Ezra 2:1-2 (NIV) 1 Now these are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive to Babylon (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town, 2 in company with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum and Baanah): The list of the men of the people of Israel
On verses 3-58, 64-70: What can we learn from this long list of names of the 40,000 plus people who returned to Jerusalem? The fact that God’s Word lists by name the different families that went back to Jerusalem tells us that God remembers people for their faith.
I’ve never been to the Fujian province of China where apparently many of my ancestors came from. I’ve only heard about the Fujian province in stories that my relatives tell me. To move to the Fujian province would be, for me, a huge step of faith because I have never been there, even though I have some family roots there.
Why do I mention this? Keep in mind as you read Ezra 2 that several decades have passed between the time that the Jews were ousted out of Jerusalem and the time described in Ezra 1-2 where the Jews are allowed to return. It is quite likely that many of the Jews who are counted in Ezra 2 and who are now “returning” to Jerusalem have actually never been to Jerusalem before. Rather, many of them would have been born in Babylon and are now going to Jerusalem for the first time with their families. For many of them, going to Jerusalem would have felt less like going home and more like moving to a foreign land that they had always heard about and that had a special connection to their families, but that they had never been to themselves. To leave their homes and what they were familiar with in Babylon for a foreign country would have been a huge step of faith. By listing the names of the families who went in faith to Jerusalem (v1-58) and also listing what they gave toward the rebuilding of the temple (v68-69), God is remembering and honouring them for their faith.
Likewise, God remembers the faith you show. In Hebrews 6:10 it says, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” In Malachi 3:16 it says, “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.” Even in Revelation 21:27 it says that Jesus has a book of life into which the names of those who have trusted in Him are written. So if you have trusted Jesus as your Saviour, Jesus has your name on His list of those who are coming home. That’s because God remembers and honours those who live by faith. When you live trusting in the Lord, you may not become famous in this world and you may be forgotten by others, but God remembers you and will honour you forever.
Ezra 2:62-63 (NIV) 62 These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. 63 The governor ordered them not to eat any of the most sacred food until there was a priest ministering with the Urim and Thummim.
On verses 59-63: These verses list the people who went to Jerusalem but could not show that they were of Israelite descent. Among them were a number of priests who could not find their family records to prove that they were part of God’s chosen people (v61-62). So the governor of Judah then orders them to wait for a full-fledged priest to come and minister to them using the Urim and Thummim. What were the Urim and Thummim? The Urim (meaning light) and Thummim (meaning perfection) were two tools that the high priest would use to seek God’s will. In this case, the high priest would use the Urim and Thummim to help these undocumented travelers figure out the issue of who they were and to what family they belonged.
What can we learn from this? Do you ever doubt whether you really belong to God or God’s people? Perhaps you look at your life and the journey you’ve been on – the mistakes made, the sins committed – and you can’t find any proof that you belong to God and His chosen people. In those times, remember that Jesus, our full-fledged great high priest, ministers to us with two powerful gifts – not the Urim and Thummim, but the Word of God and the Spirit of God.
The first gift is the Word of God. Whenever you doubt where you stand with God, look to His Word for guidance. As 1 John 5:13 says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Just as the Urim means “light”, so the Word of God is “a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).
The second gift is the Holy Spirit. Whenever you’re tempted to doubt whether you belong to God, remember the witness of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:15-16 says: 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
Just as the Thummim means “perfection”, so we Christians have the perfect counselor living in us, the Holy Spirit, who is here to guide us into all truth about who we are in Christ (John 16:13).
So whenever you doubt whether you belong to God, don’t rely on your own feelings for the answer. Consult your Urim and Thummim, that is, the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, thank You that the faith we exercise on earth is not in vain. Thank You that heaven remembers each time we step out in faith and will honour us for it. Thank You also for giving us two amazing gifts – Your Word and Your Spirit – by which we can know that those who trust in Jesus Christ belong to You and are coming home. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!