Juan and Maria Luisa met when they were in 3rd grade playing on the streets of Reynosa, Mexico. Things just clicked, they started dating as teenagers, and they fell in love. Eventually the young couple got married and began their life together as husband and wife. Life was difficult in Reynosa. There were two classes of people in Reynosa, the poor and the rich. If you were born into poverty the chances of you getting out of poverty were slim and none. Crime was rampant and on everyone’s mind. People worried about what the future would be like for their kids.
Juan and Maria Luisa wanted a better life so they decided to come to the United States. They made the journey to Houston, Texas and began their family. Juan worked hard, long hours, and Maria Luisa took care of the kids. They would visit family in Reynosa from time-to-time, but they loved their new life in America. They would think of moving back to Reynosa from time-to-time, but the opportunities and the life they could give their kids in America quickly quieted any thoughts of moving back to Reynosa.
You probably don’t know Juan and Maria Luisa, but you know their son Pastor Irvin. Irvin was born in Houston, Texas. Irvin has never known the life his mom and dad experienced in Reynosa. His home has always been in the United States. His mom and dad would tell him stories from their childhood back in Mexico. They spoke about the wonderful family get togethers and the incredible food they would eat when they were kids, but Irvin said every time he would visit family in Reynosa he would see the crime, poverty, and run-down neighborhoods. Irvin told me the poverty for those who were poor was far different than the life he knew living in Houston. The homes had a concrete floor, not stained concrete, not tile or wood or carpeted floors, but poured concrete that was cold in the winter and hot in the summer.
I was telling Irvin the story we’ve been studying in Ezra about the Jews who were moved to Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed their city. I mentioned those who were young when they were taken, as well as those who were born in Babylon and never knew what life was like back in Judah. I asked Irvin, “If someone came to you and said, ‘We’re going back to Reynosa.’ What would be attractive to you about that opportunity? Irvin said, “Nothing.” And so it was for the majority of those who had become accustomed to life in Babylon.
In the scripture we’ll take a look at this morning, in Ezra 2, we’ll see a long list of names of those who heard the invitation to go back to Judah, back to Jerusalem, and they were moved by God to pack their bags and head out. In Ezra 1:5 we read,
5 Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites– everyone whose heart God had moved– prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:5 NIVO)
We’ll learn that the number of those who made the long journey on the three trips back to Jerusalem was a little less than 50,000, far less than the total number of Jews who chose to stay in Babylon. Why would so many Jews choose to stay in Babylon when they could go back to their homeland? That’s a great question and there’s at least a couple of answers. First of all, after more than 50 years in Babylon it had become home. We might think that because the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and deported so many Jews that they spent their years in internment-like camps in Babylon, but that’s far from what archeologists have discovered. Let me explain.
In the 1970’s archeologists discovered about 200 clay tablets in Babylon, modern-day Iraq, which date from 572-477 B.C. We know this because they actually have dates inscribed on them. The tablets are known as the Al-Yahudu Tablets.
Filip Vukosavovic, an expert in Babylonian, Sumerian, and Assyrian culture says the tablets “fills in the gap in understanding what was going on in the life of Judeans in Babylonia more than 2,500 years ago.” The tablets are fascinating in that they list land contracts, purchases, wedding documents, administrative details, information about individual’s wills to their children and grandchildren, etc. An article on Ancient Origins describes life lived in Al-Yahudu, which translated would be something like “Judahtown.” If you’ve ever been to Chinatown or an orthodox Jewish neighborhood in New York then you you can get a sense of what Judahtown was like in Babylon. The article says,
Other than the restriction that they couldn’t leave Babylon, they shared most of the same rights as their rulers. They could own property, they could build up wealth, and, if they did well enough, they could even be made royal officials. Some of Jews living as expats got rich. …Within a few years of being conquered, some of the Jews living in Babylon had already earned enough to buy massive tracts of lands or to be counted among the elite. Some rose so high that they were counted among the most powerful people in Babylon. There are records of Jews in Babylon who worked as royal merchants, courtiers, and even officials in direct service to the king. (Mark Oliver, By the Rivers of Babylon: Life in Ancient Babylon’s Thriving Jewish Community, Ancient Origins, May 9, 2018)
Not all of the Jews prospered in Babylon, some remained poor and struggled throughout their lives, but enough did well that it gave hope to the other Jews living in Babylon. Another reason so many of the Jews stayed in Babylon is that they had simply forgotten, or for those who were born in Babylon, they had never known what life was like in the Promised Land. Like Irvin being born in America, Babylon was home. They were comfortable there. They had no desire to go to a land they had never known. But… As comfortable as life had become for many of the Jews living in Babylon, there were about 50,000 who were moved by God to load up their belongings and make that long journey back to Jerusalem.
