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Then the heads of fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, even all whose spirit God had stirred to go up, rose up to build the house of Yahweh that is in Jerusalem. Bible

“the heads of fathers’ houses.” The Hebrew text seems cut off only because everyone at the time would have known what “the heads of the fathers’” meant, which was the “heads,” or leaders, of the ancestral houses in Israel. The ancestral house was the most basic organizational unit in ancient Israel. We actually see this on a broader scale in the twelve tribes of Israel. Each tribe, for example, Judah, Benjamin, Dan and Issachar, was descended from and named after one person, one patriarch, who himself was descended from “Israel,” that is, Jacob. As such, the “twelve tribes of Israel” are the twelve tribes descended from Jacob, and that family identity was so strong that people kept it for centuries. For example Paul, who lived over 1,500 years after Benjamin, knew that his personal ancestor was Benjamin (Phil. 3:5).

By the time of the return from Babylon, however, over 1,000 years after Jacob lived, there were more than the original 12 ancestral houses (and besides, only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were carried en masse to Babylon; the other ten tribes had been conquered and scattered by Assyria; 2 Kings 17:5). Each “house” was more like a clan or tribe than what we today would think of as a “house” with an elder father-figure with grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. The biblical “house” (household) was a very extended group, and the patriarchs of these “houses” played a very important role in the government of the people, as we see here in Ezra.


Commentary for: Ezra 1:5