This article closes my series on Jesus’ genealogies, looking at Matthew 1, Luke 3, and related aspects of the Old Testament record at the time of the Babylonian exile. Today, we’ll look at “Jeconiah’s Curse,” from Jeremiah 22, and its relevance to the descent of Christ.
If you haven’t yet read the previous articles (The Genealogies of Christ — Summary, with links), this one may be of limited value. Also, this one is long for a blog post! Get comfortable and grab a cup of coffee! :)
Jeconiah And the Genealogies — Review
As we’ve looked at the two genealogies, we’ve seen the following:
- Matthew’s genealogy is the legal one (through his adoptive father Joseph) affirming our Lord’s claim to David’s throne. Because Jesus was virgin-born, it tells nothing of His biological descent.
- Luke’s listing is Mary’s lineage, showing Jesus’ biological descent from Adam and David, as prophesied. It probably includes at least two fathers-in-law, of Joseph and of Salathiel. If they had no sons, their daughters (and sons-in-law) would have been their heirs.
- Both lists include Salathiel and his son, Zerubbabel, who led the Jews returning from the Babylonian captivity.
- Salathiel was the son or grandson of King Jeconiah of Judah.
- Scripture, archaeology, and Jewish tradition all point to Salathiel and Zerubbabel as not only legal heirs of King Jeconiah, but also almost certainly his biological descendants.
- Since Salathiel and Zerubbabel are not only in Matthew’s genealogy, but also in Luke’s, this means our Lord was a physical as well as legal descendant of Jeconiah.
But now we come to “Jeconiah’s Curse” in Jeremiah 22, which seems to declare that no seed of Jeconiah will ever rule on David’s throne. If so, and Jesus is “of the seed” of Jeconiah, He would be disqualified! The rabbis of Jesus’ time never challenged Christ’s genealogies, but some Jewish scoffers do so today based on “Jeconiah’s Curse” — so we’ll give it a close examination.
24 As I live, saith the LORD, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck thee thence;
25 And I will give thee into the hand of them that seek thy life, and into the hand of them whose face thou fearest, even into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of the Chaldeans.
26 And I will cast thee out, and thy mother that bare thee, into another country, where ye were not born; and there shall ye die.
27 But to the land whereunto they desire to return, thither shall they not return.
28 Is this man Coniah a despised broken idol? is he a vessel wherein is no pleasure? wherefore are they cast out, he and his seed, and are cast into a land which they know not?
29 O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD.
30 Thus saith the LORD, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah.
Verse 30 declares the curse. The Lord vows “this man” will be childless, will not prosper in his days, and will have no descendant on the throne of David and ruling in Judah. Because Jeconiah (“Coniah”) is named twice, the judgment appears to name him as the one “written childless” who will not prosper or have a son ruling.
The Royal Mess After Josiah
The background is found elsewhere in Scripture (mainly from II Chronicles 36 and the last three chapters of II Kings). When Josiah (who ruled well) died, his son Jehoahaz became king. Jehoahaz is also called Shallum in verse eleven of Jeremiah 22.
Jehoahaz (who was evil) only reigned three months before Pharoah took him prisoner and replaced him with his brother Jehoiakim, who reigned evilly for 11 years before being captured and killed outside Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Jehoiachin (or Jeconiah) his son reigned for 100 days, then took an involuntary and permanent trip to Babylon.
Jeconiah’s uncle (Jehoiakim’s brother), Zedekiah, became king and reigned for 11 years. He was the wicked final king before Israel’s Babylonian captivity, God’s judgment for their idolatry. Zedekiah saw his own sons killed, then was blinded (Jeremiah 52:10-11).
In total, three sons of Josiah ruled. Jehoahaz ruled three months, then his brother Jehoiakim reigned 11 years. Jehoiakim’s son (Josiah’s grandson) Jeconiah reigned for 100 days, and then the third brother Zedekiah / reigned 11 years.
This table shows the relationships, with each king’s father in parentheses and the order in which they ruled indicated by the numbers:
|1. Josiah (Amon)|
|2. Jehoahaz (Josiah)
||3. Jehoiakim (Josiah)
||5. Zedekiah (Josiah)
|4. Jeconiah (Jehoiakim)
The Curse Fulfilled?
