Gems In The Genealogies: Examining Matthew 1:1-17

When most of us come to the genealogies in the Bible our eyes begin to glaze over or we are so confused at how to pronounce the names that we just skip them.

gems_on_whiteDon’t. There are gems contained in there that will illuminate the rest of the biblical book.

Here’s the text (Matthew 1:1-17):

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2 To Abraham was born Isaac; and to Isaac, Jacob; and to Jacob, Judah and his brothers; 3 and to Judah were born Perez and Zerah by Tamar; and to Perez was born Hezron; and to Hezron, Ram; 4 and to Ram was born Amminadab; and to Amminadab, Nahshon; and to Nahshon, Salmon; 5 and to Salmon was born Boaz by Rahab; and to Boaz was born Obed by Ruth; and to Obed, Jesse; 6 and to Jesse was born David the king. And to David was born Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah; 7 and to Solomon was born Rehoboam; and to Rehoboam, Abijah; and to Abijah, Asa; 8 and to Asa was born Jehoshaphat; and dto Jehoshaphat, Joram; and to Joram, Uzziah; 9 and to Uzziah was born Jotham; and to Jotham, Ahaz; and to Ahaz, Hezekiah; 10 and to Hezekiah was born Manasseh; and to Manasseh, Amon; and to Amon, Josiah; 11 and to Josiah were born Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. 12 And after the deportation to Babylon, to Jeconiah was born Shealtiel; and to Shealtiel, Zerubbabel; 13 and to Zerubbabel was born Abihud; and to Abihud, Eliakim; and to Eliakim, Azor; 14 and to Azor was born Zadok; and to Zadok, Achim; and to Achim, Eliud; 15 and to Eliud was born Eleazar; and to Eleazar, Matthan; and to Matthan, Jacob; 16 and to Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. 17 Therefore all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the time of Christ fourteen generations.”

Eyes glazed over yet or did you just skim down to this sentence? =)

DIGGING INTO THE TEXT

The word “genealogy” in the English translation is literally the word “genesis” (or “origin”) in the original Greek. It communicates the idea that a fulfillment of a new creation is taking place.[1] This fulfillment is in the context of God’s grand design for His people that culminate in the coming promised Messiah. As Michael Wilkin’s puts it, “Just as Genesis gave the story of one beginning-God’s creation and covenant relations with Israel –so the Gospel of Matthew gives the story of a new beginning-the arrival of Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of God (cf. also Mark 1:1).[2]

The Apostle Matthew focuses on the two most prominent figures in Israel’s history: Abraham and David. He shows that Jesus has both the biblical pedigree and authority to usher in the Kingdom of God as the long awaited Messiah.[3]

BigTree

The gospel writer also throws us some things we might not expect in such a royal lineage: he places four women of whom many readers would consider of questionable character. Writing about this R.T. France writes, “…the four mothers included in the list certainly make a strikingly unconventional group to find within the pedigree of the Messiah of Israel, in that probably all four them were non-Israelite (Tamar and Rahab were Canaanites, Ruth a Moabite and Bathsheba the wife of a Hittite). Moreover, their stories do not fit comfortable into traditional patterns of sexual morality. Tamar’s seduction of her father-in-law, Rahab’s prostitution, and Bathsheba’s adultery…”[4] In regards to Ruth he cites the “questionable” behavior at the feet of Boaz in the threshing floor.[5] It seems clear that the reason Matthew puts these women in the text is to show that God can use anyone and that His plans will not be thwarted, even by sin.

Another element of the text that is “hidden” to English readers is found in verse 16.

and to Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Up until this point the word for “born” (or beget) has been used as an active verb to show the relationship between father and son (Abraham to Isaac, etc.). However the second instance of the word “born” in verse 16 (…“by whom was born Jesus,…) becomes a passive verb that “seems to imply the divine activity made clear in 1:18-25.”[6]

Put another way the change in this verb seems to show that there wasn’t anything “active” on the part of Joseph in Jesus being born (as oppose to other individuals mentioned in the genealogy) but the “passive” power of the Holy Spirit coming upon Mary that will take place in the next couple verses (see 1:18-25).

