After seventy years of Babylonian captivity, Israelites were allowed to return to Jerusalem. Ezra 2 lists names and numbers of those returning. It’s much like a genealogy list. Then we get to verses 61-62.
“Also, of the sons of the priests: the sons of Habaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, and the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called by their name). These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but they were not found there, and so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean.”
It would be easy to skim over this and not have a clue what is happening, but if we stop and look at it, it’s a very interesting situation.
Barzillai the Gileadite was a prominent ally of David. He was a rich and noble man, and his daughters inherited his estate. One of his daughters married a Levite, but instead of her taking his name, he took hers. The problem was that it caused confusion when his name was not listed among the Levites. As a result of his decision to associate himself with Barzillai rather than his own family, he was deemed unworthy to be a priest.
Nehemiah chapter 7 also lists the exiles and mentions again that the priestly son who took his wife’s name was excluded from the priesthood. He tried to register, but because his name was not listed, he was considered unclean.
Neither Ezra nor Nehemiah tells us the name of the man, only that he chose his wife’s family over his own.
Read about the daughter of Barzillai in Scripture: Ezra 2:61, Nehemiah 7:63
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