Jeconiah and Shealtiel
I Chr 3:16
Jeremiah 22:24-30 (note that Coniah is a shortened form of the name used for Jeconiah) records that
‘...none of his offspring [Jeconiah’s] shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David, and ruling again in Judah’
So, does it all end here? In punishment for Jeconiah’s sin, God ordained that none of Jeconiah’s seed would reign over Israel, yet Matthew continues on a line through him to the Messiah.
The solution to the problem is not an easy one. Luke 3:27-31 echoes the line from David to Shealtiel but via Nathan, another of David’s sons born to him by Bathsheba (I Chr 3:5) and the names of the intermediaries are totally different.
We provisionally suggest that the lineage in Luke is the correct one (according to natural descent) and that, in exile, Shealtiel, the son of Neri, must have in some way been adopted by Jeconiah when he was released from prison (Jer 52:31-34).
Notice that I Chr 3:17 names a Shealtiel as the firstborn son of Jeconiah but the main lineage of Jeconiah is through one of Shealtiel’s brothers, Pedaiah, whose sons include a Zerubbabel (an extremely common name at that time (it means, by translation, ‘offspring of Babylon’/’born in Babylon’) but not referring to the Zerubbabel of the book of Ezra (Cp Ezra 3:2 which states that this Zerubbabel was ‘son of Shealtiel’ - see under Zerubbabel).
I Chronicles, therefore, stops its record of the genealogy of the Messiah at Shealtiel. Perhaps also possible is the situation where the natural descendant of Jeconiah is recorded in I Chron 3:17 but that a second ‘Shealtiel’ was adopted into the Davidic line as above - it may even be that Shealtiel died young as it would be expected that the record would have recorded the line of Zerubbabel (son of Shealtiel) when we consider the importance of his leadership to the returned exiles.
Adoption wasn’t standard Jewish practise but there are records of it having taken place (even though some scholars deny that it ever occurred). Instances are found in Gen 48:5-7 (Jacob adopted Joseph’s sons, even though the reasoning behind it is somewhat perplexing, having to do with the death of Rachel in childbirth), Ex 2:10 (Moses was adopted by the Egyptian princess - a sort of ‘finders keepers’ scenario but possibly the princess saw Moses as a gift from her god of the Nile) and, more importantly because the circumstances of adoption were as a result of the Babylonian exile, Esther 2:7,15 (Mordecai adopted Esther because her parents were both dead).
Matthew 1:12 speaks of Jeconiah becoming the father of Shealtiel after the deportation to Babylon. If we think of Shealtiel as being adopted, then the best place to put this occurrence would be at the beginning of the exile when there would have been more orphaned children arriving in Babylon than through natural mortality later.
It wasn’t until 37 years later, after the exile of Judah, that Jeconiah was released from prison (at the age of approximately 55 years) and so would have been able to have some sort of private life again (Jer 52:31, II Kings 24:8).
Even with around 33 years being left until Zerubbabel would return with the exiles to Jerusalem, there’s still enough time for the adoption to have taken place and for the child to have grown up to be ready to lead the band of exiles back in to the land.
In fact, there are numerous scenarios that we could propose that would give either Jeconiah or his family cause to adopt Shealtiel as a family member both before Jeconiah’s release from prison and after, but it’s best that we note the factual possibility of the occurrence and leave it at that.
Alternatively, Shealtiel the son of Neri could have married one of Jeconiah’s daughters and so become a son-in-law who took more and more of a leadership role in the family until Jeconiah’s release.
Most commentators fail to explain the problems of the genealogy at this point, trying to gloss over the fact that the genealogies propose that Shealtiel had two natural fathers - a biological impossibility - and that Jeconiah is told by God that none of his offspring will ever succeed in succeeding to the Davidic throne.
Though it’s quite impossible to state with any certainty the circumstances surrounding Shealtiel being said to have two fathers, it’s certain that there’s no need to see in either Matthew or Luke’s genealogy any error.
Once the solution is realised, then it can be seen that the Gospel of Matthew traces the line of the Kings, the line of inheritance of the throne of David, whereas the Gospel of Luke traces the line according to the Flesh, the line of natural fathers.
Why the two lines again diverge after Zerubbabel will be discussed later.
Whatever the precise circumstances, Jer 22:30 was fulfilled - but so was the promise made to David concerning the establishing of his greater Son’s kingdom through Solomon (I Chr 22:6-10). And David’s seed continued through Nathan his son up to the Messiah.
Note that the Greek word translated ‘begat’ in the AV and ‘the father of’ in the RSV of Matthew’s list would be expected to be understood not as an adoptive relationship where the equivalent Hebrew word occurs in the OT but as natural procreation.
Therefore, the interpretation here offered of the two lines of Matthew and Luke is proposing a very unusual interpretation of the word ‘begat’/’was the father of’ in Mtw 1:12 - one which, as far as I’m aware, has no precedent.
Indeed, Luke’s word translated as ‘the son of’ is more likely to be able to be understood in the sense of adoption, but it’s not possible for this interpretation to be switched to his line as the ‘problem’ concerning Jer 22:30 occurs in the line of Solomon through Jeconiah.
The only other viable solution to the problem of Shealtiel having two fathers would be if the prophecy was revoked by God through Jeconiah’s repentance while in Babylonian prison. The only objection to this would be that it seems rather strange that God would make a definitive statement concerning the king and then revoke it when nothing was recorded concerning the event (as it was in the case of Manasseh - II Chr 33:12-13).
In this case, Luke would be seen to be either recording a different Shealtiel and Zerubbabel in Luke 3:27 (that is, the names are just a coincidence - the latter of these two names was especially common after the time of the exile in Babylon) or aware that Shealtiel, although a natural descendent of Jeconiah, was adopted into Nathan’s line.