Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Wednesday Bible study: Z is for Zerubbabel, part one
So today we end (or start to) the first (at least) ABC trip through the Bible. I am still deciding at this point what will come next. And we end it with yet another character I'm sure many of you don't know. So here is the usual thumbnail sketch of a life that needs to have an impact even now.
After Babylon was defeated by Media-Persia, in or around 559 BC Cyrus of Persia was led by God (more on that in a bit) to begin the allowing of Jewish exiles to return to their homeland. Among these was a man called by the Persians Sheshbazzar; among the Jews he was known as Zerubabbel, and he was given the governorship of this land. Alongside him was the High Priest Joshua, and together they began the work of restoring both physical and spiritual Jerusalem. And you will see him in both of the New Testament genealogies of Christ- in fact, his name is the last one that Matthew and Luke have in common until Jesus' foster-father Joseph. But where Matthew has him from the line of David's son Solomon, and fathered by Shealtiel, Luke has him from David's son Nathan, and the geneaolgy in I Chronicles 3 has him fathered by Shealtiel's brother Pediaiah. So what's going on? Well, it's not important- and it is.
Let's take a few steps back here. First of all, we have to keep in mind the Jewish law where if a son died without issue, a brother had to take his wife and father a son FOR him. There were also rules in place for succession when only a daughter was born; and the genealogists of the day didn't find it overly important to spell these things out. Laying that groundwork, now let's look at how we get TO Zerubbabel. We start with Judah's last good king, Josiah, who made the foolish mistake of trying to stop Necho of Egypt from marching through Judah to join in the final dismemberment of Assyria- even Pharaoh Necho warned him his plan wasn't of God- and got killed. It was a younger son of Josiah, named Shallum, who got 'elected' by the elders to take the throne as Jehoahaz. He lasted 3 months in 609 BC until Necho decided he might be a problem. He carted him back to Egypt with him and put his brother Jehoiakim in charge. Somewhere along the line, we talked about this boy before- he was the one determined to be more evil than predecessors Manasseh and Amon put together. Which leads us to our first real key to the story, Jeremiah's prophecy of the end of the Kings of Judah:
Jer 22:18 Therefore thus says the LORD concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: "They shall not lament for him, saying, 'Ah, my brother!' or 'Ah, sister!' They shall not lament for him, saying, 'Ah, lord!' or 'Ah, his majesty!'
Jer 22:19 With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried, dragged and dumped beyond the gates of Jerusalem."
This was confirmed by Josephus, so far as we can consider him reliable; he says that when Nebuchadnezzar demanded Jerusalem give up Jehoaikim, he had already died, they threw his body over the wall, and Nebby fed him to the dogs. Several variations on the story exist, but they all end up in the same basic spot. Moving on...
Jer 22:24 "As I live, declares the LORD, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet ring on my right hand, yet I would tear you off
Jer 22:25 and give you into the hand of those who seek your life, into the hand of those of whom you are afraid, even into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of the Chaldeans.
Jer 22:26 I will hurl you and the mother who bore you into another country, where you were not born, and there you shall die.
Jer 22:27 But to the land to which they will long to return, there they shall not return."
Jer 22:28 Is this man Coniah a despised, broken pot, a vessel no one cares for? Why are he and his children hurled and cast into a land that they do not know?
Jer 22:29 O land, land, land, hear the word of the LORD!
Jer 22:30 Thus says the LORD: "Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not succeed in his days, for none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David and ruling again in Judah."
Now, you see the two points of emphasis I gave here, and we're going to look at the second one first. Jeconiah was indeed taken by Nebuchadnezzar, and spent 37 years in bondage there, being freed by Cyrus when he took over. The last king of Judah was his uncle Zedekiah, who would come to a bad end. Of his offspring, there were supposedly five, including Shealtiel and Pediaiah. So how did Zerubabbel come about? Well, speculation runs that Shealtiel died childless, and the children listed to him were in fact fathered by his brother Pediaiah. And thus Zerubbabel is listed as legally the son of Shealtiel, except in Chronicles, where his true father comes in. And there are a whole host of ways that this weaves the kingly line of David to Solomon with the blood line of David to Nathan.
But the important thing is, Zerubabbel is where the thing picks up again. That this is the key is brought home by the fact that the genealogies explode again after Zerubbabel. Chronicles has him with several sons and tracing the line of one of these, Hananiah. Luke has him siring Rhesa, and Matthew, Abiud- neither of which appear anywhere in the Chronicles list. Zerubabbel is the last common link in the genealogies. And the important thing is why. Let's go back to Jeremiah for a sec:
Jer 22:24 "As I live, declares the LORD, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet ring on my right hand, yet I would tear you off ...
The signet ring signifies identity and possession. Here, God is relinquishing that which identified His Name with rebellious Judah. Now, look here in Haggai:
Hag 2:20 The word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month,
Hag 2:21 "Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth,
Hag 2:22 and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother.
Hag 2:23 On that day, declares the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the LORD, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the LORD of hosts."
This is the third of three times in the book of Haggai that the prophet speaks for God directly to Zerubbabel. And look! God has put the signet ring back on- the Jews are again His people, and He is their God. And it is through Zerubbabel that the line will go on. Think back to Judah and Tamar #1- he gave her his signet ring, which then established her sons Perez and Zerah as the way the line would flow- and the ONLY time a set of twins is mentioned in the genealogies. When the Perez line went extinct (more properly, were removed from the succession by the sins culminating in Jehoiakim), the Zerah line would take over. When the royal line of Solomon was trampled in evil, the line of Nathan was established. And ALL of these lines tie together when God puts the signet ring back on with Zerubabbel. Next time, we will actually get to looking AT Zerubbabel- and his "spiritual twin", Joshua. See didn't I tell you I'd make up for the posts you got shorted?