Now these are the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away to Babylon, and returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his city.Ezra 2:1(NASB)
In Ezra chapter 1, we read how the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, the Persian king, to fulfil prophecies from Isaiah and Jeremiah. Centuries before, Isaiah had identified Cyrus as the king who would decree the return of Jewish exiles to reestablish their land and rebuild the temple, while Jeremiah prophesied that Israel's exile in Babylon would last for 70 years.
Both books of Ezra and Nehemiah detail the fulfilment of these prophesies, and no doubt we will see a full, final, and lasting fulfilment, following Christ's return at the end of the Tribulation, when Israel will be brought back to her homeland and dwell there in peace and prosperity, never again to be uprooted from the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
While chapter 1 records the terms of the decree and lists the many sacred items Cyrus returned to Jerusalem for the rebuilt Temple of God, chapter 2 documents the names and status of all the people who chose to return to their homeland with Ezra, Zerubbabel and Nehemiah: "Now these are the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of the exiles that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had carried away to Babylon," we are informed: "These returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his ancestral city."
For 70-years, Jewish deportees to Babylon had lived in exile, away from the holy city of Jerusalem. They had worked hard, built houses, accumulated wealth, and raised families of their own. When 70-years was completed, many Jews chose to remain in exile despite the decree of Cyrus, despite the opportunity to return to their promised homeland.
However, a remnant did return, and the ancestral name, status, and hometown of every returnee was recorded in this chapter. Ezra begins the list of returnees in a number of ways. He began by naming the heads of each family, together with the number that returned with their tribal leader. He also made another list of ancestral cities and the numbers of returnees linked with each of these cities.
He also listed the numbers of priests, Levites, temple servants, descendants of Solomon, and those of unknown origin arriving at the grand total of 43,360, but this tally excluded those that were slaves who accompanied them on their journey. Centuries of spiritual decline was to be replaced by a post-exile, spiritual revival. Their return to God's land and the rebuilding of His Temple, as decreed by Cyrus and other great rulers, heralded in a new generation of Jews, who desired to do all that the Lord commanded.
Israel and Judah had been sent into exile due to their growing apostasy. They had refused to honour the Lord and continuously broke their covenant. And as Moses and other prophetic voices warned, their disobedience resulted in God's punishment. But although His people broke their covenant to Him, the Lord never forgot His people and He never will, for we have a faithful God whose Word never fails and whose promises stand fast forever.
The book of Ezra along with all Scripture, demonstrates that God's plans and purposes for the redemption of the world, through our Lord Jesus Christ, can never be thwarted and that He will use whosoever He chooses to fulfil all He wills. God takes every evil perpetrated by men and turns it to good. He uses Satan's wicked ploys and causes them to carry out His plan to perfection.
The Lord is a righteous Judge and when He punishes His people because of their wrongdoing, it is always for their well-being. God views all His people, both Israel and the Church, from an eternal perspective, and the Lord's chastening rod of correction is always carried out for our benefit and for His eternal glory.
Heavenly Father, yet again in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, I see how Your plans and purposes for the redemption of mankind, through the Lord Jesus Christ, were played out on the stage of history. Just as You brought Your people back to the land promised to their forefathers, there is nothing in heaven or earth that can undermine Your perfect will for any of Your people. Thank You for Your great faithfulness to both Israel and the Church. You turn evil to good and shine Your light of joy and hope into every night of mourning. Praise Your holy name! AMEN.