This article first appeared in the Practical Hermeneutics column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 32, number 01 (2009)). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal, please click here.
The analogy of faith is the principle wherein clear passages of Scripture are used to illuminate the understanding of unclear passages. A dangerous corollary to this principle, however, is that a seemingly clear but misunderstood passage can potentially distort the intended meaning of another passage, creating a domino effect that ends in a warped theology. Error begets error. It is, therefore, important to understand a passage in context before using it to give clarity to an unclear passage. These principles apply directly to understanding the alleged curse of Jeconiah (Jer. 22:24–30; cf. 36:30).
The Lord cursed Jeconiah1 and declared that none of his descendants would prosper by sitting on the throne of David. Many readers take notice that Matthew’s genealogy includes the name of the cursed king (cf. Matt. 1:1–12) and presume the existence of a legitimate challenge to Jesus’ Messiahship. Indeed, a Google search on “Jeconiah” produces numerous Web articles tackling the perceived conundrum.
A popular evangelical answer is offered by Bible teacher Chuck Missler, who presumes that all of Jeconiah’s descendants are hexed and postulates a complex series of theological assertions to solve the problem. First, he reasons that Matthew’s genealogy records Jesus’ “legal” line from Abraham through David’s son Solomon to Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus. Second, Luke’s genealogy records Jesus’ biological descendants from Adam through David’s son Nathan to Heli, the biological father of Mary. Third, the Mosaic Law concerning Zelophehad permits daughters of families without male heirs to receive the inheritance (cf. Num. 27:1–14). Missler then concludes from these observations and assumptions that the virgin conception of Jesus allows Him to be both a biological descendant of David through Mary and a legal heir to the throne of David through Joseph, while at the same time bypassing the curse of Jeconiah.2 Missler also acknowledges that his perspective is not unique, as the Scofield Reference Bible, the classic dispensational study Bible, offers a similar answer.3
There are, however, noticeable problems with these hermeneutical gymnastics. First, there is no biblical support for a curse remaining on all descendants of Jeconiah. In fact, a generational curse that affects the bloodlines of families goes contrary to Jeremiah’s own wisdom. The prophet writes, “In those days they will not say again, ‘the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge” (Jer. 31:29–30; cf. Ezek., 18:2–4).4
As for Luke’s genealogy, it is not an established fact that it presents Mary’s bloodline, a view that traces back to Annius of Viterbo and Martin Luther. Julius Africanus, writing around the second century, suggested that Matthew provided Joseph’s natural line, whereas Luke offered the legal line. He reasoned that Jacob (Matt. 1:16) and Heli (Luke 3:23) were uterine brothers, and when Heli passed away childless, Jacob obeyed the levirate law (Deut. 25:5–10), married the widow, and she bore Joseph. Tertullian, a second-century Latin father, thought Matthew gave Mary’s ancestry and Luke gave Joseph’s.5
There is, moreover, no clear New Testament teaching that the curse of Jeconiah necessitated the Virgin Birth. In fact, the New Testament writers never acknowledge that there is such a problem to overcome. Solving an alleged generational curse via a complex study on Old Testament laws concerning daughters getting the inheritance from a sonless father or men marrying their brother’s childless widow just does not hold water.
The Curse of Jeconiah in Context
A primary way of figuring out the meaning of a difficult verse is to understand it in light of the surrounding paragraphs and chapters. Context determines meaning. This principle especially applies to Jeremiah 22:24–30, for in the very next chapter the prophet receives divine revelation concerning the restoration of the House of David. He proclaims, “’Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord, When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell securely; And this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The Lord our righteousness’” (Jer. 23:5–6).
