Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Jericho, The Rich Man, and the Tax Collector

By Dan & Brenda Cathcart
Moed Ministries International
The Video version of this teaching is available at:
The Scripture reading for this teaching is Luke 19:1-9
Yeshua, the disciples and many followers had spent some time across the Jordan at the place where John the Baptist previously preached and baptized his followers.  Now it was time to go up to Jerusalem.  Now it was time to face the challenge ahead.
Luke 18:31-34 NKJV 31 Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. 32 "For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. 33 "They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again." 34 But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.
Yeshua had spoken about His own death and resurrection on several occasions. But His followers and disciples did not fully understand. They were still looking for the conquering king Messiah promised by the prophets.
The place where Yeshua and His disciples crossed back over the Jordan was most likely at or very near the place that the Children of Israel first crossed the Jordan to enter the Promised land led by Joshua.  They then went to Jericho, just as Joshua did as the first stop on the mission to conquer the Promised Land.
Although Yeshua had just in the days before told them that He was going up to Jerusalem to die and be resurrected, many of His followers, perhaps, seeing that their journey thus far was following in the footsteps of Joshua and the army of Israel, believed that this was the time that He would claim His kingdom and reestablish the throne of David.
Jericho is perhaps the oldest continuously occupied city in the world.  Archeologists have determined that there has been a civilization at the site for eight thousand years - millennia before the time of Abraham.
Jericho is an oasis in an otherwise barren rift valley.  It is on the major ancient East-West trade route as well as a stopping off point for pilgrims traveling between the Galilee and Jerusalem.  There are many natural springs in the area, making it a rich farming community.
Jericho’s major export crop was Balsam.  The sap from the Balsam tree was used to make some of the finest and most expensive perfumes and ointments of the day.  The historian Josephus wrote of the prized crops of Jericho.
“It contains a wide variety of palm trees that are watered by the springs, different from each other in taste and name; the better sort of them, when they are pressed, yield an excellent kind of honey, not much inferior to the sweetness of other honey… It also bears Balsam, the most precious of all the fruits in that place…”[1]
Major empires from the Persians, to Alexander the Great, and even Cleopatra of Ptolemaic Egypt have at one time occupied the city and surrounding land of Jericho controlling the flow of trade and travelers through the region.  Herod the Great built a palace there, the ruins of which are still visible to this day.
At the time of Yeshua, Jericho was still a major crossroad and a border community and as such was still a center of trade and commerce. Along with such international trade and travelers, came a great deal of graft and corruption. The local tax collectors were among those noted for their greed.
Luke 19:1-2 NKJV 1 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.
Zacchaeus’ name is derived from a Hebrew word that means “innocent.”  However, Zacchaeus was anything but innocent.  Although Jewish, being a tax collector was considered an evil occupation.  Tax collectors were placed in the same category as that of a thief, robber or prostitute. They were shunned from mainstream Jewish society.  The system for collecting taxes under Roman rule encouraged the collector to extort as much money as possible from the travelers and tradesman, therefore tax collectors were considered thieves and robbers as well. However, in their case, they were protected by law and had the legal authority to have a person jailed for non-payment of the demanded amount.
Zacchaeus was chief above many tax collectors in Jericho and his position allowed him to take a percentage of monies from other tax collectors so, consequently he was very rich.
Some of the sages argued that deliberate deceiving of a tax collector was a virtue to be cherished and celebrated.  Avoiding the tax collector was, in many circles regarded as avoiding a wild animal and as such, a mitzvah as found in the Talmud
“When a man enters a town and is accosted by a tax collector, it is like being attacked by a bear.”[2]
Also, tax collectors were not allowed to testify in a rabbinic court because their occupation required them to be dishonest.  Even Yeshua advised against trusting a tax collector, equating them to heathens.
Matthew 18:17 NKJV 17 "And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
As Yeshua and his followers entered Jericho, great crowds gathered in the streets to catch a glimpse of this notable and now famous teacher from Nazareth.  Zacchaeus also ventured into the streets to see Yeshua, but being a short person, could not see over the shoulders of the others. 
Luke 19:3-4 NKJV 3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.
