Ezra 1 - Cyrus Allows the Exiles to Return
A. The decree of Cyrus the Persian.
1. (1) God stirs Cyrus to make a decree.
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying,
a. Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia: God gave the Persian king a sense of urgency about this, and the relief from exile was granted the very first year of his reign as the LORD stirred up his spirit.
i. Cyrus made a decree giving the Jewish exiles in his empire the right to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple in 538 B.C. (Ezra 1:1-4 and Ezra 5:13-17). “The greater part of this book, though it bears the name of Ezra, tells of the pioneers who came back from exile to Jerusalem a whole lifetime before him. We shall not meet Ezra till chapter 7.” (Kidner)
ii. It is quite possible that the Prophet Daniel was instrumental in this stirring of Cyrus. He may have showed the king the prophecies of Jeremiah 25:8-13 and Jeremiah 29:10-14, which refer to the punishment of Babylon and the end of Israel’s exile. And if he showed Cyrus such prophecies, he almost certainly would have included Isaiah 44:28-45:5, which mentions Cyrus by name some 150 years before he was born.
iii. “Josephus accounts for his partiality to the Jews from this circumstance; that he was shown the places in Isaiah the prophet where he is mentioned by name, and his exploits and conquests foretold.” (Clarke)
iv. “We know that Persian kings paid close heed to prophecies: Cambyses to Egyptian oracles, Darius and Xerxes to Greek oracles (Herodotus 8.133; 9.42, 151).” (Yamauchi)
vi. “The difference between ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ history is not that one is under His direct control, and the other is not. What was true of Cyrus and his policy is as true of England. Would that politicians and all men recognized the fact as clearly as this historian did!” (Maclaren)
b. And also put it in writing: This writing was also recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23, but existed in contemporary documents that have been discovered by archaeologists.
i. “Cyrus’s policy of cooperating with local religions and of encouraging the return of exiles has received explicit archaeological confirmation from the inscriptions of the king himself (cf. especially the famous ‘Cyrus Cylinder’).” (Payne)
2. (2-4) The decree Cyrus made.
Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.
a. All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me: This remarkable recognition of God’s hand upon his life may be connected with the remarkable prophecies regarding Cyrus in Isaiah 44:28-45:4.
i. Yet it was also according to the general policy of the Persians. “A notable feature of the Persian empire was its integration of a great diversity of peoples into a singe administrative system, while maintaining at the same time a tradition of respect for their local customs and beliefs . . . they were encouraged to seek the king’s welfare by observing the proper forms of their own religions.” (Kidner)
ii. “The so-called Cyrus Cylinder, from which the following is an extract, gives his own account of this: ‘I return to these sacred cities . . ., the sanctuaries of which have been in ruins for a long time, the images which (used) to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I (also) gathered all their (former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations . . . May all the gods whom I have resettled in their sacred cities ask daily Bel and Nebo for a long life for me . . .; to Marduk, my lord, may they say this: ‘Cyrus, the king who worships you, and Cambyses, his son . . .’” (Kidner)
b. He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem: The command of Cyrus not only allowed the return of the exiled people, but also a rebuilding of the destroyed temple.
i. “ ‘To build him a house’ is a deliberate echo of the central promise of the Davidic covenant (cf. 1 Chronicles 17:11-12; 22:10; 28:6; 2 Chronicles 6:9-10). Cyrus of course is thinking only of the house in Jerusalem, but in the Chronicler’s thought this phrase is inevitably connected with both houses of the Davidic covenant, the dynasty as well as the temple.” (Selman)
c. Who is among you of all His people? May the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem: The Books of 1 and 2 Chronicles end with this wonderful and remarkable encouragement to return and rebuild Jerusalem. This was the necessary and helpful encouragement to the first readers of Chronicles, letting them see their connection with God’s broader plan of the ages.
i. Sadly, only a small percentage decided to return from exile; but those who did needed the encouragement to know they were making a valuable contribution to God’s work. In passages such as Isaiah 10:22, God promised that a remnant would return from exile – and only a remnant.
