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THE NUMBER OF THOSE WHO RETURNED FROM CAPTIVITY WITH ZERUBBABEL, AND THE NAMES OF THE CHIEFS (Ezra 2:1-64). It has been argued that the whole of this chapter is out of place here, and has been transferred hither from Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:6-73), where it occupies its rightful position (Bishop A. Hervey). According to this view, the list is one embodying the results of the census made by Nehemiah, not a list of those who returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel But it seems strange that such a theory should ever have been seriously maintained, since not only does Ezra declare the list to be a catalogue of those "which came with Zerubbabel" (verse 2), but Nehemiah himself warns us that it is "a register of the genealogy of them which came up at the first" (Nell 7.5). The Jews, like other Semitic races, especially the Arabs, set great store by their genealogies; and, to secure a sound basis for these in the restored community, it was essential that a correct record should be kept of the families by which the state was re-established. Already there was a large number of Jews among the captives "which could not show their father's house, or their pedigree, whether they were of Israel" (verse 59). It was essential, according to Jewish ideas, that such ignorance should, at the least, be arrested, and not spread through the nation. Hence the elaborate genealogies with which the first Book of Chronicles opens (1Ch. 1-8), and hence also the present list.
The list may be divided into ten parts:—
1. Enumeration of the leaders (verse 2).
2. Numbers of those who returned, arranged according to families (verses 3-19).
3. Numbers of those who returned, arranged according to localities (verses 20-35).
4. Numbers of the priests, arranged according to families (verses 36-39).
5. Numbers of the Levites, arranged similarly (verses 40-42).
6. Families of the Nethinim (verses 43-54).
7. Families of "Solomon's servants" (verses 55-57).
8. Number of these last two classes together (verse 58).
9. Account of those who could not show their genealogy (verses 59-63).
10. General summation (verse 64).
These are the children of the province. i.e. of Judaea, which was a province of Persia, distinguished here from Babylon, which was one of the capitals—a mode of speech indicating the foreign standpoint of Ezra. Unto Jerusalem and Judah, every one unto his city. Jerusalem was not the only site occupied by the people on their return. Many took up their abodes in the neighbouring towns and villages, such as Jericho, Tekoah, Gibeon, Mizpah, Zanoah, etc. (see Nehemiah 3:2-19, and Nehemiah 7:20-35). These were chiefly persons whose families had belonged to those places.
Zerubbabel, Jesbua, etc. In the corresponding verse of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:7) there are twelve names, one of which (it is probable) has accidentally fallen out here. The twelve are reasonably regarded as either the actual heads of the twelve tribes, or at any rate as representing them. Notwithstanding the small number among the returned exiles who belonged to other tribes than those of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, there was a manifest wish on the part of the chiefs to regard the return as in some sort that of all the tribes (see Ezra 2:70; Ezra 6:17; Ezra 8:35, etc.). The number of the men. The lists in Nehemiah and the apocryphal Esdras differ in many details, and furnish strong evidence of the corruption to which numbers are liable from the mistakes of copyists, and the facility of error when there is no check from the context. Of the forty-two numbers here given by Ezra (verses 3-60), as many as eighteen differ from the corresponding numbers in Nehemiah. The difference, however, is mostly small; and even the sum of the differences is trivial (see comment on verse 64).
The children of Gibbar. For "Gibbar" we should probably read "Gibeon," which occurs in the corresponding passage of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:25). The writer at this point passes from persons to places, making the latter portion of his list topographical. Gibeon was a well-known town in Benjamin (Joshua 18:25). Other Benjamite towns in the list are Anathoth, Ramah, Gabs, Michmas, Bethel, and Jericho. It would seem that the descendants of the captives carried off from these places retained a traditional knowledge of the locality to which they belonged.
The priests. Four priestly families went up with Zerubbabel. Of these, three traced their descent to persons who had been heads of the priestly courses in the reign of David, viz; Jedaiah, Immer, and Hardin (1Ch 24:7, 1 Chronicles 24:8, 1 Chronicles 24:14). The other family had for founder a priest named Pashur, who was not otherwise distinguished. The numbers assigned to the priests by Ezra are identical with those in Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:39-42). Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua. To whose house, that is, Jeshua, the existing high priest, belonged. Hence, no doubt, the precedency given to the house of Jedaiah, which numerically was the least important.
The Levites. The non-priestly Levites are divided into three classes:—
1. Ordinary Levites (Ezra 2:40);
2. Choral Levites (Ezra 2:41);
and Levites descended from those who had had the charge of the temple gates (Ezra 2:42). Compare 1 Chronicles 24:20-31; 1 Chronicles 25:1-31; and 1 Chronicles 26:1-19. Of the first class, only two families seem to have returned—those of Jeshua and Kadmiel, both of which traced their descent to a certain Hodaviah, or Judah (Ezra 3:9).
The singers, the children of Asaph. See 2 Chronicles 25:1. It is remarkable that no descendants of either Heman or Jeduthun (ibid.) took part in the return.
The porters. Six families of doorkeepers returned; three of which bear old names, those of Shallum, Talmon, and Akkub (1 Chronicles 9:17), while the other three have names that are new to us. One hundred and thirty-nine. The smallness of this and the two preceding numbers is remarkable. While the returning priests numbered 4289, the returning Levites of all classes were no more than 341 (350, Nehemiah). It would seem as if some jealousy of the priests, like that which animated Korah and his followers (Numbers 16:1-10), must have grown up during the captivity (comp. below, Ezra 8:15).
The Nethiaims. See note on 1 Chronicles 9:2.
