Tag Archives: Ezra 2

Lessons in a List of Names

These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean.
Ezra 2:62 (NIV)

The small community in which Wendy and I live was established in 1847 by a group of several hundred immigrants from the Netherlands. They followed their pastor to “the new world” to experience the freedom of religion that was found in America, along with the opportunities that the American frontier offered.

In our town’s Historical Villiage there is an entire wall that lists all of the original families who made the dangerous voyage. It was dangerous. Many died at sea or on the trek by foot across the still untamed American prairie.

There were relatively few families of any significant means among the original colonists, but for those that were there was a clear distinction between them and the poor and “common.” Today, I can look down the list. Most of the names I recognize. The families prospered and grew. They found the opportunities they were looking for. Most of them still have descendants living in the community.

I thought about that wall in the historical village as I read today’s chapter. I find that chapters like today’s are quickly dismissed and glossed over by most casual readers, but in context, they hold lessons to be learned.

In the Hebrew religion and culture, your family determined a lot about your life. They considered the land as “God’s” possession and they were merely tenants. When Moses led the people out of Egypt and they entered the “promised land” the land was divided by tribes. Religious offices were also determined by tribe and family. Only descendants of Aaron could be priests and only descendants of Levi could oversee the temple and official religious duties. Your family of origin determined much of life for the returning exiles.

A couple of things to note in the chapter. There is an entire list of men who are not numbered by family, but by their towns. They had no family distinction or genealogy to be listed among the families or tribes. They were “commoners” like many of the people who settled our community. Also, there were those who could not prove their claims as they had no family records. They were religiously excluded until a process could be set up to settle their claims. Then there’s the curious story of Barzillai who had married a daughter of Barzillai and took his wife’s family name rather than his wife becoming part of her husband’s tribe; A very uncommon situation in those days.

This morning I’m thinking about family, about history, and about the opportunities that I enjoy on this life journey that did not exist for most people in all of human history. My great-grandfather came alone to a new world. He was a young, poor, uneducated commoner with some carpentry skills. He started a hardware store and a family. How much do I owe to his daring to cross the ocean and half a continent to make a new life for himself and his descendants? How much do I owe to a country where one is not bound by a family name or trade, but free to pursue any path you desire?

One of the offerings that the ancient Hebrews would bring to the Temple that they returned to Jerusalem to rebuild, was a “Thanksgiving Offering.” This morning in the quiet of my hotel room I find my spirit offering a word, a song, a heart of gratitude to God for the incredible blessings afforded me that I daily take for granted.

 

Returning Home

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 their own town….
Ezra 2:1 (NIV)

The past few weeks have been times of transition here at Vander Well manor. Our daughter, who has not really lived under our roof for almost six years, returned home from grad school across the pond. Suzanna, who has been living under our roof for two years, is packing to leave for college tomorrow. The theme of leaving home and returning home has been resonating in my soul these past weeks. In fact, for whatever reason, the theme of returning home has always resonated deeply in my soul.

At some point, almost everyone returns home. It may be for a wedding. It may be for a funeral. The college student returns home for provision before launching on their own road. The soldier returns from war. The adult returns home to confront his or her past, to attend “home-coming,” or out of desperation because they have no other place to go. One of the things I love most about baseball is the fundamental object of the game: to be safe at home. In Jesus’ story of the prodigal child, the younger sibling returns home to seek forgiveness and restoration. Returning home is one of the fundamental themes of life.

In today’s chapter, we find a roll call of  the Hebrews who have been living in exile for years in Babylon and are now returning home. They have no idea what they will find. They have no idea what to expect. Like all those who return home, there had to have been mixed feelings of excitement and fear, joy and trepidation.

Along life’s journey, I’ve come to realize that the journey home is almost always a requisite for those who desire to progress spiritually. Most of us, when we leave home, leave unfinished business behind. There usually comes a point in life in which we cannot move forward toward peace, wisdom, and maturity unless we go back home and deal with whatever it is that awaits us there.

 

Chapter-a-Day Ezra 2

Mosaic of the 12 Tribes of Israel. From a syna...
Image via Wikipedia

“These are those who came from Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon, and Immer. They weren’t able to prove their ancestry, whether they were true Israelites or not….” Ezra 2:59-60 (MSG)

Coming from a “good family” means a lot in many circles. As a child, I remember kids on the playground comparing notes about famous people in their family tree. My Great Aunt worked tirelessly to prove that she belonged in the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.). Even in the little Dutch-American community where I live I know that I’ve experienced a certain amount of acceptance moving in that other newcomers do not simply because I have a Dutch surname.

When reading the Old Testament, it’s important to remember that for Israelites in ancient times, the family of origin was huge. Your occupation and your position on the social pecking order was a all determined by family tree. To fully participate in the rites of the temple you had to prove your genetic connection.

When Jesus came and offered salvation to anyone who placed their faith in Him, Jew or non-Jew, it was a radical paradigm shift for the group of Jewish followers in His inner circle. Saul or Tarsus, later known as the Apostle Paul, was a Jew of high standing and persecutor of the early Christians until he was personally confronted by the risen Jesus and immediately became a faithful follower. Paul often bragged about his Jewish pedigree when debating with his fellow Israelites about Jesus, but was the most rabid proponent of loving, reaching out to, and including non-Jewish Gentiles into the Christian faith. Paul was the first to fully embrace the truth that in Jesus there is no social pecking order based on your family tree or religious pedigree. Those who follow Jesus are spiritually the same:

So where does that put us? Do we Jews get a better break than the others? Not really. Basically, all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners. Romans 3:9 (MSG)

I can only imagine the shame that “those who came from Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon, and Immer” felt at being the only ones among the 42,000 Israelites to return to Jerusalem who could not prove their pedigree. I have to believe they felt the condemning looks and subtle prejudice from the “blue blood” Israelites with whom they journied.

Today, I’m glad that my relationship with God has nothing to do with my genetic code or family tree. I’m grateful that God does not have a spiritual pecking order of “haves and have nots.” We are all, every one of us, “have nots” until Jesus, in His mercy, graciously forgives us, redeems us, and adopts us into His spiritual family as a joint heir of God’s rich spiritual inheritance.

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