THE LINEAGE OF THE KING
This is the record of the lineage of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob. Jacob begat Judah and his brothers. Judah begat Phares and Zara, whose mother was Thamar. Phares begat Esrom. Esrom begat Aram. Aram begat Aminadab. Aminadab begat Naasson. Naasson begat Salmon. Salmon begat Booz, whose mother was Rachab. Booz begat Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed begat Jesse. Jesse begat David, the king.
David begat Solomon, whose mother was Uriah’s wife. Solomon begat Roboam. Roboam begat Abia. Abia begat Asaph. Asaph begat Josaphat. Josaphat begat Joram. Joram begat Ozias. Ozias begat Joatham. Joatham begat Achaz. Achaz begat Ezekias. Ezekias begat Manasses. Manasses begat Amos. Amos begat Josias. Josias begat Jechonias, and his brothers, in the days when the exile to Babylon took place.
After the exile to Babylon Jechonias begat Salathiel. Salathiel begat Zorobabel. Zorobabel begat Abioud. Abioud begat Eliakim. Eliakim begat Azor. Azor begat Zadok. Zadok begat Acheim. Acheim begat Elioud. Elioud begat Eleazar. Eleazar begat Matthan. Matthan begat Jacob. Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, who was the mother of Jesus, who is called Christ.
From Abraham to David there were in all fourteen generations. From David to the exile to Babylon there were also fourteen generations. From the exile to Babylon to the coming of Christ there were also fourteen generations.
It might seem to a modern reader that Matthew chose an extraordinary way in which to begin his gospel; and it might seem daunting to present right at the beginning a long list of names to wade through. But to a Jew this was the most natural, and the most interesting, and indeed the most essential way to begin the story of any man’s life.
The Jews were exceedingly interested in genealogies. Matthew calls this the book of the generation (GSN0976 – biblos; GSN1078 – geneseos) of Jesus Christ. That to the Jews was a common phrase; and it means the record of a man’s lineage, with a few explanatory sentences, where such comment was necessary. In the Old Testament we frequently find lists of the generations of famous men (Gen.5:1; Gen.10:1; Gen.11:10; Gen.11:27). When Josephus, the great Jewish historian, wrote his own autobiography, he began it with his own pedigree, which, he tells us, he found in the public records.
The reason for this interest in pedigrees was that the Jews set the greatest possible store on purity of lineage. If in any man there was the slightest admixture of foreign blood, he lost his right to be called a Jew, and a member of the people of God. A priest, for instance, was bound to produce an unbroken record of his pedigree stretching back to Aaron; and, if he married, the woman he married must produce her pedigree for at least five generations back. When Ezra was reorganizing the worship of God, after the people returned from exile, and was setting the priesthood to function again, the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, and the children of Barzillai were debarred from office, and were labelled as polluted because “These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but they were not found there” (Ezr.2:62).
These genealogical records were actually kept by the Sanhedrin. Herod the Great was always despised by the pure-blooded Jews because he was half an Edomite; and we can see the importance that even Herod attached to these genealogies from the fact that he had the official registers destroyed, so that no one could prove a purer pedigree than his own. This may seem to us an uninteresting passage, but to the Jew it would be a most impressive matter that the pedigree of Jesus could be traced back to Abraham.
It is further to be noted that this pedigree is most carefully arranged. It is arranged in three groups of fourteen people each. It is in fact what is technically known as a mnemonic, that is to say a thing so arranged that it is easy to memorize. It is always to be remembered that the gospels were written hundreds of years before there was any such thing as a printed book. Very few people would be able to own actual copies of them; and so, if they wished to possess them, they would be compelled to memorize them. This pedigree, therefore, is arranged in such a way that it is easy to memorize. It is meant to prove that Jesus was the son of David, and is so arranged as to make it easy for people to carry it in their memories.
THE THREE STAGES
Matt. 1:1-17 (continued)
There is something symbolic of the whole of human life in the way in which this pedigree is arranged. It is arranged in three sections, and the three sections are based on three great stages in Jewish history.
The first section takes the history down to David. David was the man who welded Israel into a nation, and made the Jews a power in the world. The first section takes the story down to the rise of Israel’s greatest king.
The second section takes the story down to the exile to Babylon. It is the section which tells of the nation’s shame, and tragedy, and disaster.
The third section takes the story down to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was the person who liberated men from their slavery, who rescued them from their disaster, and in whom the tragedy was turned into triumph.
These three sections stand for three stages in the spiritual history of mankind.
(i) Man was born for greatness. “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him” (Gen.1:27). God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen.1:26). Man was created in the image of God. God’s dream for man was a dream of greatness. Man was designed for fellowship with God. He was created that he might be nothing less than kin to God. As Cicero, the Roman thinker, saw it, “The only difference between man and God is in point of time.” Man was essentially man born to be king.
(ii) Man lost his greatness. Instead of being the servant of God, man became the slave of sin. As G. K. Chesterton said, 6. whatever else is true of man, man is not what he was meant to be.” He used his free-will to defy and to disobey God, rather than to enter into friendship and fellowship with him. Left to himself man had frustrated the design and plan of God in His creation.
(iii) Man can regain his greatness. Even then God did not abandon man to himself and to his own devices. God did not allow man to be destroyed by his own folly. The end of the story was not left to be tragedy. Into this world God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, that he might rescue man from the morass of sin in which he had lost himself, and liberate him from the chains of sin with which he had bound himself so that through him man might regain the fellowship with God which he had lost.
In his genealogy Matthew shows us the royalty of kingship gained; the tragedy of freedom lost; the glory of liberty restored. And that, in the mercy of God, is the story of mankind, and of each individual man.