Solomon's servants. Solomon formed the remnant of the Canaanitish population which survived at his day into a separate servile class, which he employed in forced labours (1 Kings 9:20, 1 Kings 9:21). It would seem that the descendants of these persons, having been carried into captivity by the Chaldaeans, continued to form a distinct class, and had become attached to the sacerdotal order, as a body of hieroduli inferior even to the Nethinims. We may account for their special mention at this time by the importance of their services, when such a work as that of rebuilding the temple was about to be taken in hand.
Tel-melah is probably the Thelme of Ptolemy ('Geograph.,' 5.20), a city of Lower Babylonia, situated in the salt tract near the Persian Gulf. Hence the name, which means "Hill of Salt." Cherub is no doubt Ptolemy's Chiripha, which was in the same region. The other places here mentioned are unknown to us, but probably belonged to the same tract of country. Tel-Harsa means "Hill of the Wood." They could not show their father's house. It is more surprising that so many of the returning exiles had preserved their genealogies than that a certain number had omitted to do so. Considering the duration of the exile, its hardships, and the apparent improbability of a restoration, there could have been no cause for wonder if the great majority had forgotten their descent.
Of the children of the priests. Some of those who claimed to be descendants of Aaron, and therefore priests, had also lost the evidence of their descent. This loss was held to disqualify them from the exercise of the priestly office (Ezra 2:62).
The Tirshatha. As "Shesh-bazzar" was the Babylonian name of Zerub-babel (Ezra 1:8), so "the Tirshatha" seems to have been his Persian title. The word is probably a participial form from tars or tarsa, "to fear," and means literally "the Feared." It is used only by Ezra and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:65; Nehemiah 8:9). Haggai calls Zerubbabel uniformly pechah, "governor (Haggai 1:1, Haggai 1:14; Haggai 2:2, Haggai 2:21). They should not eat of the most holy things. The priests' portion of the offerings, called "most holy" in Le Haggai 2:2, Haggai 2:10, is intended. Of this no "stranger" might eat (Leviticus 22:10). Till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim. Zerubbabel evidently expected that the power of obtaining direct answers from God by means of the Urim and Thummim, whatever they were (see note on Exodus 28:30), which had existed in the pre-captivity Church, would be restored when the Church was re-established in its ancient home. The doubt whether the families of Habaiah and Coz (or Haccoz) belonged to the priestly class or no might then be resolved. But Zerubbabel's expectation was disappointed. The gift of Urim and Thum-mira, forfeited by disobedience, was never recovered.
The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore. Ezra's numbers, as given in detail (verses 3-60), produce when added together a total of only 29,818; Nehemiah's items (Nehemiah 7:8-62) give a total of 31,089; those of the apocryphal Esdras a total of 33,950. The three authorities agree, however, in their summation, all alike declaring that the actual number of those who returned with Zerubbabel was 42,360. Esdras adds that children under twelve years of age are not included. If this were so, the entire number must have exceeded 50,000—an enormous body of persons to transport a distance of above a thousand miles, according to Western experience, but one which will not surprise those acquainted with the East. In the East caravans of from ten to twenty thousand souls often traverse huge distances without serious mishap, and migrations frequently take place on a much grander scale. In the year 1771, 50,000 families of Torgouths, reckoned to number 300,000 souls, arrived on the frontiers of China, after a journey of 10,000 leagues through a most difficult country, and were given lands in the Chinese empire. They were followed in the next year by 180,000 Eleuths and others, who had accomplished a similar distance. Jenghis Khan is said to have forced 100,000 artisans and craftsmen to emigrate in a body from Khiva into Mongolia. The transplantation of entire nations was an established practice among the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians.
THE NUMBER OF THE SLAVES, HORSES, MULES, CAMELS, AND ASSES OF THOSE WHO RETURNED (Ezra 2:65-67). It may seem strange that matters of this trivial character should be recorded with such exactness in Holy Writ; but enumerations similar in character are not unfrequent (see Genesis 23:14, Genesis 23:15; 2 Chronicles 17:11; Job 42:12). They may perhaps be viewed as teaching the lesson that with God nothing is too trivial for exact knowledge, even "all the hairs of our head" being "numbered" (Matthew 10:30). In the present passage the enumeration is not altogether without a further historical value, since it is indicative of the general poverty and low estate of the returning exiles, who had but one slave and one ass to every six of their number, one horse to every sixty, one camel to every hundred, and one mule to every one hundred and seventy-five.
Two hundred singing men and singing women. Nehemiah says two hundred and forty-five, and so the apocryphal Esdras. Perhaps, in the great default of Levites, the services of these persons may have been used to swell the sacred choruses of the time (Ezra 3:10). Hence, it may be, the mention of this otherwise unimportant fact.
Their asses. The ass (we see) is still, as in the earlier times, the chief beast of burden employed by the Israelites. Horses are rare, camels and mules still rarer; but most emigrant families had, it would seem, one ass.
sted, and into which they will never enter.
V. THAT AT SUCH TIDIES SPIRITUAL THINGS ARE RESTORED TO THEIR RIGHTFUL SERVICE (verse 7). The vessels of God were brought from the heathen temple and given to the returning Jews. In times of religious revival money, talents, children, all are brought from the possession of sin and placed in the service of God. Heaven now proclaims liberty to the captive!—E.
