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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Ezra 2



Verse 1-2

The leaders2:1-2a

The "province" referred to was probably Judah, [Note: Kidner, p37.] rather than Babylonia, [Note: F. Charles Fensham, "Medina in Ezra and Nehemiah ," Vetus Testamentum25:4 (October1975):795-97.] in view of the context. Zerubbabel was the grandson of King Jehoiachin and the nephew of Sheshbazzar, the leader of this return ( 1 Chronicles 3:17-19). Zerubbabel assumed leadership later in Judah. Evidently Sheshbazzar was the official Persian governor and Zerubbabel the popular leader (cf. Ezra 3:8-11). [Note: Sara Japhet, "Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel-Against the Background of the Historical and Religious Tendencies of Ezra -, Nehemiah ," Zeitschrift fr die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft94 (1982):66-98.] Sheshbazzar may have been about55 to60 years old at this time and Zerubbabel about40. [Note: Jacob M. Myers, Ezra -, Nehemiah , p28.] Jeshua was the high priest ( Zechariah 3:1) who later led in the Revelation -establishment of temple worship. This Nehemiah must have been a different person from the Nehemiah in the book that bears that name. The second Nehemiah did not return to Judah until almost100 years later, in444 B.C. ( Nehemiah 2:9). Likewise, this Mordecai was not Esther"s cousin ( Esther 2:5), since the latter Mordecai remained in Susa, one of the capitals of the Persian Empire, and lived about50 years later than this Mordecai.

Verses 2-35

The general population2:2-35

The designations "sons of" and "men of" in these verses point out the two ways whereby the exiles demonstrated their Jewish ancestry: by family genealogy or by residence in Palestine. Few of the returning exiles had personally lived in the Promised Land, but many could give evidence that their ancestors had lived in a particular town and or had owned property there.

"It was not considered a compromise of one"s Jewish identity to give a child a name which was not Yahwistic, nor even of Hebrew or Aramaic stock." [Note: Coogan, p11.]

Scholars have explained the many differences in numbers in this list compared with the one in Nehemiah 7:7-66 several ways. [Note: See Gleason L. Archer Jeremiah , Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp229-31.] Hebrew writers represented numbers by using certain words that had other meanings. This has resulted in some confusion in interpretation. [Note: See The New Bible Dictionary, 1962ed, s.v. "Number," by R. A. H. Gunner.] Perhaps the translators misunderstood the numbers the writer intended. [Note: J. Carl Laney, Ezra and Nehemiah , p27.] Another explanation is that this list contains rough estimates and the later list in Nehemiah has the true figures. [Note: John J. Davis, Biblical Numerology, p33. For a detailed explanation of the differences between these lists, see H. L. Allrik, "The Lists of Zerubbabel ( Nehemiah 7 and Ezra 2) and the Hebrew Numerical Notation," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research136 (December1954):21-27.]

Verses 36-39

The priests2:36-39

Only four of the24priestly families that David organized ( 1 Chronicles 24:7-18) had representatives among the returning exiles. Nevertheless, these would have been sufficient to serve the worship needs of the other Israelites who returned. The priests comprised about86 percent of the total returnee population at this time (cf. Ezra 2:64-65).

Verses 40-42

The Levites2:40-42

Few Levites, only341 , chose to leave the comforts of life in Babylon. They assisted the priests. There were fewer Levites than priests, the opposite of the situation that existed before the exile.

Verses 43-54

The temple servants2:43-54

The "temple servants" were an order of Israelites that David had established to assist the Levites ( Ezra 8:20). The biblical writers sometimes called them the Nethinim (lit. those given, i.e, dedicated, to God). They may have been the descendants of the Gibeonites whom Joshua had subjugated ( Joshua 9:27), and or the descendants of other war captives. [Note: Myers, p19.]

Verses 55-58

The descendants of Solomon"s servants2:55-58

These people seem to have been those who descended from the servants Solomon had appointed to serve in his temple during his administration. Other views are that they were the descendants of the Canaanites whom Solomon enslaved [Note: Yamauchi, " Ezra -, Nehemiah ," pp614 , 615. Cf. Whitcomb, p425.] or the descendants of the royal officers who were merchants in Solomon"s service. [Note: B. A. Levine, "The Nethinim," Journal of Biblical Literature82 (1963):209.] Since the grand total in Ezra 2:58 includes both the temple servants and this group, it appears that they cooperated closely in their work.

