A Connection – Branch Prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zechariah?

Three Hebrew prophets over the span of 200 years – Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah – had one specific prophecy in common.[1] All foretold of the “Branch,” similarly interpreted as the “Sprout.”

Generations after King David’s reign, some 700 years before Jesus of Nazareth was born, the remnants of David’s kingdom of Israel were in a downward death spiral. For centuries, despite many warnings from numerous prophets, the Hebrews and their kings failed to abide by their contractual Covenant made with God at Mt. Sinai.[2]

Renowned as a prophet by both Judaism and Christianity, Isaiah warned kings Ahaz and Hezekiah of the consequences their nation faced. Isaiah prophesied the “King of Babylon” would one day take away their own descendants to serve as eunuchs in his palace.[3]

Warnings also came with good tidings when Isaiah prophesied about the coming future Messiah.[4] In one, Isaiah foretold of a “Branch” who would grow out or sprout from the root of Jesse:[5]

Is 11:1-2 “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.  The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.”(NKJV)

A century after Isaiah’s prophecies, defiance by the Hebrews had continued leading to the fulfillment of his prophecy that judgement would come from the King of Babylon.[6] Reality came with the attack of Nebuchadnezzar and his destruction of Jerusalem.

After a devastating defeat, the Hebrew’s finest were taken captive back to Babylon where, in the Book of Daniel, at least three upstanding Hebrews served King Nebuchadnezzar. Prophet Jeremiah added more bad news prophesying that the secession of sitting kings in the House of David would end with Jeconiah aka Jehoiachin.[7]

Amidst the doom and gloom, Jeremiah also predicted good news about the coming Messiah. Twice the prophet foretold that God would raise up another King in the lineage of David, “a Branch of Righteous.” Curiously, Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi offered no commentary on either of these prophecies, perhaps because no commentary was necessary:

Jer 23:5 “”Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth…”” (NKJV)

Jer  33:15 “‘In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David A Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth…’” (NKJV)

Moving ahead another century since Jeremiah’s prophecies, the 70 years of the Babylonian captivity had ended with the Medes and Persian invasion.[8] Two centuries earlier, Isaiah twice prophesied a ruler named Cyrus would rise who would allow Jerusalem to be rebuilt – Cyrus was the name of the new Persian Empire ruler who did exactly that.[9]

Darius followed Cyrus as ruler of the Persian Empire and honored Cyrus’ decree for the Hebrews to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.[10] Zechariah 1:1 – “In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.” [11]

Describing his fourth vision, Zechariah was present when Joshua the Priest stood before the angel of the LORD along with Satan who was there to accuse the priest. Satan was rebuked by God and Joshua was given fine new clothes.[12] In the vision, God then spoke directly to the high Priest:[13]

Zech 3:8 “‘Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch.’” (NASB)

God identified the Branch as “My servant.” Incidentally, the central figure of the parashah prophecy of Isaiah 52-53 is also “My servant” who is subjected to unusual cruelties consistent with a Roman crucifixion described in the Gospels.

Narrating his eighth vision, Zechariah received instructions from God to choose people from among the exiles to make a crown of gold and silver, then set it upon the head of Joshua, the high Priest. Zechariah was directed to then deliver this message to the Priest:

Zech 6:12-13 “…‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, saying: “Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the LORD; Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, And shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, And the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”’’” (NKJV)

Joshua, the high Priest, was not from the royal lineage of King David. Nor was he expected to be made a king when the symbolic crown was set upon his head, especially since the Hebrews were subservient to an accommodating ruler, Darius. Neither was Zerubbabel given the crown, technically the rightful heir to the throne being the grandson of Jeconiah, the last sitting king in the royal secession of David before the Babylonian captivity.[14]

No one person present at this event is the focus of God’s message, rather it pointed to someone else in the future named the Branch. Rabbi Rashi commented he believed the prophecies were in reference to Zerubbabel while acknowledging others viewed it as referring to the Messiah.[15] Jewish sage Rabbi Maimonides  is one who viewed Zechariah 6:12 as a Messiah prophecy.[16]