The last chapter gave us a catalogue of the sacred vessels returned. In that portion of the present chapter which concludes with the above verses we have a similar catalogue of the sacred people returned (see Lamentations 4:2). The first verse seems to show us where this catalogue was made out, viz; in the land of their exile, where Judaea was constantly spoken of as "the province" (comp. Ezra 5:8; Nehemiah 1:3; Nehemiah 11:3). If the nearly identical catalogue which Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:5) describes himself as having found at Jerusalem, about 103 years afterwards, were the same catalogue as corrected and laid up after the arrival of the exiles at Jerusalem, this might account for the various minor differences which are discoverable between them. Many enrolled to start might never start, or never arrive; some not enrolled to start might join afterwards and be enrolled then. At any rate it is easier to suppose something of this kind than to suppose, in connection with such careful and formal documents of state, so many glaring "mistakes." See also the very curious coincidences with regard to numbers in this case adduced by Wordsworth in loc.; coincidences hardly to be accounted for except on the supposition of some secret but perfect method of numerical reconciliation. We may take the catalogue before us, therefore, very much as it stands. Not improbably, according to its own methods of interpretation, it is quite correct as it stands. Can we regard it as being also instructive from a moral point of view? Perhaps if we merely regard it in a general way, and as setting before our notice, first, the kind of men, and second, the number of men, that came up, we shall find even this apparently barren Scripture not without some sacred use to us. Some lessons can also be gathered from the very names we find here.
I. THE KIND OF MEN THAT CAME UP. They appear to have been men, in the main, loving the old state of things. They were conservatives, e.g; in politics, keeping still, in the person of Zerubbabel as their chief civil ruler, to the ancient dynasty, that of David. They are also thought by some, comparing the names in verse 2 with the probably correcter account in Nehemiah 7:7, and with Ezra 6:17; 1 Kings 18:31, to have shown the same spirit touching the ancient twelve-fold "constitution" of Israel. In Church matters, again, so to call them, the returning exiles showed their strong respect for precedents and the past by submitting to Jeshua as chief priest (see 2 Kings 25:18-21; 1 Chronicles 6:15; Haggai 1:1, Haggai 1:14). Also we see another branch of this Church conservatism of theirs in the especial importance attached by them to the question of genealogy. While, further yet, on this last-mentioned matter, the only proposal made for settling the doubts that beset it was by an ancient method again (verse 63). Nor is it altogether unworthy of remark in this connection that they also appear to have been men showing great attachment to race and place, and assembling together for their proposed return to Jerusalem in family groups. In most cases these groups are described as "the children" of some one man. This is the case of 1 Kings 18:1-17, and again of 1 Kings 18:33-35. In other cases (1 Kings 18:18-33) the groups are described as being connected with particular towns, which, considering how necessarily near of kin all Israelitish fellow-townsmen had formerly been, comes to much the same thing (see Numbers 36:7; 1 Kings 21:3). All the priests also who returned amongst them are in similar groups, being all described as belonging to four "courses" or family lines (1 Kings 18:36-39). The same kind of thing, again, is true of the Levites (1 Kings 18:40-42), and even of those Nethinims and children of Solomon's servants who appear to have been the "hewers of wood" and "drawers of water" for the congregation at large. A strong "clannish" spirit, a great desire to be and do as in" the old times before them," seems to have prevailed among all; the same spirit which afterwards degenerated into that false conservatism, the conservatism of mere human traditions (comp. Jeremiah 6:16 and Jeremiah 18:15), found in Pharisaism and Rabbinism. Meanwhile, however, and while still uncorrupted, it made them just the men for their work: returned refugees, not colonists; men called upon merely to rebuild and restore, and not, like Moses before and the apostles of Christ after them, to devise and create.
II. The NUMBER of those who returned is also worthy of note. They were only a few, all told; some 50,000, of all sorts, including, so it would seem from comparing the items, about 10,000 souls of some kind not mentioned in the detailed catalogue. How different from the 600,000 "that were men," beside women and children and many others, that had come up out of Egypt so many generations previously! How many others must have been left behind (as some indication of the state of things on this point, see Esther 9:16)! Counting also by the number of families or groups that returned, what are thirty-five, the whole number mentioned here, out of the many thousands of Israel! Moreover, a comparison of this chapter with what we read in 1 Kings 8:1-66. of such names as Pharosh, Pahath-Moab, Adin, Shephatiah, and others, shows that all the members even of these thirty-five families did not come back at the first. So also, although the proportion of priests returning was very considerable (about one tenth of the whole), only four courses out of the twenty-four (1 Kings 8:36-39; 1 Chronicles 24:1-31.) were represented among them; whilst some 341 Levites of all three descriptions, as against 38,000 in David's time, and some 392 Nethinims and others, comprised in forty-five groups, complete the catalogue given, except of cases of doubt. Yet even these few appear to be many, viewed from a different point. Of beasts of burden of all kinds they had rather more than 9000 amongst them (about one to every six travellers); but of these only 736 were horses; and of camels, the animals so especially required by them in the desert journey before them, there were only 435—a very different proportion indeed to that which we read of in Genesis 24:10, where ten camels appear to have been provided for one traveller's use. Altogether it may well be questioned whether caravans of greater apparent importance in every way do not annually cross the deserts of the East without leaving any visible trace behind them on the history of the day. The secret of the difference was in the "blessing" that went with them. In those holy vessels, in the duty before them, and in the presence among them of the prophets and priests of Jehovah, and of the ancestor of the coming Saviour, they were indeed "bearing precious seed" (Psalms 126:6). That being so, their small number was just the proper one for God's use; sufficient to form a nucleus and make a beginning, but not sufficient to give them the appearance of being more than instruments in his hands (comp. Judges 7:2, Judges 7:4; and in connection with the very people and time we are speaking of, Zechariah 4:6).
