We skip ahead in genealogies to the returning exiles. The full records were apparently kept in the Book of the Kings of Israel.
Some of the people have returned from exile in Babylon. Our writer makes certain we know why Judah was taken; “their breach of faith” (verse 1b). He also ensures we know that the genealogy of the tribes was preserved. The length of the exile makes it possible to easily connect what went before to those who returned, for them anyway.
From what I can gather, through Google and bible references, the people started rebuilding Jerusalem as soon as they returned from exile. I believe their first priority was living space then the Temple. Imagine the tears that flowed as they cleared the rubble from their once beautiful city. It lay in ruin, burned to the ground. The stone walls were toppled. ANY stone building was pulled down and scattered. Every inch of the Temple had been scoured for valuables. Even the gold adorning the walls had been melted off and carried away. All that remained were memories of the once magnificent building Solomon had created for the Lord, piles of discarded materials and ashes.
The poorest people of the land had been left to farm and tend the vineyards but the cities were left desolate. Wild animals probably had taken refuge in the ruins. Spiders, snakes, scorpions, foxes, rats, and all manner of vermin had to be evicted before the returnees could claim Jerusalem once again as their home.
Those that returned came with a purpose. They would re-establish the order from before. The Levites who David assigned as gatekeepers, singers, guards, and priests would take their places once again. The rolls had been preserved and the genealogies maintained so that everyone knew their place and purpose.
Can you see in your mind’s eye the first shift of gatekeepers taking up their traditional positions? There are no gates to shut, no wall hang gates from even. Piles of stone stood sentry where the walls once stood. The gatekeepers, however, stood guard to allow and bar entrance to what was once the Temple of God.
The Levites in charge of the articles of the Temple would not leave whatever pieces they brought back with them unattended. Rather than having the items reside within the temporary structure that was erected, they were brought back and forth for service and COUNTED each time. Trust was in short supply too.
The singers whose voices once echoed off the walls of the Temple didn’t stop praising the Lord when their voices hit the walls of the tent erected instead. Their voices may have been dampened by the structure but their joy at returning to the place their God called His own wasn’t.
Each returnee endeavored to bring back what once was. Each member sought to rebuild their homeland. Jerusalem was not the only city being rebuilt but it was the one to garner the most attention. We don’t know what other cities are resettled but we know some of the tribes who returned. “Now the first to dwell again in their possessions in their cities were Israel, the priests, the Levites, and the temple servants. And some of the people of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh lived in Jerusalem” (verses 2-3). We don’t know which tribes the term “Israel” represents. It could be any of the tribes or it could refer only to the ones mentioned. Ephraim and Manasseh were part of the Northern Kingdom. Judah and Benjamin comprised the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The tribe of Levi occupied both kingdoms. The ones who were responsible for ministering in the Temple were clearly among those who returned.
I find it interesting that all of Rachel’s children’s tribes were accounted for in the return. Only two of Leah’s children are specifically mentioned as returning; Judah and Levi. None of the maids’ children are mentioned at all. This doesn’t mean none of them returned, just that we don’t hear of it in our text today. History also lists all the tribes besides Judah and Benjamin as the “Lost Tribes of Israel.” History doesn’t have an answer for what became of them but God does. When the time is right HE will reveal it.
One thing I learned from my research is that, after the exile Israel never again fell whole heartedly into idolatry. God got at least part of His lesson through to His people. The entire time they were in exile He never forgot them. The people had a lesson to learn and when they learned it God brought them home. Lessons are not always easy but they are vital.
Thank You Father for the lessons You bring me to and carry me through. No matter what I face I KNOW I am NOT alone. I also KNOW that the lessons I face will bring me closer to You. For that reason alone, they are worth it. I wish I could learn what I need to without pain and problems but I don’t seem to be made that way. I’m SO GLAD You are patient with me!