The Exiles Who Returned
Open Your Bible
Ezra 2:1-67, Deuteronomy 30:1-20, Zechariah 10:8-9
BY Ginny Owens
There’s no place like home. But for many of us, home has been different places throughout our lives—I have lived in three cities and traveled to countless others. That’s why some of my favorite places to visit are small towns where people do life together for generations. Their connectedness to each other and their loyalty to and enthusiasm for their town’s story embody the idea that there’s no place like home.
The Israelites were more like our friends who live in small, tight-knit communities than those of us who move around. For God’s people, returning to Judah was returning to the homeland of their families, where they felt settled and safe before their exile. But it wasn’t just home. It was their God-given home, where He had lived in their midst and they had worshiped Him.
Who were these returners? Often when we read long lists of difficult to pronounce names in Scripture, our eyes glaze over (at least mine do), and we can’t imagine why they’re mentioned. But the records of these families recounted for Jewish readers those “whose spirit[s] God had roused” (Ezra 1:5) to return to Judah and rebuild the temple. They were lay families, priests, Levites, singers, temple servants, and even those who could not prove their lineage (Ezra 2:1–63). This reminds readers like us that these were real people, exhibiting courage as they returned to their land, knowing they would find it vastly different than they had left it. Yahweh’s temple had been destroyed, and nations who did not follow Him had moved in. Would they still find Him there?
The return of these Israelites showed them and shows us that God is faithful. By the edict of a pagan king, He brought back actual people to the land, just as He’d promised (Zecharaiah 10:8–9). In bringing them back, God also continued the fulfillment of His promise to Abraham to make him into a great nation that would bless the world (Genesis 12:2–3).
Israel had high hopes that their return was the final fulfillment of this promise. They could settle back in their homeland for good, God would raise up the ultimate King from David’s line, and all would be well. Little did they know that God’s kingdom would not be tied to a specific place, and it would not belong solely to them. It would be several centuries before God sent His King, and God’s King would reign far differently than they expected.
We now know that God’s promise to Abraham extends to us today. Through Christ, we are part of His nation (Galatians 3:29). But we do not have a homeland on earth. So we are exiles, living in response to God’s faithfulness until He comes again (1Peter 2:9–11). As we trust His promise of redemption fulfilled in Christ, we press on toward the day we will finally rest in our true home with the Lord God and the Lamb (Revelation 21:22).