The first passage in Matthew’s gospel which references the scriptures is Matthew 1:1-17. This comprises The Begats, and I am purposefully copying the Andrew Peterson song of the same title. Andrew Peterson has some brilliant work and his song The Begats highlights this very passage. This is how Matthew introduces Jesus terming Him the Messiah (the Christ), the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. Matthew records the name of David 17 times in his gospel showing in Matthew 22:42 that the Son of David is a Messianic term according to the Pharisees with Jesus not contradicting their assumption. So when certain children of Israel stated that Jesus was the Son of David, this was a way of expressing their belief that He is the Messiah, the heir to the Davidic throne, see Matthew 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, 20:30-31, 21:9, 15. The term Son of Abraham is less obvious in Matthew’s gospel, but Abraham should be understood within the context of the promises to Israel as a nation, see Matthew 3:9 with Genesis 12:2, 22:17; but also as the promises were to be a blessing to all nations, see Matthew 8:11 with Genesis 12:3, 22:18. In short, Abraham stands as the link to covenant blessings to Jew and Gentile alike.
Three sets of fourteen
I confess that I’m slightly troubled at the way Matthew arranges the genealogy of Christ. There are some obvious omissions especially in the kings of Judah. Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah should be inserted in between Jehoram and Uzziah. Jehoiakim is missing in between Josiah and Jeconiah. We could assume that Matthew did not have good records from which to draw, but this seems highly unlikely since he has more information than we are privy to. For instance, Matthew alone records the lineage from Jeconiah to Joseph; and how does he know that Rahab was the mother of Boaz? It is more likely that Matthew has a specific purpose for arranging the genealogy in just such a fashion. There are 70 years missing if you tally the reign of the three kings of Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah, but years are not the issue here. Otherwise there would have to be some mention of Athaliah’s 7 year reign and Zedekiah’s 11 year reign, which the latter falls outside of the genealogy of Christ and the former falls outside the father to son relationship prevalent in the rest of the passage. The real issue is not years, but the passing of the Messianic promises from father to son. Because of the wickedness of Ahaziah being the grandson of wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of the northern kingdom (through their daughter Athaliah who was his mother, II Kings 8:16-18, 11:1), it is quite possible that God did not look upon him as being worthy of inheriting the promises. Remember that God had commissioned Jehu to destroy all the house of Ahab and Ahaziah was not exempt from this, see II Chronicles 22:7-9. A clause is included in II Kings 8:19 to show why God did not issue final judgment right then and there on the blatant apostasy. Joash seemed to be righteous, but only while the high priest Jehoiada was alive, II Kings 12:2. The position of king was largely nominal at this point in history as Jehoiada had most of the authority, see II Kings11:4-21. The issue of Jehoiakim is similar but not identical. It was obvious that God had forsaken the Davidic lineage because of their wickedness as stated by Jeremiah (22:30), but not ultimately, Jeremiah 33:14-22. Not until Jeconiah had repented while in Babylonian captivity did God view the Davidic lineage as being capable of inheriting the promises, Jeremiah 52:31-34. There must have been some change in Jeconiah for Awil-marduk to release him from prison and treat him so favorably 37 years later whereas before he was carried off as a prisoner of war.
I think the main point that Matthew is making in these omissions is that there was a passing of the torch from father to son with two blatant interruptions. During the reign of Athaliah, it looked as if all hope had been extinguished for the Davidic promises. A small portion of the lineage was purposefully left out to signify that Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah were bypassed until someone worthy allowed hope to be restored. In regards to the second omission, when good King Josiah died, the prophet Jeremiah wept, II Chronicles 35:25. This is most likely because he understood that no son of Josiah’s would be worthy of carrying the torch. Three of Josiah’s sons and one grandson all held the throne, yet all were deemed unworthy by the LORD. Jehoahaz (Shallum) reigned for 3 months, II Chronicles 36:1-4, 3:15, Jeremiah 22:11. Jehoiakim (Eliakim) reigned for 11 years, II Chronicles 36:5-8, Jeremiah 22:18-19. Jeconiah (Jehoiachin or Coniah) reigned for 3 months, II Chronicles 36:9, Jeremiah 22:24-30. Then last of all Zedekiah (Mattaniah) reigned for 11 years, II Chronicles 36:11-16, Jeremiah 24:8. Only after the Babylonian captivity was there a recognition that the signet ring cast away was put back on the finger of the LORD as Zerubbabel returned to Jerusalem, Haggai 2:20-23.
With that in mind, Matthew clearly sees that there are 14 generations from Abraham to David. Then he sees that there are 14 generations from Jeconiah to Jesus Christ. With some help from the Holy Spirit, he sees that there are 14 generations in between David and Jeconiah as well, but only after some editing. Matthew is pointing out the significance of Abraham in terms of God’s covenant plan, David in terms of God’s covenant plan, and Jesus the Messiah in the exact same way. God made a covenant with Abraham. God made a covenant with David. When Jeconiah was carried away captive, this marked a drastic change in how the covenant promises made to Abraham and David were to be fulfilled. Now here in the life of Jesus Christ, God is making another covenant. Abraham, David, and Jesus Christ are three clear anchor points in the theology of Matthew. Abraham signified the promise of the establishment of Israel as a nation. David signified the promise of the establishment of Israel as a kingdom, but not just any kingdom, the kingdom from which the Messiah would reign. Then Jesus signifies the promise of….. well… that’s what is to follow in his narrative.
