Christmas Eve Service
Years ago I heard the testimony of a Pastor that in part told of his first experience in Bible reading. He secured a New Testament and determined he would read through the whole of it in pursuit of learning the truth about Jesus. As he began at Matthew Chapter One and began reading that “Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac Begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren was about to give up on the whole project as he didn’t have a clue what the word begat meant and didn’t have a clue as to who all these people were that were doing all of this begatting. Thankfully he persevered until he came to verse 18 and read, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise.” Finally he understood what was being said and continued to read and the Lord was pleased to bring him to know Christ through the reading of his word.
While at the time I enjoyed this testimony and had my own experience with massive confusion at the Biblical begats in reading Genesis as a youth, as an older Christian I find it unfortunate that we can and at find times find it necessary to race through the Biblical genealogies in order to get to the good stuff. For the Biblical writers this was not just filler or technical information that one can easily pass over for more fruitful fields of Biblical inquiry. The Biblical genealogies themselves are stories designed to communicate vital information to the informed reader and not just a list of names of a lot of dead guys.
key to understanding a genealogical record is not to get lost in the names but to mark the distinguishing features in the listing of the names. For an example the genealogy found in Genesis 5 has a regular pattern that is only interrupted by the statement that “Enoch walked with God.” This surprising statement being preceded by the statement that Adam in Eden had heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8) and followed by the statement that righteous Noah (who concludes the genealogy of chapter 5) is said to also have “walked with God” seems to indicate the genealogy of chapter 5 is in in’s entirety a record of the righteous who walked with God and kept true religion alive in the time between the fall and the flood.
Matthew’s genealogy is characterized by a number of comments that interrupt the sequence of names and give clear indication of the story Matthew is telling.
First there is the strange way the genealogy is structured. It is in three groups of fourteen names. 9that just the way the history was? Well actually not The links are not complete. Some generations are skipped. Now this is typical of genealogies to do this. Sometimes the father of someone is actually the grandfather. But Matthew has a point to make to his readers and his readers would have been able to detect his reasons because of a well known device known as gematria. It is the practice of giving numerical value to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Because this was so well known a practice. Since almost everyone in Hebrew society would have been aware of the numerical value of their names and the names of other people in their family, Matthew was well aware that to utilize the number 14 would have a definite meaning to his readers. The name of David is comprised of three consonants. Daleth, vav and daleth again. Daleth is the fourth letter in the Hebrew alphabet, vav is the 6th. So the name David in gematria is 4 plus 6 plus 4 equals 14. This genealogy is to be considered as David’s genealogy.
Secondly in addition to the structure of the genealogy centered in 3 sections of 14 names pointing to David, the mention of David’s name in the Genealogy has another peculiar addition given to it. Do you see it in verse 6, “and Jesse the father of David, the King. No other name in this Genealogy has a title. We don’t have Abraham the patriarch or Abraham the friend of God. You don’t have Solomon the King or Rehoboam the King even though those men were Kings in Israel. Only David is given his title, David the King until Jesus, who is called Christ.
THE KING AND HIS
So the Structure points us to David, the names also to David and to Jesus but it is not David the Shepherd, or David the Warrior, but David the King who by his title is connected to Jesus, called the Christ. So when you consider David the King being the chief personage pointing to Jesus called the Christ, is there a story here to be told? Well yes. You have fourteen generations till what? Till David’s ascension to the throne as King of Israel. The second fourteen are basically the Kings of Judah, the line of Kingly succession that came from David at the end of which is what? The time of the Deportation to Babylon. Now what was the significance of the deportation to Babylon with respect to the Davidic throne? It was the time when the line of Davidic Kings came to an end. So fourteen generations to the rise of the Davidic King, Fourteen generations of the reign of the The Davidic King, then fourteen generations to Jesus the Christ and the restoration of the Davidic Kingship.
This is clearly going to be Matthew’s story about Jesus. More than all the other gospel writers Matthew has Jesus being called the Son of David. Usually by others and usually by others in great need. The blind and needy call upon him as Jesus the Son of David. It is Matthew’s Story that it is Jesus who is the promised King. The wise men come to Jerusalem and say, “Where is he who is born King of the Jews. He is born King of the Jews and he dies King of the Jews in chapter 27:37, “And over his head they put the charge against him which read, “this is Jesus, King of the Jews.”
