Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. AS THE SCATTERING OF ISRAEL WAS GRADUAL, SO MAY HIS GATHERING BE.
1. His tribes became distributed into two kingdoms.
(1) United until the evil days of Rehoboam (see 1 Kings 12:20).
(2) Thence distinguished as Judah and Israel. Under the name of Judah is comprehended also the small tribe of Benjamin, with priests and others of the tribe of Levi.
2. The ten tribes were first carried captive by the Assyrians. This was in two detachments.
(1) By Tiglath-pileser, B.C. 739 (see 2 Kings 15:29).
(2) By Shalmaneser eighteen years later, when the deportation was complete (see 2 Kings 17:6, 18).
3. The Jews were afterwards carried away to Babylon. This was 130 years later, and was also accomplished in two detachments, viz. -
(1) That, B.C. 599, when Nebuchadnezzar removed the principal people (see 2 Kings 24:14).
(2) That eleven years later, when the remnant was removed (see 2 Kings 25:11).
(3) Then, six centuries later, came the dispersion by the Romans. Prophecy views the scattering as a whole, without breaking it up into its details, and so it views the restoration; and as the scattering was accomplished at long intervals by instalments, so may the gathering be.
II. THIS RESTORATION BY EZRA WAS NOT THE FULL ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE PROPHECIES.
1. The ten tribes were not included in it.
(1) They were the "children of the province." Not of Babylon, as some think, for Babylon is contrasted with it here. But of Judaea, now a province of the Persian empire (see Ezra 5:8). Behold the goodness and severity of God!
(2) Further specified as "those whom Nebuchadnezzar carried away." No mention made of those before carried into Assyria.
(3) Further, as "the number of the men of the people of Israel." Given in detail in this chapter. Here we find children of Judah, of Benjamin, of Levi and the priests, and even of the Gibeonites, but no mention of Ephraim and his associates.
(4) But the restoration of the ten tribes is promised (see Ezekiel 11:15-17). (What a rebuke to those who repeat this conduct of Judah in exclusively claiming for themselves as Christians the promises made to Israel!) Therefore there is yet a grand restoration for Israel.
2. This restoration did not reunite the divided nation.
(1) This fact already shown.
(2) But prophecy requires this (see Ezekiel 37:21, 22). "Therefore," etc.
3. This restoration was not permanent.
(1) Even the Jews were subsequently scattered by the Romans. Have since been kept scattered by Romanists and Mahomedans.
III. THIS RESTORATION WAS A PLEDGE OF THE GREATER EVENT.
1. It answered great purposes of prophecy.
(1) Those connected with the incarnation. To take place while the tribe-rod was yet with Judah (see Genesis 49:10). (See Julius Bate on 'The Blessing of Judah by Jacob.') While the family of David yet had their genealogies; while yet they dwelt near Bethlehem (see Micah 5:2).
2. There is a prophecy in accomplished predictions.
(1) The preservation of the Jews amongst the nations. Without a parallel in history. What for (see Jeremiah 30:11)? "Full end" of Assyria, Babylon, Rome. Anti-christian nations doomed.
(2) History of the land as remarkable as that of the people. No permanent settlers. Romans, Greeks, Saracens, Papists, Turks!
3. The Jews expect their restoration.
(1) Good reason, for the word is sure.
(2) Their faith is patient. Centuries of disappointment. Is our faith so patient under trials? - J.A.M.
I. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS RECORD OF NAMES AND NUMBERS? The pains which the children of Israel took to keep a strict record of their families in Persia may have been
(a) an act of faith: it may have been the expression of their belief that God's word of promise spoken by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1)would be fulfilled, and that the hour would come when they or their children would lay claim to their ancestral inheritance. Or it may have been
(b) a habit of obedience, which itself is suggestive enough. It was the will of their Divine Sovereign that everything, however minute, which pertained to his people should be scrupulously cared for. Nothing was unimportant that pertained to the people of God. It was worth while to chronicle every birth in every household of every family of every tribe of the holy nation. It was important to count every head of every division and rank of those who came out of Babylon, the "ransomed of the Lord." This striking particularity has no little interest to us. Things which the great and good among men would overlook as unimportant, are accounted not unworthy of regard by the Highest and the Best One. He who redeems us from a worse captivity than that of Babylon, and leads us to a better heritage than the earthly Jerusalem, counts everything of consequence that relates to his redeemed ones. He writes their names in the palms of his hand; he counts their tears; he hears their sighs; he orders their steps. Not one is overlooked; every name is entered in the book of life; every liberated soul has a place in the heart of the Redeemer.
II. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LOSS OF THE RECORD (vers. 59, 62, 63). "These could not show their father's house, and their seed, whether they were of Israel" (ver. 59). "These sought their register .... but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood," etc. (vers. 62, 63).
(a) Some of the Jews had not taken sufficient pains to prove that they were of the people of God.
(b) Others, who believed themselves (rightly, no doubt) to be descendants of Aaron had lost their register; perhaps some of these may have more cared to claim and prove descent from the "honourable" house of Barzillai (ver. 61), esteeming such secular rank of greater value than the more sacred lineage. The descendants of both of these classes suffered through their neglect; the latter more particularly, for they were separated from the priesthood for an uncertain and, as it turned out, an indefinitely long period. The retention of our claim to be of the "Israel of God," or to be of those who" minister in holy things" in the gospel of Jesus Christ, does not depend on any documentary evidence; no revolutions here can affect the roll that is "written in heaven;" but carelessness about our own spiritual life, negligence in the worship of God, inattention to the claims of our spirit, indifference to the work and the want of other souls - this may lead to our name being "blotted out from the book of life," or to our being counted all unworthy to "speak in the temple the words of this life" to others.
III. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PAUCITY OF THEIR NUMBER (ver. 64). "The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and three score." Counting children they may have amounted to 50,000. This was but a small number compared with that of the exodus from Egypt, a feeble nucleus of a renewed nation! But the slenderness of their number was fitted
(a) to bind them the more to the service of God, and
(b) to knit them together in closer bonds of union.
A small number, devoted to Christ and united to one another, is far more powerful than an undevout and inharmonious multitude.
IV. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SCANTINESS OF THEIR RESOURCES (vers. 65-67). Their "servants and maids," and their "singing men and singing women" (ver. 65), their "horses and mules" (ver. 66), their "camels and asses" (ver. 67), made but a small show of property for the ransomed people. Doubtless there were amongst them men "well to do," if not wealthy. But the greater part of the rich members of the community remained behind. They who had the most to lose were least likely to accept the invitation to go up to Jerusalem. They who had least to leave behind them were most easily convinced of the wisdom of returning. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven." "Blessed be ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven." - C.
I. THAT MEN FORSAKE THE WORLDLY LIFE FROM CHOICE. Cyrus compelled no man to leave the land of captivity. The Jews left Babylon in the exercise of their own free will. Israel as a nation went out of Egypt; but as individuals they come out of Babylon. Heaven compels no man to forsake sin.
1. It was a good choice. It was better to build the temple than to work in Babylon; the spiritual is better than the servile; it is good to serve God.
2. It was a wise choice. They would be honoured as the heroic builders of the second temple; and how would they be blessed in their holy toil. It is wise to choose the unworldly life.
3. It was a self-denying choice. They had to leave friends and companions behind; they had to forsake vested interests, and enter an unknown future. The unworldly life necessitates self-denial, but the reward is a hundredfold.
4. It was a believing choice. They believed that God would be with them, and that his angel would go before them. There are great duties in the pursuit of an unworldly life; there are many temples to erect, but God is an infinite resource.
II. THAT THERE ARE NUMEROUS ENCOURAGEMENTS TO MEN FORSAKING THE WORLDLY LIFE.
1. They have encouragements of a spiritual nature. "The priests" are with them (ver. 36). All that belongs to heaven's priesthood goes along with the unworldly life in its march from Babylon.
2. They have encouragements of a social nature (ver. 64). The companionships of the unworldly life are helpful.
3. They have encouragements of a joyful nature. "The singers" are with them (ver. 41). And men who seek to live an unworldly life are accompanied by many celestial joys.
4. They have encouragements of a varied nature. There were many to aid in unnumbered ways the people in their new work.
III. THAT IN FORSAKING THE WORLDLY LIFE MEN MUST BE SOLICITOUS AS TO THE EVIDENCES OF THEIR MORAL REALITY. "But they could not show their father's house" (vers. 59-63). These were with the returning people, and to all appearance as loyal as any of them, but they could not prove their oneness with them.
1. There is a register within. Are the dispositions of a renewed life within us? have we the testimony of a good conscience?
2. There is a register around us. Whom do men say that we are? Are our lives such as become the builders of God's temple?
3. There is a register above us. God's witness is true. The register is soon lost by sin. Let us not sacrifice it to temporal gain; let us not sacrifice it by marriage (ver. 61). If we lose it we shall be morally unclean, spiritually depraved, and eternally cast out (vers. 62, 63). We must prove our religion as well as possess it.
IV. THAT IN FORSAKING THE WORLDLY LIFE MEN MUST GIVE THEMSELVES ENTIRELY TO THE NEW TOILS THAT DEVOLVE UPON THEM (vers. 68-70).
1. They came to the work. "They came to the house of the Lord which is at Jerusalem." Sight quickens activity. The ruined temple would awaken a sense of duty.
2. They gave to the work. "They gave after their ability." Ability is the universal law of service. Men who enter upon the unworldly life must be ready for all the work of the Lord. - E.
I. THAT THE PRIESTHOOD HAD ITS PRIVILEGES. These were -
1. They were sanctified to the service of God.
(1) Distinguished from the tribes whose inheritance was in the soil (see Numbers 18:20).
(2) Distinguished among the Levites. They were sons of Aaron. Were served by the Levites. While they served in the holy places, at the altar, within the veil (see Numbers 18:7).
2. They ate of the most holy things.
(1) As Levites, they had tithes from the nation.
(2) As priests, they had tithes from the Levites (Numbers 18:20, 21, 26-28).
(4) They ate the shew-bread of the Presence, viz., of the Shekinah, the visible glory of God. All this symbolically expressed near fellowship with God.
II. THE LAW PRIESTS WERE TYPES OF TRUE CHRISTIANS.
1. In their birth, as sons of Aaron.
(1) Aaron was a type of Christ. See arguments in Epistle to the Hebrews.
2. In their office, as priests of God.
3. In the privileges of their office.
(1) They draw nigh to God. The law priest entered the holy place. We enter the most holy (see Hebrews 10:19-22).
(2) They feast with God. This glorious fellowship is now expressed in the Lord's Supper.
III. THOSE WHO ASPIRE TO THESE PRIVILEGES MUST BE ABLE TO SHOW A VALID TITLE,
1. As to the priesthood under the law.
(1) Case of the children of Habai and Koz. These not elsewhere otherwise mentioned. Here acknowledged as sons of Aaron. Their reputed descendants could not show their genealogy from them.
(2) Case of the children of Barzillai's daughter. Honourable mention made of Barzillai (see 2 Samuel 17:27-29; 2 Samuel 19:31-39). This accounts for descendants of his daughter assuming his name rather than that of their father.
(3) They were therefore excluded (Hebrews, polluted) from the priesthood. Lost the sanctity; also the privileges.
2. As to the priesthood under the gospel.
(1) As with the aspirants through Habai and Koz, the reputation of being of the family of Jesus will not avail. Have you evidence of spiritual birth?
(2) As with the aspirants bearing the honourable name of Barzillai, respectability will not avail in place of a spiritual title. We must be real.
(3) The Tirshatha will scrutinize our claims. We must all pass the scrutiny of the judgment.
3. But is it possible for us to make up a valid title?
(1) What does the Tirshatha say (see ver. 68)?
(2) The Urim and Thummim were wanting then. These were used in the breastplate of the high priest for obtaining responses from the Shekinah of God in the temple. Neither these "lights and perfections" nor the Shekinah to illuminate them were found in the second temple.
(3) We have an High Priest who stands up with these, even Jesus, who ministers in the grander temple. Through his glorious Spirit, the true Shekinah, we have in our breasts the most perfect illuminations. By these we ascertain our spiritual birth with its titles. Have we this most sacred, this most indubitable assurance? - J.A.M.
I. VARIOUS RANKS IN THE HOST OF THE LORD (ver. 70). "The priests, and Levites, and some of the people, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims," etc. Each man of the 42,000 had a part to play in this exodus as well as in the settlement and the building which should follow; but some had more difficult and responsible posts than others. No service was without value of its kind. They could not have carried their treasures without help from the porters, nor conveyed the sacred vessels without the Nethinims; nor could they well have spared the singing men and women, whose sweet songs of Zion must have beguiled the way and helped them on over rough places and up steep heights towards the site of the city of their hopes. Much less could they have spared the priests and the leaders, who by their clear head and commanding will were to do more than the others with their hand and tongue. One is our Master, even Christ: we all take the truth which we hold and teach from the words of the great Teacher himself. But many are the parts we take, and varied the services we render, as we journey toward the heavenly Jerusalem, as we build the house and kingdom of the Lord. In our Christian ranks are great leaders, like Luther, and Calvin, and Knox, and Chalmers, and Wesley; great writers and apologists, like Augustine, and Butler, and Baxter; great preachers and missionaries whose name is legion; and below these in spiritual rank and influence are ministers, teachers, officers, "sweet singers," and all the company of those that help in the service of the sanctuary, in the work of the Lord, down to the "doorkeeper of the house." Each man in his place renders valued service: service which, if not marked "valuable by the handwriting of man, is yet truly and really valued by the observant and discerning Master. He who does well, working conscientiously and devoutly, the work for which he is fitted, is rendering a service to his race and to his God which is not overlooked, and will never be forgotten. Its record is on high, and he who wrought it will hear of it again, when every man (who is anywise praiseworthy) shall have praise of God, and the blessed, heart-satisfying Well done" shall be spoken by the Son of man.
II. EXCELLENCY OF WORK IN HIS SERVICE (vers. 68, 69). The narrative (vers. 68, 69) anticipates the arrival in Judaea and the work to which they there addressed themselves. It states that some of the chief of the fathers "offered freely for the house of God," and that they "gave after their ability unto the treasure of the work." Here were two acceptable elements in all sacred service -
(1) cheerfulness, which the Lord loveth (2 Corinthians 9:7); and
(2) fulness, according to ability, every one doing the best he can: not the least that can be offered with decency, but the most that present resources will allow. In building up the spiritual house of our Lord's kingdom - a work in which every Christian disciple is to be engaged - we may bring silver and gold to the treasury, or we may bring manual labour, or mental work, or spiritual exercises, or we may contribute the services of the teacher or the organizer. We may help in one of a hundred ways, more or less important. And not only is each one honourable and valuable in its way, but each work admits of being done in varying degrees of excellency - more or less cheerfully, more or less efficiently. We must aim at perfection in every department. When we realize that we are giving to him
(a) who "gave himself for us,"
(b) who is giving his Spirit to us, and
(c) who will give his glory to us, we shall give, not of our weakness, but our strength; not sluggishly and inefficiently, but "after our ability." The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive "riches." - C.