In Ezra 2 we find a long list of names, about 125 names if I’m counting right. We’ll talk more about those names in a minute. An almost exact list is also found in Nehemiah 7. Why would God choose to take up an entire chapter of the short book of Ezra with a long list of names that most of us can’t even begin to pronounce? That’s a great question and the answer is, “We must remember that God keeps His promises.” Remember our Scripture from Jeremiah 29:10?
10 This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. (Jeremiah 29:10 NIVO)
God keeps His promises…all of His promises. God told His people that they would be taken away into captivity, but He would not abandon them. God told them He would come for them when their time of discipline was complete, 70 years into the future. God was true to His promise.
There’s another promise that took place many years before the Babylonians came into Jerusalem and destroyed the city. Way back in Genesis 12, God told Abraham, the Father of Jews, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Gen. 12:7 NIVO).
It’s interesting that as the Babylonians were besieging Jerusalem, God told His prophet Jeremiah to buy a piece of land in Anathoth. Anathoth was already under the control of the Babylonians when God told Jeremiah to buy the property. It was the worst idea ever to the rational mind! Far worse than buying swampland, it was like buying a resort in an Afghanistan war zone. Afterwards, Jeremiah prayed the most beautiful, heartfelt prayer in Jeremiah 32. After the prayer the Lord spoke to Jeremiah. Read it with me.
42 “This is what the LORD says: As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them. 43 Once more fields will be bought in this land of which you say, ‘It is a desolate waste, without men or animals, for it has been handed over to the Babylonians.’ 44 Fields will be bought for silver, and deeds will be signed, sealed and witnessed in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem, in the towns of Judah and in the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, because I will restore their fortunes, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 32:42-44 NIVO)
Did you hear that? God’s people will come back and buy property in and around Jerusalem again one day. God keeps His promises and in Ezra 2 we read about those who made the journey back, including, according to verse 23, 128 people whose families had been from Anathoth. God was true to His promise to Jeremiah!
God made Abraham another promise, the promise of descendants. What’s interesting about the promise is that Abraham was 75 years old at the time. He and his wife Sarah had no children when God made Abraham the promise. The years rocked along and every time Sarah took a pregnancy test it came back negative! Abraham was wondering one day, more than a little bummed out one day, when God came to Abraham. Read it with me from Genesis 15:5.
5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars– if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5 NIVO)
God kept His promise to Abraham and gave him a son named Isaac when he was 100 years old. God kept His promise to Abraham and gave him more descendants than he could have ever imagined. Now, 50,000 Jews making their way back to Jerusalem can hardly be compared to the number of stars in the heavens, but God was replanting this little remnant in the land He has promised. God was returning His people to the land He had promised! Let’s take a look at Ezra 2:1-2.
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: (Ezra 2:1-2 NIVO)
“These are the people…” They are just a list of names to you and me, but to the God who keeps His promise, they were His people that He would lead back to the land He had promised those who had gone before them. Derek Kidner writes, “So these were living portions of Israel, roots and all, for replanting” (Kidner, Derek. Ezra and Nehemiah. pg. 39).
What was the purpose of the long list of names and locations? If you will look in your Bible you can see great detail and thought went into the organization of the list. In verses 2-63 we have the list categorized for us. Let me give you the outline of the list.
- Ezra 2:2-20 Ancestral names or clans
- Ezra 2:21-35 Geographic locations
- Ezra 2:36-39 List of Priests
- Ezra 2:40-42 List of Levites
- Ezra 2:43-54 List of Temple servants
- Ezra 2:55-58 List of Descendants of Solomon’s servants
- Ezra 2:59-63 Others
I want to focus on verse 2 where we find the names of the leaders, eleven leaders all together, even though there are twelve listed in Nehemiah’s list. We don’t know much about most of these names although we do know Jeshua was the high priest who is called “Joshua” in Haggai 1:1 and Zechariah 3:1. The Nehemiah and Mordecai in this list are not the Nehemiah we’ll study later or the Mordecai of the book of Esther. There is one name I want to highlight for you though, the man Zerubbabel.
The name Zerubbabel means “offspring of Babylon,” he was born in Babylon. We know that Zerubbabel was a descendant of the last king of Judah, king Jehoiachin. Jehoiachin was only king for three months when he was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar kept him in solitary confinement in Babylon for more than 30 years until his successor freed him. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God spoke about Jehoiachin. Look at Jeremiah 22:24 and verse 30 with me.