ii. “After the deportations only the poor of the land – the vine-growers and farmers – were left (2 Kings 25:12; Jeremiah 39:10; 40:7; 52:16). They occupied the vacant lands (Jeremiah 6:12). A few refugees who fled to different areas drifted back (Jeremiah 40:11-12). For the next fifty years those left behind eked out a precarious existence under the Babylonian yoke (Lamentations 5:2-5), subjected to ill treatment and forced labor (Lamentations 5:11-13).” (Yamauchi)
d. Besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem: This introduces a central theme for the Book of Ezra – the rebuilding of the temple. Beginning with the decree of Cyrus, the intention was not merely to return and reoccupy Jerusalem but to also rebuild the temple.
i. “Thus we see from the first that the idea which characterizes the restoration is religious. The exiles return as a Church. The goal of their pilgrimage is a holy site. The one work they are to aim at achieving is to further the worship of their God.” (Adeney)
B. The response of the people to the invitation to go back to Jerusalem.
1. (5-6) Those returning to Jerusalem are encouraged.
Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, with all whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem. And all those who were around them encouraged them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with precious things, besides all that was willingly offered.
a. With all whose spirits God had moved: Though the returning exiles were a minority, they were a spirit-stirred minority. They were dedicated to the difficult and discouraging task of returning to a ruined city and once there to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.
i. It was essential that God move the spirits of these returning exiles, because they faced many difficulties.
· The journey itself was long, dangerous, and expensive.
· They returned to a city in ruins with no proper homes, roads, or city institutions.
· They didn’t have all the material resources they needed.
· They didn’t all return to Jerusalem but spread out over the province of Judea.
· They had many enemies.
· Their land was actually the possession of another empire.
ii. “The chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin; and with them some of the other tribes, as appears from 1 Chronicles 9:3; but these only are named, because they were most considerable for number and quality.” (Poole)
b. Arose to go up and build the house of the LORD: So, a good number of the descendants of those exiled some two generations before decided to return to their ancestral land. These went; substantially more stayed behind in the land of their exile.
c. And all those who were around them encouraged them: This encouragement was more than verbal; it was tangible encouragement of financial and practical backing for the work. We can imagine that many of those who decided to stay in their lands of exile still were happy that others were going to build the house of the LORD and wanted to support that work.
i. “An important difference between the deportations by the Babylonians and by the Assyrians is that the Babylonians did not replace the deportees with pagan newcomers. Thus Judah, though devastated, was not contaminated with polytheism to the same degree as Israel.” (Yamauchi)
ii. Yamauchi mentions a cave inscription from this period, found at Khirbet Beit Lei, five miles east of Lachish. The inscription reads, “I am Yahweh thy God: I will accept the cities of Judah and will redeem Jerusalem.” It has been suggested that this may reflect the mind of a returning exile, expressing his trust in God’s faithfulness to restore despite the desolation of Jerusalem.
2. (7-11) The return of the articles of the house of the LORD.
King Cyrus also brought out the articles of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem and put in the temple of his gods; and Cyrus king of Persia brought them out by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. This is the number of them: thirty gold platters, one thousand silver platters, twenty-nine knives, thirty gold basins, four hundred and ten silver basins of a similar kind, and one thousand other articles. All the articles of gold and silver were five thousand four hundred. All these Sheshbazzar took with the captives who were brought from Babylon to Jerusalem.
a. King Cyrus also brought out the articles of the house of the LORD: When Jerusalem was conquered the remaining treasures of the temple were taken to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:18). Now, after conquering the Babylonians, Cyrus adopted a much more generous policy towards their subject peoples, including the Jewish people.
