Ezra 2 might have bored you. It contains a list – and numbers. Why bore us with a list? A couple of things are worth noting as we look at this list and some of the commentary that Ezra gives us.
First, this is the remnant of God’s people. These are the ones who were left after the Babylonian invasion and exile. In other words, these are the survivors. This might be a good time to read Jeremiah 30. If you recall, the first lines of Ezra 1 mentioned the word of God given to Jeremiah would be fulfilled.
Here’s what it says in Jeremiah 30:8-9: “And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.”
And so here was the remnant – the survivors of Israel – having the yoke of its oppressor (Babylon) broken off its neck. They were freed to return to the land. And they walked straight back to Jerusalem, to the ruins of the temple.
Second, you also might notice the number of people who returned. This truly was a remnant. Ezra tells us 42,360 people returned to Israel. For some perspective, Moses led a group of 603,550 of able-bodied men (not counting women and children) out of Egypt (Numbers 1:46). And King David, once the people had entered and lived in the Promised Land for some time, had a potential army of 1.3 million men (2 Samuel 24:9).
From 1.3 million able-bodied men to a “whole assembly” that consisted of 42,260 Israelites. The nation was depleted. This was a remnant. We should keep in mind, however, that the nation of Israel had NOT been destroyed. God had preserved this much. Because of their disobedience, they were disciplined. Affliction can bring purification. Things tend to shrink when they are purified.
Third, Israel had no king. There was, however, a very important name in the list of survivors who returned to Israel – Zerubbabel. He was a member of the royal family and a descendant of King David. Zerubabbel is mentioned in another important “list” later in the Bible (Matthew 1:12; Luke 3:27).
With all of that said, I read Ezra 2 and found myself drawn to the numbers. In some cases, they were quite small: the sons of Azmaveth were just 42, and the sons of Nebo were only 52. But they were present. They broke away from Babylon/Persia and headed home.
And they were counted. They were members of the family of God – members of the community of promise. God had said this was a family that he would bless, and this was a family that would become a blessing to the whole world. And the few dozen sons of Azmaveth and Nebo and Netophah were part of that family.
And there were some who returned to Israel who claimed to be part of the family, but there was no evidence of it. I found that interesting, too. “They could not prove their fathers’ houses or their descent, whether they belonged to Israel” (Ezra 2:59). It wasn’t for lack of trying. Some of them claimed to be priests – “These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but they were not found there …” (Ezra 2:62).
Family mattered. Being “in” the family was a big deal. Purity was essential when it came to bloodlines.
When I think about this today, I puzzle over it. Isn’t God’s family based on more than flesh and blood? These were “blood relatives,” and couldn’t a person partake of the things of the family without being family by “blood”? Isn’t it enough just to “want” to be part of the family?
As Christians, we know that flesh and blood are important. These lists of family members are part of the Bible’s unceasing push to the “end” of the list – to Jesus Christ. Human beings in human families passed on a promise from God from one generation to the next until everything was fulfilled in one man. Human descent is a fleshly thing.
And fleshly things still matter today for us as Christians. In fact, one fleshly thing is of VITAL importance to who we are and where we place our hope. “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:2-3).
There is a Spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh – that is, that Jesus Christ has come as a human to live and to die as a human. Flesh and blood are important because we are flesh and blood, and the only escape from the penalty for our sins is for another flesh-and-blood person – a sinless person – to take that penalty in our place. And so the Spirit of God is constantly reminding us that Jesus came in the flesh, as a man, to die as a man in our place. Only another person can take our place. Salvation comes to us through flesh and blood.
And you will notice that the family of God still matters for us as Christians today. Being “in” the family is a big deal. There is an “in” and an “out” of the family of God. Some are “in” and some are “out.” And because of what Jesus did in the flesh, we are not “in” because our names are written in the genealogies. Rather, we are “in” because we accept the testimony of the Holy Spirit about Jesus – that salvation came to us through the flesh and blood of a poor Israelite man, a man whose name can be found in the genealogies, whose lineage is tied to the promise of God. And it helps that Jesus is divine, too!
Are you “in” or “out” of the family? The Israelites came to the land as Israelites – they were bearers of the promise. We come to the “land” as Christians – also bearers of the promise. What do you believe about Jesus?