Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
Today's reading contains a detailed list of the people who return to Jerusalem. There are 49,897 people and 8,136 animals (Ezra 2:64-67). We may wonder why the Bible has such details. God has His reasons for including them; in this case, they teach us some truths. Let me highlight three.
Firstly, the list shows us that God has preserved the key leadership of the nation. Eleven names are recorded in the leadership group (Ezra 2:2); the parallel passage Nehemiah 7:7 lists twelve. Though the returnees are only a remnant, the twelve leaders represent the full Israelite community. (The Nehemiah and Mordecai mentioned in Ezra 2:2 are not the famous figures in the books of Nehemiah and Esther.) Zerubbabel is a royal descendant of David, and his fellow leader, Joshua, is a high priest (Zechariah 3:1).
Secondly, the list shows us that God extends His grace not only to Israel but also to those outside Israel. The returnees are numbered according to their families and their vocation in the temple services. Only the men are numbered, meaning that the total number of people was more. The priests mentioned (Ezra 2:36-39) make up only four of the 24 divisions established by King David (1 Chronicles 24:1-19). This means that the majority of priests in exile had chosen to remain in Babylon. As for the Levites, even fewer choose to return (Ezra 2:40). The fact that there was a greater pool of Levites than priests-who were descended from only one of Levi's several descendants-makes the poor response from the Levites even more significant.
Thankfully, there are also some musicians and gatekeepers (vv. 41-42) who return to Jerusalem to serve there. Two other groups are mentioned: the temple servants (vv. 43-54) and the descendants of the servants of Solomon (vv. 55-57). The former group (Nethinim in Hebrew) probably refers to the Gibeonites who had deceived the Israelites in the days of Joshua but were put into service as temple servants (Joshua 9). The latter group was probably made up of descendants of foreigners employed by King Solomon (2 Chronicles 8:7-8). God extended His grace to those outside Israel.
Thirdly, God knows each of His children and has their names written in the Book of Life. The individual names show the influence of Israelite theology as well as Babylonian and Persian culture. Some of the names are very personal and even funny: Ater (Ezra 2:16) means ″lefty″, Hashum (v. 19) means ″broad nose″, and Gibbar (v. 20) means ″strong man″.
The list reminds us of God's Book of Life (Revelation 3:5), and how each person is known by God and precious to Him. Those who are saved in Christ will have their names permanently in this book. It is good to remember God's faithfulness in keeping His promises, and His grace that is extended to us in a personal way. These are reasons to worship Him with trust and gratitude.
Why are name lists important to God? Why is having your name in God's Book of Life so vital, and how does one get into that list? How certain are you that God knows you personally?
Most of the priests and Levites stayed in their comfort zones and refused to be involved in the great work that God was doing. How can you avoid doing the same?