Does the Genealogy of Jesus, as Set Forth in Matthew and Luke, Contradict the Scriptures Stating that God Cursed King Jeconiah?
To explain the issue more fully, the Bible teaches that Jesus is the Messiah and that He will sit on the throne of David after He returns. In Matthew 1 and in Luke 3, we find the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph (the book of Matthew describes Christ’s legal genealogy through His stepfather Joseph) and through Mary (the book of Luke describes Christ’s natural genealogy through His mother Mary). For a further explanation, see our free booklet, Jesus Christ—a Great Mystery.
In the genealogy set forth by Matthew, King Jeconiah of Judah is mentioned (Matthew 1:11), but in both genealogies, Shealtiel and Zerubbabel are mentioned as well (Matthew 1:12 and Luke 3:27). They were descendants of Jeconiah, who is also named Coniah and Jehoiachin (Matthew 1:11; compare Margin in the new King James Bible). Jeremiah 22:30 states that none of Coniah’s descendants “shall prosper, Sitting on the throne of David, And ruling in Judah.” This curse is repeated in Jeremiah 36:30, where the following is added: “I will punish him, his family [lit. seed] and his servants for their iniquity…”
The argument advanced by many Jews is that Christ could not be the Messiah and sit in the future on the throne of David, as He is claimed (both in Matthew and in Luke) to be a descendant of Coniah and Coniah’s offspring; i.e., Coniah’s son Shealtiel and his grandson Zerubbabel; compare also Haggai 1:12.
Several attempts have been made to explain this apparent contradiction. A very popular explanation is that the curse had only relevance for the legal genealogy of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew, but not for the natural genealogy, as recorded in Luke. The argument goes like this:
“Matthew 1 clearly explains that Joseph is Mary’s husband. Matthew recorded this for legal purposes, to show the Jews that Christ was the Messiah… If Joseph had been Christ’s natural father, then Christ could never have sat on the throne of David, because of a curse God placed on one of Joseph’s ancestors. This ancestor [Jeconiah] is mentioned in Matthew 1:11-12. He is also referred to as Coniah in Jeremiah 22:24-30. Verse 30 states, ‘Thus says the LORD, Write you 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.’ This man was so evil, that God cursed him and his descendants. Jeconiah… did go on to have children (I Chron. 3:17). But, this curse was fulfilled because none of his children went on to rule from the throne of David…
“Luke records Mary’s genealogy. According to Jewish tradition, in marriage, Mary’s genealogy was placed in her husband’s name. The Greek simply records that Joseph was ‘of Heli’ (Luke 3:23). But since Jacob was Joseph’s father (Matt. 1:16), Joseph was the son-in-law of Heli. Mary’s lineage did not have this curse as Joseph’s did. And Mary descended from Nathan—one of David’s sons! (see Luke 3:31). God honored Nathan, and made him the ancestor to the promised King—Jesus Christ—who would sit on David’s throne forever (Luke 1:31-33). This fulfills God’s promise of establishing David’s throne for eternity! According to Israel’s law, if a daughter were the only heir to the father, she would inherit all his possessions, inheritance and rights—but only if she married within her tribe (Num. 27:1-8; 36:6-8). Since Mary had no brothers who could be heirs to her father, she was able to transmit David’s royal inheritance—and the right to the throne—to her husband upon marriage. This made Joseph heir to Heli, giving him the right to David’s throne. This inheritance was then passed to Christ.”
However, this explanation appears to be flawed, because even though in Luke’s genealogy, Jeconiah (Matthew 1:11-12) or Coniah is not mentioned per se, his son Shealtiel and his grandson Zerubbabel are. God pronounced a curse on Coniah and his descendants to the effect that none of Coniah’s descendants would sit on the throne of David. This would include Shealtiel and Zerubbabel and ultimately Jesus Christ, who WILL rule in Jerusalem, sitting on the throne of David (Luke 1:31-33).[In passing, an interesting explanation is given by the Schlachter commentary as to why Zerubbabel and Shealtiel are mentioned in both genealogies of Jesus, even though Matthew’s genealogy of Joseph lists Solomon as one of his ancestors, while Luke’s genealogy of Mary lists Nathan as one of her ancestors. It is pointed out that in 1 Chronicles 3:17-19, Zerubbabel is listed as a son of Pedaiah, the brother of Shealtiel, while Zerubbabel is otherwise referred to as the son of Shealtiel (Ezra 3:2; Nehemiah 12:1). It is being suggested that Shealtiel might have adopted his nephew Zerubbabel and that Zerubbabel appears in both genealogies because he might have entered into a levirate marriage with the wife of his deceased brother Pedaiah.]
Another explanation is that the “offspring” of Jeconiah mentioned in the curse (denying them rulership on David’s throne) could be a limited reference to the king’s own children—his immediate offspring—and it would only be in force while the king lived.
This proposal is not very convincing. As we have seen, Shealtiel was one of Coniah’s sons. It is true that he did not sit on David’s throne as a king, and neither did Coniah’s grandson Zerubbabel, but the curse, as it is worded and without further explanation, does not seem to imply that it only referred to Coniah’s immediate sons during Coniah’s lifetime.
A third explanation is that God reversed the curse against Coniah and his offspring. This is hinted at by the prophet Haggai, who told Zerubbabel, Coniah’s grandson, that God would make him a “signet ring” on God’s hand (Haggai 2:23). Earlier, God had said to Coniah that even if he had been the signet ring on God’s right hand, He would pluck him out (Jeremiah 22:24). Now, the same “signet ring” imagery is applied to Zerubbabel. (For the importance of a signet ring, compare also Genesis 41:41-43 and Esther 3:10; 8:2, 10.) This would mean that God took away the signet ring from Coniah and gave it to Zerubbabel, thereby re-establishing the Davidic line of kingship.
The Bible may indicate this reversal of God’s curse during Coniah’s life. We read that after Coniah was imprisoned by Nebuchadnezzar, Coniah’s uncle was made king by the King of Babel who changed his name to Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17). But Zedekiah rebelled and was blinded and imprisoned, and all his sons were killed. However, his daughters Tea or Tea-Tephi and Scota survived, and the prophet Jeremiah went with them to Ireland and planted the throne of David there through one of Zedekiah’s daughters, Tea, who married the Irish king, Eochaidh. For further explanations, see our free booklets, “The Fall and Rise of Britain and America,” and “The Fall and Rise of the Jewish People.”
After Zedekiah’s demise, the King of Babylon, Evil-Merodach, released Coniah from prison, and “he gave him a more prominent seat than those of the kings who were with him in Babylon… and he ate bread regularly before the king all the days of his life” (2 Kings 25:28-29). These are remarkable events in light of the fact that God had pronounced a curse on Coniah in Jeremiah 22:30, stating that he would not prosper in his days, and that none of his descendants would prosper. However, one would be entitled to say that Coniah did prosper at the end of his life, and Coniah’s grandson Zerubbabel surely prospered in building the Second Temple, as we read in Zechariah 4:6-10.
The concept of a reversal of God’s curse has some biblical support. We might consider the account of Jonah in Nineveh, showing that human repentance can change God’s declared intent of destruction. Even though Jonah was commissioned by God to declare that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days, that curse was not carried out by God when the people of Nineveh repented. We also read in Jeremiah 18:7-8 that God relents of the disaster that He thought to bring over a nation if that nation repents and turns from evil (compare also Jeremiah 26:3). Please also recall that God’s curse was pronounced in connection with God’s punishment for iniquity. If iniquity is repented of and forgiven, the punishment for sin may also be removed. (However, in many cases, punishment for sin, even if repented of, is not automatically removed, compare our free booklet, Punishment for Our Sins.)
In addition, several rabbinic sources teach that Coniah repented in Babylon and that God forgave him and lifted the curse. The following is taken from the Internet, pointing out:
“Sanhedrin 37b-38a states about Coniah: ‘Notwithstanding the curse that he should be childless and not prosper, after being exiled he was forgiven.’”
“Jewish tradition also maintains that the Messiah will be descended from Jeconiah—and such a tradition would be incompatible with a belief that Jeconiah’s lineage is under a perpetual curse. The Jewish Encyclopedia’s article ‘Jehoiachin,’ vol. 7, p.84 [states]: ‘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]).’’”
A slight deviation of this proposal reads as follows:
“The Encyclopedia Judaica maintains (under ‘Jehoiachin’ (9:1319)), that the curse was lifted under Zerubbabel: ‘Even the decree that none of his descendants would ascend the throne… was repealed when Zerubbabel was appointed leader of the returned exiles’ (cf. Sanh. 37b-38a).”
Even though no further explanation is given for this conclusion, we might think of God’s declaration in Ezekiel 18:1-4, 19-20, stating that the son shall not bear the guilt of the father (compare also 2 Kings 14:6). In addition, there are examples when righteous people intervened on behalf of sinners, so that God, at times, relented from carrying out a curse, or He modified or reversed a curse.
Due to Abraham’s repeated pleas, God would not have destroyed Sodom if ten righteous persons would have been found there (Genesis 18:20-32); due to Moses’ plea, God relented from destroying Israel (Exodus 32:7-14); and God heard Daniel’s heart-felt prayer, acknowledging God’s curse on the nation and asking for forgiveness of his and his nation’s sins (Daniel 9:4-27). The same might be said about Zerubbabel: When he repented and asked God for forgiveness, God might have reversed the curse placed on Coniah and his descendants. We read in Galatians 3:13 that Christ redeems us from the curse of the law… that is, He removes the penalty [referring to the death penalty for breaking the law, Romans 6:23] when we repent.
Matthew lists Coniah in Christ’s genealogy, and Luke lists Coniah’s son and grandson, even though they clearly would have known about Coniah’s curse in the book of Jeremiah. It is obvious that they did not feel that God’s curse disqualified Jesus from inheriting and sitting on the throne of David. Writing under godly inspiration, they must have known that somehow, God’s curse which was pronounced against Coniah did not prevent Christ’s Messiahship. The most convincing conclusion seems to be that God did in fact reverse the curse, apparently due to Coniah’s repentance, and/or that He did not apply Coniah’s sin and the resulting curse to Coniah’s grandson Zerubbabel, due to Zerubbabel’s repentance and his plea for his grandfather Coniah.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link with material provided by Brian Gale