Truth, Understanding, Insight

Jesus (Yeshua):The Carpenter

11th January 2009, hej


1) Introducing Yeshua, the carpenter

Surprisingly, though the gospels recount what Yeshua (Jesus, see The name of Jesus) said and did, we are not told much about him as a person. For example, we are not told what he looked like. However, we have one piece of information that seems merely an aside. We are told he worked as a carpenter. An examination will reveal that this aside is not irrelevant detail but a deliberately placed pointer to prophetic statements. It will be shown that the scriptures reveal an extraordinary layering of detail.

Matthew and Mark both note the reaction of the locals to Yeshua's work.

They were astonished, and said, Whence has this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary?.. (Matthew 13:54-55 KJV)
Many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence has this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. (Mark 6:2-4 KJV)

To those of Nazareth, Yeshua was just the local carpenter. Occupation, as it does now, determined an individual's social position. Not only that, but his social position is confirmed by who his family are. Mary was of the royal family of David, but this descent had had no significance socially since the time of the captivity of Babylon. It is to be noted that the information that Yeshua is a carpenter occurs twice. This indicates this information may be of some importance to us.

A carpenter works with timber to make beams. Yeshua uses this experience as the basis of an illustrative analogy.

Either how can thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself behold not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shall thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye. (Luke 6:42)

However, a carpenter knows that joining timber requires either, complicated and accurate mortising, or metal fasteners. Assembling iron nails and brass fixings was a significant component of David's work for Solomon's temple (1 Chron 22:3). Carpentry is, therefore, as much about the placement of nails as the use of timber.

The mention of nails makes us think the crucifixion. Thomas says

Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. (John 20:25 KJV)

There is a deep irony in this situation. Amongst many possible means, the carpenter is killed by being nailed to a timber stake.

That Yeshua, as a carpenter, uses construction analogy is not surprising, and the fact that there is a connection between crucifixion and carpentry may be just a co-incidence. However, there are yet more connections to carpentry and Yeshua's work. It will be shown that there is a deep connection between prophecy that uses the language of carpentry, specifically the idea of nailing, and Yeshua's work.

2) The nail: Isaiah and the nail fastened in a sure place

In Hebrew the word for a nail, or a construction connector for timber, is 'yathed' יתר . It is the word used for the metal connection between a timber roof beam and web that Deliliah hooks Sampson up to (Judges 16:14). This word is also used by a number of the prophets, and in all of these cases the idea of a carpenter nailing is, in the contexts, enigmatic.

Isaiah speaks of the priest Eliakim being fastened “as a nail”.

And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father’s house. And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house... (Isa 22:22-23 KJV)

In the context, Isaiah is revealing the 'Burden of the Valley of Vision' and speaks of a time where Jerusalem is to go into captivity. He mentions they are fortifying the city, but that they will fail for they have not considered Yahweh its maker. Isaiah next, specifically, condemns Shebna who is “over the house”, or is the priest in charge of the temple. Isaiah then makes a prophecy of 'that day' which is to be after the end of Israel's captivity.

And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah: And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. (Isaiah 22:20-22)

It turns out that Eliakim does take on the role of Shebna, for, later at the time of Rabshakeh's siege of Jerusalem, which is recounted in Isaiah 36, Eliakim is “over the house” and Shebna is demoted to a mere scribe.

However, Isaiah in speaking of Eliakim, is using the event where Eliakim, as a faithful priest, replaces the unfaithful Shebna, as an illustration or demonstration. It is a picture of the coming time, “in that day”, of the appointing of the faithful priest that Yahweh promised when condemning Eli's sons.

And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever. (1Samuel 2:35)

We know that Isaiah is speaking of 'Eliakim' as an illustration, as there is no way that Eliakim, who was of the priestly tribe of Levi, could be be 'father' to the house of Judah or hold the “key of the house of David”. At that time Hezekiah as king, was 'father' and, being of the house of David, was the ruler of the house of David. Eliakim shows this was the case, as he reports to Hezekiah, as the ruler of Jerusalem, Rabshakeh's comments (2kings18:37) and obeys Hezekiah's commands (2 kings19:2).

However, the scripture does speak of a King-priest. Melchizedek was a king-priest who had ruled Jerusalem in the past. Also, all Israel must have been familiar with David's prophecy of his 'Lord' who would be a “priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4). This Lord would be king-priest long after David was dead.

Therefore, it is this future faithful priest that Isaiah says Yahweh will fasten “as a nail in a sure place”. The language of the “nail” is figurative, as Yahweh will not hammer a person into a building, or literally hang things from them.

And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father’s house. And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house, the offspring and the issue, all vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups, even to all the vessels of flagons. In that day, said the LORD of hosts, shall the nail that is fastened in the sure place be removed, and be cut down, and fall; and the burden that was upon it shall be cut off: for the LORD has spoken it. (Isaiah 22:22-25)

There are two events here. The first speaks of the firm appointment of of the priest/king as 'a nail being driven in' to allow the 'hanging' of the 'vessels' as the display of the people who are the glory of Yahweh. The second event speaks of the day of the removal of the nail. It is not a careful removal, but a cutting down. In other words the nail shall be violently removed. When it is removed the burden on it is also cut off.

The 'burden' that is 'cut off' does not refer to the vessels previously spoken of in the passage, as the word for 'burden' is 'massa' and means a 'tribute', as a payment brought to the victor after defeat. We could think of it as payment of reparations after defeat in war. When the “nail” or the faithful priest is “cut off” or killed, the “tribute”, or payment for defeat, is removed. Daniel says that Messiah is to be “cut off” (Dan 9:26). Therefore the 'burden' that is removed is 'the payment' of death that is made for human sin. Messiah's role was to “make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity”(Daniel 9:24). We are told that removal of the death sentence is the result of Yeshua's death. Peter says that Yeshua, “bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1Peter 2:24). The cutting off of the 'nail' is clearly speaking of Yeshua's death.

The 'cutting off' of the 'nail' is mentioned by Isaiah as the second event, but, as it refers to the death of Yeshua, it is the first to occur. In the logic of the situation, Isaiah is responding to the appointment of a priest, therefore, Isaiah speaks of Yeshua's future glory as the faithful priest first. He then fills us in with the event that happens in a previous 'day', that of the removal of the 'nail', or of the faithful priest's death.

It is remarkable how appropriate the image, or metaphor, of Yeshua's work as a 'nail' is, when we know he was a carpenter. If this was the only passage that referred to Yeshua's work or role as a 'nail', with Yahweh as the carpenter, it could be merely an extraordinary co-incidence.

3) Other Prophets and the nail

Ezekiel, Solomon and the nail

Yahweh, through Ezekiel, approximately a hundred years after Isaiah, returns to the idea of hanging vessels on a nail.

Son of man, What is the vine tree more than any tree, or than a branch which is among the trees of the forest? Shall wood be taken of to do any work? or will men take a pin (nail) of it to hang any vessel thereon? Behold, it is cast into the fire for fuel; the fire devours both the ends of it, and the midst of it is burned. Is it suitable for any work? (Ezekiel 15:2-4)

The 'pin' is the same Hebrew word as for the 'nail' in Isaiah. The point is that the vine has no structural strength. The people of Israel are likened to a vine. In their spiritual state of idolatry they were not producing 'fruit', and even the wood was useless. Israel of themselves were not a suitable substance for Yahweh to use to nail for a sure fixing. The reference to the nail seems not to be relevant until we realise that this message was given in the context of Isaiah's prophecy of the nail. The useless 'vine' of Israel was not fit to hang the vessels of glory on. This passage is useful for revealing the thinking of Yahweh regarding his metaphor of the nail.

Solomon makes an analogy where the words of the wise are likened to well placed nails.

The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. (Ecc 12:11)

This seems merely an analogy. After all, it is through wisdom a house is built (Proverbs 24:3). However, the mention of the 'one shepherd' produces a very odd mix of metaphors. Do we know a self proclaimed shepherd who handled wise words like well placed nails? Yeshua calls himself a shepherd (John 10) and both the writer to the Hebrews and Peter call Yahshua a shepherd (Hebrews 13;20, 1 Peter 2:25, 5:4). This could be co-incidence. That this is a reference to Yeshua seems unlikely in the context in Ecclesiastes, except, that Solomon is speaking here in the third person of the Preacher; the preacher who is king in Jerusalem.

Zechariah and the shepherd as a carpenter

Zechariah mixes metaphors as Solomon does and also places shepherds in juxtaposition with a carpenter.

My anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats: for Yahweh of hosts has visited his flock the house of Judah, and has made them as his goodly horse in the battle. Out of him came forth the corner, out of him the nail, out of him the battle bow, out of him every oppressor together. And they shall be as mighty men, which tread down their enemies in the mire of the streets in the battle: and they shall fight, because Yahweh is with them, and the riders on horses shall be confounded. And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them...(Zechariah 10:2-6)

This passage indicates a time when Yahweh will deliver his people. At this time the good as 'sheep' are separated from the 'goats', and these good become mighty in battle. Out of Yahweh of hosts comes the 'corner'. The word for 'corner' means 'bulwark' and 'chief', and is the same as that used by the Psalmist.

The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. (Psalm 118:22)

Isaiah also mentions a cornerstone laid in Zion (Isaiah 28:16). Yeshua identifies himself with this cornerstone (Mat 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17).This identification is reinforced by the disciples (Acts 4:11, Ephesians2:20, 1 Peter 2:6-7). Another translation reads:

From him will come forth the cornerstone, from him the nail, from him the battle bow, from him every ruler together. (Zechariah 10:4 WEB)

The metaphor of the cornerstone is linked with that of the nail. This prophecy in Zechariah links the reference in Isaiah 22 to the priest/king, who is like a nail, with the teacher of righteousness, who is the cornerstone of Isaiah 28. The order is significant. Out of Yahweh first comes the teaching of the 'cornerstone', then out of Yahweh the deliverance of the 'nail' who is 'cut off' and then fastened as a priest/king, who then goes forth with an arrow-less battle bow to become all leaders of armies, united as one. The cornerstone and the nail are both building terms. How appropriate these terms should be used of a carpenter.

Ezra and Isaiah's prophetic 'nail'

It seems likely Ezra is referring to Isaiah's prophecy with the metaphor of a priest over the house being the 'nail' when he speaks of the grace given to them in the re-establishment of the temple in his prayer.

And now for a little space grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage. (Ezra 9:8)

This use of the metaphor of the nail is appropriate, as Ezra was a priest and a leader, who was as a 'father' in Jerusalem. Ezra is directly referencing Isaiah's prophecy of the nail. He sees himself as a typical 'nail'. This passage reinforces the idea that Yeshua was to come as a priest, for the fact that Ezra quotes Isaiah indicates that Ezra understands Isaiah's prophecy of a nail refers to a priest, who is also the ruler.

Before leaving the subject of Yeshua's work as the nail which is cut-off, and is then to be fastened in a sure place, there is one account of nailing that is worthy of investigation. That of Jael's use of a nail to eliminate Sisera.

4) The seed of the woman nailing evil

The scriptures do occasionally give us incidents as cameos of incredible detail. However, in this case, we are told three times that Jael nailed Sisera through the head. In the logic of the record, the death of Sisera by the hand of a woman was important, as it was prophesied by Deborah. However, to repeat three times the detail of the way it was achieved, indicates Yahweh wants us to understand that the manner of the death was significant.

Then Jael Heber's wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.
And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples. (Judges 4:21-22 KJV)

Jael must have been a heavy handed woman. Of all the body parts the head is the most protected. Why didn't she pierce him through the heart? There is not much protection there and under the ribs is a well known method of killing a person. It also would be a more female thing to do. However she decided to use a hammer as a workman would, or as a carpenter does, and she nailed the head with such force she fastened the nail into the ground. The twice mentioned occurrence may be passed as the record of a curio, an account of a very strong woman. However, it re-occurs in Deborah and Barak's prophetic song of victory. This song of victory speaks of Yahweh fighting in the day of battle, and points forward to a latter day battle.

LORD, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water.(Judges 5:4)

The conclusion of the song speaks of all the enemies of Yahweh perishing. In this context Deborah and Barak expand on the manner of Sisera's death in a very striking and significant manner.

She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen's hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples. (Judges 5:26)

The language makes us think of Genesis where the seed of the woman is to bruise the head of the serpent. Here we have a picture, or illustration, of a woman smiting the head of the enemy of Yahweh. The language is suggestive, for the Hebrew word for 'temples' here is 'ra' and means 'bad' or 'evil'. Literally the passage says she crushed, smashed, destroyed and pierced through his evil. A woman, the seed of a woman, as workman, a carpenter, destroys evil by nailing it through to crush and destroy it. This is an illustration of the work of Yeshua. This is an instance of the layering of the pattern of illustrations in the scriptures, where the detail supports the pattern of the whole.

5) The nail in illustrations of the pattern of redemption

In Paul's words we can see a connection between the illustration of the seed of the woman nailing evil and the work of Yeshua, as he explains Yeshua's work as that of

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; (Colossians 2:14 KJV)

As the nailing to the timber at the crucifixion was a physical event witnessed by many people, the passage above could be merely a neat analogy. When we know that Yeshua worked as a carpenter, Paul's words have an added layer of meaning. The literal and figurative detail dovetail together. Paul's language is figurative, as nothing physically was nailed to the timber at the crucifixion except a body and an identification sign. Whereas the account of Jael is that of a real event, where the enemy of Yahweh is 'nailed'. They are both consistent illustrations, that explain the intangible idea of redemption.

It is remarkable that Isaiah records Yahweh speaking of His work with Yeshua, as that of a carpenter fastening a nail in a sure place. The analogy stands on its own, but becomes powerful when we conclude that Yahweh had it in his mind, over a thousand years before his birth, that Yeshua would be a carpenter. He could have been a: merchant, physician, scribe, fisherman, baker, smith, stonemason, tent maker, tax collector, farmer, or shepherd. But of the many possible occupations, he was a carpenter.

We are told Yeshua was familiar with the book of Isaiah. As a teenager learning the trade of carpentry, he, surely, would have pondered on the priest who was like a nail driven into a sure place. And as he used a hammer with force to remove a nail and saw it lying cut-off on the ground, he must have realised what was meant by the priest being cut off. As every carpenter knows, it is the 'heel' of the nail that is damaged when it is forcibly removed. The head need not be damaged.

There is veracity and deep consistency even in what seems irrelevant detail. And at that we stand in awe.