Zerubbabel and the Genealogies of Christ

In The Genealogies of Christ — Two Genealogies I discussed the genealogies of Christ in Matthew and Luke.  This post continues by looking at the descent of Christ in relation to two ancestors which curiously appear in both genealogies.

Crossing Ancestry

Matthew 1:12-13

12 And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel;
13 And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor;

In Matthew, the line is Jeconiah / Salathiel / Zorobabel / Abiud.

Luke 3:27

Which was the son of Joanna, which was the son of Rhesa, which was the son of Zorobabel, which was the son of Salathiel, which was the son of Neri,

In Luke, the descent is Neri / Salathiel / Zorobabel / Rhesa.

The lines appear to cross at Salathiel (usually spelled “Shealtiel” in the Old Testament) and Zorobabel (“Zerubbabel”), showing different sons for Zerubbabel and different fathers for Shealtiel.  In addition, I Chronicles 3:17 lists Salathiel as the son of “Assir,” the son of Jeconiah.

It is easy to reconcile Matthew and I Chronicles.  Matthew left some generations out (see previous post), so when he says “Jechonias begat Salathiel,” we know he left out Assir, and that Salathiel / Shealtiel was the grandson of Jeconiah.  That leaves Luke unreconciled.  Neri is not Assir, and Neri’s father is Melchi, not Jeconiah.  The difference raises the obvious question:  how could Salathiel have two fathers?

Furthermore, Chronicles says Zerubbabel is the son of Pedaiah (probably Salathiel’s younger brother, possibly his uncle).  However, Zerubbabel also appears in Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah, always as the son of Salathiel / Shealtiel.  Perhaps it will help if we put it all in a table:

Old Testament
Matthew Luke
Josiah Josias Cosam
Jehoiakim (Jehoiakim – omitted) Addi
Jeconiah Jechonias Melchi
Assir (Assir – omitted) Neri
Pedaiah (Salathiel) Salathiel Salathiel
Zerubbabel Zorobabel Zorobabel
Meshullam Abiud Rhesa

Both Pedaiah and Salathiel are in the Old Testament column to reflect the difference between Chronicles and other Old Testament accounts.  But we’re left with three questions.  1) Who was Zerubbabel’s son?  2) What is the deal with Pedaiah / Salathiel?  3) How could Salathiel have two fathers (Neri and Assir)?

Zerubbabel’s Sons — Abiud or Rhesa

Different sons create no difficulty at all.  Zerubbabel could have easily had two (or more) sons.  I Chronicles 3 lists several.  The names differ between Chronicles and the New Testament genealogies, but many Jews were known by more than one name.

If Zerubbabel was the royal heir, the son listed in Matthew (Abiud) would have been the royal heir (probably the firstborn), while Rhesa (listed in Luke) was a later son, from whose line Mary came.  Luke was not tracing the firstborn or the legal heir, so the crossing of ancestry lines, with different sons of Zerubbabel carrying on the respective lines, creates no problem.

What About Pedaiah?

I Chronicles 3 lists Zerubbabel as the son of Pedaiah.  Yet, elsewhere (including the New Testament genealogies), Shealtiel / Salathiel is listed as the father of Zerubbabel.  So, which is it?  I know of three possibilities.

1. Another Zerubbabel

I Chronicles 3 may list a different Zerubbabel, the son of Pedaiah.   Pedaiah, as well as Shealtiel, could have named a son Zerubbabel.

However, would Chronicles have neglected the important Zerubbabel?  Shealtiel’s son was the first governor after the exile, and the Lord called him “chosen” and “a signet.”  It seems strange, if there were two contemporaries, that Pedaiah’s Zerubbabel but not Shealtiel’s would be mentioned, since he was so important elsewhere in Scripture.

2. Adoption

Salathiel may have adopted Zerubbabel.  Chronicles gives no sons of Salathiel, or Malchiram (the next in line).  If neither had a son, the eldest royal male heir would have been Pedaiah and then his son Zerubbabel.  Perhaps Salathiel grew old without a son and adopted Zerubbabel as his son and heir.

The New Testament genealogies make this unlikely.  Matthew says Salathiel “begat” Zerubbabel — not a typical description of adoption.  Luke traces physical descent from David (and Adam), so we would expect Luke to list the biological father (Pedaiah) rather than Salathiel.  However, this kind of adoption would not have violated either physical descent from David or the royal line, so it can’t be ruled out entirely.

3. Levirate Marriage

There may have been a Levirate marriage.  If a man died childless, his brother or near relative would marry his wife, and their first son would be the legal heir of the deceased.  (This is what is described in the marriage of Boaz and Ruth, in Ruth 3-4, and the basis of the Sadducees’ question in Matthew 22:23-28.)  If Salathiel died young and childless, a relative (Pedaiah) would have married his wife.  Their first son would be the legal firstborn and heir of Salathiel.  Zerubbabel would still be physically and legally descended from David in the royal line from Jeconiah.

Again, in Luke’s biological genealogy we would expect the biological father, but it has Salathiel.  So Levirate descent seems unlikely, yet it would not invalidate Luke’s purpose, since David was also Pedaiah’s ancestor.

So, Which Is It?

