“Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Cherub….” These are towns in Mesopotamia to which some Judean captives were taken, but for some unstated reason, they had lost their proof of ancestry. It is much more likely that in the captivity they lost their ancestral connections than that they were foreigners or slaves who were somehow trying to pretend they were from Israel; these people were almost certainly Israelites. This would have been a huge disappointment and tragedy for these people, to be carried out of their homeland by Babylon and then not be able to prove who they were when they returned home some 70 years later, because at least at first it would have meant being excluded from the religious life of Israel.
However, in an even worse state were the priests who could not prove their genealogy (Ezra 2:61-63). For a priest to not be able to prove his ancestral genealogy meant a complete loss of priestly privileges, which meant that they were not allowed to serve in the Temple, something they no doubt had looked forward to. But it also meant they were not allowed to live off the sacrifices and offerings of the people, so they would have had to figure out how to live in Israel and what to do to support themselves. That could have been very difficult because their ancestral family would not have owned any land to which they could return and make a living.
Life is full of unexpected disappointments, hardships, and tragedies, Yet in keeping with the fact that we live in a fallen world and life can be extremely difficult, the Bible does not dwell on these people or their eventual fate, which we do not know, but simply states the situation. There is a great lesson in this for us: it is pointless and even harmful to dwell on the unexpected evils that happen in life. The godly thing to do in a bad situation is to accept it and figure out how to best move forward. The evil in life is a major reason that each person should have a clear hope of the future life. This world is evil and being upset or angry about that does not change the world but only hurts us. Having a vision of the wonderful future life that believers will have can keep us from becoming angry and bitter due to life’s evils, and enables us to endure through those evils in a godly way. [For more on our future life on earth, see Appendix 5: “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.” For more on how the future will unfold from this present age to the Millennial Kingdom to the Everlasting Kingdom, see commentary on Revelation 21:1].