III. A word or two may be added, finally, as to the special NAMES we find here. It cannot surely be a mere coincidence that we find this second entrance into Canaan, this return from Babylonian captivity, headed (ecclesiastically) by one bearing the greatest of Jewish names. Are not such truths as we find in Psalms 68:18; Acts 7:45; Colossians 2:15, etc. pointed to here by this name of Jeshua? See further, as to the typical relation between this "Jeshua" and the man Christ "Jesus," Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:11-13, etc. Also let the name of Bethlehem in verse 21 of this chapter be noted. Was not the fact there recorded, the return, viz; of certain Bethlehemites to their ancestral home in Judah, one step in the many steps taken to fulfil the prophecy of Micah 5:2, and to make this town of Bethlehem in after ages the exact spot where heaven came nearest to earth? When we remember, indeed, yet further, as before noted, that we have in the name of Zerubbabel the name of a direct ancestor of Messiah himself (Matthew 1:13,Matthew 1:16), as also what we read in Hebrews 7:9, Hebrews 7:10, can we not, in these three names of Jeshua, Zerubbabel, and Bethlehem, prophetically see the Lord Jesus himself leading his people back to their land? And can we not also, in the march of that little company, as it were, hear the very sound of his feet? How true, therefore, and how much to be remembered by us, what we read of as declared on this subject by apostles, by angels, by himself (Joh 5:1-47 :89, John 5:46; Acts 10:43; Revelation 19:10).
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
Ezra 2:1, Ezra 2:2
The restoration of Israel.
This is an important subject. Great portion of Scripture occupied with it. Events of the utmost moment connected with it.
I. AS THE SCATTERING OF ISRAEL WAS GRADUAL, SO MAY HIS GATHERING BE.
1. His tribes became distributed into two kingdoms.
(1) United until the evil days of Rehoboam (see 1 Kings 12:20).
(2) Thence distinguished as Judah and Israel. Under the name of Judah is comprehended also the small tribe of Benjamin, with priests and others of the tribe of Levi.
2. The ten tribes were first carried captive by the Assyrians. This was in two detachments.
(1) By Tiglath-pileser, b.c. 739 (see 2 Kings 15:29).
(2) By Shalmaneser eighteen years later, when the deportation was complete (see 2 Kings 17:6, 2 Kings 17:18).
3. The Jews were afterwards carried away to Babylon. This was 130 years later, and was also accomplished in two detachments, viz.—
(1) That, b.c. 599, when Nebuchadnezzar removed the principal people (see 2 Kings 24:14).
(2) That eleven years later, when the remnant was removed (see 2 Kings 25:11).
(3) Then, six centuries later, came the dispersion by the Romans. Prophecy views the scattering as a whole, without breaking it up into its details, and so it views the restoration; and as the scattering was accomplished at long intervals by instalments, so may the gathering be.
II. THIS RESTORATION BY EZRA WAS NOT THE FULL ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE PROPHECIES.
1. The ten tribes were not included in it.
(1) They were the "children of the province." Not of Babylon, as some think, for Babylon is contrasted with it here. But of Judaea, now a province of the Persian empire (see Ezra 5:8). Behold the goodness and severity of God!
(2) Further specified as "those whom Nebuchadnezzar carried away." No mention made of those before carried into Assyria.
(3) Further, as "the number of the men of the people of Israel." Given in detail in this chapter. Here we find children of Judah, of Benjamin, of Levi and the priests, and even of the Gibeonites, but no mention of Ephraim and his associates.
(4) But the restoration of the ten tribes is promised (see Ezekiel 11:15-17). (What a rebuke to those who repeat this conduct of Judah in exclusively claiming for themselves as Christians the promises made to Israel!) Therefore there is yet a grand restoration for Israel.
2. This restoration did not reunite the divided nation.
(1) This fact already shown.
(2) But prophecy requires this (see Ezekiel 37:21, Ezekiel 37:22). "Therefore," etc.
3. This restoration was not permanent.
(1) Even the Jews were subsequently scattered by the Romans. Have since been kept scattered by Romanists and Mahomedans.
(2) But prophecy requires this (see Jeremiah 31:10; Ezekiel 34:27, Ezekiel 34:28; Amos 9:14, Amos 9:15). "Therefore," etc.
III. THIS RESTORATION WAS A PLEDGE OF THE GREATER EVENT.
1. It answered great purposes of prophecy.
(1) Those connected with the incarnation. To take place while the tribe-rod was yet with Judah (see Genesis 49:10). While the family of David yet had their genealogies; while yet they dwelt near Bethlehem (see Micah 5:2).
(2) Those connected with the atonement. Jerusalem the place of sacrifices. Zion the place from whence the gospel law should issue (see Isaiah 2:3; Joel 2:32).
2. There is a prophecy in accomplished predictions.
(1) The preservation of the Jews amongst the nations. Without a parallel in history. What for (see Jeremiah 30:11)? "Full end" of Assyria, Babylon, Rome. Anti-christian nations doomed.
(2) History of the land as remarkable as that of the people. No permanent settlers. Romans, Greeks, Saracens, Papists, Turks!
3. The Jews expect their restoration.
(1) Good reason, for the word is sure.
(2) Their faith is patient. Centuries of disappointment. Is our faith so patient under trials?—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
What signifies to us, it may be asked, the exact number of the children of Parosh and Shephatiah (Ezra 2:3, Ezra 2:4)? What does it signify to us that the heads of the returning families bore such and such a name? Why record this? What is—
I. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS RECORD OF NAMES AND NUMBERS? The pains which the children of Israel took to keep a strict record of their families in Persia may have been
(a) an act of faith: it may have been the expression of their belief that God's word of promise spoken by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1)would be fulfilled, and that the hour would come when they or their children would lay claim to their ancestral inheritance. Or it may have been
(b) a habit of obedience, which itself is suggestive enough. It was the will of their Divine Sovereign that everything, however minute, which pertained to his people should be scrupulously cared for. Nothing was unimportant that pertained to the people of God. It was worth while to chronicle every birth in every household of every family of every tribe of the holy nation. It was important to count every head of every division and rank of those who came out of Babylon, the "ransomed of the Lord." This striking particularity has no little interest to us. Things which the great and good among men would overlook as unimportant, are accounted not unworthy of regard by the Highest and the Best One. He who redeems us from a worse captivity than that of Babylon, and leads us to a better heritage than the earthly Jerusalem, counts everything of consequence that relates to his redeemed ones. He writes their names in the palms of his hand; he counts their tears; he hears their sighs; he orders their steps. Not one is overlooked; every name is entered in the book of life; every liberated soul has a place in the heart of the Redeemer.
II. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LOSS OF THE RECORD (verses 59, 62, 63). "These could not show their father's house, and their seed, whether they were of Israel" (verse 59). "These sought their register .... but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood," etc. (verses 62, 63).
(a) Some of the Jews had not taken sufficient pains to prove that they were of the people of God.
(b) Others, who believed themselves (rightly, no doubt) to be descendants of Aaron had lost their register; perhaps some of these may have more cared to claim and prove descent from the "honourable" house of Barzillai (verse 61), esteeming such secular rank of greater value than the more sacred lineage. The descendants of both of these classes suffered through their neglect; the latter more particularly, for they were separated from the priesthood for an uncertain and, as it turned out, an indefinitely long period. The retention of our claim to be of the "Israel of God," or to be of those who" minister in holy things" in the gospel of Jesus Christ, does not depend on any documentary evidence; no revolutions here can affect the roll that is "written in heaven;" but carelessness about our own spiritual life, negligence in the worship of God, inattention to the claims of our spirit, indifference to the work and the want of other souls—this may lead to our name being "blotted out from the book of life," or to our being counted all unworthy to "speak in the temple the words of this life" to others.
III. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PAUCITY OF THEIR NUMBER (verse 64). "The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and three score." Counting children they may have amounted to 50,000. This was but a small number compared with that of the exodus from Egypt, a feeble nucleus of a renewed nation! But the slenderness of their number was fitted
(a) to bind them the more to the service of God, and
(b) to knit them together in closer bonds of union.
A small number, devoted to Christ and united to one another, is far more powerful than an undevout and inharmonious multitude.
IV. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SCANTINESS OF THEIR RESOURCES (verses 65-67). Their "servants and maids," and their "singing men and singing women" (verse 65), their "horses and mules" (verse 66), their "camels and asses" (verse 67), made but a small show of property for the ransomed people. Doubtless there were amongst them men "well to do," if not wealthy. But the greater part of the rich members of the community remained behind. They who had the most to lose were least likely to accept the invitation to go up to Jerusalem. They who had least to leave behind them were most easily convinced of the wisdom of returning. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven." "Blessed be ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven."—C.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The privileges of the priesthood.
We are here forcibly reminded—
I. THAT THE PRIESTHOOD HAD ITS PRIVILEGES. These were—
1. They were sanctified to the service of God.
(1) Distinguished from the tribes whose inheritance was in the soil (see Numbers 18:20).
(2) Distinguished among the Levites. They were sons of Aaron. Were served by the Levites. While they served in the holy places, at the altar, within the veil (see Numbers 18:7).
2. They ate of the most holy things.
(1) As Levites, they had tithes from the nation.
(2) As priests, they had tithes from the Levites (Numbers 18:20, Numbers 18:21, Numbers 18:26-28).
(3) They partook of the altar (see Le Ezra 6:16, 26; Ezra 7:6, etc.).
(4) They ate the shew-bread of the Presence, viz; of the Shekinah, the visible glory of God. All this symbolically expressed near fellowship with God.
II. THE LAW PRIESTS WERE TYPES OF TRUE CHRISTIANS.
1. In their birth, as sons of Aaron.
(1) Aaron was a type of Christ. See arguments in Epistle to the Hebrews.
(2) Christians are of the family of Christ (see Ephesians 3:14, Ephesians 3:15; Galatians 4:4-7). Have we the spiritual birth?
2. In their office, as priests of God.
(1) Christians are a spiritual priesthood (see Isaiah 61:6; 1Pe 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6).
(2) They have a spiritual consecration (see 2 Corinthians 1:21; 1 John 2:20, 1 John 2:27).
(3) They offer spiritual sacrifices. Themselves (Romans 12:1). Sacrifices of prayer, of praise, of service (see Hosea 14:2; Hebrews 13:15).
3. In the privileges of their office.
(1) They draw nigh to God. The law priest entered the holy place. We enter the most holy (see Hebrews 10:19-22).
(2) They feast with God. This glorious fellowship is now expressed in the Lord's Supper.
III. THOSE WHO ASPIRE TO THESE PRIVILEGES MUST BE ABLE TO SHOW A VALID TITLE,
1. As to the priesthood under the law.
(1) Case of the children of Habai and Koz. These not elsewhere otherwise mentioned. Here acknowledged as sons of Aaron. Their reputed descendants could not show their genealogy from them.
(2) Case of the children of Barzillai's daughter. Honourable mention made of Barzillai (see 2 Samuel 17:27-29; 2 Samuel 19:31-39). This accounts for descendants of his daughter assuming his name rather than that of their father.
(3) They were therefore excluded (Hebrews, polluted) from the priesthood. Lost the sanctity; also the privileges.
2. As to the priesthood under the gospel.
(1) As with the aspirants through Habai and Koz, the reputation of being of the family of Jesus will not avail. Have you evidence of spiritual birth?
(2) As with the aspirants bearing the honourable name of Barzillai, respectability will not avail in place of a spiritual title. We must be real.
(3) The Tirshatha will scrutinize our claims. We must all pass the scrutiny of the judgment.
3. But is it possible for us to make up a valid title?
(1) What does the Tirshatha say (see Ezra 2:68)?