i. “Objection. These are said to have been cut in pieces, 2 Kings 24:13; how then are the here returned? Answer. That Hebrew word used 2 Kings 24:13, signifies not so properly to cut in pieces as to cut off, as from the use of the word, Deuteronomy 25:12; 2 Samuel 4:12; 2 Kings 18:16; Jeremiah 9:26. And these vessels, when they were taken away from it, because they had for so long been so constantly, and as it were inseparably, united to it, and kept in it.” (Poole)
b. Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah: This man was an important leader of this first part of the resettlement of Judah. Some believe that he was a partner to Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2, 3:2), and others believe that these were simply two names for the same person.
i. “There is a view that Sheshbazzar was a second name for Zerubbabel, used in all transactions with the ruling power . . . Alternatively Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel may have been, respectively, the official and unofficial leaders of the enterprise. Neither view is without its difficulties.” (Kidner)
ii. “This was probably the Chaldean name of him who was originally called Zerubbabel: the former signifies joy in affliction; the latter, a stranger in Babylon. The latter may be designed to refer to his captive state; the former to the prospect of release.” (Clarke)
c. This is the number of them: The careful reckoning of the returned articles shows how valued they were and how carefully they were treated.
i. What is conspicuously missing from the list is any mention of the more significant articles of the temple – the altar of incense, the table of showbread, the brazen altar, the golden lampstand, and especially the ark of the covenant. These articles were presumably lost to history at the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians.
ii. “The businesslike transfer of articles, ‘counted out’ from one custodian to another, may have been outwardly undramatic, but it was momentous. The closing words of the chapter, from Babylonia to Jerusalem, mark one of the turning points of history.” (Kidner)
iii. “We might have expected some kind of production of the enthusiasm of the returning exiles, some account of how they were sent on their journey, something which we should have felt worthier of the occasion than a list of bowls and nine-and-twenty knives. . . . The list here indicates the pride and joy with which the long hidden and often desecrated vessels were received.” (Maclaren)
iv. “Had they not been things of great price and use, they would not have been numbered . . . Men use not count how many pebbles they have in their yard, or piles of grass in their field, as they do how many pence in their purse or sheep in their fold.” (Trapp)
v. “They show that the generosity of Cyrus in restoring so great a hoard was genuine and considerable. It might have been urged that after the treasures had been lying for two generations in a heathen temple the original owners had lost all claim upon them. It might have been said that they had been contaminated by this long residence among the abominations of Babylonian idolatry. The restoration of them swept away all such ideas.” (Adeney)
Ezra 2 - List of the Returning Exiles
A. Those returning from exile.
1. (1-2) Those immediately associated with Zerubbabel.
Now these are the people of the province who came back from the captivity, of those who had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away to Babylon, and who returned to Jerusalem and Judah, everyone to his own city. Those who came with Zerubbabel were Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah. The number of the men of the people of Israel:
a. Now these are the people of the province who came back from the captivity: Here begins the list of the families and individuals who made the return to Judah and Jerusalem, now that it was a province of the Persian Empire.
i. “The returning exiles were described as ‘children of the province’ (Ezra 2:1) – i.e., of the Persian province of Judea – and their leader bore the title of a Persian governor (Tirshatha, Ezra 2:63). Zerubbabel was no new Moses.” (Adeney)
ii. The word province is medina. “That Medina, a city in Arabia, holdeth this Medina in hard subjection; making her children pay for the very heads they wear; and so grievously affecting them, that they have cause enough to take up anew Jeremiah’s elegy over their doleful captivity.” (Trapp)
b. Those who came with Zerubbabel: Here are eleven names mentioned, yet the list probably should contain twelve names (comparing with Nehemiah 7:7 and noting the twelve sacrificial bulls of Ezra 8:35).
i. “There are eleven names here, but Nehemiah’s copy of the list preserves one more, that of Nahamani (Nehemiah 7:7), which has evidently dropped out of this verse in the course of copying. The choice of twelve, like that of the twelve apostles, was a tacit declaration that the community they led was no mere rump or fragment by the embodiment of the people of Israel.” (Kidner)
ii. Nehemiah . . . Mordecai: “Not that famous Nehemiah nor that renowned Mordecai so much spoken of in the Book of Esther, but others of the same name.” (Trapp)
c. Zerubbabel: Zerubbabel was the appointed governor over the province of Judah. He was also a descendent of the last reigning Judean king.