Prophecies from Isaiah before the Babylonian captivity, Jeremiah during the Babylonian captivity and Zechariah after the Babylon captivity, point to a future figure called the Branch in the lineage of King David. Viewed as Messiah prophecies, at least in part, by both Judaism and Christianity, what are the odds that Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of the Branch prophecies?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] “Isaiah.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2019. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Isaiah> “Isaiah.” New World Encyclopedia. 2018. <https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Isaiah>  “Jeremiah.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2019. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jeremiah-Hebrew-prophet>  “Jeremiah.” New World Encyclopedia. 2018. <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Jeremiah>  “Zechariah.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2019. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/biblical-literature/The-last-six-minor-prophets#ref597798>  “Zechariah, Book of.” New World Encyclopedia. 2013. <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Zechariah,_Book_of>
[2] Exodus 24:3-8.  CR Deuteronomy 29.
[3] Isaiah 39:7. “ben.” Netbible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=01121>
[4] I Chronicles 2:11-13; 2 Ruth 4:17.
[5] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Rashi commentary on Isaiah 11:1.   <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16210/showrashi/true> CR Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:10.  CR 1 Chronicles 2:12-15, 3:16-18; Ruth 4:21-22; Matthew 1:5-16; Luke 2:4; 23-31.  Ryrie. “Introduction to the Book of Isaiah.”
[6] Jeremiah 24:10-16; 52:27-33; Esther 2:6; 2 Kings 24:6, 8, 12, 14-15; 25:27, 29
[7] Chronicles 36:8, 9; Jeremiah 22:24-30. CR Jeremiah 24:1; 27:20; 28:4; 29:2, 52:31, 33; 1 Chronicles 3:16, 17; 24:15; 2 Chronicles 36:8, 9; Esther 2:6; 2 Kings 24:6, 8, 12, 15; 25:27, 29; Ezekiel 1:2.
[8] 2 Chronicles 36:22; Ezra 2:1.
[9] Isaiah 44:28, 45:1, 13; Ezekiel 1:2-3.  CR Ezra 2:1-2; Nehemiah 7:6; Isaiah 41:2-3, 25, 27; 43:9, 21; 48:14-15.  Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XI, Chapters I.1-2. Trans. and commentary.  William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[10] Ezekiel 1:2-3, 6:7,12. “Darius I.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2019. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Darius-I> Josephus. Antiquities. Book XI, Chapters III.8, IV.1-2.
[11] NET, NIV. “Darius I.” Encyclopædia Britannica.
[12] Zechariah 3.
[13] Plaut, Gunther. “Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: Back in the Land.”  MyJewishLearning.com. n.d. <http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Bible/Prophets/Latter_Prophets/The_12_Minor_Prophets/Haggai_Zechariah_Malachi.shtml>
[14] I Chronicles 3:17-19; Haggai 1:1, 12, 14; 2:2, 23; Ezra 3:8.
[15] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Rashi commentary on Zechariah 6:12.   <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16210/showrashi/true>
[16] Maimonides, “Letter to the South (Yemen)”. p374.  Neubauer and Driver.  The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. <https://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1&hl=en#v=onepage&q=advent&f=false>

Jeconiah’s Curse, an Incredible Promise, an Impossible Challenge

Jeconiah’s curse is cited as evidence by agnostics and atheists against the legitimacy of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. Ironically, the evidence is based on Bible prophesies saying the Messiah must be born in the royal lineage of David which was then nullified by the Bible’s account of Jeconiah’s curse.[1]

Adversaries can sometimes make for strange bedfellows.  Judaism has no choice but to side with Christianity on this issue because, if the allegation is true, the Messiah from the House of David – Jesus nor anyone whom the Jews believe is yet to appear – can never be.

Setting the scene for the curse, Jehoiakim, king of Judah, drew the wrath of God for his evil ways, and his son, Jeconiah (aka Coniah or Jehoiachin), for following in his footsteps.[2] God sent the prophet Jeremiah with a message of judgment to the kingdom – death for Jehoaikim, but for Jeconiah…

Jer. 22:30 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.”(NIV)

Jeconiah was condemned to be a man as if he had no sons, nor would his descendants ever prosper or sit on the Throne of David. How did things work out for Jeconiah? He became king for all of 3 months before being taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar spending the remainder of his days in Babylonian captivity.[3] He was the last of the sitting kings in the royal succession of David.

Eventually Jeconiah fathered sons during his Babylonian captivity, one being Salathiel.[4] His name bears witness to Jeconiah’s fate where, according to the Talmud, he was called by a name meaning to be conceived in prison while standing up.[5] Jeconiah was imprisoned 37 years – his sons grew up without him…as if he had no sons.[6]

Jewish Rabbis and the Talmud teach that God pardoned Jeconiah.[7] They point to the fact that Jeconiah was released from prison by Nebuchadnezzar’s successor, Evil-Merodach, who gave Jeconiah a seat of honor and dined with him daily.[8]

Meanwhile, Nebuchadnezzar had appointed Zedekiah as his puppet king of Israel. As brother of Jeconiah, he had learned nothing from the judgments of his father and brother spending the next decade ignoring and offending both Nebuchadnezzar and God.[9] Zedekiah even confined Jeremiah in an outdoor prison courtyard for prophesying his doom at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.[10]

In a complete reversal of family fate, Zerubbabel, “The son of Salathiel, of the posterity of David,” is called out by Josephus as a Hebrew leader of great prominence who served as a body guard for Persian King Cyrus.[11] Taking advantage of his position, Zerubbabel solicited Cyrus to allow the rebuilding of the Temple and to return the Temple vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had pillaged and astonishingly survived the Babylonian captivity and the Persian invasion.

