In Mark 12, shortly after teaching on marriage and the importance of loving God with your whole life, Jesus observes a poor widow giving an offering to the treasury. He comments, “This poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, *her whole livelihood*” (vv. 43, 44).
That phrase “her whole livelihood” is lifted from two passages in the Hebrew Scriptures—both authored by Solomon, the wealthiest Israelite.
“The heart of her husband trusts in her… for she employs *all her living* for her husband’s good” (Proverbs 31:11, 12).
“Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love *all the substance* of his house, it would be utterly despised” (Song of Solomon 8:7).
Solomon had all the money in the world; but his heart was in the wrong place, so ultimately he had nothing. The poor widow had nothing; but her heart was in the right place, so ultimately she had everything. She was effectively Solomon’s (and Jesus’) perfect woman: someone who, out of overwhelming love, gives everything she has to the bridegroom.
“The LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God With all your heart, With all your soul, With all your mind, And with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29, 30)
The night Jesus was betrayed, Judas led a band of men to the Mount of Olives to arrest Jesus. As the Son of Man was surrounded by soldiers, priests, and Pharisees, Peter charged the captors and struck the high priest’s servant in the head with his sword.
Despite what you’ve seen in movies, Jesus and His disciples weren’t surrounded by a small group of religious men. John’s gospel tells us Judas brought “a detachment of troops.” A detachment, for those not familiar with the Roman military, was one-tenth of a legion—a legion being five thousand men. In other words, Jesus was waylaid by about 500 trained Roman soldiers—as well as a group of priests and Pharisees.
So… you have 500 armed soldiers from the world’s most power army on one side… and eleven day laborers with two swords who just woke up from a nap. What was Peter thinking?
To make sense of this, you need to understand the prophecies of Zechariah. In the final chapter of his book, Zechariah foretold of a day when God’s people would be surrounded by enemy nations bent on destroying the Jews (Zechariah 14:2). On that day, the LORD Himself would go forth against the nations to fight on behalf of His people. And His attack would start when the Messiah stood on the Mount of Olives (v. 4).
As the Messiah stood upon the Mount of Olives, surrounded by enemy nations, a great earthquake (seismos)—greater than the earthquake in the days of Uzziah—would strike, splitting (schizo) the mountain in two. Uzziah’s earthquake, of course, had occurred when the priests tried to stop the king from making a sacrifice in the temple, causing the roof of the temple to split in two (2 Chronicles 26, Antiquities IX, 10.4). Then the LORD would enter Jerusalem with the saints (hagios) (v. 5).
Next, the lights would be diminished in the middle of the day and living water (hydor) would flow from Jerusalem. Then the faces of God’s enemies would melt (think Raiders of the Lost Ark), and the LORD would be declared King over all the earth (v. 9, 12).
This prophecy may seem obscure to you, but to a persecuted first-century Jew living under Roman occupation, this would have been well-known and oft-discussed. Now consider what the disciples would have thought. They have been traveling with the Messiah, the true King of the Jews, for over three years. Jesus has been constantly talking about finishing His work, and then they head to Jerusalem during the Passover. No wonder His disciples offered to call down fire on those pagan Samaritans a few days earlier (Luke 9:54). This was the end! The time for all of their enemies to be destroyed.
Every night that week they retired to the Mount of Olives. And every night the disciples waited for Jesus to begin His holy war on God’s enemies. And finally, after days and weeks and years and centuries of waiting, five hundred Roman soldiers and a pod of imposter priests launched their attack. On the Mount of Olives, of all places. And Jesus stood to His feet.
Now was the time.
Peter charged, expecting Jesus to begin shooting lasers out of His eyes and melting all these evil men in their armor.
But Jesus’ attack never came. Instead, He reprimanded Peter and surrendered to the troops, to be taken away, tortured, and murdered on a cross.
Where was the victory of the Messiah? Where was the earthquake? The splitting of the mountain? The darkness and the flowing water and the saints? Where was the King over all the earth?
Maybe the disciples were wrong about Jesus. Maybe He wasn’t their Messiah.
But as He hung on the cross, darkness swept across the land. At noon. In the middle of the day (Matthew 27:45). Then as He took His last breath, the earth quaked (seismos), splitting the rocks apart (schizo) and tearing (schizo) the veil of the temple from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51).
