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Ezra 2:1-4:5 & 1 Chronicles 3:19-24


Ezra 2:59-63 | After Darius’ decree, permitting the Jews to return to their homeland, they head westward en masse, as detailed meticulously in this chapter. 

Verses 59-63 caught my attention because they address the racial issue that I brought up in the book overview.  This group of people is listed as having unestablished lineage and are therefore deemed ‘unclean.’  This certainly rubs modern ears the wrong way. 

My study Bible provides a bit of context, however.  First, lineage determines inheritance.  Like the promise God made in Jeremiah 32, God has brought the people back to claim their family property.  As a legal issue, it then becomes important who belongs to which family.

Secondly, eligibility for Jewish priesthood is limited to Levites.  As ritual purity and respect of Levitical codes is fundamental to the relationship between God and His people in the OT, it makes sense that they would need to define who can and cannot serve this function.

Ultimately, the people listed in this passage are not denied either inheritance nor a place among the people of God.  Their resettlement is just deferred until more evidence of where they should go is discovered.

Ezra 3:12 | The mixed emotions demonstrated in this section are poignant because it captures the dual realities of the entire return from exile.  There is joy because God has fulfilled His promises (at least at the near-term time horzion level) and has shepherded His people through exile and to physical restoration to their homeland.  They have begun to reestablish the temple, the symbol of the relationship with God that is fundamental to their identity as a people. 

However, that joy is mitigated by the realization that things can never be the same.  What was the nation of Israel (or the nations of Israel and Judah) are now portions of a province in a pagan empire.  The people serve foreigners, and the reign of the house of David, as promised by God and the prophets, is on indefinite hiatus.  Many people of the same generation as Daniel (who is presumably still in Persia) remember the old temple and the reality of which this restoration is merely an echo.  They know that this restoration, while sweet, is not the way it used to be — and not the way it ultimately will be.  They realize that, within this life, they can’t really go home again.

Ezra 4:1-5 | As this chapter sets up the central conflict of the book, I am troubled again by attitudes and actions that don’t match up with my modern sensibilities.  Here are people who, as I understand it, are descendants of Jews who did not go into exile, and who profess both their worship of God and their desire to be a part of this restoration process. 

I’m certainly open to the idea that there are elements of the story that the book does not relate, but it seems that there is an unfounded assumption in both the text and the commentaries that these people were really fakers, idolaters, and enemies of God’s people. 

Perhaps this is too ‘constructivist’ of an interpretation, but it’s definitely possible to read the subsequent opposition by these people of the restorer’s work not as their original intention but as a response to the rejection they received when asking to be a part of this new corporate worship of God. 

So I count today’s passage as a mixed bag in terms of baseless discrimination.  On the one hand, I sympathize with the need to establish lineage in order to properly go about the work of rebuilding the nation.  On the other, it seems that the returnees needlessly antagonize the inhabitants of the land and thereby make pursuing their own goals more difficult.*


* This last sentence actually gives me pause because it could also be used to describe the post-1948 situation in Judea/Palestine/Israel, a thought which challenges my current position on that issue.  Hmmm…


From → [politics], [ritual]

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