THE NUMBER OF THOSE WHO CAME
In the 1970's a movie came out on broadcast television entitled "Roots." Written by Alex Haley, it was a true-life portrayal of a manís attempts to trace down his ancestors. My wifeís family has a book of ancestors that go all the way back to the Mayflower.
On the other hand, there are some people who are ashamed of their family heritage - like the man who spent a fortune trying to uncover his family line and then another fortune trying to cover it up again. Why do people care at all about their ancestry? There are several reasons:
This chapter contains a long list of names. Such a list does not seem very interesting to us because we know virtually nothing of these people. They would seem to have no relevance to us in our day. But I want to suggest that there are some lessons that we can learn from the presence of this list in the book of Ezra.
1. This List is Preparatory for the Messiah.
At the beginning of the list is the name of Zerubbabel. He was a leader of the people due to the fact that he could trace his ancestry back to Solomon and David. His name appears in the genealogy of Jesus as found in Matthew 1.
Zerubbabel had the legal right to the throne of Israel. But he never laid claim to that throne. Though the Israelites looked to him for leadership, he never attempted to be recognized as a king. This was in keeping with a prophecy which had been made years earlier.
"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;
"I will hurl you and your mother who bore you into another country where you were not born, and there you will die.
"But as for the land to which they desire to return, they will not return to it.
"Is this man Coniah a despised, shattered jar? Or is he an undesirable vessel? Why have he and his descendants been hurled out and cast into a land that they had not known?
"O land, land, land, Hear the word of the LORD!
"Thus says the LORD, "Write this man down childless, A man who will not prosper in his days; For no man of his descendants will prosper sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah." (Jeremiah 22:24-30).
Coniah is another name for Jehoachin, one of the last kings of Judah. The Lord had promised that none of the descendants of Coniah would ever prosper upon the throne of David. This means that if Jesus had been the physical descendant of Joseph, he would have been ineligible to sit upon the throne of David. On the other hand, only a legal descendant of David has the legal right to the throne of David. It has been suggested that it is for this reason that the Gospel accounts contain two separate and distinct genealogies for Jesus.
Traces the genealogy of Jesus through David back to Abraham
Traces the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam
Traces the line through David and his son Solomon
Traces the line through David and his son Nathan
A legal lineage through Joseph
Possibly a physical lineage through Mary
2. This List is made up of Real People.
To us this list of names is nothing more than that - simply a listing of unknown names over which we may conveniently skip. But they are a lot more than that to the Lord. We do not know these people, but HE does.
Here is the point. If we consider our church to be a spiritual family, then we should try to make it a point to know one anotherís names. And not merely their names. We should make an effort to be involved in one anotherís lives.
That is not always an easy thing. Peopleís lives are sometimes messy. And noisy. And inconvenient. But that is what it means to be family.
3. This List contains a number of Places.
In verses 3-20 we read a listing of the record of the children of the heads of various clans. But in verse 21 there is a change. Here we read the children, not of a man, but from a certain PLACE. Throughout the rest of the chapter, we see interspersed among the listings of clans certain listings of towns and villages.
Some of these places were repaired and became once again the habitation of the returning deportees. Other places remained in ruins and some have even been forgotten to this day.
There is a lesson here. It is that sometimes coming back to God does not involve coming back to a specific physical location. Paula and I met at Florida Bible College at a time when it was located on Hollywood Beach. The building has since been sold and today is the Hollywood Beach Hotel. Though we treasure the memories from those years, those relationships can not be recaptured by returning to that location. It just isnít the same any longer.
The good news is that the God whom we came to know in those days has not changed. We can not longer go to that locale, but we can go to Him. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Verse 23 makes reference of 128 men of Anathoth. This is significant. In the days before the final fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah was told by the Lord to purchase a piece of property. With Nebuchanezzar already in the land, real estate prices were in a steady state of decline. This was NOT the time to be purchasing real estate.
And Jeremiah said, "The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 7 ĎBehold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle is coming to you, saying, "Buy for yourself my field which is at Anathoth, for you have the right of redemption to buy it."í" (Jeremiah 32:6-7).
Jeremiah obeys the Lord and purchases the field. He is then instructed to save the deed as a future inheritance.
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, "Take these deeds, this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, that they may last a long time."
For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, "Houses and fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.
After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah, then I prayed to the LORD, saying, 17 "Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You (Jeremiah 32:14-17).
The reason that Jeremiah was to purchase this property was to illustrate a promise. The promise was that God would one day bring the Israelites back into the land and give it to them as their inheritance.
The property that Jeremiah purchesed was in Anathoth. Now we see these men going back to that selfsame city. Their actions in returning to this city was in fulfillment of the words of the Lord.
We also have promises from God. We are called to "buy into" those promises. Jesus warned that we should take care not to lay up our treasure here on earth, but to lay up our treasure in heaven.
4. This List is nearly exclusively Masculine.
Women were not mentioned in this list. That does not mean that they did not accompany the men, but it does mean that these men were considered to be the leaders of their households. There is one interesting exception:
The sons of Solomon's servants: the sons of Sotai, the sons of Hassophereth, the sons of Peruda... (Ezra 2:55).
The name Hassophereth is the feminine form of the Hebrew word for "scribe." This was an era in history where not all people could read and write (this would change dramatically in the days of Jesus). Very rare indeed was a woman who held the position of a scribe. But this woman evidently was known as a scribe.
We have a manuscript of the Pentateuch that was written many years later in the Middle Ages. The manuscript was copied by Miriam, the daughter of the renowned scribe Benaya. The title page contains this remark, "Please be indulgent of the shortcomings of this volume; I copied it while nursing a baby."
5. This List contains a Priestly Emphasis.
Now these are those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub,
Tel-melahmeans "mound of salt." It could be that this was a village that was seeded with salt so that nothing would grow there. Tel-harsha likewise means "mound of broken pottery." Each of these towns were located on the eastern side of Mesopotamia. They were evidently deserted sites on which the Jewish exiles settled.
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.
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.
These searched among their ancestral registration, but they could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood.
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).
There were certain men who returned who were descendants of the priesthood, but could no longer provide specific evidence as to their heritage. The records had been destroyed when the Temple was destroyed. And since the Law mandated that only descendants of Aaron could serve as priests, these men were excluded from the priesthood.
We do not have this kind of priesthood in the church today. The New Testament teaches that Christ has become our high priests and, through His ministry, He has made us all to be a kingdom of priests. Be we still need a holy lineage for that priesthood. It is not a physical lineage, but a spiritual lineage that we require.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13).
It is only those who have been born again into the family of God who enjoy the privilege of coming into the presence of God.
Verse 63 makes mention of the Urim and Thummim. These were devises which were somehow connected to the breastplate of the high priest and were used like lots to determine what might be the will of the Lord. Like some of the other Temple items, these had evidently been lost.
The governor seems to be a reference to Zerubbabel. His judgment regarding these priests was that they should be removed from their priestly office until a priest stood up with Urim and Thummim. The thing that is not mentioned here is that the Urim and Thummim never again made their appearance. The rabbis after this held that "since the destruction of the first temple the Urim and the Thummim ceased" (Tosefta Sota 13.1).
The Septuagint translated these terms with abstractions: Lights and Perfections; elsewhere it translates the terms as Manifestation and Truth. They were used by the high priest to determine "yes" or "no" answers to see what might be the will of God.
The mind of God has been ultimately revealed to us in Jesus Christ. He fulfills the Urim and Thummim.