Matthew 1:1-17

 

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Matthew 1

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. 12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. 17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

James Montgomery Boice tells a fascinating story about a young man who came to know Jesus through reading and wrestling with the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke.

       Ron Blankley, a former area director of Campus Crusade for Christ, was walking through the student union of the University of Pennsylvania one day when he saw a student reading a Bible. He remembered Philip’s approach to the Ethiopian, so he walked over to the student, introduced himself, and asked, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”

       The student replied, “No, as a matter of fact, I don’t. I’m reading the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke, and I don’t understand them because they seem to be different.” Blankley had been at Tenth Presbyterian Church the Sunday immediately before this when, curiously enough, I had explained the genealogies exactly as I have just done here. He explained them to this student, and as a result of that explanation, the young man came to faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior.[1]

This is a reminder that I and, perhaps, all of us need, for the genealogies of scripture can too easily become “fly-over country” for many modern readers. We assume, wrongly, that all of those strange names perhaps meant something to the original readers (if they meant anything even to them!) but they cannot mean much to us. When we hear a story like Boice’s above, however, we are reminded of the amazing fact that all scripture truly is God’s word and can therefore be used mightily of God for the salvation of sinners. We skip over or skim these sections to our own loss.

Let us, then, listen carefully to these words which, while strange sounding in many ways, are yet “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) and valuable! What does this geneaology tell us?

The genealogy highlights the kingly nature of Christ.

Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, begins with a genealogy. Craig Keener makes the interesting point that “at least partial genealogical records of important (especially priestly) families were kept in the temple” and that while “anyone could have claimed to be of Davidic descent” before the temple was destroyed in AD 70, “the claim for Jesus was made before 70, when it still could have been checked (Rom 1:3).”[2] Others have noted that even if you posit a date for Matthew after AD 70 it was still possible that such a genealogy could have been checked through other sources. This is helpful insofar as it reminds us that there was indeed an apologetic purpose to this list. It was not fictional. It was real. It could most likely have been checked by any wishing to confirm its veracity. And what specifically could be checked was the fact that Jesus was “the son of David.”

As we saw in our consideration of Matthew 1:1, the reference to Abraham and David constituted an allusion to two covenants, one for a coming Savior and one for a coming eternal King. But for this greater implication of Christ as the son of David to be grasped the more surface-level question of lineage needed to be grasped (i.e., that Jesus was indeed a son of David). This genealogy offers proof of that fact.

But there is another way that the genealogy highlights Jesus’ place in the Davidic line. It is less obvious to us, though it would likely have been clear to many first century Jewish readers. The clue for this other way is found at the end of the genealogy:

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

One must be careful with numerology (seeing deeper or spiritual meanings in numbers), for it is easy for one to misuse numerology and read just about anything into any number. Even so, there clearly are numbers of significance in scripture (and in many cultures ancient and modern, for that matter) and it is hard not to pause at this obvious reference to three genealogical sections comprised of fourteen generations each. It must first be understood that Matthew clearly crafts the genealogy into three such groups for his own reasons. Some suggest that he did so in order to help the early Christian community be able to memorize it. Other suggest deeper and more significant reasons.

It is believed by many that what we have in this three groupings of fourteen is “gematria,” the coded nod to Hebrew words through the utilization of numbers that point to their respective letters. In other words, the Jews assigned each letter in the alphabet a numerical value based on a simple system. This enabled them, at times, to offer numbers that pointed back to certain significant words. Or, perhaps in this case, to use numbers to further emphasize important assertions. Frank Stagg explains:

       The genealogy may provide a cryptogram in the form of an acrostic for David. Fourteen may be a reference in code to Jesus as “David.” Gematria was an ancient practice of assigning a number to a person (cf. Rev. 13:18), computed by totaling the number value of each letter in one’s name. The first letter in the alphabet had the number value of one, the second letter two, etc. The name David in Hebrew would have the number value of 14 (DVD = 4 + 6 + 4). Matthew may have intended thus to have written “David” across each section of the genealogy.[3]

