Where is your name?
Perhaps you've got a trophy that sits on your mantelpiece (or in a box in the attic!) that has your name on it? Maybe you've got framed certificates on your wall with your name on them? Perhaps your name is on a leaderboard somewhere? Or on a waiting list? In a school yearbook?
If you go the The Judd School in Tonbridge you can find a board which has painted on it a list of all the names of all the deputy head boys. And on that board you'll find the name Alldridge…Adrien (that's my older brother, he's the smart one!)
This evening in Ezra 2 we're going to look at a list of names. You probably won't recognise most of them. Like me, you'll probably struggle to pronounce some of them! So why are they here? And why are we reading them 2000 years later? And why are they important to us today?
Let's pray and ask God to help us find out.
If you were here last week then I hope you'll remember that the book of Ezra starts at a time when Cyrus king of Persia had conquered Babylon. And Cyrus had issued a decree that all the Jews who had been captives in Babylon were allowed to go home and rebuild the temple. And so we read in 1v5…
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.
The first 6 chapters of Ezra are about that first wave of people returning to Jerusalem. Then there's a break for about 60 years and then a second wave of people came back. That's covered in chapters 7-10. And then about 15 years later a third wave of people came back. And that's covered in the book of Nehemiah.
Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book all about the return of God's people to the Promised Land. And here in Ezra chapter 2 we have a list of all those people who came back first, vv 1-2…
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, 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:
And then the list starts with "the men of the people of Israel" (Now, don't get offended by the fact that it was just the men who were counted, that was just the custom of the day.) So in vv3-20 you get a list of all the ordinary Israelites who moved back to Judah who are recognised by their family name. "945 people from the family of Zattu, 112 from the family of Jorah etc, etc."
And then in vv 21-35 you get another list of ordinary Israelites who moved back, but this time they're grouped together according to where they were from. "123 people from Bethlehem, 725 from Lod, Hadid and Ono, etc." They were the ordinary Israelites.
Then, over the page in verses 36-39 you get a list of the priests who returned. Now the priests were the people who made sacrifices and served in the temple. To be a priest you had to be part of the tribe of Levi, but you also had to be a descendant of Aaron, Moses' brother, who was the first high priest.
Then in v40 you have the members of the tribe of Levi (the Levites) who weren't descendants of Aaron. They couldn't serve in the temple, but their job was to help the priests.
The singers for the temple, v41, were also part of the tribe of Levi, and so were the gatekeepers in v42. Then in verses 43 to 58 we get a list of all those who were temple servants and the descendants of the servants of Solomon. Now we're not quite sure who these guys were, but they were probably helpers for the Levites. They weren't from the tribe of Levi, in fact judging by their names OT experts think that they were probably foreigners who had become part of the Israelite community.
Then in vv 59-63 we have a group of people who came from 5 particular towns in Babylon, v62a…
These searched for their family records, but they could not find them
They couldn't prove that they were true Israelites. Some of them believed that they came from families of priests, but they couldn't prove it "and so…v62b-63…
...were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. The governor ordered them not to eat any of the most sacred food until there was a priest ministering with the Urim and Thummim.
Now what are the Urim and Thummim? Well, no one really knows for sure! What we do know is that, they were carried by the High priest in his tunic, and they were a way, given by God, to help the people to make decisions. Perhaps they were two identical stones, one black and one white, and if the High priest drew out the black on it meant 'yes' and if he drew out the white one it meant 'no'. Or something like that, we don't know.
Finally in vv 64-66 we have a summary of all the people who made the journey home, vv64-66…
The whole company numbered 42,360, besides their 7,337 menservants and maidservants; and they also had 200 men and women singers.
That's it, that's the list. Now the question is, why is this here? Why do we have this list in the Bible? And why is it important more than 2000 years later?
Well we know it must be important because it's part of the Word of God, the Bible. But it's even more important because it isn't just in the Bible once, it's actually in the Bible twice! In Nehemiah chapter 7 we have the same list with the same names.
So why is it so important? Well I want to suggest three reasons. And the first is that…
1) It shows the faithfulness of God
Do you remember last week, we saw that the story of the Bible is really the story of how God fulfilled the promises that he had made to Abraham back in Genesis 12. God promised Abraham that he would make his descendants into a great nation, that he would give them the Promised Land and that he would bless them make them a blessing. Well Ezra 2 is a chapter all about God keeping that promise.
That's why it was so important that the people could prove that they were true Israelites. God wasn't just bringing any old group of people back to the Promised Land. No, he had kept his people safe while they were in Babylon, and now he was bringing them back. Every name in Ezra 2 is confirmation of the faithfulness of God.
At the beginning of the LOTR, Bilbo Baggins throws a party to celebrate his eleventy-first (111st) Birthday. He invites all his friends and all his relatives.And at one point he stands up in front of them all, and gives a speech. And he starts his speech by addressing all the different families who have come. "There are Tooks" he says and then there's a cheer from all the Tooks in the crowd. And Brandybucks (cheer!) And Proudfoots (cheer!) And Bolgers and Bracegirdles and Brockhouses (cheer!)"
Well I think that's how we should read Ezra 2. "Descendants of Parosh, (cheer!) of Zattu (cheer!) of Elam (cheer!) of the other Elam (cheer!) We should cheer…because every name and number in these verses tells us that God is a faithful God. He keeps his promises and he has kept his people safe.
And there are two names in this list that should make us cheer extra loud, and they're in v2. Zerubbabel was the grandson of Jehoiachin, the king of Judah. He was the heir to the throne of Judah and a descendant of David. And Jeshua, he was the high priest.
This list and these two names in particular show that God had not forgotten his promises. He hadn't given up on his people. He remembered them, he cared for them, he had preserved them. And now he was bringing them back to restore Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.
Do you remember in John 10? Jesus says that a good shepherd knows each of his sheep by name, he calls them out and they follow him. And then he says this…
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me...
God knows his children by name. He is the good shepherd. He knows who are his and he will make sure that none of them go astray. Ezra 2 shows us the faithfulness of God.
Secondly, we're given this list because…
2) It honours the faith of those who returned
I wonder if you've ever been back to your old school, or perhaps you've taken a friend or your kids to your old school.
And you go and you find the place where they display all the old school photos. And you find the year that you were there. And then amongst the rows and rows of pupils you find where you are, and you say, "Look, that's me. I was here." Have you ever done that?
Well, just imagine if you could do that in the Bible! For generations to come Jews could look up Ezra chapter 2 and say, 'Look, there's my name.' Grandmas could say to their grandchildren, 'You're granddad was one of the 323 of Bezai.' Their names are honoured by being on this list. And they are honoured because it is a testament to their faith.
These were the people, the first people, to respond to the invitation to go back to Jerusalem.
For 70 years these people and their families had been living in Babylon. And life was good there. It was comfortable, they had homes and businesses. Their kids were in schools and they were friends with the neighbours. But when the call came they were willing to give up all of that to go back to Jerusalem.
Even after 70 years Babylon was not their home. And the gods of Babylon were not their gods. They were Israelites and they worshipped the LORD.
In chapter 7 we're told that it took Ezra five months to travel from Babylon to Jerusalem. Leaving your home, travelling for 5 months, and moving to the unknown. This list honours their faith.
It is a list of people who saw obedience to God as something important. And we can see that in vv 59-63. They saw obedience to God's law as something so important that they weren't willing to take any chances. Until the people could prove that they really had come from a family of priests, they wouldn't be allowed to serve as priests. They would rather put a few noses out of joint than disobey the LORD.
And we see in vv 68-70 that, for some of them at least, their obedience to God wasn't motivated by fear, but by love.
Look at vv 68-69…
When they arrived at the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, some of the heads of the families gave freewill offerings toward the rebuilding of the house of God on its site. According to their ability they gave to the treasury for this work 61,000 drachmas of gold, 5,000 minas of silver and 100 priestly garments.
The first thing they did when they arrived in Judah after 5 months of travelling is to go to the capital city, Jerusalem, and give freewill offerings to build the house of God, that is the temple. Before they go back to their own towns, and before they sort out their own houses in v70, first they go to Jerusalem and give to the house of God.
And just look at what they give. 61,000 drachmas of gold, as it says at the bottom is about 500kgs. In today's money that's worth about £13 million! 5,000 minas of silver? That's around £2 million!
Do you see? This list honours the faith of those who returned. It honours their obedience and love for the LORD. And the fact that we have this list in the Bible, reminds us that God sees our deeds and he honours our faith.
It's not something we think about very often as Christians, but the Bible tells us that in some way when our lives are judged God will reward us for our faith. Colossians 3 says this…
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
1 Corinthians 3 say this...
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
We cannot earn our way into heaven by doing good things. No, the only way to be saved on judgement day is to put our faith in Jesus. But how we live our lives still matters. God sees our deeds and he will reward those who live by faith.
Ezra 2 shows us the faithfulness of God, and it honours the faith of those who returned.
But before we finish I also want us to see that there is a warning here. It was a great honour to be on this list. And yet it also became a great snare for the people. This was a list of the first returnees. They were descendants of Israelites, descendants of Abraham himself, and they could prove it. This list honoured their faith and trust in God.
But 500 years later, when Jesus arrived, that honour had turned into pride, and that pride had blinded them. Having their names on lists like this one had become everything to the Jews. And so when Jesus came and told them that believing in him and his words would set them free, what did they say?
We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.
'We don't need you Jesus,' they say, 'we're Abraham's descendants.' And Jesus says,
I know you are Abraham's descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me...If you were Abraham's children... then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things.
And how do they respond? "Abraham is our father," they answered.
Do you see? That's the only answer they've got...because they thought it was the only answer they need. "Abraham is our father" so everything is going to be fine. Let me show you Ezra 2, they would say, my family name is on the list. I'm a true Israelite, Abraham's blood flows through my veins, so I'm alright. I'm one of God' chosen people. I don't need Jesus. And so finally I think Ezra 2...
3) It reminds us that there's only one list that really matters
Ezra 2 is a great list, a wonderful list. Every line echoes God's faithfulness. Every name brings honour to that family.
It's a great list, it's an important list. But it's not the most important list. There is another list that is mentioned in the Bible.
In Luke chapter 10, for example, the disciples are excited because they have been able to drive out demons.
And this is what Jesus says to them...
...do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
This other list, which is kept in heaven, is what the Bible calls The Book of Life. It's a list of all those who have believed Jesus and put their trust in him. In Revelation 20 we get a picture of judgement day, and we read this...
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
The only list that matters after we die and into eternity is the list of names found in the book of life. So let me ask you as we finish, where is your name?
We work hard to get our names on some lists don't we? We can be proud of our achievements and our awards, proud of the families that we're a part of or the clubs that include us as a member. But there is only one list that really matters.
It's the list of names that is found in the Book of Life. And again, it's a list that shows the faithfulness of God. It's a list of all those who have cried out to God, whom he has welcomed with open arms. It's a list of those whose hearts have been moved by God to submit to him as their king. It's a list that God wrote before he made the world of those who would be his children, and he will make sure that everyone on that list will make it safely home.
And it's a list that honours the faith of those who are on it. It's a list of those who have faithfully followed Jesus in this life. It's a list of those who have lived in this world with their hope in world to come.
Where is your name? On the last day, when that list is read out...will your name be found?