here we can detect the tap root of that priestly conspiracy that led to the final ruin of Israel.
Why then did so few Levites return? "It was because of the decrease in their significance during this period and because of their lower status."
THE NETHINIM WHO RETURNED
"The Nethinim: the children of Ziha, the children of Hasupha, the children of Tabbaoth, the children of Keilos, the children of Siaha, the children of Padon, the children of Lebanah, the children of Hagabah, the children of Akkub, the children of Hagab, the children of Shamlai, the children Hanan, the children of Gibbel, the children of Gahar, the children of Reaiah, the children of Rezin, the children of Nekoda, the children of Gazzam, the children of Uzza, the children of Paseah, the children of Besai, the children of Asnah, the children of Meunim, the children of Nephisim, the children of Bakbuk, the children of Hakupha, the children of Harhur, the children of Bazluth, the children of Mehida, the children of Harsha, the children of Barkos, the children of Sisera, the children of Temah, the children of Nezeiah, the children of Hatipha."
"The Nethinim" (Ezra 2:43). "The name comes from a Hebrew expression which means, `given as helpers,' that is, bondmen of the temple." Cook also referred to these as, "The sacred slaves given to assist the Levites." However, Williamson believed that, "The name might mean no more than devoted." To this writer, the more likely meaning is that given by Cook. This is supported by the prominence of foreign names in the list, names connected with the ancient Canaanites, and also by their being classified with the "children of Solomon's servants" (Ezra 2:55), who were most certainly slaves. A plausible theory, supported by the considerable number of foreign names, is that they were prisoners of war allocated to the temple for the more mundane tasks."
THE REST OF THE NETHINIM
"The children of Solomon's servants: the children of Sotai, the children of Hassophereth, the children of Peruda, the children of Jaalah, the children of Darkon, the children of Giddel, the children of Shephatiah, the children of Hattil, the children of Pochereth-hazebaim, the children of Anti. All the Nethinim, and the children of Solomon's servants, were three hundred ninety and two."
SOME WERE PUT OUT OF THE PRIESTHOOD
"And these were they that went up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addan, and Immer; but they could not show their fathers' houses, and their seed, whether they were of Israel: the children of Delaiah, the children of Tobiah, the children of Nekoda, six hundred fifty and two. And the children of the priests: the children of Ha-baiah, the children of Kakoz, the children of Barzillai the Gileaditc, and was called after their name. These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they deemed polluted and put from the priesthood. And the governor said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummin."
"The children of Barzillai the Gileadite" (Ezra 2:61). Barzillai, of course, was the famous friend of David who aided him during the rebellion of Absalom, a man of great wealth. Barzillai was not a priest; but his children, probably by his daughters who had married priests, and who therefore were indeed true sons of the priests; but they had retained the famous name of their distinguished ancestor. The priests, of course, intent on restricting everyone possible from joining their company, rejected their claims. The governor decided against them.
It is not exactly clear what the governor meant. There is no proof whatever that the Urim and Thummin survived the captivity, or for that matter, even the repeated sack of the temple; so what he might have meant was, that it would take a direct act of God to put the sons of Barzillai in the priesthood.
The heartless pride and arrogance of the Jewish priesthood are dearly visible here. "Concern for pedigree and purity can easily turn to pride and superiority; and this trend was tragically exemplified by many of the community's later descendants."
The Sadducees and Pharisees of the times of Christ prided themselves upon the purity of their descent from Abraham, supposing that their kinship with the patriarch alone would assure them of eternal life. How wrong they were! John the Baptist had warned them that God was "Able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham" (Matthew 3:9); and Paul thundered the verdict in the ears of the nation that, "They are not all Israel who are of Israel" (Romans 9:6); but, alas, pride and arrogance can blind the eyes and harden the hearts of all who thus delude themselves.
A SUMMARY OF ALL THOSE WHO RETURNED
"The whole assembly together was forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore, besides their men-servants and their maid-servants, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty and seven: and they had two hundred singing men and singing women. Their horses were seven hundred thirty and six; their mules two hundred forty and five; their camels, four hundred thirty and five; their asses, six thousand seven hundred and twenty."
"The numbers given earlier in the chapter add up to twelve thousand less than the total of 42,380 given in this verse. Reckoning up the smaller numbers we have 29,818 as given here and 31,089 as given in the parallel in Nehemiah. Ezra mentions 491 not mentioned by Nehemiah; and Nehemiah mentions 1765 not given in Ezra. If we add Ezra's 491 to Nehemiah's total and Nehemiah's 1765 to Ezra's total, they both equal 31,583, which is a deficiency of exactly 10,777."
They may have been left out, either because they were not members of Abraham's posterity, and from the Jewish viewpoint therefore did not count. There is also the possibility that these were women, the wives of the returnees.
"Two hundred singing men and singing women" (Ezra 2:65). "These were not singers appointed for use in the worship but musicians retained by the wealthy for their entertainment." Significantly, they were not listed as part of the assembly but along with other properties, the horses, mules and camels. Whitcomb thought that these singers were, "Hired by the Israelites for festivities and lamentations." However, Hamrick, and others, insist that, "They were slaves maintained for the entertainment of the rich."
"This catalogue of the property that Israel brought back to Palestine indicates the general poverty and low estate of the returnees. They had but one slave and one ass for every six of their number, one horse to every sixty, one camel to every hundred, and one mule to every one hundred and seventy and five."
CONTRIBUTIONS MADE TOWARD REBUILDING THE TEMPLE
"And some of the heads of fathers' houses, when they came to the house of Jehovah which is in Jerusalem, offered willingly for the house of God to set it up in its place: they gave after their ability into the treasury of the work threescore and one thousand darics of gold, and five thousand pounds of silver, and one hundred priests garments. So the priests and the Levites and some of the people, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinim, dwelt in their cities, and all Israel in their cities."
"Threescore and one thousand darics of gold" (Ezra 2:69). During the years when this writer was in college, the radical critics were shouting to high heaven that, "The daric was a Greek coin that could not possibly have been current in Palestine until after the conquests of Alexander the Great. And upon the basis of their false allegations declared that Ezra, Nehemiah and the Chronicles could not possibly have been written prior to 250 B.C."
"Archaeological evidence now shows that the Attic (Greek) drachma (the daric of this passage) was in use as a standard coin in Palestine from the middle of the fifth century B.C. and afterward. Archaeologists have actually unearthed spedmens of these coins near Jerusalem; and this daric became the official Jewish coinage, and specimens inscribed with the Aramaic name of Judah have been discovered."
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezra 2". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent