The Problem of the Curse on Jeconiah in Relation to the Genealogy of Jesus
The problem can be laid out in this way:
According to the genealogy in Matthew 1:12, Jesus is a descendant of Jeconiah. But Jeconiah was cursed in Jeremiah 22:24 and 22:30:
As surely as I live,” declares the LORD, “even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off.
This is what the LORD says: “Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule any more in Judah.”
Since no descendant of Jeconiah could ever sit on the throne, if Jesus is a descendant of this cursed king, he is disqualified from being the Messiah.
If true, then what is Jeconiah doing in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel? And how can Jesus qualify to be the Messiah? First of all, we have to wonder why Matthew would ever have included Jeconiah among the ancestors of Jesus if this so obviously disqualified Jesus from being the Messiah. In fact, the Scripture shows that the curse was only short-term, if not altogether reversed by God.
There are three parts to the curse on Jeconiah (who is also called Jehoiachin or Coniah):
- that he would be childless (this is how the Hebrew text literally reads)
- that he would not prosper in his lifetime
- that none of his descendants would rule in Judah
The Scripture shows that in fact none of these took place.
- Though the Hebrew literally reads, “Record this man childless,” Jeconiah in fact had children.
The descendants of Jehoiachin the captive: Shealtiel his son, Malkiram, Pedaiah, Shenazzar, Jekamiah, Hoshama and Nedabiah
— 1 Chronicles 3:17-18
- He did prosper in his day.
In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Evil-Merodach became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin from prison on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honour higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon.
— 2 Kings 25:27-28
- His grandson Zerubbabel prospered and ruled. In fact the same words God used in rejecting Jeconiah were deliberately used in establishing Zerubbabel.
“As surely as I live,” declares the LORD, “even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off.
— Jeremiah 22:24
“‘On that day,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”
— Haggai 2:23
Though Zerubbabel did not sit on the throne as king, the fact that Haggai 2:23 uses the same terminology as Jeremiah 22:24 shows that Haggai intended to indicate a reversal of the curse.
We have to conclude that in Jeremiah 22:30, “in his lifetime” qualifies the following phrases, and “for” explains that no descendant of his will prosper and rule during his lifetime.
We find rabbinic sources which also agree that God reversed the curse on Jeconiah, which they attribute to repentance on Jeconiah’s part. We even find the idea that the Messiah will descend from Jeconiah–exactly the opposite of what some say is impossible! Some of these sources are as follows:
1. Sources stating that Jeconiah repented and so God reversed the curse.
R. Johanan said: Exile atones for everything, for it is written, 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. Whereas after he [the king] was exiled, it is written, And the sons of Jechoniah, — the same is Assir — Shealtiel his son etc.(1) [He was called] Assir, because his mother conceived him in prison. Shealtiel, because God did not plant him in the way that others are planted. We know by tradition that a woman cannot conceive in a standing position. [yet she] did conceive standing. Another interpretation: Shealtiel, because God obtained [of the Heavenly court] absolution from His oath.(2)
(1) I Ch. III, 17. Notwithstanding the curse that he should be childless and not prosper, after being exiled he was forgiven.
(2) Which He had made, to punish Jechoniah with childlessness.
–Soncino Talmud edition, with selected footnotes
Pesikta de-Rab Kahana (5th c.)
I accepted the repentance of Jeconiah: shall I not accept your repentance? A cruel decree had been imposed upon Jeconiah: Scripture says, This man Coniah is a despised, shattered image (‘sb) (Jer. 22:28), for Jeconiah, according to R. Abba bar Kahana, was like a man’s skull (‘sm) which once shattered is utterly useless, or according to R. Helbo, like a wrapper of reed matting that dates are packed in, which, once emptied, is utterly useless. And Scripture goes on to say of Jeconiah: He is a vessel that none reaches for with delight (ibid.), a vessel, said R. Hama bar R. Hanina, such as a urinal; or a vessel, said R. Samuel bar Nahman, such as is used for drawing off blood. [These comments on Jeconiah derive from] R. Meir’s statement: The Holy One swore that He would raise up no king out of Jeconiah king of Judah. Thus Scripture: As I live, saith the Lord, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim . . . were the signet on a hand, yet by My right, I would pluck thee hence (Jer. 22:24), words by which God was saying, explained R. Hanina bar R. Isaac, “Beginning with thee, Jeconiah, I pluck out the kingship of the house of David.” It is to be noted, however, that the Hebrew for “pluck thee” is not as one would expect ‘tkk, but the fuller and less usual ‘tknk, which may also be rendered “mend thee”–that is, mend thee by thy repentance. Thus in the very place, [the kingship], whence Jeconiah was plucked, amends would be made to him: [his line would be renewed].
R. Ze’era said: I heard the voice of R. Samuel bar Isaac expounding from the teacher’s chair a specific point concerning Jeconiah, but I just cannot remember what it was. R. Aha Arika asked: Did it perhaps have some connection with this particular verse — Thus saith the Lord: Write ye this man childless, a man [who] will not prosper in his days (Jer. 22:30)? “Yes, that’s it!” said R. Ze’era. Thereupon R. Aha Arika went on to give R. Samuel bar Isaac’s interpretation of the verse: In his days Jeconiah, so long as he is childless, will not prosper, but when he has a son, then he will prosper by his son’s prosperity.
R Aha bar Abun bar Benjamin, citing R. Abba bar R. Papi, said: Great is the power of repentance, which led God to set aside an oath even as it led Him to set aside a decree. Whence the proof that a man’s repentance led Him to set aside the oath He made in the verse As I live, saith the Lord, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim were the signet on a hand, yet by My right, I would pluck thee hence (Jer. 22:24)? The proof is in the verse where Scripture says [of one of Jeconiah’s descendants] In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel . . . the son of Shealtiel . . . and will make thee as a signet (Haggai 2:23). And the proof that a man’s repentance led God to set aside a decree He issued in the verse Thus saith the Lord: Write ye this man childless, etc. (Jer. 22:30)? The proof is in the verse where Scripture says, The sons of Jeconiah — the same is Asir — Shealtiel his son, etc. (1 Chron. 3:17). R. Tanhum bar Jeremiah said: Jeconiah was called Asir, “one imprisoned,” because he had been in prison (‘asurim); and his sons called “Shealtiel” because he was like a sapling, newly set out (hustelah), through whom David’s line would be continued.
R. Tanhuma said: Jeconiah was called Asir, “imprisoned,” because God imprisoned Himself by His oath in regard to him; and Jeconiah’s son was called Shealtiel, “God consulted,” because God consulted the heavenly court, and they released Him from His oath.
–Yale Judaica edition translated by William G. Braude and Israel J. Kapstein (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1975), pp. 376-77. Bracketed portions are Braude and Kapstein’s explanations.
Leviticus Rabbah XIX:6 (5th-6th c.)
The Holy One, blessed be He, then said: ‘In Jerusalem you did not observe the precept relating to issues, but now you are fulfilling it,’ as it is said, As for thee also, because of the blood of thy covenant I send forth thy prisoners out of the pit (Zech. IX, 11) [which means], You have remembered the blood at Sinai, and for this do ‘I send forth thy prisoners’. R. Shabbethai said: He [Jeconiah] did not move thence before the Holy One, blessed be He, pardoned him all his sins. Referring to this occasion Scripture has said: Thou art all fair, my love, and there is no blemish in thee (S.S. IV, 7). A Heavenly Voice went forth and said to them: ‘Return, ye backsliding children, I will heal your backslidings’ (Jer. III, 22).
–Soncino Midrash Rabbah vol. 4, p. 249
Pesikta Rabbati, Piska 47 (6th-7th c.)
R. Joshua ben Levi, however, argued as follows: Repentance sets aside the entire decree, and prayer half the decree. You find that it was so with Jeconiah, king of Judah. For the Holy One, blessed be He, swore in His anger, As I live, saith the Lord, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim kind of Judah were the signet on a hand, yet by My right — note, as R. Meir said, that it was by His right hand that God swore — I would pluck thee hence (Jer. 22:24). And what was decreed against Jeconiah? That he die childless. As is said Write ye this man childless (Jer. 22:30). But as soon as he avowed penitence, the Holy One, blessed be He, set aside the decree, as is shown by Scripture’s reference to The sons of Jeconiah — the same is Assir — Shealtiel his son, etc. (1 Chron. 3:17). And Scripture says further: In that day . . . will I take thee, O Zerubbabel . . . the son of Shealtiel . . . and will make thee as a signet (Haggai 2:23). Behold, then how penitence can set aside the entire decree!