(2) The Urim and Thummim were wanting then. These were used in the breastplate of the high priest for obtaining responses from the Shekinah of God in the temple. Neither these "lights and perfections" nor the Shekinah to illuminate them were found in the second temple.
(3) We have an High Priest who stands up with these, even Jesus, who ministers in the grander temple. Through his glorious Spirit, the true Shekinah, we have in our breasts the most perfect illuminations. By these we ascertain our spiritual birth with its titles. Have we this most sacred, this most indubitable assurance?—J.A.M.
THE OFFERINGS MADE BY THE RETURNED EXILES ON THEIR ARRIVAL AT JERUSALEM (Ezra 2:68-70). It has been customary among the pious of all ages and countries to make thank-offerings to the Almighty on the accomplishment of any important or dangerous work. The long journey of the exiles from Babylonia to Jerusalem involved considerable risk (see Ezra 8:22, Ezra 8:31), and its successful termination naturally called forth their gratitude. The character of the offerings made is indicative of the fact, otherwise probable, that the exiles had turned all that they possessed into money, and had brought to Jerusalem a considerable amount of coin.
Some of the chief of the fathers. That is, "Some of the heads of families." Each family went up under a recognized head or chief, the number of such heads being, as it would seem, nearly a hundred (Ezra 2:3-61). When they came to the house of the Lord. No doubt considerable ruins of Solomon's temple existed when the exiles returned, and were easily to be recognized, both by their situation and by the size of the stones employed (1 Kings 5:17). The place occupied by these rums was that whereto the emigrants flocked, and about which they, in the first instance, located themselves. Offered freely for the house of God, to set it up in its place. The first object of the returned exiles was the rebuilding of the temple, and their offerings were consequently given expressly towards the expenses of this costly work.
After their ability. As each was able; the richer more, the poorer less. Threescore and one thousand drams of gold. The word translated "dram" is darkemon, which appears to be the Hebrew representative of the Persian word which the Greeks rendered by dareikos, or "daric." This was a gold coin, stamped with the figure of a Persian king, wearing his crown, and armed with a bow and arrow. According to the most exact computation, each such coin contained somewhat more pure gold than an English guinea, and was worth £1 1s. 10.5d. of our money. The 61,000 darics would therefore have been equal to £66,718 15s. Five thousand pounds of silver. The word translated "pound" is maneh, an equivalent of the Greek tuna and the Latin mind. In Greece the silver mind was worth a little more than £4 of our money. The value of the Hebrew silver munch is uncertain, but probably was not very different from the Greek. Thus the sum contributed in silver may be estimated at above £20,000, and the entire contribution at nearly £90,000. It must be noted, however, that Nehemiah's estimate (Nehemiah 7:71, Nehemiah 7:72) is less. One hundred priests' garments. Nehemiah says ninety-seven (Nehemiah 7:70, Nehemiah 7:72), whence we may conclude that Ezra uses a round number.
In their cities. Not in Jerusalem only, but in the neighboring towns also, e.g. Bethlehem, Anathoth, Ramah, Gaba, Michmash, Bethel, Ai, Nebo, and Jericho (see above, comment on Ezra 2:1). All Israel. Ezra very determinately puts forward this aspect of the return—that it was participated in by all the tribes (see Ezra 2:2; Ezra 3:1; Ezra 6:16, Ezra 6:17; Ezra 7:13; Ezra 8:29, Ezra 8:35, etc.). He does not, however, exclude the other aspect, that it was especially a return of Judah, or "Judah and Benjamin" (see Ezra 5:1; Ezra 10:9).
After the muster-roll, as described to us in Ezra 2:1-67 of this chapter, the next thing, naturally, is the expedition itself. In the present instance, however, this is disposed of in a couple of syllables. "They came." In these modern days—so some one has noticed—in consequence of the great comparative ease and rapidity of the means of locomotion, we speak rather of arriving at than of travelling to our destinations. There is something parallel here. Nothing is related of this journey except that it was duly brought to an end. It does not follow from this, however, that it is unworthy of note. Often, where little is said, all the more is implied. How far this is the case in the present instance will be our first branch of inquiry. What we are afterwards told of the doings of these pilgrims immediately on their arrival at Zion will be our second and last.