i. “He was the lineal descendant of the royal house, the heir to the throne of David. This is a most significant fact. It shows that the exiles had retained some latent national character to the return, although, as we have already observed, the main object of it was religious.” (Adeney)
ii. He is probably the same person mentioned in Ezra 1:8 as Sheshbazzar. Ezra 5:16 says that Sheshbazzar laid the foundation of the temple; Ezra 3:8 seems to attribute that work to Zerubbabel. This strengthens the idea that they were in fact the same person.
d. Jeshua: Haggai 2:1-5 and several other passages among the post-exilic prophets mention this notable co-worker with Zerubbabel.
i. “Jeshua the High Priest (Zechariah 3:1), whose name (in Greek, ‘Jesus’) is spelt Joshua in Haggai and Zechariah, was Zerubbabel’s fellow-leader.”
2. (3-35) A listing of the families returning to Judah and Jerusalem.
The people of Parosh, two thousand one hundred and seventy-two; the people of Shephatiah, three hundred and seventy-two; the people of Arah, seven hundred and seventy-five; the people of Pahath-Moab, of the people of Jeshua and Joab, two thousand eight hundred and twelve; the people of Elam, one thousand two hundred and fifty-four; the people of Zattu, nine hundred and forty-five; the people of Zaccai, seven hundred and sixty; the people of Bani, six hundred and forty-two; the people of Bebai, six hundred and twenty-three; the people of Azgad, one thousand two hundred and twenty-two; the people of Adonikam, six hundred and sixty-six; the people of Bigvai, two thousand and fifty-six; the people of Adin, four hundred and fifty-four; the people of Ater of Hezekiah, ninety-eight; the people of Bezai, three hundred and twenty-three; the people of Jorah, one hundred and twelve; the people of Hashum, two hundred and twenty-three; the people of Gibbar, ninety-five; the people of Bethlehem, one hundred and twenty-three; the men of Netophah, fifty-six; the men of Anathoth, one hundred and twenty-eight; the people of Azmaveth, forty-two; the people of Kirjath Arim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, seven hundred and forty-three; the people of Ramah and Geba, six hundred and twenty-one; the men of Michmas, one hundred and twenty-two; the men of Bethel and Ai, two hundred and twenty-three; the people of Nebo, fifty-two; the people of Magbish, one hundred and fifty-six; the people of the other Elam, one thousand two hundred and fifty-four; the people of Harim, three hundred and twenty; the people of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, seven hundred and twenty-five; the people of Jericho, three hundred and forty-five; the people of Senaah, three thousand six hundred and thirty.
a. The people of: This list names the heads of families, with the numbers of the men of those families. It means that the total number of people would be more, because they are listed and counted by heads of families.
i. “The thousands of homecomers are not lumped together, but (in characteristic biblical fashion) related to those local and family circles which humanize a society and orientate an individual. Such is God’s way, who ‘setteth the solitary in families’ (Psalm 68:6).” (Kinder)
b. The people of Arah, seven hundred and seventy-five: This differs with the record at Nehemiah 7:10, and points to the often difficult correlation of numbers between the two passages. It seems that perhaps copyist error is the fault, but others have suggested alternative solutions.
i. “In Nehemiah 7:10, they were only six hundred and fifty-two. It seems seven hundred and seventy-five marched out of Babylon, or gave in their names that they would go; but some of them died, others changed their minds, others were hindered by sickness, or other casualties, happening to themselves or their near relations; and so there came only six hundred and fifty-two to Jerusalem. . . . And the like is to be said in the like differences; which it suffices to hint once for all.” (Poole)
ii. “There are many difficulties in this table of names; but as we have no less than three copies of it that contained here from Ezra 2:1-67, a second in Nehemiah 7:6-69, and a third in 1 Esdras 5:7-43, on a careful examination they will be found to correct each other.” (Clarke)
c. Parosh . . . Shephatiah . . . Arah: These names reflect the variety of influences that came in and among the children of Israel during the exile. Many of the names are connected to Biblical ideas, and others have connections to their exilic culture.
i. “The practice of giving Babylonian or Persian names to Jews in captivity (Esther 2:7; Daniel 1:7) is richly illustrated by the archives of Murashu.” (Yamauchi)
ii. The names themselves give a personal flavor.