This three-fold repetition of the number fourteen in v.17 may very well be a way of saying that the whole point of Matthew’s particular and idiosyncratic structuring of this genealogy is intended to highlight not only Jesus’ place as ason of David but as the Son of David, the promised King whose throne will have no end! This would be in keeping with Matthew’s interesting structuring of the first verse:

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Notice that Matthew lists David first, even though Abraham came first chronologically. This, put alongside the fact that David ends the first of the three genealogical sections, put alongside the possibility of gematria in Matthew’s organization of this list highlights an important point: Christ Jesus is the King above all other Kings. He is David’s son, but also David’s Lord and King.

The genealogy highlights the radical inclusivism of Christ’s Kingdom.

The genealogy is also interesting in what it tells us about the Kingdom of God. There is something in the first of the three genealogical sections that would have been quite surprising to the first century audience.

and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah

It is the presence (a) of women (an unusual inclusion in first century genealogies), (b) of women who were outsiders, and (c) women, at least three of whom were associated with scandals. Bruner observes that “all four women are non-Jews” and that a closer reading of the texts” will reveal this. He delineates the four women like this:

  • Ruth the Moabite [Ruth 3]
  • “Tamar was a Canaanite” [Genesis 38]
  • “Rahab a Jerichoite” [Joshua 2]
  • “Bathsheba, through marriage, [was] a Hittite”[4] [2 Samuel 11]

Keener writes that Matthew “highlights four women who were either Gentiles or had significant Gentile associations.”[5] Exactly how one classifies these women, there presence is a surprise!

It would be hard to overstate how surprising the presence of these four women in the genealogy truly was and is! After all, if Matthew was determined to include women in violation of the customs of the times, could he not have chosen “respectable” women, women of good repute? Boice writes that “Jesus’s ancestry…[shows] that God chooses his servants from a wide spectrum of those from whom the respectably orthodox would turn away in horror.”[6]

The last little sentence in verse 6 must have been particularly shocking to Matthew’s first readers: “And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.” Matthew does not name Bathsheba. Perhaps he too flinches at this point. Regardless, here she is, “the wife of Uriah,” the woman that David sinfully took for himself, the woman whose husband David had killed, the woman that David wronged. The presence of a sexual scandal and a gross sin against God in a genealogy intended to promote the glory of Jesus is, at first glance, perplexing. Why include such? Why not dress this genealogy up, so to speak?

On second glance, however, there is something profoundly beautiful in this. John Calvin, commenting on Matthew’s reference to David’s sin with Bathsheba, writes:

At this point the Evangelist includes the human misconduct, which might have spoiled the splendour of that diving blessing… But God wished to testify, that in setting up that kingdom, He gave no weight to human merits.[7]

Yes! That is so! God is showing (through Matthew’s crafting of this genealogy) that the Kingdom of God is for all: the outsider, the looked-down-upon, the sinful. Michael Wilkins believes that “[t]he genuineness, and unlikeliness, of this genealogy must have stunned Matthew’s readers” because “Jesus’ ancestors were human with all the foibles, yet potentials, of everyday people” and “[t]here is no pattern of righteousness in the lineage of Jesus.”[8]

Christ is glorious not because humanity is glorious but precisely because, though it most decidedly is not glorious, He steps into it with love and forgiveness. Through the work of the cross, even a Rahab and a Tamar get to come home. The mass of lost of humanity is welcomed into the kingdom of Christ the King: folks who do not belong, folks with a past, folks with bad reputations, folks who have messed up, folks whose presence at the family reunion raises eyebrows, folks that the respectable religion people whisper about derisively. The genealogy highlights the radical inclusivism of Christ’s Kingdom.

The genealogy highlights the continuation of the lineage of Christ in and through His disciples, the church.