Verse 59-60

Israelites of doubtful origin2:59-60

"We may infer from this pericope as it is clearly stated in 1 Chronicles 5:17 and Nehemiah 7:5 that Jewish families kept genealogies to prove their Jewish descent, and to ascertain that mixture with foreign groups was somehow excluded." [Note: Fensham, The Books . . ., p55.]

Even though these people could not establish their Jewish ancestry with certainty, the leaders of the restoration permitted them to return with those who could. It is understandable that some of the Jews born in Babylon, perhaps of mixed parentage, would have had trouble tracing their genealogies.

"Dr. Nelson Glueck, in commenting on the phenomenon of historical memory as evidenced in the Old Testament, relates an experience which Mr. A. S. Kirkbride had while serving with "Lawrence of Arabia" in1917. "He told me," writes Glueck, "that on one occasion, while he was in an Arab encampment, an Arab got up and related the history of his forbearers back to forty generations, and that there were others in the assembly who obviously could have done the same, telling who married and who begat whom, and where they lived, and frequently what they had done, and where they wandered. Kirkbride said it sounded exactly like a chapter of genealogy out of the Bible" (Newsletter of Nelson Glueck, Aug22 , 1942)." [Note: David N. Freedman and G. Ernest Wright, eds, The Biblical Archaeologist Reader, p63.]

Verses 61-63

Priests of doubtful origin2:61-63

These men returned but could not serve as priests until the high priest could determine that they were indeed descendants of Aaron (cf. Numbers 16:40; Numbers 18:9-10). Perhaps the high priest did this using the Urim and Thummim, if these were still in existence ( Exodus 28:15-30; cf. 1 Samuel 23:9-12). Perhaps other records were available to him.

Verses 64-67

The totals2:64-67

There is a discrepancy between the total number of exiles the writer gave here (49 ,897) and the sum of the various groups he just mentioned (29 ,818). Perhaps the women and children made up the difference, though if this was the case there were many more men than women and children. This may have been the case in view of the rigors that the people would have had to experience moving from Babylon to Jerusalem.

"More likely is the suggestion that since this is a composite list, some families simply were omitted; but the overall total remains correct." [Note: Breneman, p85.]

Another explanation follows.

"There is general agreement that the divergences are copying errors, arising from the special difficulty of understanding or reproducing numerical lists." [Note: Kidner, p43.]

Some of the Jews took their servants back to Judah with them ( Ezra 2:65). The ratio was about one servant to every six Jews, which confirms the wealth of the Jews then (cf. Ezra 2:69). Twenty years later most of them were poor (cf. Haggai 1:6; Haggai 1:9; Haggai 2:17). These singers ( Ezra 2:65) may have been entertainers, since they are distinct from the temple singers ( Ezra 2:41). If they were, their presence would illustrate further the returning exiles" prosperity.

"The [one-humped Arabian] camel [ Ezra 2:67] can carry its rider and about four hundred pounds and can travel three or four days without drinking." [Note: Yamauchi, " Ezra -, Nehemiah ," p619.]

Verses 68-70

Arrival in Jerusalem2:68-70

The Israelites contributed to the rebuilding of the temple as they had toward the construction of the Mosaic tabernacle ( Exodus 25:3-7; Exodus 35:2-9). Probably the Greek gold drachma is in view and the Babylonian silver mina ( Ezra 2:69). [Note: Fensham, The Books . . ., p57. However compare Yamauchi, " Ezra -, Nehemiah ," p620.] If this is Song of Solomon , one Greek drachma was equivalent to one Roman denarius. [Note: The New Bible Dictionary, 1962ed, s.v. "Money," by A. F. Walls.] In the ancient world, this was one day"s wage for a working man (cf. Matthew 20:1-16). Obviously the exiles made a substantial contribution to the rebuilding of the temple that supplemented what Cyrus and the friends of the immigrants had previously donated ( Ezra 1:4; Ezra 1:6-11; cf. Exodus 25:4-7; Exodus 35:2-9; 2 Corinthians 8:3; 2 Corinthians 9:7).

When this group of Jews returned to the Promised Land in537 B.C, they went first to Jerusalem ( Ezra 2:68). Later they settled in the towns where their ancestors had lived and where some of them had property rights ( Ezra 2:70; cf. Ezra 2:21-35).

The record of those who returned that God preserved in this chapter shows His faithfulness in bringing a remnant of His people back to Palestine as He had promised.

"One of the chief objectives of Ezra -Nehemiah was to show the Jews that they constituted the continuation of the preexilic Jewish community, the Israelite community that God had chosen." [Note: Breneman, p50.]


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezra 2:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

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