I sat reading this chapter with a big smile on my face, thinking about how Ezra and I would probably be buddies, or at least friendly colleagues, if we knew each other. I just love this text and the way it’s written. Ezra gives us something a little different in this chapter, too. He gives us a story. He gives us some background information about the duties of the priests and the gatekeepers, and he even tells us a little about who they were and how they came to be. The text reads much like a research paper but more like a newspaper article, which is why I love it so much. It’s almost as though Ezra were writing what he was learning himself, don’t you think? And that’s much of what a newspaper story is also. It’s one reason I love journalism so much. No matter what story you’re covering, even if it’s a follow-up of something you’ve written about 1,000 times, you’re always learning something new and recording it for others to learn as well. That’s how this chapter reads to me, like Ezra was jotting down tidbits he’d discovered and put together through his research so that others could know it, too. How can they know if we don’t tell them? The Great Commission is unfolding right under our noses, guys! Ezra learned, and in turn the remnant of returning Israelites learned, that their ancestors were assigned their tasks because “they were reliable men (v. 2).” He learned that “relatives in the villages came regularly to share their duties for seven-day periods (v. 25).” This is a community, folks. We can see that from Ezra’s words. And one other thing Ezra learned is that the Temple used to be a tent (v. 23). Imagine his surprise.
I also wanted to touch on where we are in this chapter, in regards to the whole of Israel. Remember 2 Kings left off at the Israelites from Jerusalem being exiled, save a few poor people who were left to tend the crops. The people of Judah had been exiled long before that. So, we know at the end of 2 Kings that some of God’s people are still out there. Some of them are still in the center of what is left of His Kingdom of Israel. God left some remnants, but they are scattered. And that’s where this chapter picks up. Look at the numbers and think back to books like Joshua, when the Israelites numbered in the tens of thousands. As the Israelite people start gathering and whispering and planning to return to their homeland (OHHHH, just imagine the meetings that took place! Another story, I know, but just imagine it!), they number just a fraction of what they once did. According to these numbers, so far, they’ve rounded up just a little more than 3,000 families to make the voyage home. That’s not a lot, and think about who these families were and where they’d been. Let’s say each family has a husband, wife and 2.3 kids. Ok, that’s an American standard, we all know each family had 6.7 kids. Either way, of the 3,000 families, which amounted to, say about 10,000 people, less than a third of them are going to be fighting men, and that’s sorta what they need right now to win back their land. But even if one third of the men in the remnants can swing a sword, they probably don’t have a sword, or maybe they only have one sword, which isn’t going to do them much good against the huge forces that occupy their territories in the days of this chapter. Just something to mull over as we bumble along.
The last section of this chapter is classic, but only if you imagine it in terms of a tired researcher. Did you notice, it’s exactly the same as verses 29-38 of Chapter 8? Wild. Except in Chapter 8, a line about Azel’s brother was added and the fact that Saul is a descendant of Benjamin. I just imagined a weary-eyed Ezra upon realizing he’d written the same information twice just shaking his head and saying out loud to himself, “Oh well, it won’t hurt for people to read it again. God has His reasons for everything.” That would be my thinking, anyway.
Writing prompt: repeat
Did you notice the repeating text from Chapter 8? Write your thoughts about it, or write about what you think transpired to rally the Israelite remnants to return to Jerusalem.