THE REALIZATION OF MEN’S DREAMS
Matt. 1:1-17 (continued)
This passage stresses two special things about Jesus.
(i) It stresses the fact that he was the son of David. It was, indeed, mainly to prove this that the genealogy was composed. The New Testament stresses this again and again.
Peter states it in the first recorded sermon of the Christian Church (Ac.2:29-36). Paul speaks of Jesus Christ descended from David according to the flesh (Rom.1:3). The writer of the Pastoral Epistles urges men to remember that Jesus Christ, descended from David, was raised from the dead (2Tim.2:8). The writer of the Revelation hears the Risen Christ say: “I am the root and the offspring of David” (Rev.22:16).
Repeatedly Jesus is so addressed in the gospel story. After the healing of the blind and dumb man, the people exclaim, “Can this be the son of David?” (Matt. 12:23). The woman of Tyre and Sidon, who wished for Jesus’ help for her daughter, calls him: “Son of David” (Matt. 15:22). The blind men cry out to Jesus as son of David (Matt. 20:30-31). It is as son of David that the crowds greet Jesus when he enters Jerusalem for the last time (Matt. 21:9,15).
There is something of great significance here. It is clear that it was the crowd, the common people, the ordinary folk, who addressed Jesus as son of David. The Jews were a waiting people. They never forgot, and never could forget, that they were the chosen people of God. Although their history was one long series of disasters, although at this very time they were a subject people, they never forgot their destiny. And it was the dream of the common people that into this world would come a descendant of David who would lead them to the glory which they believed to be theirs by right.
That is to say, Jesus is the answer to the dreams of men. It is true that so often men do not see it so. They see the answer to their dreams in power, in wealth, in material plenty, and in the realization of the ambitions which they cherish. But if ever men’s dreams of peace and loveliness, and greatness and satisfaction, are to be realized, they can find their realization only in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ and the life he offers is the answer to the dreams of men. In the old Joseph story there is a text which goes far beyond the story itself. When Joseph was in prison, Pharaoh’s chief butler and chief baker were prisoners along with him. They had their dreams, and their dreams troubled them, and their bewildered cry is, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them” (Gen.40:8). Because man is man, because he is a child of eternity, man is always haunted by his dream; and the only way to the realization of it lies in Jesus Christ.
(ii) This passage also stresses that Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy. In him the message of the prophets came true. We tend nowadays to make very little of prophecy. We are not really interested, for the most part, in searching for sayings in the Old Testament which are fulfilled in the New Testament. But prophecy does contain this great and eternal truth, that in this universe there is purpose and design and that God is meaning and willing certain things to happen.
- H. Withers quotes a saying from Gerald Healy’s play, The Black Stranger. The scene is in Ireland, in the terrible days of famine in the mid-nineteenth century. For want of something better to do, and for lack of some other solution, the government had set men to digging roads to no purpose and to no destination. Michael finds out about this and comes home one day, and says in poignant wonder to his father, “They’re makin’ roads that lead to nowhere.”
If we believe in prophecy that is what we can never say. History can never be a road that leads to nowhere. We may not use prophecy in the same way as our fathers did, but at the back of the fact of prophecy lies the eternal fact that life and the world are not on the way to nowhere, but on the way to the goal of God.
NOT THE RIGHTEOUS, BUT SINNERS
Matt. 1:1-17 (continued)
By far the most amazing thing about this pedigree is the names of the women who appear in it.
It is not normal to find the names of women in Jewish pedigrees at all. The woman had no legal rights; she was regarded, not as a person, but as a thing. She was merely the possession of her father or of her husband, and in his disposal to do with as he liked. In the regular form of morning prayer the Jew thanked God that he had not made him a Gentile, a slave, or a woman. The very existence of these names in any pedigree at all is a most surprising and extraordinary phenomenon.
But when we look at who these women were, and at what they did, the matter becomes even more amazing. Rachab, or as the Old Testament calls her, Rahab, was a harlot of Jericho (Josh.2:1-7). Ruth was not even a Jewess; she was a Moabitess (Ru.1:4), and does not the law itself lay it down, “No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none belonging to them shall enter the assembly of the Lord for ever”(Deut.23:3)? Ruth belonged to an alien and a hated people. Tamar was a deliberate seducer and an adulteress (Gen.38). Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, was the woman whom David seduced from Uriah, her husband, with an unforgivable cruelty (2Sam.11-12). If Matthew had ransacked the pages of the Old Testament for improbable candidates he could not have discovered four more incredible ancestors for Jesus Christ. But, surely, there is something very lovely in this. Here, at the very beginning, Matthew shows us in symbol the essence of the gospel of God in Jesus Christ, for here he shows us the barriers going down.
(i) The barrier between Jew and Gentile is down. Rahab, the woman of Jericho, and Ruth, the woman of Moab, find their place within the pedigree of Jesus Christ. Already the great truth is there that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek. Here, at the very beginning, there is the universalism of the gospel and of the love of God.
(ii) The barriers between male and female are down. In no ordinary pedigree would the name of any woman be found; but such names are found in Jesus’ pedigree. The old contempt is gone; and men and women stand equally dear to God, and equally important to his purposes.
(iii) The barrier between saint and sinner is down. Somehow God can use for his purposes, and fit into his scheme of things, those who have sinned greatly. “I came” said Jesus, “not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13).
Here at the very beginning of the gospel we are given a hint of the all-embracing width of the love of God. God can find his servants amongst those from whom the respectable orthodox would shudder away in horror.
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