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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
ZACCHAEUS (Ζακχαῖος; Heb. וַכּי ‘pure’).—The graphic narrative of Luke 19:1-10 tells us all that we know of Zacchaeus, and his name does not occur elsewhere in the NT. The importance of Jericho as a trade centre, the abundance and value of whose products called forth the enthusiastic approbation of Josephus (BJ iv. viii. 2, 3), required the employment of a considerable number of tax-collectors, and these were under the general direction of Zacchaeus (cf. ἀρχιτελώνης, Luke 19:2), who may, in point of fact, have been himself the fortunate leaseholder of the customs of that particular district. In other words, he may have purchased from the authorities the right to be as exacting as he pleased in his demands upon the people, provided he knew enough of the law to avoid the risk of exposure. There is no reason to believe that Zacchaeus was a notoriously bad representative of his class; but, on the other hand, having regard to that remorseful cry of his which seems to have been the product of an awakened conscience (Luke 19:8), it does not appear that his methods were always strictly equitable. He was, so far as one may gather, a publicanus (see art. Publican) of more than average respectability, yet not above some of the questionable ways associated with his profession. To paint his character in lurid colours, as distinguished by unusual heartlessness and selfishness, is not in accordance with the impression conveyed by the narrative.
One is never quite safe in venturing upon a pronouncement with regard to motives—they are generally so curiously mixed; and possibly a variety of motives contributed to the impulse which brought Zaechaeus into contact with Jesus that day. But while it might be too much to say that higher motives were entirely absent, it is quite obvious that the part played by a naturally lively curiosity was not inconsiderable. In this connexion, the contrast between Matthew sitting at the receipt of custom and Zacchaeus leaving all thoughts of business behind and climbing a tree with eager speed, is sufficiently great to indicate a vital difference in character between the two men.
More interesting than the attitude of Zacchaeus towards Jesus is the attitude of Jesus towards him. If we look for an explanation of the wonderful transformation, implicated in the resolve in which Zacchaeus gave expression to his feelings, we find it, undoubtedly, in the delightful frankness of Christ’s first salutation, and in His courageous brushing aside of popular prejudice. In no other way could He have so completely gained, first, the attention, and then the heart of one whom society united in passing by. Nothing, surely, could be more remarkable than the delicate insight which led Jesus to choose Zacchaeus as His host. It was an irresistible touch, and, mingled with the other happy recollections of that day, it would abide in the mind of the publican as a peculiarly grateful memory.
Literature.—In addition to the various Comm., see A. B. Davidson, Called of God, 275; Matheson, Representative Men of the NT, 205; F. W. Robertson, Serm. i. v., ii. xvi.; Lynch, Serm, for my Curates, 71; A. Maclaren, Paul’s Prayers, etc. 88; Seeley, Ecce Homo, xx.; C. S. Horne, Rock of Ages, 281; artt. ‘Jericho’ and ‘Publican’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible .
A. G. Campbell.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Zacchaeus'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/z/zacchaeus.html. 1906-1918.