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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

Ezra 2

Verses 1-35

Ezra - Chapter 2

Returning Families, Verses 1-35

Ezra - Chapter 2, relates the families who were carried captive from, Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in the exile, whose descendants chose to return to Jerusalem under the decree issued by Cyrus. Verse 2 records that they returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel, who was the grandson of Jeconiah, the king of Judah, who also was carried away captive. Presumably Zerubbabel would have been king had there been still a Jewish kingdom.

The mention of Zerubbabel here as the Jewish leader, while Sheshbazzar is said to have been their leader in Ezra 1:8 has provoked controversy among the commentators. Attempts have been made to show that Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel are the same person, the first name being that given the prince by the Babylonians and the second being his Hebrew name. There is not much evidence to support this position. That there were two different princes involved is not to be considered unlikely, although Sheshbazzar is scarcely mentioned later, and Zerubbabel becomes the governor of the people. Perhaps the position of some that Sheshbazzar led an initial emigration, followed by a larger second group under Zerubbabel is the best explanation.

Of the many names listed here in these verses it is impossible to identify any persons of prominence elsewhere in the Scriptures. It is to be noted that they are not the names of those who returned, but the names of their fathers who were carried away by Nebuchadnezzar in the dispersions some seventy years earlier. Not all the returnees are listed by the family of their fathers. Verses 21 through 35 list the people by towns and cities from which their fathers came. Probably all those in the first twenty verses had come from Jerusalem.

The number of souls from each family or town is given, the largest being the family of Pahath-moab, two thousand eight hundred and twelve (v. 5), and the fewest being the twenty-eight men of Anathoth (v. 23).

It should also be noted from verse 2 that there were ten other chief men who joined Zerubbabel in the leadership of the emigrants. Of these Jeshua is surely to be identified with the high priest, prominently mentioned in the Books of Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah as well as Ezra. His name is also written "Joshua." Of the other names none is further identifiable, though they were prominent names of the times. Nehemiah is not to be thought the same as the nobleman who rebuilt the walls, for he did not arrive in Jerusalem until some ninety years later. Neither is there any evidence that Mordecai is the same person as the cousin of Queen Esther, who came to prominence as the prime minister of Persia about forty years later.

Verses 36-54

Priests and Levites, Verses 36-54

The families of those who were to officiate at the rebuilt temple

and its service are named separately in the verses above. They are broken down into families of priests, Levites, singers, porters, Nethinim. Jeshua represented the family of Jedaiah, who was carried away in the captivity. lie will be the high priest when the temple is erected again. Over three thousand souls belonged to the families of the returning priests.

The families of the Levites are subdivided into the singers, porters, and Nethinim. The family of the famous father of the singers and great psalmist of David’s time, Asaph, are well represented, to the number of one hundred twenty-eight. The porter’s families numbered one hundred thirty-nine souls. There were more of the children of the Nethinim, or temple servants. They are listed in verses 43 through 54, but their numbers are not given. They were doubtless considered a less prestigious group than the regular orders of the Levites.

The name "Nethinim" comes from the word, na-than, meaning "gift, or dedication." Thus it indicated those appointed to the service of the Lord’s house. At first this was the sole occupation of the Levites, but as captives were taken in the wars of conquest, some were dedicated to the service of the priests. These took over the menial tasks. The Midianites (Numbers 31:47) were probably the earliest. Later the Gibeonites were also assigned to the tabernacle, but Saul had almost exterminated them (1 Samuel 22:19; 2 Samuel 21:2), so that it is doubtful that many of them remained. It is also likely that many individuals were given by parents, or dedicated themselves, to this service.

Verses 55-63

Special Groups, Vs. 55-63

The first special group listed are called Solomon’s servants. These people were non-Israelites, probably descendants of the Canaanites who were never exterminated from the land by Israel. "They were the descendants of the Canaanites who were reduced by Solomon to the helot state, and compelled to labor in the king’s stone-quarries and in building his palaces and cities . ...They appear to have formed a distinct order, inheriting probably the same functions and the same skill as their ancestors. (See Smith, William; A Dictionary of the Bible, page 645.) The Scriptural account of this is to be found in 2 Kings 9:20-23; 2 Chronicles 8:7-8.

The total number of the Nethinim and Solomon’s servants was three hundred and ninety-two souls.

People from five places in Persia, mentioned next, formed an unique group. They were in a deplorable condition. They counted themselves to be genuine Israelites, some of them even of priestly family, but they could not locate their genealogical record with the others. Some of them even claimed to be of the family of Barzillai, the great friend of David, who succored him in his flight from Absalom (2 Samuel 17:27-29; 2 Samuel 19:31-40; 1 Kings 2:7). These were descended from a daughter of Barzillai and claimed his lineage. Yet they were unable to prove their ancestry, and so were not accepted as genuine Israelites.

Those claiming to be of priestly descent were barred from that position, for fear they might pollute the office. It was decided they could not participate until such time as the priest was able to inquire by the Urim and Thummim to determine their legitimacy. The Urim and Thummim had been provided in the high priest’s paraphernalia for the purpose of inquiring for the Lord’s will in a matter (Exodus 28:30). It is not known what the difficulty in making such an inquiry was at this time. It may be the stones had been lost, and they were waiting for the Lord to provide others, or it may be, since the transgressions of the people before the exile, the Lord had not shown His will through the Urim and Thummim.

The Trshatha was the Persian title for the governor, who at this time seems to have been Zerubbabel. Nehemiah, in later years, was the Tirshatha of Judea.

Verses 64-70

Numbers and Gifts, Verses 64-70

Those returning to Judah had seven thousand three hundred thirty­-seven servants and maids. Added to their total of forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty makes a grand total of forty-nine thousand six hundred and ninety-seven. This was a very small number as compared with the many who had been carried out of Judah and Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, but was in keeping with the predictions of the prophets that only a very small remnant would return. This is somewhat surprising otherwise, for the Jews grieved and mourned when they were taken away, living always in hope of returning. However, when the opportunity came to return the vast majority were unwilling, for they had become quite prosperous in their land of exile. To return to their homl:land would entail great hardships in travel and in settlement.

There are mentioned two hundred singing men and women among the servants and maids who were with them. The animals to carry the people and their burdens consisted of horses, mules, camels, and donkeys. There was a total of eight thousand one hundred thirty-six animals, of which over six thousand were donkeys. This must have been a noisy caravan, to say nothing of the vast amount of fodder and grain these would consume on such a journey.

When they had reached Jerusalem they gave of their substance

for the building of the house of God, according to their ability. The gold amounted to a present-day value of about $16,470,000; the silver to about $1,820,000. When the formalities of their arrival were finished the people settled into their cities and towns.

Lessons to be noted are: 1) The Lord preserved the Jews by their distinctive families in the captivity; 2) the Lord always has those of His special ministers to lead in His worship; 3) one must possess the right qualifications to be a part of God’s people (Matthew 7:21-23); 4) those willing to suffer hardship in the Lord’s cause are a small minority.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Ezra 2". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/ezra-2.html. 1985.