The Gospel of Matthew opens up to a genealogy. Quite frankly, often we skim this section because of our lack of interest in a bunch of names. There are two questions pushed into our faces straightway from the scoffers, though. First, why is the genealogy of Matthew different than Luke? Second, why does Matthew leave out various generations so that he can establish three sets of “14”?
Within this section, there are much deeper things to recognize than the answer to those two questions. For example, within the first verse, the Greek Iesou Christou is used. That title is given to Jesus only three times in all of the synoptic Gospels: Matthew 1:1, 16:21, and Mark 1:1. He is the son of David, the son of Abraham. Why is this important? When we trace the “seed of the woman” (Gen 3:15) through Genesis, we find that the messiah must come through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then, as we continue through the Scripture, we find that the messiah must come through David.
But there is a deeper sense in what it means to be a “son”. In the books of Kings and Chronicles, over and over again it is said that the king is like his father David, or not like his father David. To be the son of David is more than a biological statement. It reveals to us a certain character, a certain disposition of heart, and a certain quality. Davidicness is the essence of the Kingdom itself. When David and Jonathan said their final goodbyes, they wept upon one another’s shoulders, but David wept more. When Saul is handed into David’s hand, David doesn’t kill him, and then feel conviction for ever even raising his blade to cut off the tassel of Saul’s robe! What manner of a man is this? The very nuisance and persecutor of you and your men is delivered into your hand, and yet he repents for even cutting off the tassel…
To be a son of Abraham, as Jesus tells the people in John 8, is to act like Abraham. Abraham was circumcised in Genesis 17, and the very next chapter is about these three men who he doesn’t even know wandering around. He sees them on the horizon, and he leaps up and RUNS to them. Now, for those of you who don’t know, circumcision is when the man gets a part of the flesh of his genitals cut off. You mean to tell me that this old man not only ran, which itself is baffling in that culture, but did so after a surgical procedure in such a sensitive place? What manner of a man is this?
Why would Abraham run to meet these strangers? Abraham’s heart could not tolerate the consideration of these three men being marginalized and without hope. How is it that they are not with their loved ones? What must be taking place that these men are away from their families? Have they been excommunicated? Have they been sent on a mission? Are they marginalized without a family? Such thoughts were unbearable, and so Abraham ran to them. He invited them into his own home, which is a deeper statement than just a friendly visit. Abraham shall provide for them; he shall be their family. And, when he finds out they will come under his roof, he runs back to camp to tell Sarah to bake 3 measures of bread, which in our society would be about 70 pounds. He baked enough bread to last them a month!
And now, with the introduction of Jesus Christ, which when translated is Yeshua HaMeshiach, we have the statement that this man was the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Does your mouth drool yet? Does your heart leap with hope? The mere statement from the very onset – the first verse of Matthew’s Gospel – is enough to peak the interest of any Jew. You mean there is one who shall not stand in the manner of Herod, with his bureaucracy and high taxes? There is a new king, the promised Messiah, who shall rule with righteousness and equity? No more do we have to live under the system of a Jerusalem that weeps at the coming of her own King? Now we can rejoice at the coming?
The next 15 verses are tracing the lineage from Abraham through to David, and from David unto Joseph, Jesus’ father. But, wait a minute. Wasn’t Jesus’ born of a virgin? So, then Joseph means nothing, right? When Ruth and Boaz have a child, it is said that Naomi has a son. But, Naomi didn’t bear the son, and Ruth was not Naomi’s daughter. However, you might reason that Joseph’s inheritance goes to the firstborn, and Jesus wasn’t his firstborn. Since we know that James was the brother of Jesus, it would imply that inheritance would go to James, if not one of the other brothers – whoever is oldest.
This is where Luke’s Gospel is so necessary. There are two different traces of the genealogy. Two thoughts have been suggested, both of which I find plausible. First, notice 1 Chronicles 3:19. The sons of Pedaiah were Zerubbabel and Shimei. Yet, jump to Haggai 2:2, “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shialtiel…” We find this also in Ezra, “Zerubbabel son of Shialtiel…” Now, how is it that you have Zerubbabel being called the son of Shialtiel in Ezra and Haggai, but Pedaiah in 1 Chronicles? It’s a levirate marriage. What is a levirate marriage? It is when a man has a wife, but dies, and so his brother takes the wife to have children for his brother.
Now, if there is one example of a levirate marriage within Jesus’ genealogy, then why can’t there be a second or more?
Also, notice Matthew 1-2 focus around Joseph quite heavily. In fact, Mary is barely mentioned. Yet, in Luke 1-2, Joseph is barely mentioned, whereas it revolves around Mary predominately. Is it possible that Matthew records the genealogy from Abraham to Joseph, but Luke records the genealogy of Mary?
Notice some of the names that Matthew has. He mentions Tamar (1:3), who bore sons unto Judah as a prostitute. He mentions Ruth (1:5), who was Maobite instead of Israelite. He mentions Rahab (1:5), who was not Israelite either. He mentions “her of Uriah”, who is obviously Bathsheba, both Uriah and Bathsheba being Hittite. These women that are mentioned are not Israelite, and yet are mentioned deliberately. What is Matthew’s point? Matthew is mentioning the women to establish firmly the inheritance of Jesus through Mary. Though he might be tracing the genealogy of Joseph (this being debated in many theological circles), what I believe that Matthew is doing is settling the argument before it even comes up. Just like Moses permitted the daughters of Zelophehad to inherit, since Zelophehad didn’t have any sons, so too shall Jesus inherit through Mary, and so too shall Mary have that inheritance right.
Finally, we’ve come unto the last verse of our section. We see three sets of 14 – 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the exile, and 14 from the exile to Jesus. In Hebrew, there is a numbering system of the letters. Daleth, waw, daleth (David) adds up to 14. It could be that Matthew is again emphasizing “son of David”. Throughout Matthew’s Gospel are sets of 3. There are three childhood experiences, three temptations, three initial disciples called, three expositions on ‘do not murder’ (Matt 5:22-26), three teachings on righteousness (Matt 6), three healings (Matt 8), three mentions of Beelzebub (9:34, 10:25, 12:24), etc.
My last statement regarding the genealogy is another scoff from the anti-missionary Jews. Thumbing through some of my old notes, I realize I’ve forgotten to expand upon Jeconiah. Notice Jeremiah 22:30, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Write this man down as childless, A man who shall not prosper in his days; For none of his descendants shall prosper, Sitting on the throne of David, And ruling anymore in Judah.’” The context of this statement is to say that Jeconiah shall not be the father of the messiah; God has rejected him, and therefore the messiah must come through another son of David.
Matthew, however, uses Jeconiah in Jesus’ genealogy. So, how can we account for this?
Go to Zechariah 4, and notice that God is speaking about using Zerubbabel (a son of Jeconiah) in rebuilding the Temple, which the messiah was to do. Zerubbabel is being likened unto the messiah. Now, go back a couple more pages to Haggai 2:23: In that day, says the LORD of hosts, I will take you, Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtiel, says the LORD, and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the LORD of hosts.” Apparently, according to the prophets after the exile, while God might have rejected Jeconiah, God embraced Zerubbabel.
Thus, I think we’ve fully dealt with the genealogy of Jesus, as it is found within the Gospel of Matthew.