–Yale Judaica edition translated by William G. Braude (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), vol. 2, p. 797.
Numbers Rabbah XX:20 (date uncertain; 9th c.?)
…no sooner had they repented, than the danger was averted, And the Lord repented of the evil (ib. XXXII, 14). And so in many places. For example, He said about Jekoniah: For no man of his seed shall prosper (Jer. XXII, 30) and it says, I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations . . . 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 (Hag. II, 22 f.). Thus was annulled that which He had said to his forefather, viz. As I live, saith the Lord, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim King of Judah were the signet upon My right hand, yet I would pluck thee thence (Jer. XXII, 24).
–Soncino Midrash Rabbah vol 6, pp. 812-13
Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg, on Jeremiah 22:30 (20th c.)
In this, too, no man of his seed shall prosper, namely that no one will occupy the throne of David nor rule in Judah. Although we find that Zerubbabel, his great grandson, did rule over Judah upon the return of the exiles, the Rabbis (Pesikta d’Rav Kahana p. 163a) state that this was because Jehoiachin repented while in prison. They state further: Repentance is great, for it nullifies a person’s sentence, as it is stated: ‘Inscribe this man childless.’ But since he repented, his sentence was revoked and turned to the good, and he said to him, “I will take you, Zerubbabel, and I will make you a signet” (Haggai 2:23). They state further: Said Rabbi Johanan: Exile expiates all sins, as it is said: “Inscribe this man childless,” and after he was exiled, it is written: ‘(1 Chron. 3:17) And the sons of Jeconiah, Assir, Shealtiel his son’–[Redak].
–A. J. Rosenberg, Jeremiah: A New English Translation (New York: Judaica Press, 1985), vol. 1 p. 185. “Redak” is an acronym for Rabbi David Kimchi (13th c.), whose opinion Rosenberg cites.
Even the decree that none of his descendants would ascend the throne (Jer. 22:30) was repealed when Zerubbabel was appointed leader of the returned exiles (cf. Sanh. 37b-38a).
2. Sources stating that the Messiah will descend from Jeconiah.
Tanhuma Genesis, Toledot (8th-9th c.)
Scripture alludes here to the verse Who art thou, O great mountain before Zerubbabel? Thou shalt become a plain (Zech. 4:7). This verse refers to the Messiah, the descendant of David. . . .From whom will the Messiah descend? From Zerubbabel.
–Midrash Tanhuma-Yelammedenu, translated by Samuel A. Berman (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1996), p. 182.
Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg on Jeremiah 22:24 (20th c.)
Malbim calls to our attention that in the prophecy of Haggai (2:23), God says, “On that day I will take you, Zerubbabel, and I will make you like a signet,” for the King Messiah will be like a signet ring on God’s right hand, so to speak. Just as the name of the owner of the ring is engraved on his signet ring, through which he makes himself known, so will God’s name be known in the world through the King Messiah, through whom His miracles will be known. He says here that, though, in the future, Coniah will be the signet on My right hand, for the Messiah will spring from his seed, now I will remove him from there.
–Ibid., p. 183. Malbim is an acronym for Meir Loeb ben Jehiel Michale, a 19th c. rabbi and commentator. 22:24.
Jehoiachin’s sad experiences changed his nature entirely, and as he repented of the sins which he had committed as king he was pardoned by God, who revoked the decree to the effect that none of his descendants should ever become king (Jer. xxii.30; Pesik., ed. Buber, xxv. 163a, b): he even became the ancestor of the Messiah (Tan., Toledot, 20 [ed. Buber, i. 140]).
–Louis Ginzberg, “Jehoiachin,” vol. 7 p. 84.
The above article is one solution to the problem of the curse on Jeconiah. For an alternate solution, see “The Genealogy of the Messiah” by Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum