After Nehemiah completed rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, he found a list of all the Jews that returned to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon had ended. The list was created at the time of the first exiles return, but was most likely modified later as additional waves of people came back to Jerusalem. The list of people recorded in Nehemiah 7:6-66 began with the names of the men that led the expeditions from as far away as Susa, the capital of Persia. The introduction and conclusion read, “These are the children of the province, that went up out of the captivity, of those that had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezar the king of Babylon had carried away, and came again to Jerusalem and to Judah, every one unto his city; who came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, Baanah, The number, I say, of the men of the people of Israel was this…The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore” (Nehemiah 7:6-7,66).
The final number; 42,360 represented the totality of what was referred to throughout the Old Testament of the Bible as the remnant. The Hebrew term translated remnant, she’ar (sheh – awr´) or she’eriyth (sheh – ay – reeth´) means a remainder. “The idea of the remnant plays a prominent part in the divine economy of salvation throughout the Old Testament. The remnant concept is applied especially to the Israelites who survived such calamities as war, pestilence, and famine – people whom the Lord in His mercy spared to be His chosen people (2 Kings 19:31; Ezra 9:14). The Israelites repeatedly suffered major catastrophes that brought them to the brink of extinction…Zechariah announced that a remnant would be present at the time of the coming of the Messiah’s kingdom” (7611). The significance of having a list of the returned exiles was the documentation it provided for the size of congregation that met to hear Ezra read from the book of the law (Nehemiah 8:1).
Nehemiah stated, “Now the city was large and great: but the people were few therein, and the houses were not builded” (Nehemiah 7:4). Although the exact dimensions are not known, the size of the rebuilt city of Jerusalem is estimated to be about 4000 feet or less than a mile in length and about 500 – 1000 feet wide. By today’s estimates, the rebuilt city of Jerusalem was actually very small. There would have been about 132 people per acre of land if everyone was living inside the city walls. The Hebrew word Nehemiah used that is translated large actually has nothing to do with size. Yad (yawd) means “a hand (the open one [indicating power, means, direction, etc.] in distinction from 3709, the closed one)…This is a figure of speech, an anthropomorphism, by which God promises his protection” (3027). What Nehemiah was probably saying was that the walled city of Jerusalem was larger than what was needed to protect the 42,360 returned exiles from harm. God had provided them with plenty of room to multiply their numbers.