What’s With All The Names? Matthew’s Genealogy

One of the difficulties in reading the Bible through is wading through all the names in genealogies – strange names, unpronounceable names.  While they may be stumbling blocks to us, they were vitally important to the Old Testament Jew.  Since inclusion in the nation was mainly by parentage, although there were converts from other nations, knowing your family tree was essential.  There were even cases where men were excluded from the priesthood because they couldn’t prove their lineage, Nehemiah 7:61-65.

In the case of Matthew’s genealogy, it’s important because it tells us that the story of Jesus doesn’t begin, “Once upon a time,….”  It’s rooted solidly in Jewish history, in the Old Testament.  However, Matthew’s purpose isn’t just to show us that Jesus is Jewish.  He connects Jesus immediately to two great Old Testament covenants: the Davidic and the Abrahamic.  Both covenants have national and global significance.  Jesus’ life and death has national and global significance.

Part of that significance, perhaps all of it, lies in another covenant essential to the founding of the nation of Israel: the Mosaic.  Moses wasn’t an ancestor of Jesus, so obviously isn’t included in the genealogy.  Nevertheless, there is a connection, not physically, but spiritually.  Israel was given the Law as a standard of righteous living, with blessings or judgment promised as a result either of obedience or rebellion.

The Old Testament is replete with stories of Israel’s rebellion against that standard, and the consequent judgments which befell her.  Israel was never able to attain to the righteousness required by the Mosaic Law.  Though that Law was never given to Gentiles – there was no “dispensation of law” for mankind –  yet, according to Paul in Romans 2:1-16, Gentiles, and that includes you and me, for the most part (there may be some Jewish folks who read this blog), Gentiles understand that there are things which are right and things which are wrong.  These may not agree with the Bible’s definition of “right” and “wrong,” but there is still that understanding.  The OT Jew never lived up to the Law, and we never live up even to our own imperfect understanding of right and wrong.  We can never attain the righteousness God requires if we are ever going to stand in His presence uncondemned.  The Lord Jesus came to procure and provide that righteousness.  So we see

Importance of the genealogy.

1.  It established Jesus as a descendant of Abraham.  This was important in that only an Israelite could be king over the nation, Deuteronomy 17:15.

2.  It established Jesus as a descendant of David.  Only a descendant of David could sit on his throne.  I know this is much debated today, with “the kingdom” being considered only as some sort of a “spiritual” entity which has nothing to do with the nation of Israel, or this world, but the Old Testament clearly prophesies something which requires more than an invisible reign of the Son of David.  Jeremiah 23:5, 6 says, “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute righteousness and judgment in the earth.  In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely.  Now this is the name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”

Interesting things in the genealogy.

The genealogy is obviously incomplete.  It’s designed to show connection, not chronology. Several names are left out, and the ones included are arranged in three sections of 14.  Perhaps Matthew did this to make it easier to remember these 42 names.  Perhaps there is also a connection with David’s name.  In Hebrew, the numeric value of the letters in his name is “14”.

1.  Each segment ends with a decisive event: the rise of the monarchy, the Captivity, the coming of the Messiah.

2.  Each segment also involves a difference covenant.  The first segment includes the Abrahamic Covenant, as the promised line develops through Isaac [not Ishmael, who was rejected], then Jacob [not Esau, who was also rejected], then Judah, and down to the Lord Jesus.  The second segment has to do with the Davidic Covenant, a covenant in which the Lord promised David that he would always have a son on the throne.  That Christ Himself ultimately fulfills this is without doubt.  The question is, how and when?  The third segment introduces the New Covenant.  Even though it’s commonly understood that the New Covenant concerns the Church, we only come under its blessing because of and through the Lord Jesus.  It was actually and originally made on behalf of the nation of Israel, Jeremiah 31:31-34, 32:36-44; Ezekiel 34:20-31, 36:16-38, among others.

3.  Each segment has something to do with the Davidic kingdom.  The first segment tells of its establishment.  The second refers to its dissolution.  The third has to do with its re-establishment.

