Chapter two of Ezra looks very much like those other not-so-inviting chapters of genealogy in the Bible. But just like them, it is not there for decoration. It has purpose.
The return from seventy years of Babylonian captivity was not a hodge-podge “olly olly oxen free,” “whosoever will” can go home kind of return. It was organized, and you had to be qualified to return. You had to prove that you were of Jewish heritage. Sometimes that was done by proving your connection to your ancestral town (2:21-35), but even that connection could not qualify you for everything. To serve as a Levite or priest, you also had to come up with ancestral records (2:36-58).
The chapter begins with mention of eleven specific leaders. One is missing, likely due to a copyist’s error. The twelfth (Nahamani) is mentioned by Nehemiah (7:7) and this brings up a matter of reliability. When you compare this list with the same list in Nehemiah, you will see that there is very little variance between the names listed. There are, however, huge differences between the numbers. In the transmission of the text, numbers are the most difficult to transmit – which is why critics of the Bible so often point to number variances. It does not, however, materially alter the meaning of the text.
Notice how God has blessed His people even in captivity! These 43,360 people have among them a servant for every family (perhaps more than one per family) and are able, upon arrival in Jerusalem, to give God 1,100 pounds of gold and three tons of silver.
One final point, and it’s not a pretty one: It is significant that of the twenty-four families of priests designated in the time of David, only four families are willing to return. The majority of those entrusted with ministering before the Lord fell in love with Babylon and would rather live there than serve the Lord. Never underestimate the allure of the world.