The Divine Registry
As Christians we are more marked by unbelief than we might think. Thus while we gladly assent to the statement that “every scripture [is] divinely inspired”, the practicalities of the following clause “and profitable for teaching” (2 Tim. 3: 16) tend to show where we really stand. If Christ is in all the Scriptures (see Luke 24: 27), then it is in only a small portion of those Scriptures that we have found Him, and our spiritual poverty is perhaps no better evidenced than in our attitude to the lists of names that occur from time to time in the Bible. Adam’s descendants in Genesis 5, David’s mighty men in 2 Samuel 23, and Paul’s apostolic greetings in Romans 16 are examples of these. Ezra 2 is another instance of these neglected Scriptures.
There is something peculiarly solemn about a divine registry like this. Many, if not most, of the names in them are for us only names, but we can be assured that God knows the persons, and in that day soon to come each will be rewarded according to their work (see 1 Cor. 3: 14, 15). The chapter opens with “And these are the children of the province, that went up out of the captivity of those that had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away to Babylon, and who came again to jerusalem and to Judah, every one to his city” (Ezra 2: 1). There then follows a long list of over forty thousand, besides their servants and two hundred choristers (see vs. 64–65). What is immediately noticeable that so few Levites went up at this time (see v40)—only seventy four! A small company indeed, and no wonder if we look only at the human side of it. The Levites were to have no inheritance except in Jehovah (see Deut. 10: 9), but it took genuine faith to enable these servants of God to count upon divine resources when neither wealth nor prestige were found among His remnant people. If God’s people are going on with Him His servants will never be neglected, whatever the circumstances—but even if the people of God do prove unreliable in their support, it is so that the servant realizes the importance of depending on God alone and not merely on the benevolence of the saints. It is not surprising that more of the children of Asaph went up (see Ezra 2: 41) for the spirit of praise supports the soul through difficult times. Furthermore, Scripture records their exact number, showing that each individual was noticed and taken account of. The figures are not rounded up or down.
Some there were, however, who “could not shew their father’s house nor their seed, whether they were of Israel. The children of Delaiah, the children of Tobijah, the children of Nekoda, six hundred and fifty– two” (vs 59, 60). They formed a large company, but there was uncertainty about their origin. The same is true of many in Christendom today. Pious and earnest, they are nonetheless unable to give a clear, Scriptural answer for the hope that they claim to have in them. Sadly, we cannot be sure that they are truly born again. Of course we need to beware of passing hasty judgment on such people, but we are also to “lay hands quickly on no man” (1 Tim. 5: 2
2). Even of the priests, there were found some who could not fully establish their title to serve in Jehovah’s temple: “these sought their genealogical register but they were not found; therefore were they, as polluted, removed from the priesthood” (v62). These were not declared positively to be laying false claim to the priestly title, but were simply set to one side (see v63) because they could not prove it. So we may well treat some now, who cannot trace their genealogy, but nevertheless insist on the Christian place as rightfully theirs. We dare not say they are not born of God, but we cannot own them as believers until they can give clear evidence of being genuine members of the priestly company. In such cases we have to fall back upon the word, “[the] Lord knows those that are his” (2 Tim. 2: 19) and wait until the One who is the Great High Priest pronounces as to them.
Next we see that God was taking note of what was given with a willing heart “for the house of God” (Ezra 2: 68). The desolation of the ruined city where the Jehovah had set His name did not lead to despair, but stirred afresh the hearts of “some of the chief of the fathers” (v68) who “gave after their ability” (v69). It was plain evidence of the healthy spiritual state of these aged men, who longed to see the temple rise from its ashes before they died. Sadly, very few Christians are faithful in giving after their ability. The order given in 1 Corinthians 16: 2 “on [the] first day of [the] week let each of you put by at home, laying up [in] whatever [degree] he may have prospered” is one that seldom claims a second thought with many. At the weekly gathering a coin or note is dropped in the box, often with no previous forethought, and certainly not as a result of a prayerful laying by at home according as God has materially blessed the giver during the past week. Were this generally acted upon, there would be no lack of means to carry on the work of the Lord in both home and foreign fields, nor any shortfall of provision for the truly poor and needy among the saints. God will never forget that these fathers of old gave according to their ability. What would He say of you and I?
Finally, the chapter closes with the statement that the priests and Levites, the singers and doorkeepers, and the Nethinim dwelt in their cities, “and all Israel in their cities” (Ezra 2: 70). Who would have expected to read of “all Israel” at such a time as this! God refuses to consider the nation other than in its unity, and He sees in this weak and feeble remnant a company occupying the ground of all Israel. So today, it is not possible to re–gather the whole Church of God in one outward visible unity, but it is feasible for a feeble few to walk together in the light of that Church, refusing all sectarian names and ways, and “using diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace” (Eph. 4: 3). As such, they are representative, in their measure, of the whole—though they immediately forfeit that position if they begin to imagine that they are that whole. God has but one company before Him—His Church—and the “bread which we break” (though there may be but few of us) is “[the] communion of the body of the Christ” (1 Cor. 10: 16). Thus Christian fellowship, if it is to be Scriptural, must in principle embrace all believers—even though, just as in Ezra’s day, all may not be available to us, or we to them. If Israel’s history has been disastrous, then the Church’s history has been doubly so, with the result that a great many are in captivity to the world and sin, or otherwise lost to the testimony. Even those that have ‘returned’ to a more Scriptural position are decidedly mixed in their character. The day thus calls for great discernment, for we are to “lay hands quickly on no man, nor partake in others’ sins” (1 Tim. 5: 22), but nor are we to let go of the fact that we are to be here, not just as believers, but as those seeking to maintain the truth of God’s Church in a living way.
These then are a few scattered but precious thoughts that can be gleaned from just one of the Bible’s many ‘lists’. God is a rewarder of those that seek Him out (see Heb. 11: 6)—and that includes that which, to the superficial eye, may seem a dry and tedious text in His Word.