In another way the genealogy points to the coming of a new people, a new creation. First, we must observe that Matthew’s three categories of fourteen generations have caused no end of controversy because at least one and possibly two of the categories appear not actually to have fourteen generations listed. New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg writes that “[t]he actual number of generations in the three parts to the genealogy are thirteen, fourteen and thirteen, respectively; but ancient counting often alternated between inclusive and exclusive reckoning. Such variation was thus well within standard literary convention of the day.” Blomberg goes on to point to other rabbinic examples of such an approach. Stagg, on the other hand, observes that “the names do not actually add up to 14 per division. Matthew has only twenty-seven names after David” and thereby draws attention to the shortened final sections.[9] Again, this is not a problem, as Blomberg observes. Other scholars note that Matthew’s three-groups-of-fourteen are clearly approximations and that such approximations are, again, not uncommon in ancient writings.

But is more happening here, particularly with the final section being shortened? To help us get at this, let us remember, as we saw in our consideration of Matthew 1:1, that Matthew makes a clear nod to Genesis. I noted there, as a representative example, that Frank Stagg notes that “‘Book of the genealogy’ translates a word which literally means genesis” and believes that “probably Matthew deliberately follows a pattern in Genesis (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1, 11:10, 27).”[10] This is a point that has been observed since early Christianity.

It is an important point because it means that Matthew sees Christ as the harbinger of new creation, of a new beginning. That new creation and new beginning is seen preeminently in the calling of a people: the followers of Jesus, the church. With this in mind, is it not possible that the cutting short of this lineage was intended to make room for the latest additions to Christ’s genealogy: His new creation people, His church?

Stanley Hauerwas makes the point well:

The genealogy that Matthew provides from Abraham to Jesus is but a commentary on the extraordinary claim that with Jesus we have a new beginning. The genealogy is divided into three series, the first two consisting of fourteen generations and the last of thirteen generations. The last group has only thirteen generations because the church that Jesus calls into existence constitutes the fourteenth generation.[11]

It is an astonishing and breathtaking thought! The missing fourteenth is the church, is you, is me! When we come to Jesus in repentance and faith and received by grace into His kingdom, we are made part of the family. We are, by grace through faith in Christ and His finished work on calvary and the empty tomb, invited to take our place in the genealogy. We are declared sons and daughters of God and our alienation from our Creator is ended!

What matchless love! What matchless grace! The genealogy is truly our genealogy, all who come to Jesus. There is a place at the table for us. The door has been opened, the gate unlocked. Christ the King welcomes us home!

 

[1] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew. Vol.1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), p.19.

[2] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. (Downers Grove, IL: 1993), p.46.

[3] Frank Stagg, “Matthew.” General Articles, Matthew-Mark. The Broadman Bible Commentary. Vol. 8 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1969), p.81. Keener, however, is less impressed with this idea and proposes that “perhaps fourteen was simply Matthew’s rough estimate of the generations from one period in Israel’s history to the next” and “Matthew may have also preferred a round number for each set of generations, perhaps for ease of memorization…” Craig S. Keener, Matthew. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Ed., Grant R. Osborne. Vol. 1 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), p.53n1:1.

[4] Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew. Vol.1. Revised & Expanded Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), p.9.

[5] https://www.craigkeener.com/the-birth-of-jesus-women-and-gentiles-highlighted-in-matthews-genealogy/

[6] James Montgomery Boice, p.15.

[7] John Calvin, A Harmony of the Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries. Trans. By A.W. Morrison. Eds., David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), p.59.

[8] Michael J. Wilkins, “Matthew.”  Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Gen. Ed., Clinton E. Arnold. Vol.1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p.9.

[9] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew. The New American Commentary. Gen. Ed., David S. Dockery. Vol.22 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), p.53. Bruner believes that Matthew is simply approximating. Bruner, p.16. Frank Stagg, p.81.

[10] Frank Stagg, “Matthew.” General Articles, Matthew-Mark. The Broadman Bible Commentary. Vol. 8 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1969), p.80.

[11] Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), p.31.

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