Ezra 2: Lessons from the Census for Second Exodus from Captivity Regarding the Blessings that Jesus Offers Believers

Introduction: This chapter contains a list of leaders, family clans, and others who returned in the second exodus to the Promised Land. To a modern reader, the list of names can seem boring. But the story behind the names reveals seven things that Jesus offers you. These include:

(1) faithfulness, (2) love, (3) sacrifice, (4) humility, (5) grace, (6) restoration, and (7) fellowship.

First, Jesus raised up 12 leaders to administer the returning exiles. One represented God’s promise of an eternal kingship through David, and another represented God’s promise of an eternal priesthood through Aaron’s grandson Phineas. The carefully selected leaders demonstrated that Jesus is faithful to keep His promises. He is faithful even when we are not. Second, like the first exodus, God recorded in the second exodus those with the faith to return to the Promised Land. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He cares for all His sheep. Third, the priests who were willing to return were few because they had no right to a land inheritance in the Promised Land. Those who returned had to be willing to sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed for you, and He desires your sacrifice for Him in return. Fourth, the pilgrims included former servants who willingly served in menial tasks in the future Temple. Jesus humbled Himself for you as a servant and at the cross. In return, He desires your humble service. Fifth, the pilgrims included some who had lost their family ancestry. God’s rules of purity limited them from serving as priests in the Temple. But they were still welcomed into the community through their faith. Through faith in Jesus, you can also become an adopted child of God. Sixth, the pilgrims who returned were a remnant of the once numerous tribes of Israel. But they were the seeds of faith that God would use to restore the Jewish nation. With faith, Jesus can also restore what you have lost to sin. Finally, the Jews gave generously at the chance to help rebuild the Temple and restore God’s fellowship. Through faith, Jesus also offers eternal salvation and fellowship. Out of gratitude, you should also respond generously to be a co-builder of His Church.

1. Faithfulness: Jesus is Faithful to Keep His Promises, Even When We Don’t. Ezra 2:1-2a.

  • The Spirit-led leaders who helped guide the Jews. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, 12 Spirit-led leaders came to help administer and guide God’s flock of returning exiles: “1 Now these are the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away to Babylon, and returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his city. 2a These came with [1] Zerubbabel, [2] Jeshua, [3] Nehemiah, [4] Seraiah, [5] Reelaiah, [6] Mordecai, [7] Bilshan, [8] Mispar, [9] Bigvai, [10] Rehum and [11] Baanah.” (Ezra 2:1-2a). The twelfth leader was “Nahamani.” (Neh. 7:7). His omission here suggests that he at some point passed away or something else happened to him. The leaders were called “people of the province.” (Ezra 2:10). They were returning to administer a now Persian province, not an independent country. They symbolized God’s faithfulness to keep His promises to His people.

  • The 12 leaders represented all of the 12 tribes. In the Bible, the number 12 symbolized God’s perfect government. Not counting the Levites, there were 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus later had 12 apostles. These 12 leaders also sacrificed “12 bulls for all Israel, . . .” (Ezra 8:35). Thus, even though these leaders were likely from only the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, they represented all of God’s people.

Because God is faithful to you, respond in faith to His calling in your life1

  • The leaders served in humility. These leaders who stepped forward to serve were not famous. Some, like Mordecai (Ezra 2:2), may have shared the same name as other famous people (Esther 4:13-14). The “Nehemiah” who came with this group (Ezra 2:2) in 536 B.C. also was not the Nehemiah who arrived in 445 B.C. to rebuild the walls. These pilgrims did not expect to become rich or famous while serving. They were returning to a poor land that had been stripped of its talent and resources.

  • Zerubbabel represented a confirmation of the Davidic covenant. Although lost to most modern readers, Zerubbabel served an important purpose in confirming God’s promise to David of an eternal kingship. His name meant “offspring of Babylon,” reflecting the place of his birth. Nebuchadnezzar II took the Jewish King Jehoiachin captive after he rebelled against Babylonian rule (2 Kgs. 24:10-12) Yet, after 36 years of captivity, God influenced King Evil-merodach of Babylon (562-560 B.C.) to release Jehoiachin from prison and to allow him to live (2 Kgs. 25:27-30). Zerubbabel was Jehoiachin’s grandson (1 Chr. 3:17; Matt. 1:12). As part of God’s curse upon Judah, Jehoiachin’s children could not assume the throne of Judah: ‘“As I live,’ declares the LORD, ‘even though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were a signet ring on My right hand, yet I would pull you off; . . . For no man of his descendants will prosper sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah.” (Jer. 22:24, 30). Thus, it was not God’s will for Zerubbabel to administer an independent Jewish country. Yet, he still represented the promise to David that God would one day fulfill His promise through Jesus of an eternal dynasty: “11  . . . I will set up one of your descendants after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He shall build for Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever.” (1 Chr. 17:11-12; 22:10; 2 Sam. 7:13). Indeed, the New Testament specifically mentions Zerubbabel as part of the Davidic lineage leading to Jesus: “After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor.” (Matt. 1:12-13; Lk. 3:27). Thus, Zerubbabel demonstrated Jesus’ faithfulness to keep His promises.

  • Jeshua represented a continuation of God’s covenant with Aaron’s descendants. Jeshua, the High Priest (Ezra 2:2), also represented God’s faithfulness to keep His promises. Jeshua was the son of the High Priest Jehozadak (Hag. 1:1) and the grandson of Seraiah, the last High Priest of Judah before the exile (2 Kgs. 25:18; 1 Chr. 6:15). His name means “Jehovah saves.” He symbolized the continuation of God’s promise to Aaron’s grandson Phinehas of a “covenant of a perpetual priesthood”: ‘“Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest . . . it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.’” (Nu. 25:11, 13). Zechariah later had a vision of Joshua being attacked by Satan during his service as High Priest: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.” (Zech. 3:1). The Greek translation of his name was Jesus. Jeshua also represented Jesus’ faithfulness to fulfill His promises.

  • God encouraged the leaders to succeed. As the leaders humbly served and encouraged the people, God raised up prophets to encourage them. God specifically called upon Haggai to encourage Zerubbabel and Joshua: “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people saying, ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? ‘But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, 'and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts. ‘As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!”’ (Haggai 2:2-5). When you step out in faith to serve God, He will also encourage and empower you to succeed.

  • God is faithful even when we are not. The Jews had done nothing to deserve God’s blessings while in captivity. Indeed, only a small percentage of the Jews had the faith to return. But God was still faithful to keep His promises to restore Israel and rebuild His people: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13). Have you given thanks that God will never break His promises to you.

2. Love: Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who Cares for Each and Every Person. Ezra 2:2b-35.

  • The Jewish families returning to Jerusalem and Judah. The book of Ezra then carefully documented the families who had the courage and faith to travel as pilgrims in the second exodus to the Promised Land: “2b The number of the men of the people of Israel: the sons of Parosh, 2,172; the sons of Shephatiah, 372; the sons of Arah, 775; the sons of Pahath-moab of the sons of Jeshua and Joab, 2,812; the sons of Elam, 1,254; the sons of Zattu, 945; the sons of Zaccai, 760; 10 the sons of Bani, 642; 11 the sons of Bebai, 623; 12 the sons of Azgad, 1,222; 13 the sons of Adonikam, 666; 14 the sons of Bigvai, 2,056; 15 the sons of Adin, 454; 16 the sons of Ater of Hezekiah, 98; 17 the sons of Bezai, 323; 18 the sons of Jorah, 112; 19 the sons of Hashum, 223; 20 the sons of Gibbar, 95; 21 the men of Bethlehem, 123; 22 the men of Netophah, 56; 23 the men of Anathoth, 128; 24 the sons of Azmaveth, 42; 25 the sons of Kiriath-arim, Chephirah and Beeroth, 743; 26 the sons of Ramah and Geba, 621; 27 the men of Michmas, 122; 28 the men of Bethel and Ai, 223; 29 the sons of Nebo, 52; 30 the sons of Magbish, 156; 31 the sons of the other Elam, 1,254; 32 the sons of Harim, 320; 33 the sons of Lod, Hadid and Ono, 725; 34 the men of Jericho, 345; 35 the sons of Senaah, 3,630.” (Ezra 2:2b-35; Neh. 7:6-69). This list does not purport to list every family member by name. It instead lists the heads of families.

God’s appointed leaders acted as good shepherds to carefully count God’s sheep2

  • Jesus does not have any lost sheep. To some, reading this census count is one of the most boring sections of the Bible. Most commentators also have little to say about it. Yet, like any data about a population, this census count is filled with interesting facts once you know what to look for. The first census took place near the end of the building of the Tabernacle (Ex. 30:11-12). The second census took place after the Jews were ready to invade the Promised Land. Yet, that count was limited to the men of fighting age (20 years or older) from the twelve tribes who would fight, which excluded the Levites (Nu. 1:2-4). After 38 years of wandering in the wilderness, God commanded that the third census again count every man of fighting age who would fight the battle for the Promised Land (Nu. 26:2). Starting first with the big picture, the famous Jewish commentator Rashi observed that the census counts show that God loves His people and keeps careful track of them the way a good shepherd keeps track of his sheep. Jesus knows every hair on your head (Matt 10:29; Lk. 12:17). He not only knows about you. He cares about you as well. There is no problem that God either doesn’t know about or can’t deal with.

  • Jesus will remember His faithful sheep. In addition to keeping careful track of His sheep, Jesus will also remember and record the acts of faith, love, and charity: “Whatever the list’s purpose, these individuals were honored as being the first to return (Nah. 7:5), showing their faith in the promises of God and especially the value they place on the land God had promised to Abraham. . . Finding one’s name on a list is frequently satisfying and encouraging; it gives assurance that arrangements have been made – that one is expected, valued, and privileged. Such was surely the case with these numbered here among the people God welcomed back to the land of promise, a land that represented God’s commitment to redeem the earth from sin and judgment and to establish a divine and eternal kingdom of righteousness.” (Mervin Breneman, The New American Commentary, Vol. 10, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (B&H Publishing Group 1993) p. 75, 77). Your sins will be forgotten in heaven (Heb. 8:12). Jesus will forget your sins when you get to heaven (Heb. 8:12). But He will record and celebrate your acts of faith, love, and charity in heaven. What are you doing for Jesus that He can record and celebrate?

  • A church must keep track of Jesus’ sheep as well. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd (Jo. 10:11). But He has appointed many deputy shepherds to watch over His sheep until He returns. God calls the believers in Christ His royal priesthood (2 Pet. 2:5, 9). As His priests, we have a collective responsibility to carefully count and keep track of His sheep (Ex. 30:11-12). Yet, it is fashionable today for large churches not to keep member lists or to count who comes and goes to church. To be seeker friendly, no one should feel pressure to join, be monitored, or counted. People have the freedom to float in and out with no accountability. But this does not follow the example God set for us with the census counts. We cannot care for God’s sheep if we don’t keep track of them.

3. Sacrifice: Jesus Sacrificed for You, and He Desires Your Sacrifice for Him. Ezra 2:36-42.

  • The limited number of returning priests and Levites. The book of Ezra then records the small number of priests and Levites who had the courage to return to the Promised Land. They represented only a small percent of all the returning exiles: “36 The priests: the sons of Jedaiah of the house of Jeshua, 973; 37 the sons of Immer, 1,052; 38 the sons of Pashhur, 1,247; 39 the sons of Harim, 1,017. 40 The Levites: the sons of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the sons of Hodaviah, 74. 41 The singers: the sons of Asaph, 128. 42 The sons of the gatekeepers: the sons of Shallum, the sons of Ater, the sons of Talmon, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hatita, the sons of Shobai, in all 139.” (Ezra 2:36-42). Not counting women and children, there were 4,289 men from four clans (See also Ezra 10:18-22). These included Asaph descendants, who would lead in worship (1 Chr. 15:19; 16:5).

The priests who had to make sacrifices by giving up any right to own lands3

  • The limited number of priests and Levities willing to return and sacrifice for God. The list of returning families of priests were limited to the families of Jedaiah, Immer, Pashhur, and Harim. This represented only four of the 24 family divisions of the priesthood that David created (1 Chron. 24:8). This means that the vast majority of the priests were unwilling to leave their old lives behind and return to the Promised Land. The total number of returning Levites were further only 10 percent of the priesthood. In fact, the priests should have represented only a small percentage of the returning Levites. These families were free to own land during their Babylonian captivity. But they could not own land if they returned to the Promised Land. Unlike the other tribes, the tribe of Levi did not receive an inheritance in the land because they would live amongst the other tribes and devote themselves to serving God and the other people: “The Levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the LORD'S offerings by fire and His portion.” (Dt. 18:1). “Only to the tribe of Levi he did not give an inheritance; the offerings by fire to the Lord, the God of Israel, are their inheritance, as He spoke to him.” (Josh. 13:14). They had an even better blessing. Instead, God was their “portion” and their “inheritance.” “They shall have no inheritance among their countrymen; the LORD is their inheritance, as He promised them.” (Dt. 18:2; Nu. 18:20). Thus, only a small number of Levites were willing to sacrifice for God.

  • Store up your treasures in heaven and let Jesus be your inheritance. Any person seeking to be a servant of God must be willing to make sacrifices. In the case of the Levites, in addition to sacrificing the right to own or inherit land, they were not meant to be self-reliant. Their food was limited to what the people gave them as part of their tithes (Dt. 18:1-2; 10:9; 12:12; Nu. 18:20; Josh. 13:33; 18:7). Jesus is our High Priest (Heb. 4:14). To fulfill the Law, He lived without owning land while He lived as man on Earth (Matt. 8:20; Lk. 9:58). Like the Levites, you are today part of His holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). Like the Levities, He calls upon every believer to store up all forms of wealth (not just land) in heaven (Matt. 6:19-20; Lk. 12:33). Yet, He did not prohibit people from owning land. Having wealth is not in and of itself sinful. If it were, God would not have rewarded Job or Solomon with riches (Job 42:10; 2 Chr. 1:11). Instead, Jesus asks you to give up wealth if it causes you to covet. He commanded a young man to give up his wealth because He knew that the man’s wealth had caused him to hoard wealth: “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matt. 9:21; Lk. 18:22). If Jesus were to call upon you to sell your property to help the poor, would your heart be filled with sadness?

  • Let Jesus be your inheritance. As part of God’s holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9), your sacrifice is not without a reward. Like the Levites, you have the right to count Jesus as your inheritance: “And it shall be with regard to an inheritance for them, that I am their inheritance; and you shall give them no possession in Israel-- I am their possession.” (Ezek. 44:28). “The LORD is my portion; I have promised to keep Your words.” (Ps. 119:57). “The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot.” (Ps. 16:5). “But you will be called the priests of the LORD; you will be spoken of as ministers of our God. You will eat the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast. Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, and instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, everlasting joy will be theirs.” (Is. 61:6-7). Yet, unlike the Levities, you do not need to wait to receive your inheritance. First, Jesus offers any believer the Holy Spirit as a down payment on His inheritance: “who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” (2 Cor. 1:22). Second, when you act in one accord with your fellow believers for Christ, Jesus further gives part of His glory to you (Jo. 17:22). Third, you have an inheritance in heaven that is so great that it cannot be adequately described: “[B]ut just as it is written, ‘Things which the eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.’” (1 Cor. 2:9). “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Ro. 8:18). Are you storing up treasures in heaven by denying yourself of pleasures on Earth?

  • Like the Levites, you are privileged to sacrifice for God. The Levities learned that their privilege to serve was not without sacrifice. As your High Priest, Christ also sacrificed for His church by paying the ultimate price for your sins (Mk. 3:28-29). Like the Levites and like Christ, your privilege in serving as a priest means that you will also sometimes suffer for Him. Yet, you must always remember that this is a privilege. Peter advised those who suffer for the cause of Christ to rejoice (1 Pet. 4:13). Your suffering, trials, and humiliation make you a better witness for Him (Ro. 5:3; Jam. 1:2-4). Through your trials, you can tell others that Jesus offers the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7). Yet, if you have never had to cling to God in a rough storm, how much will someone in a storm trust your advice? How good can you be at fulfilling your duty in comforting others (2 Cor. 1:4) if you have never needed comfort yourself?

  • Accept Jesus’ calling to be part of His priesthood. Jesus also calls you to be part of His holy priesthood: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1 Pet. 2:9, 5). “[A]nd He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father-- to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Rev. 1:6). As a holy priesthood, you are a co-builder in building God’s Church on Earth: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor. 3:9). Are you willing to serve in faith?