Thus it becomes a kind of biblical support for the concept of the doctrine immaculate conception (i.e. how Mary bore Jesus while still being a virgin).

DIFFICULTIES

There are some known difficulties with this passage in terms of reconciling it with Luke’s and the genealogies of Chronicles and Kings in the Old Testament.[7] Various solutions have been put forward but it seems like the best, given the limitation on available data, is to understand that Matthew is not providing an exhaustive list of the genealogies but to show that Jesus’ relationship to the three great epochs of Israel’s history: Abraham (its beginning), David (at its “peak”) and the Exile/Return (at perhaps its lowest).[8]

Matthew’s intent seems to be to communicate to His readers that God has been faithful to His promises in blessing the entire world through Abraham’s seed (Gen. 12:1-13) and that a King from David’s line would rule God’s people forever (2 Sam. 7:16) in the person of Jesus the Messiah.

The fourteen numerology also raises questions because Matthew didn’t clarify why he organized it that way. Three basic reasons have been given, none of which really affect Matthews’s overall intent. The three are:

1)  That the Hebrew letters (each symbolizing a number, 1, 2, 3, etc. according to their order in the Hebrew alphabet) for “David” add up to fourteen (four, six, four respectively).[9] Hence Matthew wanted to reaffirm the messianic idea that the line of David (“son of David” in the text) had finally come.

2) A “doubling” of the symbolically powerful number seven within Judaism.[10]

3) “It corresponds to the number of high priests from Aaron to the establishment of Solomon’s Temple; the number of high priest from the establishment of the Temple until Jaddua, the last high priest mentioned in Scripture.”[11] Thus affirming the spiritual significance of Jesus’ coming onto the scene.

WHO CARES?

This is all nice information about a text and the biblical book but if you’ve survived reading this far I want to give you some personal payout for the study (hopefully).

Here are three principles that I think can be applied from the text. Mind you these are genealogies so I want you to see how much good stuff is in the Bible, even the parts we consider “mundane”!

promise1)  God is faithful to fulfill His promises to His people.

This genealogy spans over a thousand years but it shows that God never forgot nor altered His plan. We can trust God to fulfill the many promises He has given us through His Word even when it seems like he’s forgotten (Abraham), we screw up big time (David) or both (Israel’s exile/return).

2) There are no limits to who God can use for His purposes.

Your family background nor your history does not disqualify you from the Kingdom of God. The women mentioned in Jesus’ family line are not “suppose” to be there. Yet God saw it fitting to use what others thought unusable. To love what some would think unlovable. God is in the business of that and calls us to trust Him and follow him regardless of our past.

3) Dig into the biblical text

There are treasures in God’s Word that become apparent to us only when we really dig down deep into it. Perhaps for some of you this is the first you’ve heard of some of these aspects of the genealogies. I can assure you I only skimmed the surface there are more nuggets in God’s Word because it’s inexhaustible because He is inexhaustible. Keep digging.

As you go about today take a moment to reflect on some of the promises you know God has given His people in Scripture. Open your Bible and read through them a couple times and let them sink deeply into you. Then take an opportunity to confess and share your heart with God about things you feel have been keeping you back from surrendering aspects of your life to Him whether its past hurts, finances, shame and guilt or things you don’t understand about the Christian life.

I assure He knows them already and is bigger than all of them. He just wants you to know and live in the freedom of that reality because He has given you all things already through Jesus Christ!


[1] France, NICNT: The Gospel of Matthew, pg 28

[2] Michael Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, pg 55

[3] David L. Turner, Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament: Matthew, pg 54

[4] R.T. France, pg 36-37

[5] lbid.

[6] Turner, pg 61

[7] Leon Morris, Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Matthew, pg 22-23

[8] Turner, pg 58

[9] R.T. France, pg 31

[10] Morris, pg 23

[11] Morris, 25

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~ by simplesage on December 10, 2013.

2 Responses to “Gems In The Genealogies: Examining Matthew 1:1-17”

  1. Our Pastor’s sermon 2 weeks ago was on the 4 women. interesting stuff I never really thought about the implications of them being included.

  2. […] example in our article on Matthew we looked at the tenths of verbs (passive/active) and the significance it had in foreshadowing the […]

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