God knows all things and does not lie. How can we explain “Jeconiah’s curse” in light of Jesus’ genealogies, which show Him descended from Jeconiah? But there are more problems with this curse on Jeconiah. Let’s look at its components, one by one.
1. “Write ye this man childless….”
I Chronicles 3:17
And the sons of Jeconiah….
Jeconiah was not childless.
2. “… a man that shall not prosper in his days….”
II Kings 25:27-28
27 And it came to pass in the seven and thirtieth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, that Evilmerodach king of Babylon in the year that he began to reign did lift up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah out of prison;
28 And he spake kindly to him, and set his throne above the throne of the kings that were with him in Babylon;
Jeconiah / Jehoiachin did have prosperity in his days.
3. “…no man of his seed shall prosper…”
Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it.
Zerubbabel of the seed of Jeconiah did prosper.
4. “…sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah.”
Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth;
Zerubbabel of Jeconiah’s seed did not sit on David’s throne, but he did rule in Judah.
5. From verse 27, “…thither shall they not return.”
1 Now these are the children of the province that went up out of the captivity, of those which had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away unto Babylon, and came again unto Jerusalem and Judah, every one unto his city;
2 Which came with Zerubbabel:
Zerubbabel of the seed of Jeconiah did return.
The throne is obviously the key point, but why would God use so much other language which simply doesn’t end up being fulfilled in Jeconiah? Was the “curse” wrong, or overturned by a later act of God — or addressed to someone else?
An Unlikely Explanation
I mentioned earlier the possibility of Luke’s Salathiel / Zerubbabel pairing being different from the Salathiel / Zerubbabel pairing descended from Jeconiah. As I said, it is unlikely there would be a father / son pairing with identical names, both descended from David, at virtually the same time in history. It could have happened, and some think this solves “Jeconiah’s curse” — but it doesn’t really.
If the Zerubbabel in Mary’s line were a different one, it would mean Jesus was not “of the seed” of Jeconiah, having legal but not biological descent from him. If the curse only included the throne, that would solve our problems. But the wording is inconsistent with so many things about Jeconiah and the Zerubbabel who DID descend from Jeconiah that this explanation isn’t very satisfactory.
A Cancelled Curse?
The Jews knew the curse did not fit Jeconiah and his descendants. Some ancient rabbis taught that God reversed it. Rabbi Johanan taught the unbiblical idea that “exile atones for everything.” Others, more satisfactorily, taught that in captivity Jeconiah repented of his evil youth, so God cancelled the curse, just as He cancelled the declared destruction of Nineveh in Jonah’s time.
The final notes on Jeconiah in II Kings, describing his treatment in Babylon, certainly support the view that he repented. But God preserved a very direct curse in Scripture, calling all the earth to hear. Would He cancel it without telling us directly that He had done so, and why – especially if it related to the descent of Messiah? Perhaps, but it seems doubtful, especially if there is a better explanation. That brings us to the question of mistaken identity.
Is it Really Jeconiah? Part A, The Curse Itself
There is some basis, right in the text, for considering this “curse” a case of mistaken identity by those call it Jeconiah’s.
The Person Change in Verse 24
The NIV obscures this by supplying wording no other major translators use, so if you are looking at the NIV, set it aside for something better. :)
As I live, saith the LORD, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck thee thence;
The verse changes from talking about Coniah (third person), to talking to someone (second person). It might appear as if it is speaking to Coniah, but the change to second person fits with the idea that it could be someone else.
The Change to Past Tense
…yet would I pluck thee thence….
…wherefore are they cast out, he and his seed, and are cast into a land which they know not?
Verse 24 sounds like whoever will be “plucked thence” is still to be “plucked” (future) — but verse 28 speaks of Coniah and his seed as already cast out. Prophetic Scripture may use the past tense to indicate the certainty of a prophecy, but alternatively it may suggest that Coniah is already a captive, and the Lord is speaking to someone else.
The Name “Coniah”
Why is he called “Coniah” instead of “Jeconiah” or “Jehoiachin,” his names elsewhere in Scripture? Like “Jeconiah,” it comes from the Hebrew kun (“establish” or “uphold”) combined with “iah” (Jah) — a common abbreviation for “Jehovah” in Hebrew names. “Jeconiah” simply adds “Je” (for Jehovah) at the beginning of the name, too.
