The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: M

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Matthew's genealogy

Both "biblos" (Bible) and "genesis" emphasize the new beginning made by God in Christ. Adam had sinned, and now the world was filled again with "chaos" and "darkness" -- this time man-made. Into this "formless" and "void" world the Father sent a new light, the precursor of a totally new, a spiritual creation. "Let there be light", He said again, and that light came into the world, and the people who sat under the dark shadow of death saw it and rejoiced (Mat 4:13-17).

The phrase "genealogy" or "generation(s) of..." occurs fourteen times in the whole Bible, eleven times in Genesis, twice more in the Old Testament, and finally this, as might be expected, the fourteenth time (surely a significant number: Mat 1:17). After Jesus the Bible offers no new "generations", for there are none of any consequence. Jesus was, and is, the beginning of his Father's "new creation" (Col 1:15-18; 2:12; 3:1,10), one which will never be spoiled nor supplanted.

True to his main purpose in writing (which is to portray Jesus as the king of the Jews and the hope of Israel), Matthew offers first an abbreviated genealogy ("the son of David, the son of Abraham") which stresses Jesus as the heir of David's throne and the individual "seed" of Abraham through whom all nations will be blessed. The foundation verse of the New Testament thus establishes unbreakable and essential links with the Old. Unless the reader understands the great thematic promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs and to David, he cannot hope to understand the mission of Jesus. And if the reader of Scripture is ever disposed to dismiss these genealogies as nothing more than "dull" lists of names, let him try to imagine how Abraham the "father" of believers and David the "man after God's own heart" would have thrilled to read such "dull" lists (Joh 8:56; Mat 22:43).

At least four generations are skipped by Matthew. Three are between Joram and Uzziah (Mat 1:8). These (Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah) are probably passed over because they are also the seed of the wicked Athaliah, daughter of Jezebel, and because they proved true to their heritage. It is not surprising that each of these three also died a violent death: Ahaziah was slain by the avenging Jehu (2Ki 9:27), while conspirators killed Joash (2Ki 12:20) and Amaziah (2Ki 14:19). A fourth exclusion is Jehoiakim, who fits between Josiah and Jeconiah (Mat 1:11); perhaps he is omitted because he was appointed king by the king of Egypt and not by God.

Whatever the reasons, it is clear that Matthew, impelled by the Spirit, has been quite selective in his listing. The genealogy is easily remembered, being readily divisible into three equal sections (v. 17). There are definite links between the 42 generations and the 42 "stations" in the wilderness march of Israel (Num 33:3-49), as well as the 42 months of affliction in Rev 13:5. In each case the central idea is a period of probation or persecution, which climaxes in inheritance and the kingdom. Thus Matthew, by the device of his genealogy, crystallizes Israel's history in 42 segments that terminate in the revelation of the true king, who will bring the inheritance to the faithful in Israel.

Forty-two generations are mentioned by Matthew, but this figure (and the equal divisions into three cycles of 14 each) can be achieved only by counting Jeconiah twice -- as the last of cycle 2 and the first of cycle 3. To do this would then be inconsistent, since the same double-counting is not seen between the first two cycles.

What is the solution to this difficulty? The simplest answer might be to suggest that one name has dropped out of the final group, but there is no textual evidence for this. There is a better, and more satisfying, possibility: although forty-one men are mentioned, there are forty-two names of men. Mary's son is twice named, as "Jesus" and as "Christ" -- thereby making up fourteen names in the last division. Does Matthew mean to imply that Jesus had two "births" -- one according to the flesh, and the second from the dead by God's Spirit, which declared him to be the Son of God (Rom 1:4)? This second "birth", thirty-three years after the first, would then finish the "genealogy" or "generations" of Jesus Christ (Mat 1:1), and would include prospectively those "in Christ" who would be "born again", to constitute his multitudinous "body".

Matthew mentions five women in Christ's ancestry; certainly each is very important. Of the first four, three were Gentiles: Tamar, a Canaanitess (Mat 1:3), Rahab of Jericho (v 5), and Ruth a Moabitess (v 5 ). The fourth, Bathsheba (v 6), was married to a Gentile, a Hittite. In these four, a legacy of scandal was attached to the royal family of Israel: Tamar was guilty of incest, Rahab of prostitution, and Bathsheba of adultery. Ruth, a widow, was scorned by the nearest kinsman, possibly because he questioned her virtue (Rth 4:6). Yet these four also showed great faith: Tamar by perpetuating Judah's line, even if it meant danger for herself; Rahab and Ruth by freely associating themselves with Israel; and Bathsheba by securing her son Solomon the rightful inheritance of David's throne (1Ki 1:11-31).

The inclusion of their names, while those of Sarah, Rebekah, and others are excluded, foreshadowed the coming Gentile heirship in the "hope of Israel". Many Gentiles will one day, along with these women, make up the Gentile bride of Christ (Rev 19:7). They are typified by the Samaritan woman at the well, a sinner of some note (Joh 4:17,18), yet destined despite those sins to be part of the bride of Christ.

Jesus' ancestors, as a whole, were not the sort to inspire pride in the flesh. Of course this was the purpose -- that no flesh should glory in God's presence (1Co 1:29). The open sins implicit in the listing of these four women prepared the way for the same sort of scandal at the end, where the lovely Mary must appear publicly as an adulteress and an unwed mother (Mat 1:18,19). Each of the first four women had known other men (though apparently bearing no children) before they conceived sons in the royal line. By stark contrast and irony, Mary had known no man at all when she conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet the implied sin was inescapably obvious, and it became a "cross" which she and Jesus had to bear ever after. In giving birth to Jesus, Mary, though in that respect sinless, appeared to be a sinner. In dying upon the cross, Jesus, though sinless, also appeared to be a sinner.

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