4. Humility: Jesus Humbled Himself, and He Desires Humble Service. Ezra 2:43-58.

  • The returning Temple servants. The exiles with the faith to return to the Promised Land included persons who would perform menial tasks to serve in a future Temple: “43 The temple servants: the sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth, 44 the sons of Keros, the sons of Siaha, the sons of Padon, 45 the sons of Lebanah, the sons of Hagabah, the sons of Akkub, 46 the sons of Hagab, the sons of Shalmai, the sons of Hanan, 47 the sons of Giddel, the sons of Gahar, the sons of Reaiah, 48 the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda, the sons of Gazzam, 49 the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah, the sons of Besai, 50 the sons of Asnah, the sons of Meunim, the sons of Nephisim, 51 the sons of Bakbuk, the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur, 52 the sons of Bazluth, the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha, 53 the sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Temah, 54 the sons of Neziah, the sons of Hatipha. 55 The sons of Solomon’s servants: the sons of Sotai, the sons of Hassophereth, the sons of Peruda, 56 the sons of Jaalah, the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel, 57 the sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth-hazzebaim, the sons of Ami. 58 All the temple servants and the sons of Solomon’s servants were 392.” (Ezra 2:43-58). Most of these Temple servants were not Jewish at all. They were the descendants of the Gibeonites. The servants of Solomon are believed to be other foreign converts. All desired to return and serve in God’s Temple.

  • The servitude imposed upon the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites initially deceived the Jews by pretending to be immigrants to the Promised Land so that the Jews would not kill them (Josh. 9:1-21). Because of their deceit, Joshua cursed them with menial labor: “27 But Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord, to this day, in the place which He would choose.” (Josh. 9:27). Although they were under God’s protection, Saul later killed many of the Gibeonite servants (2 Sam. 21:1). They were then deported into exile with the Jews. Even with their new freedom, many gladly returned to serve in the Temple.

  • God blessed the Gibeonites after they used their second chance to serve Him. The Gibeonites became faithful servants of God. Gibeon was a priestly city, and the ark was kept there for a period of time (1 Chr. 16:39-40; 21:29). God also spoke to Solomon at Gibeon (1 Kin. 3:4). One of David’s trusted men was also a Gibeonite (1 Chr. 12:4). Moreover, the Gibeonites later helped rebuild the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s leadership (Neh. 3:7; 7:25). Here, they are referred to as the “Nethinims”. They replaced the Levites in the temple services (Ezra 2:43; 8:20). Their new name symbolized that they were a new creation. Even when the Jews embraced idolatry, they remained faithful. Even though they obtained their freedom and could have lived anywhere in the Persian empire, they valued the chance to serve in God’s Temple: “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Ps. 84:10). Like the Gibeonites, you also have been given a second chance from your life of sin (2 Cor. 5:17). Have you used your second chance to humbly serve God?

  • Serve Jesus in humility, and He will exalt you. Jesus humbled Himself as a servant and then to die an agonizing death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). Like the Gibeonites, He calls upon you to respond by serving Him in humility (Prov. 8:13; Ps. 75:5; 94:4). If you serve in humility like the Gibeonites, Jesus will exalt you in heaven by celebrating your service: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matt. 23:12; Lk. 14:11; 18:14). “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,” (1 Pet. 5:6). “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (Ja. 4:10). “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (Ja. 2:5). Do you boast about your accomplishments? Or, do you give the glory to God and serve Him?

5. Grace: Through Faith in Jesus, You Become an Adopted Child of God. Ezra 2:59-63.

  • Those with uncertain genealogies and the removed priests. With the returning exiles were Jews who wanted to serve as priests but had no record of their family heritage: “59 Now these are those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addan and Immer, but they were not able to give evidence of their fathers’ households and their descendants, whether they were of Israel: 60 the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 652. 61 Of the sons of the priests: the sons of Habaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai, who took a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and he was called by their name. 62 These searched among their ancestral registration, but they could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood. 63 The governor said to them that they should not eat from the most holy things until a priest stood up with Urim and Thummim.” (Ezra 2:59-63). The list included the descendants of Barzillai (Ezra 2:61). Barzillai gave all that he had to protect and feed David’s fleeing troops when the rest of Israel embraced David’s son in a coup d'état (2 Sam. 17:27; 19:32). These people symbolized God’s grace.