Five scandalous women
Matthew includes five women in the genealogy of the Messiah. Matthew had documentation of many women who had a part in this ancestry, but specifically chose five. Tamar is the first, being a woman who got pregnant out of wedlock. The story is quite scandalous. Judah gave his first and second sons to Tamar in marriage. Both of them were struck dead by the LORD because of their wickedness, Genesis 38:6-10. When his youngest son was of age, Judah should have given him to her as well, yet he delayed for fear that his son would turn out to be just as wicked as the other two. But he didn’t let Tamar out of her obligation instead commanding her to remain a widow, Genesis 38:11. Here she was waiting patiently without seeking another husband and Judah was purposefully deceiving her. She changes out of her widow’s attire to show she wants to be married, but Judah gets the wrong impression, Genesis 38:14-15. He assumes she is a prostitute because her face is covered with a veil and wants to have relations with her. She agrees and winds up pregnant. Judah finds out that the woman who he commanded to remain a widow is pregnant and commands that she be put to death. After it is discovered that he is the father of the child[ren], he realizes his own hypocrisy, Genesis 38:26. It is thought that the reason for the lineage being included in the book of Ruth is to demonstrate that ten generations had passed from the illegitimate birth of Pharez to the birth of David to show that Deuteronomy 23:2 did not disqualify him from anything, see Ruth 4:18-22 strangely beginning with Pharez. Only a tax collector would include such a name as Tamar in this whole affair of the Messiah.
The next is equally as scandalous, Rahab the prostitute. Somehow Matthew knows that Rahab wound up married to Salmon after she received her inheritance in the promised land. Rahab’s faith put all of Canaan to shame as she believes in the God who is about to destroy her city. Who put it in the mind of Rahab that this God who was about to destroy all her country because they were a bunch of wicked sinners might spare her, a common prostitute? Yet that was her statement of faith to the two spies which she hid by faith, Joshua 2:8-13. We don’t even know the names of the two spies who must have been faithful Israelites being chosen for such a task as this. But we do know the name of Rahab, the sexually sinful woman, whose works of faith are mentioned twice in the new testament, Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25, both authors naming her as a harlot. Matthew drives another point home by placing this Gentile in the lineage of the Messiah.
Next up is Ruth, another Gentile whose faith put many within the nation of Israel to shame. In the days of the Judges when most everyone in Israel was doing what was right in their own eyes, here is a Gentile from another nation who clings to Naomi with her very life, Ruth 1:16-17; but not just to Naomi, to Naomi’s God as well. Throughout the narrative, it is obvious that many in Israel are taken with the faith of this Gentile woman, Ruth 2:6. In the event that no heir of a close relation would be willing to marry Ruth, the property formerly belonging to the family of Elimelech would be available for the nearest relative to purchase thereby putting Naomi out of her home, see Numbers 36. After it seems like God himself is orchestrating the relationship between Boaz and Ruth, she boldly asks Boaz to marry her, Ruth 3:9. Matthew again drives a subtle point home to his Jewish nation in mentioning this Gentile heroine of the faith.
The next woman doesn’t even get her name mentioned. Instead of Matthew mentioning Bath-sheba by name, Matthew terms her as the wife of Uriah. Remember that we are talking about the woman that God chose to bear David’s son who would carry on the Davidic promises. This is King David we are talking about! But the woman involved is the wife of another man! The entire story can be read in II Samuel 11-12 along with David’s repentance in Psalm 51. While we like to point the blame at David, it must be remembered that Bath-sheba was a willing participant in this. Yet after David’s repentance, and most likely her repentance as well, God chose this sinful Israelite adulteress to bear the one who would build the temple and carry on the Davidic promises. Matthew the tax collector strikes again.
Now we come to the fifth and final woman. Mary, like Tamar, gets pregnant out of wedlock. The story of Mary and Joseph has not yet begun as Matthew is only listing the people involved in the lineage. Mary is most likely included here because Joseph did not really beget Jesus. In fact, Mary did not really beget Jesus either. The lineage is traced to Joseph who then is termed the husband of Mary. Then it is stated that Mary “of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ”, this phrasing being worded in a completely different way than the rest of the Begats. Jesus was born of Mary because God supernaturally caused it to be so. Mary and Joseph had very little to do with it.
The mention of these five women stands as a diatribe of sorts to those within the nation of Israel who prided themselves on supposedly being God’s chosen people. Matthew demonstrates out of the law of Moses and related stories that mankind as a whole is sinful needing a savior, the nation of Israel being no exception. It was God’s grace working through sinful men and women to bring about the climax of His covenant plan. Yet it is obvious that some of these in the lineage had true faith in the LORD. Sometimes it was a Gentile putting the whole nation of Israel to shame. Sometimes it was an Israelite who had sinned so disgracefully, but was now restored. And a few were sinners that we don’t know if they ever repented, like Ahaz and Amon. We will see these same themes throughout A Tax Collector’s Guide to Fulfilled Prophecy. All the same, God’s covenant plan moves forward.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman