Zacchaeus, a poor rich man

JerichoToJerusalem“Joshua fit the battle of Jericho…” Remember that song? I learned it in Sunday School many years ago. This article isn’t about Joshua, though, it’s about someone who lived and worked in Jericho at the time of Christ, perhaps the richest man in town. Chief tax collector, Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus is an interesting character. Reading Luke 19:1-10, this short passage about Jesus meeting Zacchaeus struck me as worthy of more study. It looked to me like Jesus may have gone to Jericho just to meet this little man, sort of like he went to Samaria to meet the woman at the well. After all, he told Zacchaeus, “I must stay at your house today.” And when the crowd complained about that, Jesus commented “The son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

As I investigated Zacchaeus and Jericho a bit further, I had several questions. Here are some of the answers I found.

What does his name mean? It’s derived from a word meaning “pure,” which he certainly wasn’t before Jesus got hold of him. I wonder if people made jokes about his name…

What was his job? Chief tax collector; he probably supervised several other tax collectors and all of them worked for Rome. Their own income came from overcharging the people – they pocketed the difference. He may have been acquainted with Jesus’ disciple Matthew (Levi), who had the same job.

What was his position then in the community? Wealth, influence with Rome, reputation as an astute businessman, since he’d been elevated to “chief” tax collector, employees and servants, influence and/or friendship with other Jews who had a vested interest in seeing that Rome stayed happy. We aren’t told if he had a wife and children. He was despised by the ordinary citizens since he cooperated with their enemy and took advantage of his own people.

Ethics / morals? On a par with his job, no doubt. He knew the Jewish law but going by his own words he didn’t really keep it. He really couldn’t keep the law and his job, and we know which one he kept.

sycamore-tree-panoTraditional Tree of Zacchaeus in Jericho, said to be approximately 2000 years old.

Spiritual condition? Hungry for something more. Zacchaeus was aware that Jesus was in town. Perhaps he’d heard gossip from underlings or house servants, but somehow he’d heard about Jesus. His curiosity wasn’t the only thing that took him into the street. No businessman would climb a tree in public! What would people think? Of course, he didn’t really care what the ordinary people thought. He had everything any man could want and wasn’t happy with it. He wanted to see this Jesus person.

Being short, Zacchaeus couldn’t see over the people in front of him, but the crowd didn’t respect him enough to give him space. They wouldn’t let him get close enough to the street. I think Zacchaeus was desperate to see Jesus. What were people saying about Jesus? He raised the dead! He healed the sick! He turned water into wine!

Who wouldn’t want to see a man like that? But I don’t think many would climb a tree to do it, unless they were desperate.

What did it cost Zacchaeus? Everything he had. After his meeting with Jesus, he couldn’t be a tax collector any longer. And he himself promised to do more than the current religious leaders required, he promised restitution more in line with the actual law, even better than the actual law. He had to have counted the cost. If he meant it, he would have been giving back a great deal of money and cutting off his livelihood and his relationship with the Romans. But what he gained was worth it; eternal life, starting now.

Where and what kind of place was Jericho? For this, I went to the internet and did a little research. I knew some of the Old Testament stories about things that happened there, and Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan takes place near Jericho. It was a prominent city in the days of Joshua before the “walls came a-tumbling down,” put under a curse by God and deserted for all practical purposes.

JerichoHerodWinterPalace3By the time of Jesus the city had been rebuilt and was prominent again. Herod even had a palace there, overlooking the city. Thieves and robbers had a wonderful time of plying their criminal trade along the steep and dangerous route down from Jerusalem. Fascinating story about Zacchaeus, and a fascinating town he lived in.

If you’re interested in learning a little more about the place, keep reading. The following notes came from an internet Bible study site:

“Jericho is located near the southern end of the Jordan Valley about eight hundred twenty-five feet below the level of the Mediterranean Sea and about two hundred feet above the surface of the Dead Sea. The area around it is watered by springs and small streams, and since 7000 B.C. Jericho has been an oasis and a population center in the otherwise mostly barren valley. Some scholars think Jericho is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, and it was called the city of palm trees in Judges 1.16. Intersecting there since historic times have been a major road that comes down the Jordan Valley, one that crosses the Jordan River (five miles east of Jericho), and one that leads up through the steep, barren hills to Jerusalem, which is fifteen miles to the southwest and more than two thousand feet higher than Jericho.

Jericho had high walls and protective towers in ancient times, as it did when Joshua led the people of Israel across the Jordan River on their way to occupy what became their land. But the city was built of sun-dried mud bricks, so it was often invaded and captured by enemies. These ancient bricks have mostly washed away, and so archaeologists are not sure which part of the city was standing when Joshua captured it (Josh 6).

Elijah went through Jericho and met fifty prophets, who followed him to the Jordan River just before he was taken up to heaven (2 Kgs 4.4–12). Elisha began his work as a prophet in Jericho (2 Kgs 4.13–22). When Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586/587 B.C., King Zedekiah tried to run away, but the Babylonians caught him and put out his eyes on the plains near Jericho (Jer 52.1–11). After the Jews were allowed by the Persians to come back from Babylonia to their land, a number of those whose families were originally from Jericho returned (Ezra 2.34), and some of the workers who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem came from Jericho (Neh 3.2).

The Romans made Herod king of the Jews in 37 B.C., and he then built a winter palace for himself and a Roman-style city just northwest of ancient Jericho. Water was brought in from the Jordan River by an irrigation system. Herod’s new Jericho included a city center, a theater, and a stadium, and the city was surrounded by groves of evergreen and palm trees with flower gardens, fountains, and pools. It was the winter residence for Herod, his staff, and a large group of servants and supporters.

East of Jericho along the Jordan River was the place where John the Baptist stayed to baptize those who heard his message and were preparing themselves for the coming of God’s new kingdom. Jesus was also baptized there (Luke 3.1–22), and later he visited Jericho—apparently the old city, not the palace of Herod. In Jericho Jesus healed a blind man (Luke 18.35–43), and he met and stayed with Zacchaeus, the rich chief tax collector for the Romans (Luke 19.1–10). Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan tells a story that takes place on the steep and rocky road that led down from Jerusalem to Jericho (Luke 10.25–37).”

Also see:

Jesus asked odd questions…

Most of the time when Jesus healed somebody, he just did it. Different ways, of course. One time he spit on the ground, made mud and slathered a blind man’s eyes with it. Not exactly polite. Another time he just told a crippled man to do something he couldn’t do, like get up off your mat, pick it up and go home… on another occasion he wasn’t even in the same town with the sick person he healed, he just said a few words and it was done.

One thing he usually didn’t do was ask – what do you want? Only on two occasions did he ask such a strange question.

PoolBethesda14John 5 tells about the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda. Do you want to get well? Jesus asked him.

What an odd thing to ask. The crowd around the pool was there for one thing only, to get healed. Occasionally an angel would come and “trouble” the water, whatever that means, and whoever got into the pool first would get well. (Seems cruel to me. Only occasionally? And only one?)

The crippled man explained his situation to Jesus, as though this was an obscure, out of the way location and only a few lucky people knew about it.

But this was just outside the Sheep Gate of the Temple in Jerusalem, a prominent building surrounding an upper and lower pool with five colonnaded porches, quite well known to the city. (See

Model of the Pool of BethesdaThe man had been crippled for 38 years, a long, long time. And for a long, long time he had been brought to the pool, hoping today would be his day. But for whatever reason, no-one there would help him get to the pool in time, so day after day he just watched as somebody else got healed.

How discouraging. How depressing. Why bother coming to the pool?

Then Jesus paid a visit to the pool, and asked one particular man a peculiar question. Do you want to get well? From his response, the answer was obviously YES.

So Jesus told the poor man to do something he couldn’t do. Get up, pick up your bed and walk. And he did. He didn’t lay there and wonder — Who is this crazy fellow, doesn’t he know I can’t walk? He just did it. Jesus really didn’t need to ask, he knew the man’s heart. He healed him even before he attempted to rise to his feet.

Jesus didn’t stick around and so the man couldn’t follow him, but his miraculous recovery caused quite a commotion around the Temple. It was the sabbath, after all!

It’s a wonderful story, but I’m curious. Why did Jesus ask him that question?

Here’s the only other person Jesus asked such a strange question… blind Bartimaeus, the beggar. All four gospels recount this event; Mark 10 gives us his name.

HealingBlindBartimaeusJesus, the disciples and a large number of other people were coming through Jericho. Now, obviously with this crowd there was a lot of commotion. What’s going on? Who is it? Bartimaeus no doubt asked somebody. When he heard it was Jesus, he knew who that was. He knew what that meant. Here’s my chance!

He yelled, Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me! He soon got the attention of the crowd, who tried to shut him up. He kept right on yelling until he got the attention of Jesus, who called for him to come. And he did.

I wonder how long it took him to get through that mass of people… When he finally got there, Jesus asked him that peculiar question:

What do you want me to do for you?

Now, I can think of many things Bartimaeus might have said. A big house, a lot of money, a beautiful wife, nice clothes, lots of things. What he did request was simple — to see again.

Jesus didn’t speak a command, didn’t touch him, didn’t make mud, didn’t tell him to do something impossible. He just said, Go your way, your faith has made you whole. Suddenly Bartimaeus could see again, and he did indeed go his way – Jesus’ way! Joining the noisy crowd, he became a follower of Jesus.

Think what having his vision restored meant to this man. Now he could work for a living. Now he could go to the Temple in Jerusalem and worship. He could do all the usual things men did, meet with friends, help out a neighbor, perhaps have a family. But first he followed Jesus. He could see in more ways than one, now.

I’m still curious. Why did Jesus ask him that question?

What do you think?


Weapons / Joshua the warrior

CombatTrainingUrbanJoshua was a warrior. He spent many years with Moses, serving first as his aide de camp and eventually named by God as Moses’ successor.

Although serving in several roles, Joshua was primarily a soldier. And more than a soldier; a warrior.

During their days in the desert in what today is Jordan, Joshua was training men for the battle ahead. He had to hand-pick the best, teach them how to fight and how to use their weapons. He was well aware that as soon as Israel crossed the Jordan River, they would be in enemy territory.

“About forty thousand armed for battle crossed over before the Lord to the plains of Jericho for war.” (Joshua 4:13 NIV) Joshua’s first major target was to be Jericho, a fiercely guarded walled city.

“Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” (Josh. 5:13-14 NIV) The Lord’s commander; captain of the Lord’s hosts, it says in the King James version.

He was there to give Joshua first an intelligence briefing, then his battle orders. (Those instructions may sound a little strange to us, marching around walls, but that’s what they were: battle orders.)

Who was he? An angel? Michael or one of his subordinates? Perhaps Jesus himself? We’re not told. But we are told that war, warriors and warfare were part of his mission on earth.

I was thinking about all this one evening and the fact that the scriptures describe another battle looming in Israel and probably other places in the middle east, in the not too distant future. Who will be trained well enough to fight and win in that war, I wondered? Most of the believers I know certainly aren’t.

The Lord began to answer that question by showing me an activity going on in heaven. Combat training. Arm to arm combat. Physical, mental, emotional – and spiritual – training. Weapons. Armor.

I thought at first I was dead wrong about what I saw. That simply could not be heaven, it had to be some sort of hallucination, a mistake. But it wasn’t. The Holy Spirit took me to several scriptures about the battles ahead, and explained in some detail what I was seeing.

Many believers will still be here on earth when that war needs to be fought. Untrained, ill-equipped believers who don’t know one end of a rifle from the other. They won’t know how to defend themselves, much less fight an enemy soldier. Like the children of Israel facing the Jordan River, most of them aren’t warriors.

But they aren’t called to be.

Out of a million or more men of Israel, only forty thousand were called to be warriors. They were chosen, trained, equipped and ready. And in the coming warfare, God’s warriors will be ready. They will be returning to earth with Jesus, fully trained and equipped. (See Revelation 17:14, 19:19)

Right now they are going through that training period. I watched some of the training. I saw some of the weapons, both material and spiritual. I have never seen anything on earth exactly like them – not in any of those action and adventure and spy movies I’ve watched for years.

The Holy Spirit explained how some of them worked and how some are already working here on earth. Not technically weapons, some are designed to gather information, such as three-dimensional cameras that can see around solid objects. Invisibility cloaks for people and machines. I actually saw a news video about that one several months ago, being tested here on earth.

Not everyone in heaven is assigned to be trained as a fighter. Some are assigned to be designers of weapons, inventors or engineers or scientists. Or writers, composers, artists or musicians. But warriors will certainly be needed, and so some are chosen and taught how to be.

I am understanding more and more what heaven is like, and what it’s for. Worship. Work. And training for warfare.


A type of Christ, the man Joshua is a fascinating character. His original name, Hoshea, simply meant salvation.  Moses changed it to Jehoshua (Joshua), however, which means Jehovah is salvation (Numbers 13:16). The Greek form of the name Joshua is Jesus.

Follow his unique career from being one of Moses’ “young men,” being with Moses on the mountain when he received the ten commandments, one of twelve tribal leaders sent to spy out the land, serving as Moses’ assistant and then being named his successor — read through the book of Numbers and associated passages. He was one of the two spies who were faithful (Caleb being the other) and because they believed God, only those two of the twelve spies were promised to survive the 40-year trek through the wilderness.