· Parosh means flea.
· Shephatiah means Yahweh has judged.
· Arah means wild ox.
· Zaccai means either pure or is a shortened form of Zechariah.
· Bani is a shortened form of Benaiah, meaning Yahweh has built.
· Bebai means pupil of the eye.
· Azgad means Gad is strong.
· Adonikam means my Lord has arisen.
· Adin means voluptuous.
· Ater means lefty.
· Bezai is a shortened form of Bezaleel and means in the shadow of God.
· Jorah means autumn rain.
· Hashum means broad nose.
· Gibbar means strong man.
3. (36-57) A listing of the priests, Levites, and temple workers returning from exile.
The priests: the sons of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, nine hundred and seventy-three; the sons of Immer, one thousand and fifty-two; the sons of Pashhur, one thousand two hundred and forty-seven; the sons of Harim, one thousand and seventeen. The Levites: the sons of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the sons of Hodaviah, seventy-four. The singers: the sons of Asaph, one hundred and twenty-eight. 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, and the sons of Shobai, one hundred and thirty-nine in all. The Nethinim: the sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth, the sons of Keros, the sons of Siaha, the sons of Padon, the sons of Lebanah, the sons of Hagabah, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hagab, the sons of Shalmai, the sons of Hanan, the sons of Giddel, the sons of Gahar, the sons of Reaiah, the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda, the sons of Gazzam, the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah, the sons of Besai, the sons of Asnah, the sons of Meunim, the sons of Nephusim, the sons of Bakbuk, the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur, the sons of Bazluth, the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha, the sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Tamah, the sons of Neziah, and the sons of Hatipha. The sons of Solomon’s servants: the sons of Sotai, the sons of Sophereth, the sons of Peruda, the sons of Jaala, the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel, the sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth of Zebaim, and the sons of Ami.
a. Jedaiah . . . Immer . . . Pashhur . . . Harim: These families represent only four of the twenty-four divisions of the priesthood established by King David in 1 Chronicles 24:8. Most of the priests stayed behind in Babylon.
b. The sons of Hanan: “ ‘Hanan’ (‘[God] is gracious’) is derived from the verb hanan (‘to be gracious’), and its derivatives are the components of numerous names borne by fifty-one persons in the Old Testament. These include Baalhanan, Elhanan, Hananel, Hanani, Hananiah, Hannah, Hanun, Henadad, Jehohanan, and Tehinnah. ‘Johanan’ (‘Yahweh is gracious’) has given us the name John. The woman’s name Hannah gives us Anna, Ann, Nan, and Nancy.” (Yamauchi)
i. Bakbuk means “bottle,” referring to an earthenware container with a neck and a bulging body. Mr. Babkuk man have earned his nickname by his big belly; or because his constant chatter sounded like the bubbling sound of water poured out from a bottle.
c. The Levites: The total number of Levites was actually less than the number of priests that returned. This means that a remarkably small percentage of the Levites returned from Babylon.
i. “An examination of this list is remarkable principally from the small number of Levites who returned. Nearly ten times as many priests as Levites went back to the land. This, of course, was an inversion of the original order.” (Morgan)
ii. Some speculate that the Levites were particularly invested in worship at the high places, scattered on the hills all around pre-exilic Israel and Judah. The purifying fires of exile effectively burned out this idolatrous impulse, and therefore few Levites wanted to return to the Promised Land.