Cyrus not only granted the request by decree, he appointed Zerubbabel as the governor to lead the Hebrews out of captivity back to Jerusalem, rebuild the city, and join the High Priest in rebuilding the Temple.[12] Through the prophet Haggai, God blessed Zerubbabel for his leadership.[13]

Zerubbabel of the royal lineage of David, grandson of King Jeconiah, is mentioned 11 times in four books of the Old Testament, one of the few Hebrew figures to receive such recognition. He is also named in both genealogies of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.[14]

Interestingly, both Jeconiah’s curse and the blessing of his grandson, Zerubbabel, each use a signet ring metaphor.  A ruler wore a unique gold signet ring bearing his name used to seal documents such a decrees – the seal being considered more authentic than a signature:[15]

Jer. 22:24 “”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.”(NIV)

Hag. 2:23 “‘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.”(NIV)

Strongest of the evidence that Jeconiah’s curse was forgiven by God can be seen through two prophecies issued by Jeremiah as demonstrated by their timing closely after issuing the curse. Just five verses later, Jeremiah’s next prophecy makes clear David’s royal lineage had not ended. God explicitly promised that another King would arise from the Branch of David:

Jer 23:5 “”Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land.”(NASB)

During his outdoor imprisonment by Zedekiah, God again spoke to Jeremiah saying that Israel and Judah would be restored. The prophet issued his second Branch of David prophecy where God said the throne of David would never end:

Jer. 33:14-15 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfil the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. ‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.’”

v.17 “For this is what the LORD says: ‘David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, …”(NIV)

Emphasizing the trustworthiness of His incredible promise to Israel and Judah that He would raise up a Branch from the House of David, God issued an impossible challenge:

Jer. 33:20-21 “”Thus says the LORD, ‘If you can break My covenant for the day and My covenant for the night, so that day and night will not be at their appointed time, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant so that he will not have a son to reign on his throne…”(NASB)

The impossible challenge:  if anyone can change God’s fixed laws of nature such as the rising and setting of the Sun, only then should anyone worry about God breaking His promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and King David.[16] Putting it in those terms, how likely is it that “Jeconiah’s curse” disqualified the “Righteous Branch,” the Messiah, from coming forth in the royal line of David?

 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:
[1] Willruth, Bart. “The Gospel of Matthew Debunks the Messiahship of Jesus.” Debunking Christianity. 2009. <http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2009/06/gospel-of-matthew-debunks-messiahship.html>  Lippard, Jim. “The Fabulous Prophecies Of The Messiah.” Atheist Community of Austin. 1993. <https://atheist-community.org/resources/online-articles/145-the-fabulous-prophecies-of-the-messiah>
[2] Jeremiah 22.  Net.bible.org. Jeremiah 22:24 notes. CR Jeremiah 24, 27-29, 52; 1 Chronicles 3; 2 Chronicles 36; Esther 2; 2 Kings 24, 25; Ezekiel 1.
[3] 2 Kings 24.
[4] I Chronicles 3.
[5] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. 1935-1948. Sanhedrin 37b-38a. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/index.html>
[6] Jeremiah 52.
[7] Isaiah 9:, 11.  Jehoiachin.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2017. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8543-jeconiah>  “The Problem of the Curse on Jeconiah in Relation to the Genealogy of Jesus.” Jews for Jesus. 2018. <https://jewsforjesus.org/answers/the-problem-of-the-curse-on-jeconiah-in-relation-to-the-genealogy-of-jesus-issues-prophecy>
[8] Jeremiah 52; 2 Kings 25. Rashi, Shlomo Yitzchaki. The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. Yirmiyahu – Jeremiah 22:24 commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16019#showrashi=true>
[9] Jeremiah 52; Chronicles 36.
[10] II Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 27, 29, 37. Bakon, Shimon.  “Zedekiah:  The Last King of Judah”, Jewish Bible Quarterly. Vol. 36, No. 2, 2008.   <http://jbq.jewishbible.org/assets/Uploads/362/362_zedekiah.pdf>
[11] Haggai 1-2. Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XI, Chapters I, III-IV. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Zerubbabel.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. “Zerubbabel.”  Jewish Virtual Library. 2014. “Zerubbabel.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online. 2018. <http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/Z/zerubbabel.html
[12] Ezra 1, 6.
[13] Haggai 2.
[14] I Chronicles 3; Nehemiah 12; Ezra 3, 5; Haggai. 1, 2; Matthew 1; Luke 3.  “Zerubbabel.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  “Zerubbabel.” Jewish Virtual Library. Josephus. Antiquities.  Book XI, Chapter III (spelled Zorobabel).
[15] “A brief history of signet rings.” The History Press. 2018. < https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/articles/a-brief-history-of-signet-rings > Davis, Ashley. “The History Behind … Signet Rings.” National Jeweler. 2018. < https://www.nationaljeweler.com/fashion/antique-estate-jewelry/4637-the-history-behind-signet-rings-2 >
[16] Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies. Book III, Chapters XXI, XXII. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I.  Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.iv.html>