After He died, Jesus was pierced by a soldier, and living water (hydor) flowed from His side (John 19:34). Then the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints (hagios) were raised and entered the holy city (Matthew 27:52-53).
Peter and the disciples were expecting the Messiah to attack their enemies as He stood upon the Mount of Olives. And they were right. They just expected it to happen the wrong way. They expected Jesus to wipe out all the Romans. But the Romans weren’t their true enemy. The real enemy is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).
Just as Zechariah had prophesied, the rocks were split in two. The priests tried to stop the King, but instead the veil was torn apart. The lights were diminished. The living water flowed. The saints entered Jerusalem. Death was defeated. And Jesus became the King over all the earth.
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? …Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57)
As Jesus prepared to enter Jerusalem the week before His death, He told His disciples to bring Him a donkey and a colt to ride upon. And as He entered the Holy City, the people cried out “Hosanna!” and called Jesus “the Son of David.” What was it about those donkeys that caused the crowds to identify Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah who had come to deliver them from their Roman occupiers?
Matthew tells us that Jesus made this request “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, …’Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (Matthew 21:4, 5)
That seems pretty straightforward. Some prophet said something about a colt and a donkey, so Jesus rode those animals to satisfy this prophecy. But there’s more to the story.
The prophet in question is Zechariah, who proclaimed these words in the winter of 518 BC, two years and two months before the second temple was completed. This donkey prophecy comes shortly after God rebukes the nations of Tyre and Sidon, and soon after Zechariah adds that “He shall speak peace to the nations,” “set your prisoners free from the waterless pit,” and “restore double to you” (vv. 11-12).
To fully understand what these prophecies meant—and how they were understood by first-century Jews—we need to consider if these phrases appear anywhere else in scripture. And it turns out, they all show up in only two places in scripture.
Joseph in Egypt
All the way back in Genesis, we are introduced to Joseph, the eleventh and favored son of Jacob. Joseph has received prophetic dreams that he will reign and have dominion over his brothers. His brothers’ response?
“They hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.” (Genesis 37:4)
Some time later, Joseph’s brothers find him out in the desert and decide to throw him into a waterless pit (Genesis 37:24)—a phrase that only appears in scripture here, in Zechariah 9, and one other place. Shortly thereafter, Joseph is taken as a slave to Egypt.
After spending years in slavery and prison, Joseph is eventually freed, becomes a leader in Egypt, and is given the Egyptian title, “Savior of the World” (Genesis 41). His brothers eventually travel to Egypt in search of food and, when framed for stealing, attempt to restore double to Joseph (Genesis 43:12).
Jeremiah in Egypt
Other than Joseph, Jeremiah is in the only other person in scripture who spends time in a waterless pit:
“They took Jeremiah and cast him into the dungeon (Hebrew bor, same word translated “pit” in Genesis 37 and Zechariah 9) of Malchiah the king’s son, which was in the court of the prison, and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. And in the dungeon (bor) there was no water, but mire.” (Jeremiah 38:6)
After being thrown in the pit by his countrymen, Jeremiah is forced into exile in Egypt, where he lives out the rest of his life.
And Jeremiah also used the other two phrases as well. In Jeremiah 16, God declares that He “will repay double for their iniquity and sin” (v. 18); and in Jeremiah 23, God criticizes the false prophets who have falsely claimed that the LORD has spoken peace (v. 17). Once again, all three phrases that appeared in Zechariah 9 and the story of Joseph also appear in Jeremiah.
But maybe you’re not as impressed with the supposed pattern of Jeremiah. His book is 52 chapters long, after all. Is it really a pattern to find three sentences in chapters 16, 23, and 38 of a book? Is there anything else that ties them together?
And as it turns out, there is. Chapters 16 and 23 both contain a matching prophecy, a prophecy not found anywhere else in Jeremiah:
“‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘that they shall no longer say, “As the LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,” but, “As the LORD lives who brought up and led the seed of the house of Israel from the north country and from all the countries where I had driven them.”’” (Jeremiah 16:14-15, 23:7-8)
Just as these prophetic utterances in the story of Joseph all revolved around exile and delivery from Egypt, so too do these prophetic utterances in the story of Jeremiah all revolve around exile and delivery in Egypt. To the average Jewish reader, the words of Zechariah 9 would call them back to the story of Joseph in Egypt, and to the astute Jewish reader they would call to mind Jeremiah’s words concerning Egypt.
