Ezra 2:1-63 Now these are the children... that went up out of captivity
Here comes one of those chapters in the Old Testament which seems to be just an endless list of names. What a waste! Well, if you were a Jew who lived any time after the Babylonian Captivity, otherwise called the post-exhilic period, you really needed to be able to tie your line to these Jews who returned. Otherwise, someone might accuse you of being a bastard, a muggle (yes, that is a Harry Potter reference), or a Samaritan. It seems boring to us, but it was important to them. Ezra brings the second great group of Jewish pioneers about 75 years later. He lists their genealogy just as meticulously (Ezra 8).
Matthew and Luke both that Jesus’ genealogy was traced through Zerubabbel (Matt. 1:12; Lu. 2:27). If it weren’t for that record, the Jews would have called Jesus’ genealogy into question.
Ezra 2:36, 40 The priests… nine hundred seventy and three… The Levites… seventy and four
The priests who officiated in the ordinances of the temple were greater in number than the Levites who were the “worker bees” of the temple.
“The tithe laws seem to presuppose a ratio of ten Levites to one priest, yet from Ezra 8:15 we discover that after the exile there was a great shortage of Levites; the lists (Ezra 2:36ff.; Neh. 7:39ff.) suggest a ratio of twelve priests to one Levite among the returning exiles.” (The Book of Leviticus, Gordon J. Wenham, [Grand Rapids, MI., Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979] 9)
Ezra 2:58-59 the children of Solomon’s servants… could not shew their father’s house, and their seed, whether they were of Israel
Solomon’s big mistake was to marry many strange women and concubines who turned him from worshipping the true God. This group, who could not prove they were of the House of Israel, are likely the Gentile servants that these foreign women brought with them to Solomon’s court. Their descendents were Gentiles converted to Judaism; they wanted to be able to prove that they were just as much of the “blood of Israel” as the rest of the crowd, but they couldn’t do it. Even if they had their genealogies, they couldn’t do it.
Ezra 2:62 These sought their register… by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood
When priesthood privilege is determined by lineage, as it was with the sons of Aaron and the Levites, genealogy makes all the difference. Those who couldn’t prove Levitical blood were “put from the priesthood.” That may sound harsh, but nobody was ever ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood before the days of Christ; it was received by bloodline. If the Jews allowed a mongrel-Levite-wanna-be (sorry to use such a derogatory term) to serve in the Temple, the Temple would be defiled, the vessels would be defiled. In essence, everything they touched would be made ritually unclean. We should probably follow this example in keeping all things that enter the Temple clean, both inside and out.
“All of us have encountered numerous genealogies when we have read the Old Testament. We even read in Ezra and Nehemiah how genealogies were used to forbid some men access to the priesthood because they had married unfaithfully among the heathen: "These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but it was not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood." (Neh. 7:64; see also Ezra 6:22.) The importance of keeping an accurate genealogy in our day is underscored in a letter from Joseph Smith in Doctrine and Covenants 85:11-12: "And they who are of the High Priesthood, whose names are not found written in the book of the law, or that are found to have apostatized, or to have been cut off from the church, as well as the lesser priesthood, or the members, in that day shall not find an inheritance among the saints of the Most High; therefore, it shall be done unto them as unto the children of the priest, as will be found recorded in the second chapter and sixty-first and second verses of Ezra." (Richard D. Draper, ed., A Witness of Jesus Christ: The 1989 Sperry Symposium on the Old Testament [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1990], 262)
Joseph F. Smith
I will read now a few verses from Section 85 of the Book of D&C, commencing at the 9th verse:
And all they who are not found written in the book of remembrance, shall find none inheritance in that day, but they shall be cut asunder, and their portion shall be appointed them among unbelievers, where are walling and gnashing of teeth.
These things I say not of myself; therefore, as the Lord speaketh, He will also fulfill.
And they who are of the High Priesthood, whose names are not found written in the book of the law, or that are found to have apostatized, or to have been cut off from the Church; as well as the lesser Priesthood, or the members, in that day, shall not find an inheritance among the Saints of the Most High;
Therefore it shall be done unto them as unto the children of the priests, as will be found recorded in the second chapter and sixty-first and second verses of Ezra. (D&C 85:9-12)
I am going to turn now to Ezra and see what is said there. We read:
And the children of the Priests; the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai; which took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name;
These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found, therefore were they, as polluted put from the Priesthood.
And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a Priest with Urim and Thummim. (Ezra 2:61-63)
This is the position the people will be in when they come to claim an inheritance in Zion, if their names are not found recorded in the book of the law of God. And I want to tell you that this refers directly to the law of tithing. In the first place it referred to the law of consecration, but that law, as has been explained, was not properly kept, and inasmuch as people are under greater condemnation when they keep not the laws that are given them, the Lord in His mercy withdrew from the Latter-day Saints the law of consecration, because the people were not prepared to live it, and as long as it was in force and they kept it not they were under condemnation. The law of tithing was given in its place.
Some people may not care very much whether their names are recorded or not, but this comes from ignorance of the consequences. If their names are not recorded they will not only be cut off from the assistance which they would be entitled to from the Church if they needed it, but they will be cut off from the ordinances of the house of God; they will be cut asunder from their dead and from their fathers who have been faithful, or from those who shall come after them who shall be faithful, and they will be appointed their portion with the unbelievers, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. It means that you will be cut off from your fathers and mothers, from your husbands, your wives, your children, and that you shall have no portion or lot or inheritance in the kingdom of God, both in time and in eternity. It has a very serious and far reaching effect. It is therefore the more obligatory upon me and upon my fellow-servants in the Church of God to make these matters known to the people, that our skirts may be free from their blood. (Conference Report, October 1899, Afternoon Session)
Ezra 2:63 they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim
At this time, it appears that the Urim and Thummim was no longer in their possession, but before the exile to Babylon, the Urim and Thummim were kept with the breastplate that the high priest wore. Such a high priest, if righteous enough, could use the seer stones to determine by direct revelation from God whether an individual was truly of the line of Levi and therefore eligible to eat portions of the sacrifice which were reserved for the priests.
We know that such an instrument [as the Urim and Thummim] existed in ancient times among the Jews, and among the Israelites in the wilderness, and that it was used to inquire of the Lord, and so sacred was that instrument in the days of Moses, that Aaron, the chief priest of the whole house of Israel, was commanded to place it within his breastplate, that when he should judge the tribes of the house of Israel, he should not judge by his own wisdom, but should inquire of the Lord by means of this instrument, and whatever decision the Lord, by aid of the Urim and Thummim, should give, all Israel should give heed to it. (Ex. 28:30) The same instrument was in use, many hundred years after the days of Aaron, by the Prophets of Israel…
But it seems that, before the coming of Christ, for some reason, probably through wickedness, the Urim and Thummim were taken away from the children of Israel, and a prophecy was uttered by one of the ancient Prophets, before Christ, that they should be many days without a Priest, (2 Chr. 15:3) without the Urim and Thummim, without the ephod, and without many things that God blessed them with in the days of their righteousness; but that in the latter days God would again restore all his blessings to the people of Israel, (Ezra 2:61-63; Hosea 3:4-5) including their counselors and their judges as at the first.” (Journal of Discourses, 18:156)
Ezra 2:63 The loss of the Urim and Thummim
“Through its means (i.e. the Urim and Thummim), Saul once sought to fix guilt for an offense (1 Sam. 14:41; see the Greek and Hebrew texts); David sought divine guidance to know in advance what kinds of situations would develop (1 Sam. 23:6–13); we infer that the Urim and Thummim were in the Ephod. Saul complained that the Lord neither spoke to him nor revealed his will to him by any means, including the Urim. (1 Sam. 28:6.)
“We hear nothing more of the Urim and Thummim in the history of Israel until it becomes obvious after the Babylonian captivity that the Jews no longer are in possession of it. We would take it for granted, however, that until then, righteous kings and peoples used the Urim and Thummim when they sought counsel from the Lord. It is interesting to note that if a Urim and Thummim had been available to the Jews after exile, the problem of lost genealogy could have been solved. This problem was significant for those Jews since priesthood prerogatives were based upon descent from Levi or Aaron. (Ezra 2:62–63.)
“We do not know exactly when the Jews lost use of the Urim and Thummim. However, the people were rejecting the prophets in Jeremiah’s and Ezekiel’s time, although the Lord warned them that a time was coming when they would no longer enjoy the light of revelation. Thus one wonders if they lost the Urim and Thummim through wickedness rather than conquest or carelessness.” (Keith H. Meservy, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Oct. 1973, 61)
Ezra 2:64 the whole congregation together was forty and two thousand
Servants included, the entire congregation was less than 50,000 people. That is nothing! Granted, there may have been another 30,000 Jews who decided to stay in Babylon. Josephus tells us that there were those who “did… stay at Babylon, as not willing to leave their possessions.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XI, 1:3) But still, the population of Jerusalem was probably at least a million when it was destroyed. So we can see that the vast majority of the Jews were killed by the Babylonians. What a devastation! This was the first but not the last Abomination of Desolation. The scriptures speak of “a remnant”— the Lord will spare “a remnant,” etc. Well, it was really a small percentage of Jews left. These are the ones who have to rebuild the entire Jewish nation—a meager 42,360.
Zenos’ allegory refers to this remnant as trunk and roots of the Mother Olive Tree, “The Lord of the vineyard caused that it (the tree, after having all if its branches removed, burned, or scattered) should be digged about, and pruned, and nourished, saying unto his servant: It grieveth me that I should lose this tree; wherefore, that perhaps I might preserve the roots thereof that they perish not, that I might preserve them unto myself, I have done this thing.” (Jacob 5:11) Take home message? The Lord is starting over with an almost dead tree.
Compare that to Moses’ congregation. He left Egypt with over a million people! (Num. 1-3) They had received the promise that their numbers would expand if they kept the commandments (Deut. 28:3, 11). Instead, they had been cursed, “Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body… ye shall be left few in number, whereas ye were as the stars of heaven for multitude; because thou wouldest not obey the voice of the Lord thy God.” (Deut. 28:18, 62) Ouch!
“Thus began a new chapter in the history of Judah, now a much chastened people. From the time of their bondage with their fellow Israelites in Egypt a thousand years before, one sin had been paramount in Israel’s history: idolatry. They had intermarried with the people of Canaan and joined them in the worship of Baal and other false gods; for centuries they denied, dishonored, persecuted, rebelled against, and even killed the prophets. But the Babylonian captivity shocked Judah into the realization that God would not tolerate idolatry, that they must become a righteous people serving the true God.” (Richard D. Draper, “Judah between the Testaments,” Ensign, Oct. 1982, 37)