Christ’s Perfect but Surprising Genealogy

By Pastor Calvin, December 18, 2010 10:03 pm

Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy that shows that God has guided the whole of Israel’s history so that it might climax in the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of David and the Son of Abraham.[1] In this genealogy we see the perfect but often surprising plan of God.

1. Verse 1: Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham

Matthew’s gospel is appropriately the first of the gospels. And one way that we see this is in its opening words: the book of the genealogy. These same words in Greek are used in the Septuagint in Genesis 2:4 and Genesis 5:1. And so from the very beginning Matthew shows the connection between the Old and New Testaments. Yes, something new has come and is happening. But what is new is firmly based on what God already has done and has promised.

In the Old Testament the genealogies always take their name from who is first in the list. In Genesis 5, the genealogy runs from Adam to Noah, but since Adam, obviously was first, the genealogy is called the genealogy of Adam and not Noah. But here in verses 1-17, the genealogy is called not the genealogy of Abraham, but the genealogy of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.[2] Matthew’s original readers would not have missed this point.

The name or title Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word, Messiah. Messiah means the anointed one. It is the word used in Psalm 2:2. Christ is not simply Jesus’ last name, though often we read in Scripture the name, Jesus Christ. Since we are so familiar with the name, it is difficult for us to appreciate how a first century Jew would have heard this title. Christ or Messiah is the long-awaited deliverer of God’s people. The name Christ represents the true hopes of God’s people.

The expression, Son of David, is similar in meaning to the term Messiah. Jesus as the Son of David was the true heir to the throne of Israel. But interestingly the name Son of David is used most often in connection with Jesus’ power to heal. In Matthew’s gospel, those who use the name are mainly those who had little social or theological importance: the blind, the lame, the dumb, the demon-possessed daughter of a Canaanite woman, and children.[3] These people were able to recognize Jesus for who He is while the religious leaders rejected Him. And does this not continue today? It is the humble who are able to recognize Jesus as the true King, who call out to Him for mercy, while the proud and arrogant reject Jesus in favor of their own ideas.

Finally here the expression, Son of Abraham, which is only used here in Matthew’s gospel, shows that Jesus is the one in which the entire history of Israel has its goal. Jesus is also the one through whom God will indeed bless all the nations of the earth, as was promised to Abraham.[4]

2. Verses 2-17: History and Christ’s humanity

The word begot is used 39 times in verses 2-16. There are some missing generations, so each group of two is not necessarily father and son. What is very important to see is that in verse 16, we do not read, and Joseph begot Jesus. Rather we read, that Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ. Matthew clearly shows that Jesus did not biologically come from Joseph. Rather from Mary, Jesus was born. And this verb,was born, is a different form of the word begot. And in verse 20, we have another form of this verb. Look at the end of the verse which reads, “for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” This word conceived is another form of the word begot. And so there are four important things that Matthew shows here in this chapter. Jesus was not fathered directly by Joseph. He was born of Mary. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He was then adopted by Joseph and so therefore he was connected to David and Abraham by legal right. What Matthew has given here in this genealogy is not so much the biological descent from Abraham to Jesus but rather the legal right to be the ruler of Israel.[5]

3. Verses 2-17: Four Important Women

Besides the name Mary, in verse 16, there are four women mentioned in this genealogy.

Genesis 38 tells the horrible story of Tamar. Tamar may have been a Canaanite. She was the daughter-in-law of Judah, married to two of Judah’s sons who were both killed by the LORD because of their wickedness. What a sad life she had. Judah was to give his third son to Tamar, but he did not. And so one day after Judah’s wife had died, Tamar dressed up like a prostitute, and Judah seeing her solicited her services. And from this perverse union, came twin boys, Perez and Zerah. Tamar was far from innocent in this story, but Judah recognized that she was more righteous that he was. In God’s Providence, Tamar gave birth to one who was part of the line of Christ.

In verse 5, we find the second woman in this genealogy, Rahab. Rahab is two other times mentioned in the NT by the designation, Rahab the harlot. Of course she did not remain a harlot. And by faith she did not perish with those who did not believe, when she received the spies with peace, showing that her faith was real. Again we see God working in unexpected ways, bringing a pagan prostitute to a knowledge of the truth and bringing her into the lineage of Christ.

The story of Tamar is connected to the third woman mentioned here, Ruth. Ruth, we know was at one time a pagan Moabite. But in the LORD’s grace, Ruth, the faithful friend to Naomi, became a follower of the LORD, and she too was brought into Israel and into the lineage of Christ.

The fourth woman mentioned here is not even specifically named. She is called in verse 6, the wife of Uriah. We know her of course as Bathsheba. Why isn’t her name directly listed like the others? Perhaps she is named in this way, so that we are reminded of the sin of David. In 2 Samuel 12, when Nathan the prophet came before David to confront him of his terrible sin, Bathsheba is not named directly, but in that chapter she is also twice called the wife of Uriah. Some commentators and preachers have described David’s sin as adultery.[7] But this description implicates Bathsheba in this crime, which Scripture does not say. David’s sin is nowhere simply and directly described as adultery. It was even worse. Bathsheba loved her husband, Uriah. David clearly took advantage of her in this awful incident. And yet in God’s amazing providence, Bathsheba did become one of David’s wives and gave birth to Solomon.

Why these four women? They may be examples of how God’s plan was to bring the nations or Gentiles into His kingdom. This was not simply plan B because Israel rejected her Messiah.[8]We know that at least Ruth and Rahab were clearly Gentiles. And Tamar and Bathsheba may also have been Gentiles. These women then serve as reminders that God often works in ways most unusual and unexpected.[9] There is no sinner who is too sinful to be forgiven. The grace of God through Jesus Christ is indeed greater than all of our sin.

[1] Jack Dean Kingsbury, Matthew as Story, 48.

[2] Donald Hagner, Matthew (Word Biblical Commentary), 9.

[3] France, Evangelist and Teacher, 286.

[4] Hagner, 9-10.

[5] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (NICNT), 33.

[6] Ruth 4:11-12.

[7] For a contrary position see Richard Davidson, “Did King David Rape Bathsheba? A Case Study in Narrative Theology,” available at http://www.atsjats.org/publication_file.php?pub_id=318&journal=1&type=pdf

[8] Craig Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 79-80.

[9] Hagner, 10.


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