But what did those words mean, and how were they fulfilled as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey?
You and Me in Egypt
Joseph and Jeremiah weren’t the only ones who ended up exiled in Egypt. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers—jealous that Joseph was their prophesied ruler—and a few years later his brothers had relocated to Egypt as well, where they ended up spending 400 years in slavery. Jeremiah was also forcefully taken to Egypt by his countrymen—led by a military rebel angry with Jeremiah’s prophecy—and soon after his Jewish captors were exiled in Egypt as well. The captors of Joseph and Jeremiah ended up suffering the same fate.
And just over 500 years after Zechariah’s prophecy, the true King of the Jews was also forced into exile in Egypt by His own people—an imposter king and his Jewish advisers who were troubled by the prophetic fulfillment of the long-awaited Messiah.
But this wasn’t the only exile Jesus faced. Before heading for Jerusalem (in a chapter filled with references to the Book of Exodus), Moses and Elijah (two prophets associated with Mount Sinai) visited Jesus and “spoke of his ἔξοδον which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). They spoke of His exodus. They spoke of His exile. They spoke of His prison sentence in a waterless pit.
And who were His brethren who sold Him out? Who were the ones responsible for His spiritual exile into Egypt?
You and me.
We are the ones who threw him in the pit. We are the ones who despised the prophesied King and Messiah. We are the ones who wouldn’t speak peace to the Prince of Peace.
And yet, just as Joseph rose out of the pit and became the savior of the world, so too did Jesus rise from the pit and become the Savior of the World. On the anniversary of the deliverance of God’s people from geographical Egypt, Jesus the Messiah delivered us from spiritual Egypt—in a magnificent way that overshadowed the deliverance through the Red Sea, just as Jeremiah predicted.
When the crowds saw Jesus riding upon that donkey, they didn’t just see a fulfillment of Zechariah 9; they saw freedom from slavery. They saw a return from exile. The saw the crossing of a bigger Red Sea. It’s no wonder they cried out “Hosanna”: “Save now, I pray, O LORD!” (Psalm 118:25).
And rather than having our sins repaid to us double what we had committed, instead we are restored double (Zechariah 9:12). Instead of being unable to speak peace and fearing revenge, He Himself has become our peace, He who came and preached peace to His own kin and to the nations (Ephesians 2:14-17).
So this week, as we prepare to celebrate the Passover of our Lamb…
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)
As luck would have it, Purim and St. Patrick’s Day fall on the same day this year. At first glance these holidays don’t seem to have much in common. But meditating on them this morning, I found that they share quite a few themes.
Purim celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people from genocide. The story begins with Esther and Mordecai, two Jews who have been kidnapped from their native land of Israel and forced to live as exiles in Persia. Through an unexpected series of events, Esther is delivered from slavery when she is declared the Queen of Persia. Mordecai also rises up the ranks, becoming a member of the King’s court. For a number of years, Esther lives in the King’s court, until Haman the Agagite attempts to annihilate God’s chosen people. Esther bravely risks her safety by approaching the King and announcing her Jewish heritage. The King is sympathetic to Esther, orders Haman’s execution, and issues a decree that ultimately saves the Jewish people.
One striking detail of the story that often gets overlooked appears toward the end of the narrative: “In every province and city, wherever the king’s command and decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday. Then many of the people of the land became Jews…” (Esther 8:17).
The events of the story and the actions of Esther and Mordecai not only save the Jewish people but bring many Gentiles into God’s family. This isn’t just a deliverance of one nation from physical death; it’s also a deliverance of all nations from spiritual death.
St. Patrick’s Day
Patrick was born in Britain, but at the age of 16 he was kidnapped by pirates and taken as a slave to Ireland. He labored there for six long years, until God appeared to him and led him to trek 200 miles through the wilderness, where he found a waiting ship and was miraculously able to talk his way on board. After arriving in Britain, the sailors were starving, but through Patrick’s prayer of faith God provided sustenance for the group. Patrick eventually made it home and lived for a number of years with his family, until God called him back to the land of his captivity.