24 “As surely as I live,” declares the LORD, “even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off. 30 This is what the LORD says: “Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.” (Jeremiah 22:24; 30 NIVO)
The signet ring was a symbol of honor. God was letting king Jehoiachin know that He was stripping him of his throne, of his power, his honor, and authority. Worse yet, God said Jehoiachin would be recorded as childless, he would never come back to Jerusalem, and none of his offspring would prosper or sit on David’s throne. That would be the horror of all horrors for the people of God.
Fast forward to Ezra 2 and there we find the name Zerubbabel, “offspring of Babylon,” born in Babylon, and yet he is the grandson of king Jehoiachin. How did that happen? I thought Jehoiachin wouldn’t have any children? The Jewish rabbis tell us in the Talmud that Jehoiachin repented of his sins, God forgave him, and showed him great grace. That’s how we can explain Nebuchadnezzar’s son and successor, Evil-merodach releasing Jehoiachin from solitary confinement and giving him a seat at the king’s table. We read in 2 Kings 25,
29 So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table. 30 Day by day the king gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived. (2 Kings 25:29-30 NIVO)
Oh, the grace, the wondrous grace of our God! Where would we be if it were not for the grace of our God?! Now, let me show you something even more amazing. Remember how God told Jehoiachin that if he was God’s signet ring He would take it off? Remember how God told Jehoiachin that He was stripping him of all of his authority, honor, and power? Now, many years later, we run into Jehoiachin’s grandson, a man named Zerubbabel, born in Babylon, and he is one of the leaders of the first wave of Jews going back home to Jerusalem, not to reestablish the Kingdom of Israel, but to rebuild the temple of God. The prophet Haggai came to Jerusalem after the rebuilding of the temple had stopped. He spoke God’s Word to Zerubbabel and Jeshua, the high priest, and in Haggai 2:23 he spoke these words.
23 “‘On that day,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” (Haggai 2:23 NIVO)
When the people of God thought all hope was lost, that their best days were behind them, that the line of David was over and done with, God in His wondrous grace restored all hope by making Zerubbabel, the grandson of the deposed, disgraced king, His own signet ring. He restored power, authority, and honor to the line of King David. John MacArthur writes,
The pre-Exilic signet of Jehoiachin was removed by God (Jeremiah 22:24) and renewed here in his grandson, Zerubbabel, who reestablished the Davidic line of kings, which would culminate in the millennial reign of Christ. ( MacArthur Study Bible. pg. 1336)
Reading John MacArthur’s commentary led me to the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. I turned there and began to read…and sure enough, I found Jehoiachin, also called Jeconiah, and his grandson, Zerubbabel. Listen to this.
12 After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, Abiud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, (Matthew 1:12-13 NIVO)
You see my friend this is much more than a list of names, these are the people of God, people moved by God to go home to Jerusalem and rebuild the most important piece of any community, God’s House. Most people, when they come to lists like this in the Bible, just skip right over them. I’m so glad we’ve had the opportunity this morning to shine a spotlight on just one name, the man Zerubbabel. What an amazing story! What a testimony of the grace of God, the faithfulness of God to His promises. Behind every name in this list is a story, how I wish we knew all of their stories.
The same can be said for every one of you who are here this morning. We know some of the stories of how God has used people in our day, people like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Graham, but your story is equally important to God. He is writing His story through your life my friend, don’t skip a page. Don’t skip the painful moments of the story. Don’t skip the dark, desperate moments of the story. Don’t skip the embarrassing moments that you hope nobody else learns about. God is writing His story on the pages of your life and I pray you will see His hand at work.
Something came to mind this past week as I was looking at the list of names in Ezra 2. What an honor! What a testimony! These folks gave up Babylon to faithfully follow God into a war-ravaged city whose best days were behind her…or so everyone thought. Don’t you know that years later, generations later, the descendants of those faithful men and women of God would pull out a copy of Ezra 2 and point out their families with pride. What a blessing to have your name recorded in God’s Word!
That’s not attainable for you and me, but let me clue you in, there’s something much more important than having your name recorded in Ezra’s list. Is your name listed in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Some of you might be wondering what I’m talking about, so let me explain.
The Bible speaks about the book of life or the Lamb’s book of life. It’s God’s book, a book that lists all of those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus and willingly follow Him wherever He leads. Jesus was speaking to His followers one day when He said,
20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20 NIVO)
“Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In the book of Revelation, John had a vision of heaven one day, the City of God. In Revelation 21:22-27, he wrote,
22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:22-27 NIVO)
Who are the citizens of the City of God? Who will experience the glory of heaven one day? Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Is your name there? If you have received Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, then you’re name is forever written in the Lamb’s book of life. If you’ve never surrendered your life to Jesus then won’t you do so this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
September 22, 2019