  • God’s law limiting who could enter the holy areas of the Temple. Although converts were welcome to serve as assistants in the Temple, God’s law limited the Temple priests to members of the tribe of Levi: “as a reminder to the sons of Israel that no layman who is not of the descendants of Aaron should come near to burn incense before the LORD; so that he will not become like Korah and his company-- just as the LORD had spoken to him through Moses.” (Nu. 16:40). God punished King Uzziah with leprosy for failing to respect His law (2 Chr. 16:18). Thus, people risked defiling God’s law if they entered the holy areas without being proven Levites. These volunteers also could not eat from the priests’ food until a priest could recover Urim and Thummim to discern God’s will (Ex. 28:30; 1 Sam. 23:9-12). God’s willingness to accept these lost tribal members symbolized His grace. God cared more about the faith of the returning pilgrims than their pedigree.

  • God’s blessings were based upon grace, not pedigree. It was necessary for the Jews to ensure their purity to purge the pagan ways that they had adopted. Although their identity in their tribal heritage helped to restore their Jewish identity, it was never meant to become a source of pride: “Formerly each family’s tract of land guaranteed continuity, but during exile they had to depend on genealogical records . . . Apparently some had lost their family records or allowed them to lapser during the exile. . . . Ezra-Nehemiah also stresses the physical as well as spiritual purity of the Jewish community, which was important at this point in history. Later this led to an attitude of spiritual pride (John 8; Rom 9:6). Therefore the New Testament condemns reliance on one’s physical ancestry for acceptance with God (e.g., Phil 3:3-8).” (Breneman, The New American Commentary, p. 83). Pride is one of the six things that God “hates.” (Prov. 6:16). Thus, you should never draw pride from your works or your heritage. Instead, be grateful that you have been adopted as a child of God: “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,” (Eph. 1:5). “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Ro. 8:14).

6. Restoration: With Faith, Jesus Can Restore What You Have Lost to Sin. Ezra 2:64-67.

  • The remnant of the returning believers. Like the first exodus, the second exodus included an accounting of all who had the faith to return to the Promised Land. But it was limited to only 42,360 individuals: “64 The whole assembly numbered 42,360, 65 besides their male and female servants who numbered 7,337; and they had 200 singing men and women. 66 Their horses were 736; their mules, 245; 67 their camels, 435; their donkeys, 6,720.” (Ezra 2:64-67; Neh. 7:66). More Jews returned with later waves of returning exiles. But the numbers were still only a remnant of the Jewish population in exile. They had the faith to be God’s seeds to restore the Jewish population in the Promised Land.

  • The Jews’ stagnation due to sin. In the book of Genesis, the Jews first left Israel as a clan of only 70 people (Gen. 46:27). They then spent approximately 400 years in captivity (Gen. 15:13- “400”; Ex. 12:40-“430”). After spending two years in the wilderness, God told Moses to assemble and count the men of fighting age who would invade the Promised Land (Nu. 1:1). At that time, the men of fighting age totaled 603,550 (Nu. 1:46). Including women, older men and the young, the first exodus included more than 1.5 million people. The Assyrians first deported the 10 northern tribes. The Babylonians then took the Jews of Judah in three waves. Just one wave included at least 10,000 people (2 Kgs. 24:14). Approximately 70 years after the Babylonian captivity began, only 42,360 returned in the second exodus (Ezra 2:64). The collapse of the Jewish population also fulfilled a prophecy that Moses had given the Jews (Dt. 28:62-63). This was the reverse of God’s prior fertility blessing that allowed the Jews to become a vast multitude of people and a great nation (Dt. 7:12-13). But God rebuilt from this remnant.

  • God will also supply all that you need when you labor out of love for His Church. The pilgrims did not have great wealth of their own. They further returned on foot through the deserts on a journey that lasted approximately 1,000 miles. But God provided for their needs. This included 736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels and 6,720 donkeys (Ezra 2:66). These animals would have been used to carry materials to rebuild the Temple. When you serve God, He promises to provide for all that you need: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33). “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;” (2 Cor. 9:8). “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19). “A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Ps. 23:1). “O fear the LORD, you His saints; for to those who fear Him there is no want.” (Ps. 34:9). If you are missing anything, are you seeking to use your talents for yourself or for Him?

  • Leave your old life of worldly things behind to serve God. Only a remnant of Jews came because many Jews were unwilling to sacrifice what they had for God. They had developed wealth in Babylon. And the Persian king only offered the Jews a small area of land around Jerusalem to occupy. Josephus wrote, “many remained in Babylon, being unwilling to leave their possessions” (Antiquities XI, 8). When the exiles came back to Judah, they found a much smaller state than their forefathers had before the Babylonians conquered Judah. One estimate cited in Yamauchi says that the post-exilic province of Judah was about 25 miles from north to south and about 32 miles from east to west. The total area was about 800 square miles, about one third of which was uncultivable desert.” (David Guzik on 2 Ezra).4 Will you leave your old life behind to serve Jesus?

7. Fellowship: Through Faith, Jesus Offers Both Salvation and Fellowship. Ezra 2:68-70.

  • The offerings of gratitude for the Temple. After leaving their old lives behind, the faithful pilgrims gave gladly from what they had to contribute to building of the Temple: “68 Some of the heads of fathers’ households, when they arrived at the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem, offered willingly for the house of God to restore it on its foundation. 69 According to their ability they gave to the treasury for the work 61,000 gold drachmas and 5,000 silver minas and 100 priestly garments. 70 Now the priests and the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers and the temple servants lived in their cities, and all Israel in their cities.” (Ezra 2:68-70). The heads of the households demonstrated their leadership by encouraging the people to give. The people showed their faith and gratitude by giving “willingly” from “their ability” (Ezra 2:68-69). The people then seized their spiritual inheritance by settling the Promised Land (Ezra 2:70).

  • Through faith in Jesus, you can enjoy eternal salvation and fellowship. The returning pilgrims were glad to give what they had to rebuild the Temple. The Temple in fact foreshadowed Jesus (Jo. 2:21). The glory of God was also revealed through Him (Jo. 1:14). The Jews rebuilt the Temple in faith to atone for sins and to restore God’s fellowship. Jesus died to provide eternal life (Jo. 3:16). He also offered to believers that they could enjoy spiritual intimacy with Him, symbolized by dining together with Him: ‘“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”’ (Rev. 3:20). Like the Jews, you too are called to seek fellowship with Jesus: “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:9). After Jesus returns, His Shekinah glory will again be present on a rebuilt Temple (Micah 4:1-8; Zech. 14:3-9). In heaven, you will also see the Shekinah glory of God the Father and Jesus Christ without a veil (1 Jo. 3:2). You “will see His face. . . [and] the Light of God (“Shekinah glory”) will illumine them forever and ever.” (Rev. 22:5). When you seek out Jesus’ fellowship, He will offer you peace and fulfillment (Jo. 16:33; Phil. 4:7). Are you using your freedom to seek out Jesus’ fellowship?

  • With gratitude, be a co-builder of His Kingdom by giving from what God has given you. During the first exodus, the Jews gave freely to help build the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:2-9; 35:21-29). During this second exodus, the Jews again “offered willingly for the house of God to restore it.” (Ezra 2:68). They also gave “according to their ability.” (Ezra 2:69). Just as all had to work together then to rebuild the Temple, God calls on every believer today to be a co-builder of God’s Church (1 Cor. 3:9). Every good and perfect thing in your life comes from above, even if someone in the world hands it to you (Jam. 1:17). God commands each believer to give back from the things that He has given. He in turn promises to bless you as a steward with more gifts (Mal. 3:8-10). But He only wants you to give out of gratitude, not obligation (Ex. 36:2-7; 2 Cor. 9:6, 8-14). Are you giving to God from what He has given you?

  • God will give back in proportion to your giving. To the extent you give to God, He will give back proportionally to you: “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:6-7). “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. 10 “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. 11 Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?” (Lk. 16:9-11). Are you giving Jesus your time, talent, and treasure?

  • When times are tough, test God by giving to Him. Giving is the one area where God encourages you to test Him. If you give to Him in faith, He promises to bless you with even more (Mal. 3:8-10). Are you giving God the opportunity to bless you abundantly?