Patrick returned to Ireland, this time as a missionary, and spent the remainder of his life ministering to idol-worshippers and kings. And his work was not in vain. According to his autobiography, he “baptized so many thousands of people,” and according to Thomas Cahill, he saved not only the people of Ireland but all civilization.
Like Esther, Patrick lived as a slave and exile in a land not his own. Like Esther, he was supernaturally delivered from his fate through the providence of God. Like Esther, he sacrificed his newfound freedom to speak God’s truth. And like Esther, his actions resulted in thousands coming to God and nations being transformed.
And just like Esther and St. Patrick, you too are an exile (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11) living in Babylon (1 Peter 5:13), having no permanent home and seeking the one to come (Hebrews 13:14). Like Esther and Patrick, the world you’re living in is not your own (John 18:36). But rather than living for no other reason than to escape this fallen world, choose the paths of Esther and Patrick. Live to redeem this fallen world. Be the light in the darkness (Ephesians 5:8). Usher in God’s kingdom on the earth (Matthew 6:10, 11:12). Go into all this fallen world and preach the gospel throughout all creation (Mark 16:15). All of creation is waiting for you to stop hiding and start bringing God’s blood-bought freedom into the world (Romans 8:19-22).
“As you go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19, 20)
In Luke 15, Jesus tells a series of “lost” parables to an audience consisting of sinners/tax collectors and Pharisees/scribes. First comes the parable of the lost sheep, where a man loses a sheep out in the wilderness and rejoices when it is found. Next comes the parable of the lost coin, where a woman loses a coin in her home and rejoices when it is found.
Then we come to a parable about a man with two sons. The younger son wants his inheritance, so the father divides up his assets, giving one-third to the younger son and two-thirds to the older son. The younger son takes off and squanders his inheritance with riotous living. When an unexpected famine strikes, the younger son becomes destitute and shamefully returns home, offering to become his father’s servant because he is not worthy of his father’s love. However, in a completely unexpected turn of events, the father runs out to meet him, falls on his neck, and kisses him. The father then throws a party for his returned son, for “he was lost and now is found.”
We all know this story. A man with a lost son out in the wilderness, who rejoices when he is found. What we often overlook is the end of the story, which focuses on the other lost son—the lost son who never left home.
The older brother is working in the field when his younger brother returns home. Instead of rejoicing with his father at the return of his brother, he throws a giant fit. He refuses to celebrate. He refuses to even call him his brother. And he thinks the worst of his brother, exclaiming without evidence that his brother had wasted the money on whores.
With all this in mind, let’s consider what a first century Jew would’ve thought when hearing this parable. Consider a few elements from the tale: a father with two sons, brothers squabbling over an inheritance, the younger brother leaving town with his blessing, the older brother working out in the field.
In the mind of a Jewish listener, this story would immediately call to mind the story of Esau and Jacob. The younger Jacob stole his older brother Esau’s inheritance while Esau was out working in the field, and then left town. In fact, there are many parallels throughout these two stories:
Isaac has two sons
Father has two sons
Jacob steals Esau’s inheritance
Younger brother receives his inheritance
Jacob goes to Padan Aram
Younger brother goes to a far country
There is a famine after Jacob tricks Esau
There is a famine after younger brother leaves
Jacob meets Esau and offers to be his servant
Younger brother offers to be his father’s servant
Jacob tells God “I’m not worthy of your mercies”
Younger brother tells father “I am no longer worthy to be called your son”
Esau runs, falls on neck, and kisses Jacob
Father runs, falls on neck, and kisses younger brother
Jacob had stolen inheritance while Esau was in the field
Younger brother returns home while older brother is in the field
Any person familiar with the biblical text would notice the similarities between the two narratives. But they also would notice a few key differences:
For one, the younger brother in the parable didn’t steal his brother’s inheritance; rather he prematurely requested his own inheritance. Notice that when the younger brother received his one-third inheritance, the older brother also received his two-thirds inheritance (Luke 15:12). The younger brother didn’t actually steal anything from his older brother.