4. (58) Two special groups who came back from exile.
All the Nethinim and the children of Solomon’s servants were three hundred and ninety-two.
b. All the Nethinim: These seem to be the descendants of the Gibeonites, who were made special servants of the Levites and the priests at the temple.
i. “These were those Gibeonites that, have saved their lives by a lie, were made drawers of water to the temple as a punishment . . . Their employment was to minister to the Levites.” (Trapp)
ii. “It seems likely that the more menial tasks fell to these men; and the presence of some foreign-looking names in the list may indicate that some of these groups came into Israel from David’s conquests, whether as immigrants or perhaps as prisoners of war.” (Kidner)
b. The children of Solomon’s servants: Most believe that these were those employed by Solomon who came from other people groups. They came into Israel as foreign proselytes.
i. “These also were strangers, that had been employed by Solomon, and becoming proselytes, were incorporated into the commonwealth of Israel. God is no respecter of persons.” (Trapp)
5. (59-63) Those among the priests with uncertain genealogies who returned from exile.
And these were the ones who came up from Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Cherub, Addan, and Immer; but they could not identify their father’s house or their genealogy, whether they were of Israel: the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, and the sons of Nekoda, six hundred and fifty-two; and of the sons of the priests: the sons of Habaiah, the sons of Koz, and the sons of Barzillai, who took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called by their name. These sought their listing among those who were registered by genealogy, but they were not found; therefore they were excluded from the priesthood as defiled. And the governor said to them that they should not eat of the most holy things till a priest could consult with the Urim and Thummim.
a. These sought their listing among those who were registered by genealogy, but they were not found: This shows an admirable respect for God’s law respecting the priesthood of Israel. These were those who had some claim to a priestly lineage, but could not prove their genealogy. They were therefore excluded from the priesthood as defiled.
i. “So shall all be at the last day that are not written among the living in Jerusalem, that are not registered in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Trapp)
ii. “Barzillai was a name that carried considerable weight; its bearer had been a staunch supporter of David, and a man of wealth (2 Samuel 19:32). It may be that in adopting this family’s name (and becoming its heir?) the ancestor of these claimants had laid himself open to the charge that he had renounced his own birthright, the priesthood.” (Kidner)
b. They should not eat of the most holy things till a priest could consult with the Urim and Thummim: Those with questionable genealogies were not permanently excluded; each case required more research and seeking God.
i. “The Urim and Thummim, together with the Ark and the Shekinah, are named by the rabbis among the precious things that were never recovered.” (Adeney)
6. (64-67) The summary of the returning exiles.
The whole assembly together was forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty, besides their male and female servants, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred and thirty-seven; and they had two hundred men and women singers. Their horses were seven hundred and thirty-six, their mules two hundred and forty-five, their camels four hundred and thirty-five, and their donkeys six thousand seven hundred and twenty.
a. The whole assembly together: The size of this entire group is here stated to be about 50,000. However, this was only the first wave of repatriation to Israel from the Babylonian captivity and includes only the heads of families. The approximate total of the returned exiles was probably somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000. This was only a small percentage of those who had been exiled and their descendants; the great majority stayed behind in Babylon.
i. As a whole, Israelites had some reason to feel comfortable in Babylon. The Murashu tablets were discovered in 1873 and are records from Murashu and his sons, wealthy bankers and brokers of the late period of exile, who seemed to loan out almost anything for a price. “Among their customers are listed about sixty Jewish names from the time of Artaxerxes I, and forty from the time of Darius II. These appear as contracting parties, agents, witnesses, collectors of taxes, and royal officials. There seems to have been no social or commercial barriers between the Jews and the Babylonians. Their prosperous situation may explain why some chose to remain in Mesopotamia.” (Yamauchi)
ii. Indeed, Josephus wrote, “many remained in Babylon, being unwilling to leave their possessions” (Antiquities XI, 8).