The “branch” or “shoot” designates a Messianic king and depicts the image of a shoot that sprouts from the roots of a fallen tree, representing a new life that will spring from the fallen dynasty.6 So, from the immediate context, it can be understood that the curse on Jeconiah would not remain forever, but would one day be lifted. There will be a restoration of the Davidic dynasty.7 It is also worth noting that Jeremiah’s pronouncement concerning the removal of the signet ring that signified that God had removed Jeconiah’s authority (Jer. 22:24) is reversed by Haggai, who pronounced that the Lord would make Zerubbabel a signet ring (Hag. 2:23).8
The near-future prediction concerning Jeconiah’s fall came to pass three months after the boy-king ascended to the throne. At that time, he was deported to Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon as a royal hostage, he never returned home, and he was labeled “childless” because his seven sons never ruled from the throne of David (cf. 2 Kings 24:6–16; 25:27–30; 1 Chron. 3:17–18; 2 Chron. 36:9; Jer. 22:24–30).9 Jeremiah’s words came to pass, and the curse on Jeconiah ran its course; however, the prophet’s oracle, as demonstrated, also looked forward to the restoration of David’s throne. According to The Reformation Study Bible,
Promises of future Davidic kingship (e.g., Jeremiah 23:5, 6) were fulfilled beyond the scope of the historical Israelite and Judean Kingdoms—in Christ the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13), and the greater Son of David (Matthew 22:41–46). Even the promise to Zerubbabel (Haggai 2:23), Jehoiachin’s grandson (1 Chronicles 3:19), finds fulfillment in Christ, since Zerubbabel never reigned as king. Israel was abandoned until Christ came (Micah 5:3).10
Finding the Son of David in Matthew
According to the clear teachings of the New Testament, first-century Christians believed that Jesus fulfilled the messianic promises of the Old Testament. Luke records that the resurrected Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and explained to them from Moses and the Prophets the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:27). Peter preached that David prophesied the day of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 2:29–36). James helps the Jerusalem church make sense of Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit by appealing to the prophecy that God would restore David’s tabernacle in order that salvation could come to the Gentiles (Acts 15:13–18). Paul also finds a connection between the gospel foreshadowed in the prophets and Jesus being a descendant of David (Rom. 1:3).
Like his New Testament counterparts, Matthew, a first-century Christian author with mind and heart deeply rooted in the Old Testament Scriptures, would never think it necessary to construct a genealogy to legally finagle around a curse by appealing to a Virgin Birth. Matthew is also not rattled by the fact that Jesus, being born of a virgin, is not Joseph’s biological offspring, but an adopted son. In his Jewish mindset, “a child became a man’s son not so much by physical procreation itself as by acknowledgment on the part of the man.”11
Matthew’s genealogy, rather, serves to back his belief that Jesus is the Son of David (Matt. 1:1). He, therefore, constructs his genealogy in terms of the house of David, and does this by dividing its names into three sets, the first group being its origin and rise to power (Abraham to David), the second group being its decay and downfall (David to Jeconiah), and the third group being its quiet restoration by the promised “Son of David” (Jeconiah to Jesus the Messiah).12 The three sets of fourteen names also point to David, since the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letters in King David’s name equals fourteen (4+6+4= +ד+ו+ד).13 In his own way, Matthew’s genealogy hints to his audience that the events recorded in his Gospel concern the long expected Messiah, the righteous Branch of David that would reestablish the kingdom of God, and save them from their sins.
Indeed, Matthew’s understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures influences his portrait of Jesus. He believes that “Jesus is the ’Son of David’ and stands in the royal succession.” For him, “the title is not only equivalent to saying that Jesus is the promised Christ (1:1) but that He fulfilled the promises God made to David (2 Sam. 7:12–16) and reiterated through the prophets (e.g. Isa. 9:6ff.).”14 Matthew also sees Jesus as superior to David and does this by including in his Gospel the account of the Lord’s conversation with the religious leaders on the conundrum of the Messiah being both David’s son and his Lord (Matt. 22:41–46). For Matthew, Jesus is not only the Son of David, but also the virgin-born Son of God, the risen Lord, and the mediator of God’s sovereignty.15
Error begets error. One way this maxim plays out is when Bible readers misunderstand a single passage, which creates a domino effect causing them to misunderstand a host of other passages. Assuming the curse of Jeconiah to be a perpetual hex on all generations of his descendants becomes a stumbling block that causes the same reader to miss the point of other passages, such as Matthew’s genealogy. The results can be fanciful and convoluted. Once a passage is understood in its context, however, it can then appropriately serve as a component to a robust theology. —Warren G. Nozaki
Warren G. Nozaki is a researcher at the Christian Research Institute. He holds a Masters of Divinity from the Talbot School of Theology.
“Too often in our contemporary culture, theologically informed beliefs are not considered a legitimate claim to knowledge.” — Frank Beckwith