Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
With exceptional administrative skill, the entire body of returnees has been categorised into sub-groups and carefully counted. Since only the men are counted, the actual number of people would have numbered more than 50,000; scholars have suggested as many as 235,000.1 The people are well-organised and are ready to settle down and begin the great work of rebuilding the temple. They had been forced by their Babylonian conquerors to leave their homeland and stripped of everything, but now they return with possessions. Observes Bible commentator Adam Clarke: ″Thus we find that God, in the midst of judgment, remembered mercy, and gave them favour in the land of their captivity.″2
Arriving at the former site of Solomon's temple in Jerusalem must have been an exhilarating moment. There, some of the family heads give freewill offerings for the building project (Ezra 2:68). These leaders are setting a good example for others: their giving is voluntary and generous, and they give according to their ability (v. 69). Paul's instructions on Christian giving echo this spirit of giving: it should be voluntary, generous, and joyful (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). The churches in Macedonia went even further, giving sacrificially and beyond their ability (8:3) to help poorer fellow Christians in Judea. God is pleased with such generous giving, and often multiplies what is given for His work.
Today, if we were to visit war-torn areas such as Jaffna in the north of Sri Lanka, we would see many streets with houses in ruins, left behind by inhabitants who had fled in desperate conditions. Many have not returned, and the ruins stand as sad reminders of what used to be vibrant communities. Much of Judea must have been in a similar state of ruin after the destruction by the Babylonians.
The returnees from Babylon, however, bring new life to the land. Those who are to serve in the temple occupy Jerusalem and its neighbourhoods, while the rest of the people go back to their own towns (Ezra 2:70). It is a new day in the land of God's people. Indeed, nothing happens by chance or accident in God's kingdom. It was God's hand that brought the Israelites as captives into exile, as a result of their persistent idolatry (Deuteronomy 28:36-68; Daniel 1:2). But it was also His hand that brought a remnant of His people back to their land, as He had promised (Jeremiah 29:10). Nothing that happens is beyond God's control, and we must be thankful that it is so.
Why is it good for giving to be voluntary? Why is it important for leaders to set a good example in the way they give their time and money? How is your giving?
How was God involved in the Israelites' exile and return to Jerusalem? What does this say about God's sovereignty, mercy, and love?