At first glance, seventy verses of people and places might not be too appealing to read, right? But, as we read through (or as you skim over) this chapter, there are one or two interesting points in Ezra 2.
First, how the people are referenced. Two generations in exile has led to people taking on new and locally appropriate names (vv.3-35), being collectively referenced as the people of the province (v.1), and their leader being called the governor (v.63). Living away certainly had its effects on the people and their very Persian titles and names are proof of this.
After lists of families returning (vv.3-35), priests and Levites (vv.36-58), and those with uncertain genealogies (vv.59-63), we see that the total number of heads of families and men was 42,360 (v.64). In reality then, the total number of this first wave of repatriation could have been around one hundred thousand. The majority of exiles actually stayed in Babylon and led relatively normal lives including freely trading with the locals (The Murashu Tablets) and having what we may term ‘home Bible studies’ (Enduring Word) (Ezekiel 8.1). Really then, it was only a remnant who returned at this point. They didn’t return to much (2 Kings 25.12, Jeremiah 39.10, 40.7, 52.16), but they did return.
They left behind what was most likely a pretty comfortable and tolerable life in exile to seek to draw closer to God and the way He desired them to live.
Is the same true for you? Are you willing to leave behind a comfortable and tolerable life in order to seek the Lord, to draw closer to God, to live the life He desires you to live? The first wave of returning exiles are surely a great example of this, but are they the ultimate example? Are they the ultimate example of leaving behind a comfortable and tolerable life to pursue the life God has planned for them? I think of Paul writing to the church in Philippi about the humility of Christ Jesus,
6 …who, though he existed in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
8 He humbled himself
by becoming obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross!
Philippians 2.6-8, NET
The ultimate example of leaving a comfortable and tolerable life has to be the Lord Jesus, who, though he existed in the form of God…emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature.
Yes, the first wave of returning exiles are commendable for taking the opportunity given them to return to and reestablish a thriving community in Jerusalem, but let us never forget what this really points us to – Jesus.