As Yeshua and the following crowd drew nearer, Zacchaeus had secured himself a perch in a large sycamore tree. Luke doesn’t explain how Yeshua knows Zacchaeus is in the tree, let alone exactly how he knows who and what Zacchaeus is.  Perhaps his reputation preceded him as well. We can only speculate that the Holy Spirit directed Yeshua to him.
Luke 19:5-6 NKJV 5 And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house." 6 So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.
This didn’t sit well with some of those following Yeshua. The story of Zacchaeus is obviously severely time compressed because of the next verse is phrased in the past tense.
Luke 19:7 NKJV 7 But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, "He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner."
Yeshua did not hesitate to eat at Zacchaeus’ home.  As a matter of fact, Yeshua singled out Zacchaeus for that very purpose.  Zacchaeus, not being a devout Jew, would not have necessarily followed the strict Pharisaic standards for food preparation and Yeshua ate what was set before Him just as he had previously instructed His disciples to do.
Luke 10:8 NKJV 8 "Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you.
This is not to imply that Yeshua condoned the consumption of unclean foods, but His instruction to the seventy disciples in Luke chapter eight, and His practice here as implied in the scripture was directed to Jewish households and did not imply that it was now ok to eat unclean foods.  The seventy disciples sent out by Yeshua went to Jewish households.
Yeshua sat down and had a meal and a conversation with Zacchaeus.
Luke 19:8-10 NKJV 8 Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold." 9 And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10 "for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
There are some interesting implications in these three verses of Luke’s narrative. Zacchaeus probably could not have been more pleased that Yeshua would choose him and his home to dine and rest while in Jericho.  He would stand to gain much prestige among his fellow tax collectors for entertaining this famous rabbi.  Much like someone today having their picture taken with a celebrity or politician. Knowing his reputation, why would Yeshua choose to spend the evening and share a meal with such a person as Zacchaeus?  This was not an unprecedented thing for Yeshua to do however.  He ate at the home of a tax collector in the Galilee region earlier in His ministry.  This tax collector was none other than the disciple Matthew, also known as Levi.
Luke 5:27-31 NKJV 27 After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, "Follow Me." 28 So he left all, rose up, and followed Him. 29 Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. 30 And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, "Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" 31 Jesus answered and said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
Again, the people and some of those following Yeshua around could not understand why he would dine with Zacchaeus. To dine with such a person as Zacchaeus would have been viewed as giving credence or approval to the behavior and profession of Zacchaeus.  This certainly crossed over the line of accepted social norms in that day and culture. The Talmud records the general attitude of the sages toward Tax collectors and their families.
“There is not a family of a tax collector in which they are not all tax collectors; nor is there a family of a robber in which they are not all robbers; because the rest of the family protects him.”[3]
We don’t know the course of the conversation that Yeshua had with Zacchaeus that day, but having just met another rich man earlier before coming to Jericho, we can imagine it being very similar.
Luke 18:18 NKJV 18 Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
Perhaps this was the same question that Zacchaeus asked Yeshua that evening. Yeshua went on to tell this rich man about the commandments of God which the rich man stated that he had been diligent to follow.  He hadn’t stolen from anyone to attain his wealth.  He didn’t cheat anyone in his business dealings and treated his mother and father with dignity and respect as the Torah teaches.  Yet, Yeshua said he was lacking one important ingredient.
Luke 18:22-23 NKJV 22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." 23 But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.
Yeshua was not trying to tell this rich man that he could earn eternal life by just selling everything and giving it to the poor. Yeshua was getting to the real issue of where the man’s heart was centered. This rich young ruler turned away from Yeshua because his heart was on his earthly wealth rather than on treasures in heaven.
The reaction of Zacchaeus was much different than the that of the rich young ruler.  Where the rich young ruler loved his riches and walked away from his encounter with Yeshua, and apparently walked away from salvation and eternal life, the very thing he sought, Zacchaeus, like Matthew before him, accepted Yeshua’s call to repentance and followed him!
Zacchaeus’s life was completely changed by his encounter with Yeshua that day.  Did Zacchaeus expect this outcome?  Did Zacchaeus start out with a willing heart, having perhaps previously heard the message of repentance and salvation from a disciple or even John the Baptist? What did Zacchaeus want from Yeshua in the first place?  Was his original motivation for inviting Yeshua into his home completely turned on its head? Or was he already convicted and sought out Yeshua for confirmation?
There is nothing in Luke’s account to indicate what Yeshua said or did that served to change the life of Zacchaeus.  Yeshua showed honor and respect to him by entering his home and dining with him. Other Pharisees and teachers would have shunned Zacchaeus. Yeshua showed mercy and compassion in a way that no one else had done.
Something clicked in Zacchaeus’ life that night and transformed him from an arrogant, rich thief and robber to a humble and repentant servant.  As we read in verse eight, Zacchaeus committed himself on a course of restitution well beyond the requirements of the Torah. How different from the reaction of the rich young ruler!
Zacchaeus committed to return four times the amount he had stolen from those whom he had cheated.  The Torah only required the return of the amount plus one fifth at the very minimum.
Leviticus 6:4-5 NKJV 4 "then it shall be, because he has sinned and is guilty, that he shall restore what he has stolen, or the thing which he has extorted, or what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or the lost thing which he found, 5 "or all that about which he has sworn falsely. He shall restore its full value, add one-fifth more to it, and give it to whomever it belongs, on the day of his trespass offering.
The Torah required thieves to repay double.
Exodus 22:7 NKJV 7 "If a man delivers to his neighbor money or articles to keep, and it is stolen out of the man's house, if the thief is found, he shall pay double.
livestock rustles were to repay four to five times the amount stolen.
Exodus 22:1 NKJV 1 "If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep.
In addition to committing himself to returning four times the amount taken in fraudulent tax collection, Zacchaeus also committed himself to give half of his considerable fortune to the poor. What was it that caused Zacchaeus to make such a pledge that far exceeded the Torah requirements?  This was certainly a radical plan and would be sure to divest Zacchaeus of his entire fortune.  Yeshua responds by making a declaration.
Luke 19:9-10 NKJV 9 And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10 "for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
Yeshua had previously stated that He first came for the “lost sheep of Israel.”  If anyone qualified as being among the lost sheep, it would be Zacchaeus, for Yeshua said that he, too, was a son of Abraham! The apostle Paul affirms this sentiment in his first epistle to Timothy.
1 Timothy 1:15-16 NKJV 15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.
After Zacchaeus made his declaration of faith and his salvation was secured, Yeshua spent the night in his home and left Jericho the next morning to continue His journey up to Jerusalem.
What do we do when we encounter Yeshua? Do we invite Him into our homes and our life?  What are our expectations of Him?  Do we expect Him to endorse our life without calling for a changed heart?  Do we seek Him out for our own prestige and personal gain?  Do we come to Him like the rich young ruler, having lived what in our minds is a righteous life; thinking we have lived according to the rules, so we must be in?  Or do we come to Him truly seeking the kingdom of God. Do we come to Yeshua like Zacchaeus did; inviting Him in and taking to heart His teaching and receiving the salvation freely offered.  The kingdom of God can’t be gained by collecting taxes or even by living a seemingly righteous life and following a certain set of rules.  If the Master Yeshua teaches us anything, His consistent message is that we cannot attain the kingdom of God while burdened with the things of this world.
Study Questions:
1. Yeshua showed honor and respect to Zacchaeus by dining and staying the night in his home.  How should we follow this example?

2. In John 8:33-39 Yeshua said Abraham’s children would do the work of Abraham.  How did Zacchaeus do the work of Abraham?  See also Luke 3:7-8

3. Yeshua said that Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham.  Zacchaeus was lost and at enmity with God because of his corruption and occupation. In Luke 19:9-10 Yeshua said that “Today salvation has come to this house.”  In what way does the salvation of Zacchaeus represent the salvation of all of Israel?  Suggested reference: Psalm 95:7-8, Hebrews 3:7-15, Hebrews 4

4. By dining and staying at the home of Zacchaeus, Yeshua was demonstrating by his actions many of His prior teachings and parables.  What are some of the parables that apply to Yeshua dealings with Zacchaeus?

5. As Yeshua was leaving Jericho, He had an encounter with a blind beggar on the road (Mark 10:46-52).  Compare this encounter with Yeshua’s encounters with the rich young ruler and with Zacchaeus.

© 2018 Moed Ministries International. All rights reserved

[1] Flavius Josephus, Jewish Wars 4:467-473/viii3
[2] B. Sanhedrin 98a
[3] B. Shevu’ot 39a

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