I. BEFORE THE ARRIVAL. These travellers "came." That is all. What does this show as to their method of coming? The route traversed, it must be remembered, was by no means a short one. Babylon was always considered a long way from Jerusalem (Isaiah 39:3). Ezra, afterwards (Ezra 7:9), was four months on the road, a time, in these days, more than sufficient to travel round the whole globe. The road also at that time, viz; during the subsequent reign of Artaxerxes, was by no means a safe one (Ezra 8:22; see also Nehemiah 2:9). On the other hand, such travellers as these were, returning with spoils which had evidently seemed precious even to Nebuchadnezzar in all his pride (Daniel 1:2), would be especially liable to attack; to say nothing of the fact that their very errand would rouse the hatred of not a few. At the same time, the character of their company, as being a collection of families intending to "settle" again in Palestine, would itself put very great difficulties, in their case, in the way of defence; as also in regard to progress, and commissariat too. It is not every man who could have conducted even an army in safety so far; much less so large a household, so mixed a multitude, a caravan at once so vulnerable, so feeble, and yet so rich. It is something to be able to say of such that they did arrive at Jerusalem. Perhaps we shall see the significance of this brevity more plainly still in the way of contrast. "When Israel came out of Egypt" and travelled to Canaan before, they had a very much shorter journey before them, and their numbers were so vastly larger that they were able in some measure, even at first, to defend themselves (Exodus 17:8-13). Yet how much we are told, and how copiously, of their difficulties, their dangers, their deliverances, their many murmurings, rebellions, and judgments, and all the long succession of marvellous vicissitudes that betel them by the way (Numbers 20:14). That first journey of theirs to Canaan is the most adventurous journey on record. Never were any travellers so guided, so fed, so protected, so often so near to destruction and so triumphantly rescued from it. Nowhere, at any rate, are we told so much of any other journey on earth. The absolute silence of Scripture, therefore, respecting all the incidents of this second journey of the same people to the same land seems well worthy of note. We can only account for it by supposing that there was nothing notable to be told. But how much this implies, as we said. How much,
1. As to the character of the pilgrims. How unlike the Israelites in the desert, how quietly persevering, how free from "murmurings and disputings" these Israelites must have been. Considering how many occasions for disputing fellow travellers are known to find, the fact that in this four months' journey on the part of 50,000 people there was nothing of the kind worth mentioning is not without weight. Do we see in it one wholesome result of the heavy discipline of their long captivity? Like the singular post-captivity freedom of Israel from idolatry, that constant pre-captivity sin (see Psalms 119:67)? How much,
2. As to God's rule in this world. It was certainly by God's "good hand upon them" (Ezra 8:31, Ezra 8:32; Psalms 107:7; James 4:13-15) that they had come where they were, just as much so as in the case of those addressed in Joshua 23:14. How complete, therefore, in both cases, his faithfulness to his promise I How constant and effectual his providence! How all-ruling his power. Yet how exceedingly opposite his modes of operation! In the one ease by a succession of miracles which Israel never forgot. In the other case without a single incident that left any trace of its path; unless, indeed, we consider such consummate finish and ease of operation to be a kind of miracle in itself the standing miracle of his rule (see Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3 : "upholding," etc.).
II. AFTER THE ARRIVAL. The journey thus happily accomplished, what was first taken in hand? As far as possible, their first duty. They had come up specially to build the LORD'S house. It was necessary, of course, in order to do this, that they should have homes of their own. Before, however, they see to this second point in any way, they do all they can for the first. They cannot yet, whilst themselves homeless and unsettled, actually begin the LORD'S house. But they can lay aside of their substance for that purpose, and so show their desire; they can make their "offerings" (verse 68) and put them into the "treasury" (verse 69), adding thus to that which they had already collected in various ways (see Ezra 1:4, etc.) for that end. And this they do, it seems, first. Such is the Scriptural, such the politic, plan (see Deu 26:1-11; 1 Kings 17:13; Matthew 6:33; Luke 11:41). It is also to be observed that they do so "freely"—the Scriptural spirit (see Exodus 25:2; Exodus 35:5; Deuteronomy 15:10; 2 Corinthians 9:7). And that they do so, once more, sufficiently—the Scriptural proportion. "They gave after their ability". It would almost seem, indeed, as though 2 Corinthians 8:2 had been fulfilled in this case; so large, considering their numbers and probable condition, is the computed value of their contributions. For example, if the 61,000 drams or dareics of gold = £66,718 15s; and the 5000 pounds or minae of silver = £20,000, we have a total contribution of about £90,000, which, for a congregation of not quite 50,000 (children and poor and servants included, as it would seem), is nearly two pounds per head. Well would it be if no other "congregations" ever did any less. This additional provision thus made for God's house, they next see to their own; the result being as briefly summed up to us in verse 70. Comparing this verse with Nehemiah 7:73, which seems to relate to the same transaction, we find that in both cases, with some diversity on other points, God's ministers are named first. If this means that they were attended to first, it harmonises well with what went before. God's house before their own houses; God's ministers before themselves. In any case we seem invited to notice that all his ministers of all ranks were attended to; not the "priests" only, but all the divisions of the "Levites" (Levites proper, singers and porters), and even their assistants, the "Nethinims," too. Indeed, however we are to understand the peculiar expression, found both in Ezra and Nehemiah, "[some] of the people," it would seem, from the special subsequent mention in both cases of "all Israel" as "dwelling" "in their cities," that the laity also of all tribes, and probably also of all classes, including those mentioned in Ezra 2:59-63, were duly provided for in like manner. And if so, the picture is one of a very beautiful kind. All these pilgrims, down to the humblest, were pilgrims no more. All these once banished ones both arrived now and settled. In their true country; in their proper "cities;" in their respective homes! In all which we may see an illustration of the wonderful variety, order, and completeness of God's ways. In creation (Psalms 104:27; Psalms 136:25; Psalms 145:15, etc.). In providence (Acts 27:43, Acts 27:44). In grace (John 10:28; John 17:12). In the "dispensation of the fulness of times" (Daniel 12:13, as contrasted with Psalms 1:5; Luke 21:36, etc.). Happy, indeed, who can say, "We are journeying home to God" (Numbers 10:29).
HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL
Men forsaking the worldly life.
We regard the people returning from Babylon as typical of men going out of the worldly life into the life and work of the kingdom of God. Observe—
I. THAT MEN FORSAKE THE WORLDLY LIFE FROM CHOICE. Cyrus compelled no man to leave the land of captivity. The Jews left Babylon in the exercise of their own free will. Israel as a nation went out of Egypt; but as individuals they come out of Babylon. Heaven compels no man to forsake sin.
1. It was a good choice. It was better to build the temple than to work in Babylon; the spiritual is better than the servile; it is good to serve God.
2. It was a wise choice. They would be honoured as the heroic builders of the second temple; and how would they be blessed in their holy toil. It is wise to choose the unworldly life.
3. It was a self-denying choice. They had to leave friends and companions behind; they had to forsake vested interests, and enter an unknown future. The unworldly life necessitates self-denial, but the reward is a hundredfold.
4. It was a believing choice. They believed that God would be with them, and that his angel would go before them. There are great duties in the pursuit of an unworldly life; there are many temples to erect, but God is an infinite resource.
II. THAT THERE ARE NUMEROUS ENCOURAGEMENTS TO MEN FORSAKING THE WORLDLY LIFE.
1. They have encouragements of a spiritual nature. "The priests" are with them (Ezra 2:36). All that belongs to heaven's priesthood goes along with the unworldly life in its march from Babylon.
2. They have encouragements of a social nature (Ezra 2:64). The companionships of the unworldly life are helpful.
3. They have encouragements of a joyful nature. "The singers" are with them (Ezra 2:41). And men who seek to live an unworldly life are accompanied by many celestial joys.
4. They have encouragements of a varied nature. There were many to aid in unnumbered ways the people in their new work.
III. THAT IN FORSAKING THE WORLDLY LIFE MEN MUST BE SOLICITOUS AS TO THE EVIDENCES OF THEIR MORAL REALITY. "But they could not show their father's house" (Ezra 2:59-63). These were with the returning people, and to all appearance as loyal as any of them, but they could not prove their oneness with them.
1. There is a register within. Are the dispositions of a renewed life within us? have we the testimony of a good conscience?
2. There is a register around us. Whom do men say that we are? Are our lives such as become the builders of God's temple?
3. There is a register above us. God's witness is true. The register is soon lost by sin. Let us not sacrifice it to temporal gain; let us not sacrifice it by marriage (Ezra 2:61). If we lose it we shall be morally unclean, spiritually depraved, and eternally cast out (Ezra 2:62, Ezra 2:63). We must prove our religion as well as possess it.
IV. THAT IN FORSAKING THE WORLDLY LIFE MEN MUST GIVE THEMSELVES ENTIRELY TO THE NEW TOILS THAT DEVOLVE UPON THEM (Ezra 2:68-70).
1. They came to the work. "They came to the house of the Lord which is at Jerusalem." Sight quickens activity. The ruined temple would awaken a sense of duty.
2. They gave to the work. "They gave after their ability." Ability is the universal law of service. Men who enter upon the unworldly life must be ready for all the work of the Lord.—E.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Social and spiritual gradations.
The company that came out of Babylonian captivity was by no means a disorderly or unorganized multitude. It was well officered, and was divided and subdivided into ranks. It probably marched in regular order. Under the "Tirshatha" Zerubbabel, Jeshua the high priest, and Mordecai (probably the honoured deliverer), with other natural leaders, came (Ezra 2:70), priests, Levites (a singularly and disproportionately small number of these), the people (typical Israelites—laymen, citizens), the singers, the porters, the Nethinims. There were—
I. VARIOUS RANKS IN THE HOST OF THE LORD (Ezra 2:70). "The priests, and Levites, and some of the people, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims," etc. Each man of the 42,000 had a part to play in this exodus as well as in the settlement and the building which should follow; but some had more difficult and responsible posts than others. No service was without value of its kind. They could not have carried their treasures without help from the porters, nor conveyed the sacred vessels without the Nethinims; nor could they well have spared the singing men and women, whose sweet songs of Zion must have beguiled the way and helped them on over rough places and up steep heights towards the site of the city of their hopes. Much less could they have spared the priests and the leaders, who by their clear head and commanding will were to do more than the others with their hand and tongue. One is our Master, even Christ: we all take the truth which we hold and teach from the words of the great Teacher himself. But many are the parts we take, and varied the services we render, as we journey toward the heavenly Jerusalem, as we build the house and kingdom of the Lord. In our Christian ranks are great leaders, like Luther, and Calvin, and Knox, and Chalmers, and Wesley; great writers and apologists, like Augustine, and Butler, and Baxter; great preachers and missionaries whose name is legion; and below these in spiritual rank and influence are ministers, teachers, officers, "sweet singers," and all the company of those that help in the service of the sanctuary, in the work of the Lord, down to the "doorkeeper of the house." Each man in his place renders valued service: service which, if not marked "valuable" by the handwriting of man, is yet truly and really valued by the observant and discerning Master. He who does well, working conscientiously and devoutly, the work for which he is fitted, is rendering a service to his race and to his God which is not overlooked, and will never be forgotten. Its record is on high, and he who wrought it will hear of it again, when every man (who is anywise praiseworthy) shall have praise of God, and the blessed, heart-satisfying "Well done" shall be spoken by the Son of man.
II. EXCELLENCY OF WORK IN HIS SERVICE (Ezra 2:68, Ezra 2:69). The narrative (Ezra 2:68, Ezra 2:69) anticipates the arrival in Judaea and the work to which they there addressed themselves. It states that some of the chief of the fathers "offered freely for the house of God," and that they "gave after their ability unto the treasure of the work." Here were two acceptable elements in all sacred service—
(1) cheerfulness, which the Lord loveth (2 Corinthians 9:7); and
(2) fulness, according to ability, every one doing the best he can: not the least that can be offered with decency, but the most that present resources will allow. In building up the spiritual house of our Lord's kingdom—a work in which every Christian disciple is to be engaged—we may bring silver and gold to the treasury, or we may bring manual labour, or mental work, or spiritual exercises, or we may contribute the services of the teacher or the organizer. We may help in one of a hundred ways, more or less important. And not only is each one honourable and valuable in its way, but each work admits of being done in varying degrees of excellency—more or less cheerfully, more or less efficiently. We must aim at perfection in every department. When we realize that we are giving to him
(a) who "gave himself for us,"
(b) who is giving his Spirit to us, and
(c) who will give his glory to us, we shall give, not of our weakness, but our strength; not sluggishly and inefficiently, but "after our ability."
The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive "riches."—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezra 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany