A List of Exiles
4Although Jerusalem covered a large area, not many people lived there, and no new houses had been built. 5-6So God gave me the idea to bring together the people, their leaders, and officials and to check the family records of those who had returned from captivity in Babylonia, after having been taken there by King Nebuchadnezzar. About this same time, I found records of those who had been the first to return to Jerusalem from Babylon Province. By reading these records, I learned that they settled in their own hometowns, 7and that they had come with Zerubbabel, Joshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, and Baanah.
8-25This is a list of how many returned from each family group: 2,172 from Parosh; 372 from Shephatiah; 652 from Arah; 2,818 from Pahath Moab, who were all descendants of Jeshua and Joab; 1,254 from Elam; 845 from Zattu; 760 from Zaccai; 648 from Binnui; 628 from Bebai; 2,322 from Azgad; 667 from Adonikam; 2,067 from Bigvai; 655 from Adin; 98 from Ater, also known as Hezekiah; 328 from Hashum; 324 from Bezai; 112 from Hariph; and 95 from Gibeon.
26-38This is a list of how many returned whose ancestors had come from the following towns: 188 from Bethlehem and Netophah; 128 from Anathoth; 42 from Beth-Azmaveth; 743 from Kiriath-Jearim, Chephirah, and Beeroth; 621 from Ramah and Geba; 122 from Michmas; 123 from Bethel and Ai; 52 from Nebo; 1,254 from Elam; 320 from Harim; 345 from Jericho; 721 from Lod, Hadid, and Ono; and 3,930 from Senaah.
39-42This is a list of how many returned from each family of priests: 973 descendants of Jeshua from Jedaiah; 1,052 from Immer; 1,247 from Pashhur; and 1,017 from Harim.
43-45This is a list of how many returned from the families of Levites: 74 descendants of Hodevah from the families of Jeshua and Kadmiel; 148 descendants of Asaph from the temple musicians; and 138 descendants of Shallum, Ater, Talmon, Akkub, Hatita, and Shobai from the temple guards.
46-56These are the names of the families of temple workers whose descendants returned: Ziha, Hasupha, Tabbaoth, Keros, Sia, Padon, Lebana, Hagaba, Shalmai, Hanan, Giddel, Gahar, Reaiah, Rezin, Nekoda, Gazzam, Uzza, Paseah, Besai, Meunim, Nephushesim, Bakbuk, Hakupha, Harhur, Bazlith, Mehida, Harsha, Barkos, Sisera, Temah, Neziah, and Hatipha.
57-59Here are the names of Solomon's servants whose descendants returned: Sotai, Sophereth, Perida, Jaala, Darkon, Giddel, Shephatiah, Hattil, Pochereth Hazzebaim, and Amon.
60A total of 392 descendants of temple workers and of Solomon's servants returned.
61-62There were 642 who returned from the families of Delaiah, Tobiah, and Nekoda, though they could not prove they were Israelites. They had lived in the Babylonian towns of Tel-Melah, Tel-Harsha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer.
63-64The families of Hobaiah, Hakkoz, and Barzillai could not prove they were priests. The ancestor of the family of Barzillai had married the daughter of Barzillai from Gilead and had taken his wife's family name. But the records of these three families could not be found, and none of them were allowed to serve as priests. 65 In fact, the governor told them, “You cannot eat the food offered to God until he lets us know if you really are priests.”
66-69There were 42,360 who returned, in addition to 7,337 servants and 245 musicians, counting both men and women. Altogether, they brought with them 736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels, and 6,720 donkeys.
70-72Many people gave gifts to help pay for the materials to rebuild the temple. The governor himself gave 8 kilograms of gold, 50 bowls to be used in the temple, and 530 robes for the priests. Family leaders gave 153 kilograms of gold and 1,458 kilograms of silver. The rest of the people gave 153 kilograms of gold, 1,325 kilograms of silver, and 67 robes for the priests.
73 And so, by the seventh month, priests, Levites, temple guards, musicians, workers, and many of the ordinary people had settled in the towns of Judah.
Ezra Reads God's Law
1-2On the first day of the seventh month, the people came together in the open area in front of the Water Gate. Then they asked Ezra, who was a teacher of the Law of Moses, to read to them from this Law that the Lord had given his people. Ezra the priest came with the Law and stood before the crowd of men, women, and the children who were old enough to understand. 3From early morning till noon, he read the Law of Moses to them, and they listened carefully. 4Ezra stood on a high wooden platform that had been built for this occasion. Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah were standing to his right, while Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash Baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam were standing to his left.
5Ezra was up on the high platform, where he could be seen by everyone, and when he opened the book, all the people stood up. 6Ezra praised the great Lord God, and they lifted their hands, shouting “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed with their faces to the ground and worshiped the Lord.
7-8After this, the Levites Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah went among the people, explaining the meaning of what Ezra had read.
9The people started crying when God's Law was read to them. Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher, and the Levites who had been teaching the people all said, “This is a special day for the Lord your God. So don't be sad and don't cry!”
10Nehemiah told the people, “Enjoy your good food and wine and share some with those who didn't have anything to bring. Don't be sad! This is a special day for the Lord, and he will make you happy and strong.”
11The Levites encouraged the people by saying, “This is a sacred day, so don't worry or mourn!” 12When the people returned to their homes, they celebrated by eating and drinking and by sharing their food with those in need, because they had understood what had been read to them.
Celebrating the Festival
13On the second day of the seventh month, the leaders of all the family groups came together with the priests and the Levites, so Ezra could teach them the Law 14 that the Lord had given to Moses. They learned from the Law that the people of Israel were to live in shelters when they celebrated the festival in the seventh month of the year. 15They also learned that they were to go into the woods and gather branches of leafy trees such as olives, myrtles, and palms for making these shelters.
16So the people gathered branches and made shelters on the flat roofs of their houses, in their yards, in the courtyard of the temple, and in the open areas around the Water Gate and Ephraim Gate. 17Everyone who had returned from Babylonia built shelters. They lived in them and joyfully celebrated the Festival of Shelters for the first time since the days of Joshua son of Nun. 18On each of the first seven days of the festival, Ezra read to the people from God's Law. Then on the eighth day, everyone gathered for worship, just as the Law had said they must.
You have probably heard the phrase, “the joy of the LORD is your strength.” But what does that mean? We often say it as a generalized truth, not knowing that the context in which it originally occurred is Nehemiah 8. With the physical task of rebuilding the wall having been completed, the leadership now turns to the spiritual rebuilding of the people. To move forward, the people needed to both know and also observe the divinely given decrees given in the Law. So with the people assembled in Jerusalem, the Law was read and explained from early morning until noon.
They eagerly absorbed God’s word for about six hours. Isn’t it interesting that today, if the scripture reading and sermon go beyond forty-five minutes – or fifteen minutes in some churches – we begin to get bored and distracted?
At first, the people’s response was one of sadness (v 9) because they had not previously understood what God’s requirements on their lives were. Now they recognized how they had not been obediently keeping God’s commands. But they were told not to weep, but rather rejoice that they now were able to understand God’s Word. That understanding made it possible for them to move forward in full obedience. And that is what they did immediately as they observed the Feast of Shelters (vv 13-17).
That is the context of the expression, “the joy of the LORD is your strength” (the more traditional translation of v 10). In this context that phrase specifically refers to the joy that comes from knowing and understanding God’s written Word. And how does that become our strength? Understanding God’s Word strengthens us to fully obey it. How excited and joyful are we when we read and understand God’s Word? And how eager are we to do God’s Word once we have understood it?
God, you who reveal yourself and your will through your Word, may you open my spiritual ears to hear your instruction from it. Give me a desire to read and absorb your Word, so that as your Holy Spirit gives me understanding from it, I am strengthened to live in obedience to your will. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
I hold a M.A. & Ph.D. in Hebrew & Semitic Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I have taught Old Testament at Canadian Theological Seminary in Regina, SK, and Houghton College, in Houghton, NY. I have pastored Wesleyan and Christian & Missionary Alliance churches both in Wisconsin and Saskatchewan. I have taught and preached in Hong Kong, Lebanon, Philippines, Jordan, Thailand, My wife works at the University of Regina, and we have two grown children and five grandchildren.