Also, notice that in the Esau-Jacob narrative, it is Esau who lovingly welcomes home his brother. He is no longer bitter; instead he is happy to receive his brother home, and doesn’t require any of the gifts Jacob had sent to appease him. Compare that to the lost older brother, who—despite having twice as much as his sibling—refuses to welcome him home.
The message to Jesus’ first century audience was clear: Those who behave like the older brother are worse than Esau. Those lost coins who have remained in their master’s home but are still nevertheless lost, those Pharisees/scribes who rejected the lost sheep rather than welcomed them—they are like those who despised their birthright, who rejected their inheritance, who turned their backs on their God and Father.
In fact, the behavior of the older brother might call to mind another older brother: Cain, who led his younger sibling out into a field where he murdered him, then disinherited him (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”).
At the time Jesus spoke these words, a man named Herod was reigning as the King of the Jews. And yet, he wasn’t Jewish. He was Idumean—an Edomite, a descendant of Esau—appointed by the oppressive Roman Empire to rule over the Jews. To the Jews, Herod was Esau-Incarnate—an imposter king who had despised the inheritance of the Jews and yet wanted to wield it over the Jews. And according to Jesus, the religious elite were just as bad as he was. And by the end of the gospels, those same religious leaders would be working with this imposter king to rid their nation of the true King of the Jews, the Heir of Jacob and the Finder of Sheep and Coins and Sons.
The resounding message, to those who heard this in the first century and those of us who read it in the twenty-first century, is clear. Those of us in the LORD’s house should partner with our Father to find the lost sheep without and the lost coins within. We should rejoice when the lost sheep are found. We should rejoice when the lost coins are found. And if our hearts want to throw a fit while the angels are throwing a party, we may not be as found as we think.
“It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:32)
Special thanks to the lectures of Peter J. Williams, whose series “The Genius of Jesus’ Teachings” brought to light many of these parallels. If you appreciated this article, you should definitely watch his teachings on this parable.
Our family started reading the Book of Esther today. The story begins with the King of Persia ordering his wife to come entertain his drunk buddies and her refusing. The king’s wisest counselors fear that other wives will disobey their husbands’ demands if the queen isn’t dealt with, so she is banished. The chapter ends with the king issuing a royal decree: “Each man shall be head in his own house.”
Here’s the thing: The king was right… sort of. Every man should be the head of his household. Wives should honor and follow their husbands. The king and his counselors were right. But they wanted to wield this role selfishly, rather than selflessly.
The man isn’t called to lead so he can have whatever he wants. He’s called to lead so he can serve and protect his household. The man leads by discipling his family, as Moses said (Deut. 6). The man leads by loving and sacrificing, as Paul said (Eph. 5). The man leads by serving, as Jesus said (Matt. 20).
The king and his counselors wanted the benefits of their position, but they didn’t want the responsibilities. They wanted to be leaders, but they didn’t want to lead.
It’s noteworthy that in the second chapter of Esther, we are introduced to a man—Mordecai—who spends the entire book serving and protecting others. And by the end of the book, the king’s wise counselors are replaced by this Mordecai, as the book concludes:
“Mordecai the Jew was second to the king… seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his countrymen.”
If you want to be “head of your own house,” follow Mordecai’s example. “Seek the good of your people.”
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God repeatedly reveals Himself as “The LORD God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in goodness and TRUTH.” (Exodus 34:6, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 145:8, Nehemiah 9:17)
Centuries later, right before the wicked city of Nineveh is to be destroyed, the Ninevite king and his people repent of their sin and cry out, “Who can tell if God will turn and RELENT, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” (Jonah 3:8)
God does relent and forgives their sins… which makes Jonah quite angry. He screams at God, and then quotes Exodus 34 back to Him… almost:
“You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, abounding in goodness, ONE WHO RELENTS FROM DOING HARM.” (Jonah 4:2)
Notice the change? In Jonah’s eyes, God does not abound in truth. For the truthful thing, according to Jonah, would have been to destroy the wicked city whose sins had rightfully earned them their deserved destruction. It’s no coincidence that we are introduced to Jonah as “Jonah the son of Amattai”—the son of MY TRUTH. Jonah’s truth was that justice and mercy couldn’t go hand-in-hand, and as such God’s willingness to relent and forgive contradicted His claim of abundant truth.