Each of the three has problems, but I can’t definitively rule out any of them.  We know the lists are accurate, because Scripture is true (and as I mentioned in the last post, the Jews would have been quick to note problems in the genealogies).  So there must be an explanation, but I don’t think we can determine which is accurate.

There may be another explanation for the Pedaiah / Salathiel / Zerubbabel question, but it seems likely that one of these is correct.  If we needed to know for sure, the Lord would have made it clear to us.

Salathiel’s Father

Who was the father of Salathiel (the father of Zerubbabel)?  Was it Neri, as per Luke, or was he descended from Jeconiah (through Assir), as per Matthew and Chronicles?  How do we resolve this apparent discrepancy?  I see four three possibilities.

1. A Different Salathiel

This is perhaps the simplest explanation.  The Salathiel / Zerubbabel in Luke’s line could be a completely different Salathiel / Zerubbabel pairing from the one in Matthew, and throughout the Old Testament.

In both lists, the Salathiel / Zerubbabel pairing is half way between David and Christ, so if they were different, they both lived about the time of the Babylonian Exile.  It seems much more likely, given the same time frame, that they refer to the same people.

2. A Levirate Marriage

Perhaps Salathiel was born as a result of a Levirate marriage (as discussed above).  His legal father would have been Assir, the son of Jeconiah, but his biological father would have been Neri.  Neri would have been the nearest kinsman who was willing / able to marry the wife of Assir, and Salathiel would have been their firstborn.

Chronicles lists no near relative with the name “Neri.”  The Salathiel of Matthew was in the royal line, descended from Solomon through Josiah and Jeconiah, while Neri descended from Nathan.  Neri was not a particularly close relative, so it is unlikely he would take part in a Levirate marriage as the nearest relative.  A Levirate marriage could theoretically explain this question, but it would be very surprising.

3. Assir Had a Daughter, and No Son

At least one commentary speculates that Assir had a daughter, and no son, and his daughter married Neri.  Thus, Salathiel would have been Neri’s son, and Assir would have been his maternal grandfather, with Jeconiah his maternal great-grandfather.

This seems very unlikely.  Jeconiah would have been about 80 at the time of the return led by Zerubbabel.  The great-grandson of an 80-year-old man would probably be younger than 25 years, yet Zerubbabel was mature enough to be accepted as leader and governor.

4. The Father-in-Law

As we’ve seen (last post), Luke probably listed at least one father-in-law — he could have listed others.  Most likely, Neri was Salathiel’s father-in-law and Zerubbabel’s maternal grandfather, while Assir was Salathiel’s father and Zerubbabel’s paternal grandfather.

If so, Zerubbabel was descended from David through both parents, his mother through Nathan down to Neri, and his father (Salathiel) in the royal line, through Solomon to Jeconiah.  It is even possible that Neri had no sons, only a daughter, and his inheritance passed to her (and Salathiel) and then on to Zerubbabel.

So, Which Is It?

Again, we can’t know for certain (and if we needed to know, the Lord would have made it clear).  But the strong likelihood is that Assir was the father of Salathiel, and Neri was his father-in-law, with Zerubbabel descended from David in both lines.

Why Do the Lines Cross?

The lineage of Christ is not an accident — an all-wise God decided His Son would be born with these two particular lines of descent.

As I’ve said, we can’t know that the Salathiel / Zerubbabel pairings in the two lines refer to the same men, but they probably do — and at a key time.  Salathiel is first in Matthew after the Babylonian captivity, a point to which Matthew (and the Holy Spirit) drew our focus (Matthew 1:17).  God did this intentionally, and wanted us to notice it.

Why?  Perhaps it has something to do with this man Zerubbabel.

  • He led the return from exile (Ezra 2:1-2), restored the altar and daily worship (Ezra 3:2), and rebuilt the Temple (Ezra 3:8).  He protected the purity of the Lord’s work and worship, against opposition (Ezra 4:2-3).
  • He obeyed the Lord (Ezra 5:1-2, Haggai 1:12-15).
  • He ensured the daily needs of the Levites who led in worship (Nehemiah 12:47).

The Lord gave Zerubbabel two great statements of promise.  It is hard to think of anyone outside of David, and of Messiah Himself, who received not one, but two, messages like these two:

Zechariah 4:6-10

6 Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.
7 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.
8 Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
9 The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto you.
10 For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth.

Haggai 2:21-23

21 Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth;
22 And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother.
23 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.

Zerubbabel was God’s chosen servant to restore His people to their land, to right worship, to where they were supposed to be.  In a sense, Zerubbabel foreshadowed the Saviour who would come to save His people from their sins.

Perhaps that would explain two lines of descent brought together for two generations before parting again, so the legal and biological lines met in this one man, before they ultimately met in Christ.  Perhaps the Lord wanted to point, not only to Abraham and David, but also to Zerubbabel, to whom He had said, “I will make thee as a signet.”

Next:  Rations for Jehoiachin

The Genealogies of Christ — Summary with links to other articles

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
This entry was posted in Rightly Dividing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Zerubbabel and the Genealogies of Christ

  1. Ron says:

    Thank you for your time explaining Matthew 1:12-13 Luke 3:27

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