Who exactly were the returned exiled Jews? A simple answer is that they were Jews. And yes that is true! But who did these returned exiles consist of? What tribes? What type of people? etc…
For context, the Israelites, people from the Kingdom of Israel consisted of the northern kingdom (Israelites from the tribe of: Asher, Dan, Ephraim, Gad, Issachar, Manasseh, Naphtali, Reuben, Simeon, and Zebulun) and the southern kingdom (Israelites from the tribe of: Judah and Benjamin). They were sent into exile ultimately because they sinned and rebelled against God; failing to obey God’s laws and commandments generation upon generation. The northern kingdom was the first to be put into exile by the Assyrians and then subsequently the southern kingdom by the Babylonians.
Cyrus, king of Persia rose to dominate the entire region that had once been Assyria and Babylon. Cyrus was not a Jew but God worked through him to return the exiled Jews back to their homeland, Israel. He sent a proclamation throughout the empire, that all Jews who wish to return back to Israel were permitted to do so. Providing them with protection, money and the temple articles taken by Nebuchadnezzar.
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:
2 “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
“‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. 3 Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. 4 And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’”
5 Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. 6 All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings.
But it was the family heads of the southern kingdom. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and Levites that responded and returned to Israel, to rebuild God’s temple. The 10 tribes of the northern kingdom had been so fractured and dispersed by Assyria and so much time had elapsed since their captivity that many of the Jews from the northern tribes may have been unsure of their real heritage. Thus, they were unwilling to share in the vision of rebuilding the temple.
Additionally, some Jews decided to stay in Babylon rather than return to Israel because the journey back to Jerusalem was difficult, dangerous and expensive, lasting over four months. Travel conditions were poor; plus Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside were in ruins; and the people living in the area were hostile. Plus, some Jews had accumulated wealth while living in Babylon, returning to Jerusalem would have meant giving up everything they had and starting again. Many people couldn’t bring themselves to do that and this is what some Jews did. They preferred wealth and security to the sacrifice that God’s work would require.
The Jews that returned not only were genealogically likely from the southern kingdom, but more importantly their state of mind and heart was focussed on going back to serve their God and live under their true identity.
What is your state of mind? Would you have been a returned exiled Jew?