4.  The genealogy is a microcosm of grace.  Consider the names listed in it.

a.  Some were indeed famous.  Who could ask for more illustrious ancestors than Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon?

b.  On the other hand, some were forgotten.  Who knows anything about Abiud, Eliakim, or Azor, or some of the others listed in these verses?  To a church which had forgotten its roots, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”

For most of us, any memory of us will die with us, except maybe for family or a few friends, and when they die, so will the memory.  But those whom the world considers worthy to be forgotten, God has remembered in His grace.

c.  Some were foul.  Consider Manasseh, for example.  Though son to a godly father, he himself was so wicked that he single-handedly brought on the judgments which later happened to Judah, 2 Kings 21:1-17.  Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrated His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that God saved you because you were so wonderful, or that you had done something that impressed Him, or obligated Him.  What is wonderful about it is that God saved you, and me!

d.   Some were feminine.  Women were seldom included in genealogies.  What is even more amazing in this genealogy are the women who were included in it!  One had been a harlot; one had played the harlot.  Two were outsiders, members of races under God’s judgment (aren’t we all?)  One brought with her the scandal of adultery and murder.  One was placed in a situation where she was, and is, by many, considered to be an adulteress.  Yet each was given her own place of responsibility, and privilege, in producing a link in the chain that led from Abraham to Jesus.

In spite of the disdain many feel for the Biblical role of women, it isn’t Christianity that burned a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre.  It’s not Christianity that considered women as mere chattel, or that requires her to walk several paces behind her husband, or reduces her to a life of drudgery and misery.  It is Christianity that commands husbands to love their wives as themselves, or, even more, to love them as Christ loves us, willingly, sacrificially and for their benefit.

There is one final thing, and perhaps this is the most important.

e.  Some were forgiven.  Only some, not all.  Some people are very interested in their ancestors.  Someone was kind enough to trace my own family back to the Old Country.  There were five families he was tracing and his and my families intersected several generations back.  My younger daughter was salutatorian for her class at the Christian school she attended.  After the graduation, the wife of the pastor of a Baptist church in the area came up to me and asked if I were the speaker’s father.  I was.  It turned out this lady and I were (very) distant cousins.  I looked in my genealogy, and, sure enough, there was her family.  I guess it is a small world, after all. 

Lincoln is quoted as saying that people who are always talking about their ancestors are like potatoes.  The only good thing about them is underground.  That’s a little cold, but it is more important about what kind of descendant my ancestors have than about what kind of ancestors their descendant has.

The thing is, and these people in the genealogy would have been looking forward, not backward, physical relationship to Jesus means nothing, as wonderful as that might have been.  Our Lord Himself taught this in Mark 3:31-35.  His ministry was still enjoying its early enormous popularity, and His family thought He was nuts, to put it bluntly.  They came to Him to try to talk to Him, and when Jesus was told they wanted to talk to Him, He said, “‘Who is My mother, or my brothers?’  And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and My mother!'”

Now, Jesus wasn’t disavowing His mother and family.  One of the last things He did on the Cross was to provide for His mother, John 19:25-27.  He was simply saying that physical relationship isn’t what gets it done spiritually.  He mentioned “the will of God,” and in John 6:40, He said, “…this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life;….”  Then, lest someone object, “How can we see Him?  He’s not here!?” He said to Thomas after the Resurrection and Thomas’ doubts on the subject, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” John 20:29.

There is only one religion (my, how I dislike that word!) in the world that has a Cross, and that Cross is empty.  Many deny the Resurrection, but those coming to the tomb that Sunday morning found it to be empty, as well.

Several of my posts have mentioned Easter, and that really has been unintentional on my part.  Even when I started this post 1700+ words ago, I wasn’t thinking about it.  But it’s a week from this coming Sunday – a reminder that Someone has broken the chains of sin, judgment and death that hold us all, apart from faith in Him.  That Someone has come and made a way of access into the presence of a holy, righteous and just God, a God Who must and will punish sin.  That Someone has come and taken that punishment on behalf of those who believe in Him, not an academic or formal or “religious” faith, but an absolute reliance on Who He was and what He did for sinners, to the point that if He failed, and He cannot! there is no other way of salvation, no other hope for you or me.

There is a TV program for children called “The Neverending Story.”  At least, I think it’s for children.  There really is a “neverending” story.  Matthew and Luke and John give us it’s beginning.

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