Jesus’ ministry is the proclamation that the Kingdom of God is at hand and he teaches about the kingdom, does kingdom miracles, tells Kingdom parables, everything in Matthew displays the fulfillment of the promises of the anointed King, the Davidic King in the person of Jesus the King.
But there is more. Not only does the genealogy have this unusual structure of 14 generation, not only does it give title to but two of the names, David and Jesus, but is also contains the names of 4 women. This is most strange as in the world of the bible you did not have the name of women ordinarily placed in a genealogical record. Yet here we find the names of at least 4. Tamar in verse 3, Rahab and Ruth in verse 5 and finally Bathsheba although she is called not by her name but by the fact that she had been the wife of Uriah.
Why would Matthew include these woman? Does he feel guilty that he is telling the story from Joseph’s perspective and not Mary’s and figure he could make it up to the female readers by including these four? Why not more then? Why not Sarah and Rebekah and Rachel and Leah, they were even more well known than were Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba.
I think you need to remember that this genealogy is meant to tell the story Matthew will further unpack in his gospel record. One thing it does seem that is very important to Matthew. It is that while Jesus is clearly the Jewish Messiah, the King of the Jews, yet his role is much greater than just the one nation of Israel. He begins the genealogy giving preeminence to David but no sooner does he say “the son of David” that he says, “the son of Abraham.” The reference to son of Abraham the seed of Abraham is a reference to the promise of God that Israel would be a blessing to the nations. The gospel ends with the way that blessing upon the nations would be fulfilled, Chapter 28, “Make disciples of all nations.”
If Matthew wanted to put into the genealogy the thought that Jesus would not only be the King of Israel but the King who would ultimately rule the nations, there could be no achieving this through the men in the genealogy. They all had to be Jewish. Sons of Abraham. But they could marry Gentiles, bear children through Gentiles. We know Ruth was a Moabite woman and Rahab was a Canaanite. Bathsheba was married to Uriah the Hittite so in all likelihood she too was a Hittite. The only difficulty is establishing the gentile ancestry of Tamar which while impossible to do this with certainty is yet possible though I have no desire to present the complicated arguments here.
In short though the inclusion of the four women point us to the fact that this Davidic King who will ascend to the throne of David is not just a Jewish King but as Isaiah says , “My salvation to the ends of the earth.”
THE DISTRESSED, THE DEBTORS, THE BITTER IN SOUL
One more thing may well be indicated. The fact that Bathsheba’s name is not even mentioned. She is the wife of Uriah could well be to stir the memory of the reader to the frequent mention of David’s sin in the accounts of the Kings of Judah. “David did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life except in the matter of Uriah.” I Kings 15:5
The matter of Uriah was a matter of a sin of very deep dye. So one might think of the life of Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, a woman given over to sex for hire, likely associated with the pagan cult in the temples of her Canaanite God’s. Tamar dressed as a cult prostitute in order to lure her father in law into an illicit liaison in order to raise up an heir to her dead husband. Everyone but Ruth seemed to be associated with grave acts of sin and idolatry. Of course as a Moabite woman one could only guess what might have been in her past.
My point to you is that the Davidic King who comes to spread his saving blessings unto all the nations of the earth is the savior of sinners. Verse 21, his name shall be called Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins. It was to David that all the worst of Israel resorted and found refuge and welcome in him. 1 Samuel 22:2, And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him, and he became commander over them.”
Who would have thought, the gospel story, the story of Christmas all here in a genealogy. Blessed be God for such a King, the King of the nations, the King of mercy and of Grace, the King who welcomes the poor and the needy, the sick and distressed, who provides for them relief and grants them a full welcome into his Kingdom of grace.
May you never read the Christmas Story in Matthew in the same way again. Running through the names until you get to, “the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise.” Think through the names, the structure, the title, the women and bless God for this one born King of the Jews, King of the nations, and truly let us come and adore him, come let us adore him, come let us adore him Christ the Lord.