Coniah is not an insult, as Calvin suggested. It means “Jehovah has upheld” or “Jehovah will uphold.” Some scholars think “Jeconiah” (“Jehovah” at the beginning) means “Jehovah will uphold” while “Coniah” (with Jehovah only at the end) means “Jehovah has upheld.” Why would God, while cursing him, give an apparently new name affirming God as his upholder, perhaps even affirming that God has already upheld him? That makes no sense if the “curse” is against Jeconiah — but fits perfectly well if spoken against one who may have been trying strengthen his own grip on the royal house at Jeconiah’s expense.
Affirming Jeconiah’s Worth
Is this man Coniah a despised broken idol? is he a vessel wherein is no pleasure? wherefore are they cast out, he and his seed, and are cast into a land which they know not?
This verse, by asking why Coniah is cast out, implies he is not a despised, worthless vessel. It is as if God says Jeconiah is not worthless, yet has been set aside anyway.
It is hard to think of a parallel, where God affirms someone’s value while declaring an absolute and crushing repudiation and judgment. But if the Coniah reference is only to his exile, and is part of His message of judgment to someone else, it makes more sense.
Is It Really Jeconiah? Part B, Other Scripture
Hugo Grotius believed chapter 22 records a prophecy which was first given to Jehoiakim, which was repeated (and expanded upon) to Zedekiah. Verse 6, for instance, makes it clear that the message is for the “king’s house.” Others who have seen the curse as on Zedekiah include Thomas Scott and J Carl Laney. Is there any reason for believing that? Not only are there hints in the “curse” itself that it may not be addressed to Jeconiah (part A above), but there are other hints in Scripture which point rather to his uncle.
Later note: Dr Laney kindly tells me that his teacher, Stanley Ellisen, pointed him to Zedekiah rather than Jeconiah. I also had the privilege of sitting under Dr Ellisen’s teaching (his invaluable notes on the Life of Christ are always in reach on my desk). I did not know of his view of this chapter, but now see that Dr Ellisen wrote a paper on this for the ETS. If anyone knows how I can get a copy, I would appreciate it.
The Chronology of the Context
Jeremiah is not given to us in chronological order, so this is not compelling evidence on its own. But chapter 21 records a warning to Jeconiah’s uncle Zedekiah, who ruled after Jeconiah went to Babylon. Chapter 23 implies (verses 2-3) that the captivity is already advanced, but Jerusalem is not yet destroyed (verse 39) — Zedekiah’s reign. Chapter 24 is during the reign of Zedekiah. The “curse” chapter is sandwiched between prophecies of Zedekiah’s time, gives no explicit time for itself, and is addressed to a reigning king.
As I live, saith the LORD, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck thee thence;
In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the LORD, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the LORD of hosts.
Jeconiah’s descendant Zerubbabel became God’s “signet” ring. This Hebrew word appears less than 15 times, and only these two clearly refer to the Lord’s signet. God chose the same word He applied to Jeconiah, one He had not used in a similar way before, to refer to one of his descendants. That doesn’t point to Zedekiah, but it certainly points away from the idea that Jeconiah and his lineage were “plucked hence” and cursed.
(The same word appears in a very different — and sad — context at a key point in the ancestry of Christ, in Genesis 38:18, but it seems to have no relevance to this passage.)
Who Was “Written Childless”?
Write ye this man childless….
II Kings 25:6-7
6 So they took the king, and brought him up to the king of Babylon to Riblah; and they gave judgment upon him.
7 And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon.
“Write him childless” seems to imply more than “he will have no children.” It fits precisely Zedekiah’s future. He was not childless at the time of the prophecy, but became childless after God said of a king of Judah, “Write him childless.” Coincidence?
“Earth, Earth, Earth”
O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD.
Here is a very unusual three-fold call to the entire earth to hear God’s declaration — and there seems little to echo it in the life of Jeconiah. Usually the Lord announces judgment to His people, or to the individual himself, but this calls on the entire earth to hear. Yet, going forward just two short chapters, we find this:
8 …So will I give Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his princes, and the residue of Jerusalem, that remain in this land, and them that dwell in the land of Egypt:
9 And I will deliver them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth for their hurt, to be a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse, in all places whither I shall drive them.
The earth is called by God to bear witness to the curse of “this man” — and all the earth will see Zedekiah, his princes, and those who follow him as “a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse.” By contrast, the earth will see Jeconiah exalted (II Kings 25).
Matthew’s Fourteen Generations
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.
As I said previously, the fourteen is not a precise count, but an intentional drawing of our attention to the dividing points. Perhaps, in addition to calling attention to Zerubbabel, there was a reason connected to Jeremiah 22.
Perhaps Matthew was telling Jewish readers, “Yes, Zedekiah was the last king, but remember, he was cursed. The true line, Jeconiah’s, through whom came Zerubbabel, is the line of Messiah — and the line of Jesus of Nazareth.” Why would Matthew omit generations, making each group fourteen long, to draw focus to a cursed king? It is easy to see why he would do so if the curse were Zedekiah’s (who was not in the line), but very strange if it were Jeconiah’s.
If Zedekiah ruled when Jeremiah 22 was written (as with chapters 21, 23, and 24), it read far differently back then than it does now at first glance, and many difficulties disappear. It was a message to the ruling king (verse 2), recounting his family history (note verse 6).
God would be saying to Zedekiah, “I judged Shallum / Jehoahaz for his wickedness” (verses 11-12). “Here is the judgment I pronounced on Jehoiakim, and it came” (18-19). “As I said to them, I say to you. Josiah your father ruled well, but you have not” (13-17). “Even the one Jehovah has upheld (Coniah), as David’s heir the very signet of My hand, I have cast into captivity, though he is not worthless” (24, 28), “and shall you escape? If I cast him away, I will certainly pluck YOU hence — your family relationship to him will not save you. You shall not escape, but will be a curse to the whole earth” (29-30).
If this prophecy came during his reign, it was a curse on Zedekiah, fulfilled completely in his very near future. All its difficulty to the genealogies of Christ, even the difficulty of Zerubbabel (who just doesn’t fit the curse), simply disappears.
There are aspects which do seem to fit better with a curse on Jeconiah, and the Lord did not see fit to tell us when it was written, nor to whom. He did not give a clear and unmistakable identification of “this man” who was written childless. We cannot be sure it refers to Zedekiah – and as noted, there are other possible, if unlikely, explanations.
The balance of the evidence points fairly strongly towards Zedekiah. The most likely answer is that the curse was not cancelled but misnamed by later commentators, who weren’t there when it was declared to Zedekiah, and misunderstood the references to Coniah. We would probably do better to call it “Zedekiah’s Curse” instead.
Back to the Genealogies of Christ
This is a very long article, even by my standards :). As with others in this series, we end up with more “probable” and “likely” on some questions than the certainty of “thus saith the Lord.” Sometimes in Scripture, that’s where we have to settle – God didn’t give us this Book to satisfy our curiosity about everything, after all.
But hopefully these articles demonstrate that the difficult questions can be faced and are not unanswerable. If God left us unanswered genealogical questions, He did not leave us without any possibility of answers. There are plausible solutions which fit the available evidence, even if we can’t always know for certain which is the right answer. There is nothing in the genealogies to shake our faith, nothing to make us doubt God’s Word.
Beyond that, in the genealogies we see the work of the great Architect of human events. Just as He sovereignly used a Roman emperor to relocate two humble descendants of David to David’s city for the birth of David’s great Son, so also we see Him conducting genealogical history. He covered every important base – physical descent (through Mary), legal royal descent (through Joseph), both descended from David.
God announced these things and fulfilled them all, bringing two lines through royal turmoil, casting down kings, exalting captives, preserving through the captivity, bringing the lines together at Salathiel and faithful Zerubbabel, then parting them again so there would be two lines.
It would likely have been disputed if a mother passed on the legal right to the throne, so a virgin-born King needed to inherit it from a human adoptive father. A virgin-born Messiah could not be a biological Son of David from His human adoptive father. Two separate lines were needed, and were perfectly brought together when the fulness of time was come (Galatians 4:4).
It was a genealogical symphony, played in perfect time, every note in tune. His Father planned it all — and blessed us by telling us about it.