If we’re not careful, many of us will end up viewing the world like Jonah: Angry that wicked people aren’t getting what we think they deserve, mad that God isn’t doling out our version of justice, unwilling to forgive those who have harmed those we care about.
Or we can take another path: The path of Joel, who quoted from Jonah a few centuries later. Joel, too, misquoted Exodus’ description of God—or rather, directly quoted Jonah’s altered description:
“Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in goodness, and ONE WHO RELENTS FROM DOING HARM.” (Joel 2:13)
But whereas Jonah was angry that God didn’t dole out the justice the wicked truthfully deserved, Joel is crying out that God would instead overlook His own people’s true wickedness and give them mercy instead. In his desperation for God’s people to return to the LORD, Joel even goes so far as to quote the wicked king of Nineveh:
“Who knows if He will turn and RELENT, and leave a blessing behind Him.” (Joel 2:14)
As the world seems to get more and more wicked, let’s approach others with the heart of Joel rather than Jonah. Let’s pray that they would repent and return to the LORD, rather than that God would strike down our enemies with fire and brimstone.
Whereas Jonah was blind to his own wickedness and desired vengeance on the wicked, Joel was well aware of the sins of Israel, and prayed that the people would repent and that God would relent.
As the world seems to get more and more wicked, let’s approach others with the heart of Joel rather than Jonah. Let’s pray that they would repent and return to the LORD, rather than that God would strike down our enemies with fire and brimstone.
MEN OF ‘CHAYIL.’ This means men who are capable of leading a great multitude of people. Every assembly and gathering is called chayil, and it does not apply only to soldiers going forth to war. Thus it is said [of the dry bones that Ezekiel resurrected], a great ‘chayil’ (host)(Ezekiel 37:10). Of the locusts it is said, My great ‘chayil’ (army) (Joel 2:25). Of wealth it is stated, My power and the might of my hand hath gotten this ‘chayil’ (wealth)(Deuteronomy 8:17); they carry upon the shoulders of young asses ‘chayaleihem’ (their riches).105Isaiah 30:6. Of fruits it is said, the fig-tree and the vine do yield ‘cheilam’ (their strength).106Joel 2:22. Thus an ish chayil in the administration of justice is one who is wise, alert, and fair; in war, an ish chayil is one who is strong, alert, and who knows the art of arraying forces in battle. A woman also is an eisheth chayil (a woman of valor)107Proverbs 31:10. when she is alert and knows how to conduct the management of a home.
Jethro thus spoke in general and in particular. [In general], he told Moses to select people with powers of leadership in the administration of justice for this great people. In particular, they should be such as fear G-d, men of truth, hating unjust gain, for it is impossible for them to be “men of chayil” in judgment, without these qualities. It was not necessary for him to mention that they must be wise and understanding, for it is clear that these qualities are included in the term “men of chayil.” Further on, when it says, And Moses chose men of ‘chayil,’108Further, Verse 25. everything is already included — i.e., that they were G-d-fearing, men who hated unjust gain, wise and understanding. Moreover, Scripture says [that Moses chose them] out of all Israel,108Further, Verse 25. which means [that they were] the preferred of all Israel, being the ones who have all of these qualities. Since Scripture states that he chose them out of all Israel,108Further, Verse 25. it is already stating that they were chosen in preference to all, for it is known that the better ones in Israel possess all good qualities. Jethro, however, not being familiar with them, found it necessary to explain in detail [that they be G-d-fearing, men of truth, etc.]
Some scholars109Ibn Ezra here. Also, R’dak in Sefer Hashorashim, on the root chayil. explain anshei chayil as men of physical strength and zeal, such as have ability to stand in the king’s palace.110Daniel 1:4. Similarly, eisheth chayil107Proverbs 31:10. is a woman of strength and industry in the work of the home, as Scripture explains there in that section.111Proverbs 31:10-31. Likewise, Make them wander to and fro ‘b’cheilcha,’112Psalms 59:12. which means “by Thy power.” Also, Neither doth it, [i.e., the horse], afford escape by its great ‘cheilo,’113Ibid., 33:17. [which means “by its great strength”]. The word [chayil] is associated with the Aramaic, as is evidenced by the [Hebrew] expression, ‘yesh l’eil yadi’ (It is in the power of my hand),114Genesis 31:29. which is rendered in the Targum: “there is cheila in my hand.” And further on it says, And Moses chose men of ‘chayil’ out of all Israel,108Further, Verse 25. which means the preferred ones of the entire nation and all qualities are included, as I have explained.