iii. One should not think that there was no spiritual life among the Jewish exiles; Ezekiel (who went into exile after 597 or 586 B.C.) describes what we might call a “home Bible study” at his home with the elders of Judah (Ezekiel 8:1). “Deprived of the temple, the exiles laid great stress on the observation of the Sabbath, on the laws of purity, and on prayer and fasting. It has often been suggested that the development of synagogues began in Mesopotamia during the Exile.” (Yamauchi) Indeed, “In the Talmud it is said that only the chaff returned, while the wheat remained behind.” (Adeney)
iv. 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.
v. “Depending on one’s estimate of the numbers deported and the number of returning exiles, we have widely varying estimates for the population of postexilic Judah: 20,000 to 50,000 by W.F. Albright, 60,000 by H. Kreissig, 50,000 to 80,000 by J. de Fraine, 85,000 by R. Kittel, 100,000 by S. Mowinckel, 150,000 by J. Weinberg, and 235,000 by A. Schultz. An estimate of 150,000 is more probably correct than Albright’s estimate.” (Yamauchi)
vi. “The figure of 42,360 appears as the total also in Nehemiah 7:66 and 1 Esdras 5:41, yet the individual items add up to three different totals, as follows: Ezra 29,818; Nehemiah 31,089; 1 Esdras 30:143. There have been attempts to explain the missing thousands: as members of the northern tribes, or as women, or as adolescents. But the narrative is silent on such points.” (Kidner)
b. Their horses . . . their mules . . . their camels . . . their donkeys: This group did not return with much, but they also did not return with nothing.
i. “They went into captivity, stripped of everything; they now return from it, abounding in the most substantial riches. . . . Thus we find that God, in the midst of judgment, remembered mercy, and gave them favour in the land of their captivity.” (Clarke)
B. The returned exiles make their home in the Promised Land.
1. (68-69) The offerings made for the rebuilding of the temple.
Some of the heads of the fathers’ houses, when they came to the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, offered freely for the house of God, to erect it in its place: According to their ability, they gave to the treasury for the work sixty-one thousand gold drachmas, five thousand minas of silver, and one hundred priestly garments.
a. Offered freely for the house of God: Because of prominence of those who made this offering (the heads of the fathers’ houses) and the priority in this record, we see how important it was for the leaders and the people to sacrificially give to the work of rebuilding the temple.
b. According to their ability: These people gave generously, as generously as they could according to their ability. This showed how highly valued the house of God was in their eyes.
i. “The phrase, according to their ability, does credit to these donors, and Paul may have had it in mid in his charge to the Corinthians to give in proportion to their gains (1 Corinthians 16:2).” (Kidner) Yet Paul also noted those who gave even beyond their ability (2 Corinthians 8:3).
2. (70) The restoration of a substantial Israeli presence in the Promised Land.
So the priests and the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the Nethinim, dwelt in their cities, and all Israel in their cities.
a. The priests and the Levites . . . dwelt in their cities: This shows that Jerusalem was once again populated, even though it was a humble beginning.
i. “There would soon be daily sacrifices to offer, many worshippers to attend to, and much work to supervise.” (Kidner)
ii. “Later Nehemiah would be compelled to move people by lot to reinforce the population of Jerusalem, as the capital city had suffered the severest loss of life at the time of the Babylonian attacks.” (Yamauchi)
b. Dwelt in their cities, and all Israel in their cities: After two generations in exile, there was again a substantial presence of Jewish people in the land that was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This was a wonderful fulfillment of God’s promise to bring Israel back from exile.
i. “For during their abode in Babylon Judaea law utterly waste and uninhabited. The land kept her Sabbaths, resting from tillage, and God, by a wonderful providence, kept the room empty till the return of the natives.” (Trapp)
ii. “Almost the whole community of Babylonian exiles who stayed when Babylon was destroyed came to this country then years ago – and their number was nearly thrice the number of those who returned to Zion in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah.” (David Ben-Gurion, cited in Yamauchi describing the modern emigration of Jews from Iraq to Israel)
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