“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.” (Ezra 2:1)
Ezra chapter 2 is a bunch of names. Sound exciting? Not just any names, either – some very difficult-to-pronounce names, along with some numbers. As you read it, you may wonder, can’t we just skip this passage?
Indeed, it would not be a sin to include this chapter in a sermon on chapter 1, or a study on the whole book. There is no command to treat this passage separately. However, when we consider the significance of this list of names, and its place in redemptive history, we come away with more than we’d expect.
Chapter 2 gives us a list of the names of those exiles who returned from Babylon to Jerusalem and Judah. This history alone is worth savoring: God promised, years beforehand, that the captivity would conclude and his people would return – and here it is, written for our encouragement, God fulfilling his promise!
Now, why doesn’t the text merely tell us it happened, and move on to more dynamic elements of the event? What’s with all the names? Commentators have offered a few suggestions as to why: 1) the list of names gives credibility to land rights upon return, 2) the list distinguishes true Israelites from those who were not given approval to rebuild the temple, and 3) the list is a record of the line of families that constitutes Israel’s rich history, leaving for them (and us) a historical legacy that serves as a reminder that God has preserved his people.
Relishing in how good God is to his own children is enough to inspire worship for eternity. But there are other practical applications to reading this list as well. It reminds us that God is concerned with details. It foreshadows another list, wherein exiles in this present world will one day cross the river into the heavenly Jerusalem, namely the Lamb’s Book of Life, and raises the question, is my name written there? And it teaches us about the significance of names. God knows you by name!
As you think about the “bunch of names” in Ezra 2, rejoice that your name is written among the “bunch of names” in the Book of Life, right alongside the so-called giants of the faith! And remember, the only reason your name is written there is because of the accomplishments of the One who is given a name above all names, our Lord Jesus Christ!