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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–20
Verses 1–20

Ezra, having received his commission from the king, beats up for volunteers, as it were, sets up an ensign to assemble the outcasts of Israel and the dispersed of Judah, Isa. 11:12. “Whoever of the sons of Sion, that swell with the daughters of Babylon, is disposed to go to Jerusalem, now that the temple there is finished and the temple-service set a-going, now is their time.” Now one would think that under such a leader, with such encouragements, all the Jews should at length have shaken themselves from their dust, and loosed the bands of their neck, according to that call, Isa. 52:1, 2 I wonder how any of them could read that chapter and yet stay behind. But multitudes did. They loved their ease better than their religion, thought themselves well off where they were, and either believed not that Jerusalem would better their condition or durst not go thither through any difficulties. But here we are told,

I. That some offered themselves willingly to go with Ezra. The heads of the several families are here named, for their honour, and the numbers of the males that each brought in, amounting in all to 1496. Two priests are named (Ezra 8:2) and one of the sons of David; but, it should seem, they came without their families, probably intending to see how they liked Jerusalem and then either to send for their families or return to them as they saw cause. Several of their families, or clans, here named, we had before, Ezra 2:3-20 Some went up from them at that time, more went up now, as God inclined their hearts; some were called into the vineyard at the third hour, others not till the eleventh, yet even those were not rejected. But here we read of the last sons of Adonikam (Ezra 8:13), which some understand to their dispraise, that they were the last that enlisted themselves under Ezra; I rather understand it to their honour, that now all the sons of that family returned and none staid behind.

II. That the Levites who went in this company were in a manner pressed into the service. Ezra appointed a general rendezvous of all his company at a certain place upon new-year’s day, the first day of the first month. Ezra 7:9. Then and there he took a view of them, and mustered them, and (which was strange) found there none of the sons of Levi, Ezra 8:15. Some priests there were, but no others that were Levites. Where was the spirit of that sacred tribe? Ezra, a priest, like Moses proclaims, Who is on the Lord’s side? They, unlike to Levi, shrink, and desire to abide among the sheep-folds to hear the bleatings of the flock. Synagogues we suppose they had in Babylon, in which they prayed, and preached, and kept sabbaths (and, when they could not have better, they had reason to be thankful for them); but now that the temple at Jerusalem was opened, to the service of which they were ordained, they ought to have preferred the gates of Zion before all those synagogues. It is upon record here, to their reproach; but tell it not in Gath. Ezra, when he observed that he had no Levites in his retinue, was much at a loss. He had money enough for the service of the temple, but wanted men. The king and princes had more than done their part, but the sons of Levi had not half done theirs. Eleven men, chief men, and men of understanding, he chooses out of his company, to be employed for the filling up of this lamentable vacancy; and here we are informed, 1. Of their being sent. Ezra sent them to a proper place, where there as a college of Levites, the place Casiphia, probably a street or square in Babylon allowed for that purpose—Silver Street one may call it, for ceseph signifies silver. He sent them to a proper person, to Iddo, the chief president of the college, not to urge him to come himself (we will suppose him to be old and unfit for such a remove), but to send some of the juniors, ministers for the house of our God, Ezra 8:17. The furnishing of God’s house with good ministers is a good work, which will redound to the comfort and credit of all that have a hand in it. 2. Of their success. They did not return without their errand, but, though the warning was short, they brought about forty Levites to attend Ezra, Sherebiah, noted as a very intelligent man, and eighteen with him (Ezra 8:18). Hashabiah, and Jeshaiah, and twenty with them, Ezra 8:19. By this it appears that they were not averse to go, but were slothful and inattentive, and only wanted to be called upon and excited to go. What a pity it is that good men should omit a good work, merely for want of being spoken to! What a pity that they should need it, but, if they do, what a pity that they should be left without it! Of the Nethinim, the servitors of the sacred college, the species infima—the lowest order of the temple ministers, more appeared forward to go than of the Levites themselves. Of them 220, upon this hasty summons, enlisted themselves, and had the honour to be expressed by name in Ezra’s muster-roll, Ezra 8:20. “Thus,” says Ezra, “were we furnished with Levites, by the good hand of our God upon us.” If, where ministers have been wanting, the vacancies are well supplied, let God have the glory, and his good hand be acknowledged as qualifying them for the service, inclining them to it, and then opening a door of opportunity for them.