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Commentary: Ezra 2
2:1–2 The mention again of Nebuchadnezzar and the circumstances of exile signals a reemphasizing of the continuity of the returnees with the original exiles. That it was their own towns to which they returned reflects and depends on the divinely sanctioned division and allocation of the land described in Numbers and Joshua. Whether intentional or not, the listing of twelve leaders (not including Sheshbazzar) would likely have offered early readers an echo of the twelve sons of Jacob and the eponymous tribes that descended from them. Though not emphasized here, Zerubbabel’s Davidic ancestry may well have reminded ancient readers of the hope of royal restoration (and thus the fulfillment of God’s promise to David in 2 Sam 7) that would wax and wane in the years following the return. […]
2:21–35 Beginning in 2:21 the focus of the list seems to shift from parentage to place…The interest in connecting the returning people to particular places reflects the historic concerns with (re)securing the land that had been promised by God in ancient times. If the people are listed by place name because they are “the poor of the land” (2 Kgs 25:12) who do not hold title to any ancestral property, the list reaffirms the community’s inclusion of those on the margins who might otherwise have fallen by the wayside on their return.
2:36–39 As in Numbers, where the priests and Levites are listed (Num 3–4) following the others (Num 1–2), so too here in connection with this new “exodus,” the attention moves from laity to priests and functionaries—the comparatively sizeable numbers of the latter offer a further indication that worship is not incidental, but remains central to the plans of God and his people.
2:40–42 As Ezra would himself eventually discover (8:15), comparatively few Levites made this journey (2:40). While singers and gatekeepers would later (1 Chr 6) be incorporated into the Levite ranks and classified according to descent (Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun), here they are reported separately. Collectively, they are further testimony to the cultic ambitions and commitments of the returning community.
2:43–58 It is very likely that the temple servants (lit., “given/devoted”), and the sons of Solomon’s servants were responsible for assisting the Levites with some of the most basic tasks relating to worship and the temple. If, as some of the names suggest, this group included foreigners (including, potentially, prisoners of war), their inclusion as full members of the community (as we see in 2:64) suggests that the community continued to be inclusive within the limits of the tradition as they understood it.
2:59–63 The limits of the community’s inclusivity appear to have had implications for those who belonged to specific communities in exile but were unable to establish their genealogical credentials and/or connection to a traditional location in the ancestral land. While the implications remain unclear for the laity, the priests are excluded from facilitating the worshiping community. Given the emphasis on ensuring continuity with the community of origin, such a position, while appearing severe, would certainly have been understandable. […]
2:64–67 The total sum of the preceding numbers is considerably lower (by some 11,000) than the total given in 2:64. While it is possible, as in 1:9–11, that something has been lost in the preceding list, the more likely suggestion is that women have been included in the latter total, but not in the preceding numbers. Both men and women are included in the figures for servants/slaves (2:65), who are included along with the animals (2:66)—a notion that is as anathema to modern sensibilities as it was apparently unremarkable to ancient ones. […]
2:70 Given that some of the priests and temple functionaries clearly (and of necessity) settled in Jerusalem (Neh 3:26, 31; 11:21), why does the text here make a point of suggesting that both they and the rest of the people settled in their towns? By reiterating the same point at the end of the chapter, which he had made at the beginning (Ezra 2:1), the editor/narrator perhaps wishes to emphasize that the return was not merely a symbolic but also quite literal (re)settlement of the land as evidenced by the repopulation of not just Jerusalem, but also the wide variety of cities and towns that are indicated at great length in the lists found in Josh 15:21–62; 18:21–28. 
 Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 14-15.
1 Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town. 2 They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah.
The number of the men of the people of Israel: 3 the sons of Parosh, 2,172. 4 The sons of Shephatiah, 372. 5 The sons of Arah, 775. 6 The sons of Pahath-moab, namely the sons of Jeshua and Joab, 2,812. 7 The sons of Elam, 1,254. 8 The sons of Zattu, 945. 9 The sons of Zaccai, 760. 10 The sons of Bani, 642. 11 The sons of Bebai, 623. 12 The sons of Azgad, 1,222. 13 The sons of Adonikam, 666. 14 The sons of Bigvai, 2,056. 15 The sons of Adin, 454. 16 The sons of Ater, namely of Hezekiah, 98. 17 The sons of Bezai, 323. 18 The sons of Jorah, 112. 19 The sons of Hashum, 223. 20 The sons of Gibbar, 95. 21 The sons of Bethlehem, 123. 22 The men of Netophah, 56. 23 The men of Anathoth, 128. 24 The sons of Azmaveth, 42. 25 The sons of Kiriath-arim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, 743. 26 The sons of Ramah and Geba, 621. 27 The men of Michmas, 122. 28 The men of Bethel and Ai, 223. 29 The sons of Nebo, 52. 30 The sons of Magbish, 156. 31 The sons of the other Elam, 1,254. 32 The sons of Harim, 320. 33 The sons of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, 725. 34 The sons of Jericho, 345. 35 The sons of Senaah, 3,630.
36 The priests: the sons of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, 973. 37 The sons of Immer, 1,052. 38 The sons of Pashhur, 1,247. 39 The sons of Harim, 1,017.
40 The Levites: the sons of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the sons of Hodaviah, 74. 41 The singers: the sons of Asaph, 128. 42 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, in all 139.
43 The temple servants: the sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth, 44 the sons of Keros, the sons of Siaha, the sons of Padon, 45 the sons of Lebanah, the sons of Hagabah, the sons of Akkub, 46 the sons of Hagab, the sons of Shamlai, the sons of Hanan, 47 the sons of Giddel, the sons of Gahar, the sons of Reaiah, 48 the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda, the sons of Gazzam, 49 the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah, the sons of Besai, 50 the sons of Asnah, the sons of Meunim, the sons of Nephisim, 51 the sons of Bakbuk, the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur, 52 the sons of Bazluth, the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha, 53 the sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Temah, 54 the sons of Neziah, and the sons of Hatipha.
55 The sons of Solomon’s servants: the sons of Sotai, the sons of Hassophereth, the sons of Peruda, 56 the sons of Jaalah, the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel, 57 the sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth-hazzebaim, and the sons of Ami.
58 All the temple servants and the sons of Solomon’s servants were 392.
59 The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addan, and Immer, though they could not prove their fathers’ houses or their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: 60 the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, and the sons of Nekoda, 652. 61 Also, of the sons of the priests: the sons of Habaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, and the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called by their name). 62These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but they were not found there, and so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. 63 The governor told them that they were not to partake of the most holy food, until there should be a priest to consult Urim and Thummim.
64 The whole assembly together was 42,360, 65 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337, and they had 200 male and female singers. 66 Their horses were 736, their mules were 245, 67 their camels were 435, and their donkeys were 6,720.
68 Some of the heads of families, when they came to the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, made freewill offerings for the house of God, to erect it on its site. 69 According to their ability they gave to the treasury of the work 61,000 darics of gold, 5,000 minas of silver, and 100 priests’ garments.
70 Now the priests, the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants lived in their towns, and all the rest of Israel in their towns.
Questions to help us go deeper
- What can I learn from these Israelite exiles who left the advanced civilization of Persia to return to a Jerusalem in ruins?
- Reflect on the fact that the priests, Levites, gatekeepers and temple servants kept their identities intact during their exile in Babylon, even after the destruction of the Temple.
- What must I do in order to keep my identity intact throughout changing circumstances?
- What does the detailed listing of the names of those who returned reveal about God’s heart?