This chapter starts with a powerful and succinct reminder of why the people of both the northern and southern kingdoms were defeated by their enemies, “They were taken captive to Babylon because of their unfaithfulness.”
It also presents the first glimmer of God’s redemption as their statement of guilt is followed immediately by, “Now the first to resettle on their own property in their own towns were some Israelites, priests, Levites and temple servants.”
Prior to the exile, they had been divided, at war with one another, but now we see “those from Judah, from Benjamin, and from Ephraim and Manasseh who lived in Jerusalem”—Judah and Benjamin comprised the southern kingdom of Judah, while Ephraim and Manasseh were part of the northern kingdom of Israel, yet here they are all dwelling together in Jerusalem.
The first work described upon their return is also important. These were they who ministered and served in the house of God, the temple.
Those devoted to serving God were the ones leading the way out of exile and bondage into the land of God’s promise. These were the ones reminding their kin of their unity as children of God, of their purpose in restoring the nation to worship God, of their place in a long history of those who followed God.
A few days ago we pondered whether we might be the faithful remnant in our current generation. Whether we would be the ones to stand upon God’s Word rather than tradition; to devote ourselves to prayer on behalf of those around us rather than to social media rants; to resist temptation rather than to embrace sin with tolerance; and to model submission when the world lauds rebellion as a virtue.
The first order of business for the returning exiles was to start with the temple of God. Our first order of business is to start within the church. We will never impact the larger culture until we, the church, Christ’s bride, reflect the One we serve.