Matthew records the genealogy of Jesus in the first chapter of his gospel, concluding that “all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations” (Matthew 1:17).
There’s a problem, though. 14 + 14 + 14 generations should give us 42 names, but we are only given 41 names from Abraham to Jesus. Someone seems to be missing. And this seems like a weird mistake for Matthew to make. I mean, he’s the one listing the names. Why would he say there were 42 generations but only list 41?
Unless… he didn’t make a mistake.
Take a closer look at verse 11: “Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brethren about the time they were carried away to Babylon.”
If you look it up, you’ll find that Josiah didn’t beget Jeconiah; Josiah was Jeconiah’s grandfather, not his father. The missing king (Josiah’s son and Jeconiah’s father) would bring Matthew’s count up to 42.
So that begs the question: Why did Matthew leave this mystery king off the list? And the answer is simple: He didn’t. Notice that the text doesn’t just say that Josiah begot Jeconiah; it says Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brethren. Matthew doesn’t just bring up Jeconiah; he is mentioning a group of male family members: Jeconiah, his brother, his uncles, and his father. This is made more clear when we see how Matthew groups his three lists of 14. He doesn’t say “from David to Jeconiah are fourteen generations”; he says “from David to the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations.” When we plug in this mystery king during the vague time period of “about the time they were carried away,” our 14+14+14 list falls perfectly into place.
So the next question is: Who is this mystery king, and why doesn’t Matthew mention him by name?
The mystery king is Jehoiakim, and according to the scriptures “he did evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 23:37). After his father Josiah died, the enemy Pharaoh of Egypt appointed Josiah’s son to be king, changing his name from Eliakim to Jehoiakim. Though he was the rightful heir to the throne, his reign was polluted from the beginning by the influence of pagan Egypt, leading to generations of idolatry in Israel.
Eventually his kingship became so corrupted that God vowed that none of his descendants would ever sit upon the throne of David again: “He shall have no one to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out” (Jeremiah 36:30). This pronouncement of judgment upon his bloodline was repeated over his evil son Jeconiah: “Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not prosper in his days. For none of his descendants shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling anymore in Judah” (Jeremiah 22:30).
Matthew only alluded to Jehoiakim (without mentioning his name) because it was during his turbulent and evil reign that his line of kings came to an end (it should be noted that this isn’t the first name left off of Matthew’s list for shameful reasons: Bathsheba is only alluded to, because her sin with David led to the eventual civil war in Israel).
But this leads to another problem: If none of Jehoiakim’s descendants will ever sit upon the throne of David… how does Jesus—the heir of David—become king? And the answer is simple: Jesus wasn’t a descendant of Jehoiakim; Joseph was. But Joseph had no biological relationship to Jesus; he was Jesus’ adoptive father.
Matthew records the kingly line of David through Solomon, which ends with Joseph. Luke provides a different genealogy, following the line of David through Nathan, which leads to Mary, the biological mother of Jesus. As such, we clearly see that Jesus was the rightful legal heir to the throne of David through Solomon, Jehoiakim, and his adoptive father Joseph, even though he didn’t have a drop of Solomon’s, Jehoiakim’s, or Joseph’s blood in Him. But Jesus is also the biological heir of David through Nathan and Mary, having the royal blood of David coursing through His veins.
In this way, Jesus uniquely has a claim to the throne of David. He is a biological descendant of King David through Mary, the rightful heir to the throne of David through King Jeconiah and Joseph, and yet avoids the curse brought upon the biological descendants of King Jehoiakim. He is, as Matthew claims, “Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.”
Haggai’s second prophetic word just so happened to be given on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Was this just a coincidence, or was God using this festival to show Haggai—and us—something important?