What's in a name? Why does Matthew include this list? What does he want us to know and how does it relate to the rest of his gospel?
Matthew was a tax collector. Someone who would have to be able to record things and that must be good with details.
He was also Jewish.
He walked with Jesus, physically.
The introduction to his account of the good news regarding the anointed one will most likely encompass those elements: the physical life of Jesus, the Jewish faith, Law and Prophets, and specific details.
Verse 1 definitely demonstrated Matthew’s understanding of the Law and Prophets regarding the Messiah. Verses 2-17 fill in some of the other details and, though this looks like a simple genealogy, continue to point to more than just the physical heritage of Jesus.
I spent the past few weeks reflecting on the first 18 verses of chapter 1. I also read at least a dozen commentaries by minds that are much greater than mine. The more time I spend here, the more I am amazed at depth of this list.
I know what you are thinking… “It’s just a list of names!”. Is it? Or is it telling a much grander story than just the earthly lineage of the Messiah? This morning I want to share some of the nuggets from these verses. Some you will see as threads that weave through the narrative that we will cover in the months ahead. Others are just nerdy and fun. But all of them combined demonstrate the awesomeness of God’s Word.
One of the surprising things in this genealogy (and there are a few!) is that it is called the genealogy of Jesus. Normally, a genealogy begins with the most important person and goes on from there. You name the list after the person responsible for the rest. In that sense, it would have been logical to call this the genealogy of Abraham, since the list starts there and is for a Jewish audience.
However, if the list is supposed to be named after the one who is responsible and the most important person, then it is well appropriate for this to be called the genealogy of Jesus.
Verses 1-17 are a chiasm or chiasmus. We talked about this in some of our prophet messages. Since the printing press had not been invented yet, the primary method of learning was to listen. Chiasmus is a good tool to help readers/listeners retain certain facts - and it is still used in our educational systems today.
A chiasm is when someone presents a list and then re-presents that list a second time in reverse or mirrored order. A-B-C … C-B-A
Verse 1 says : “The beginning of Jesus -> son of David -> son of Abraham. The genealogy that follows goes in the opposite direction. It starts with Abraham [vs 2] -> continues to David [vs 6] -> and ends with Jesus [vs 16].
Matthew is good at dividing things into sections. His entire gospel is broken into sections as we will learn in future messages. In today’s passage Matthew created 3 sections to the list of names:
Abraham to David
David to Exile
Exile to Messiah
Matthew gives us the key to this in verse 17:
Matthew 1:17 CSB
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations; and from David until the exile to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the exile to Babylon until the Messiah, fourteen generations.
Three sections of fourteen. Nice and clean.
One challenge with this list is that if you multiply 14x3 you come up with 42. If you count the number of names in the list, you have 41 names. Many scholars have made suggestions as to how this might work. Knowing that Matthew was a details person, it is not likely that he miscounted ;)
However, some scholars have suggested that the list be read counting David twice, since David is mentioned twice in verse 17, and that will give you 14 generations in each.
Another challenge is that some names are missing. ⚡Between Uzziah [Ahaziah/Azariah] and Jotham we are missing some famous leaders of Judah!
Joash [good king]
Amaziah [good king]
Azariah [good king]
There are 3 kings and about 100 years of history that are omitted. Apparently, the goal of Matthew was NOT to make a complete list of descendants, but one that would be both easy to remember and reliable for proving the lineage of Jesus. The fact that these 4 names are omitted in the middle of the second send of 14 and the exact middle of the entire list lends to that logic.
⚡ We are also missing Jehoiakim in verse 12. Jechoniah was the grandfather of Shealtiel. I the same verse, Pedaiah is missing. Zerrubabel was Shealtiel’s grandson.
When you get to the last group of 14, from exile to the Messiah, it is possible that more names are omitted there. Luke records more than 14 and with the date of the Babylonian exile around 600 BC, there are likely more than 14 generations.
So, why have a genealogy if it is not complete? Perhaps because most readers could fill in the blanks. Perhaps because his goal was to help people remember. This is another reason I like the idea of this being the beginning or genesis of the Messiah, and not “the genealogy”.
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible Chapter 1
Such artificial aids to memory were familiar to the Jews, and much larger gaps than those here are found in some of the Old Testament genealogies. In Ezr 7:1–5 no fewer than six generations of the priesthood are omitted, as will appear by comparing it with 1 Ch 6:3–15.
This should in no way shake our faith and confidence in the Word of God. Matthew did not contradict any of the Word of God, but chose to be selective for a specific reason. We actually see this in EACH of the gospel accounts, where each author had unique stories and perspectives as well as common stories.
In gospel’s account the apparent goal was to make the details more memorable for a group that would be listening to it.
The focus of the list of names is the kingdom or nation of Israel. ⚡ The 3 sections can also be defined as:
before the monarchy
during the monarchy
after the fall of the monarchy to Babylon
The focus is clearly on the kingdom and the throne of David. The words “king” [22 times] and “kingdom” [55 times] will appear 77 times in the gospel of Matthew in 72 verses. Roughly 1 out of every 15 verses refers to a king or kingdom.
77 Matthew [1/15]
32 Mark [1/23]
57 Luke [1/22]
21 John [1/55]
Why 14? I guess that is one of the questions. It might be tempting to look at this list as a list of 6 groups of 7 and connect it to Genesis and the Messiah ushering in the 7th day of rest. However, that really does not work. If for no other reason than the reality that generations are missing and to make this claim of the 7th/7 would be to ignore the truth of the generations and to force a meaning that is not there.
Most likely it was intended as a way of remembering using a tool called gematria.
In gematria, each Hebrew letter is represented by a number (for example, aleph = 1, bet = 2, etc.). One can then calculate the numerical value of a word by adding together the values of each letter in it.
This is very likely what Matthew is doing in our passage, as a way to help people remember.
The author of Matt 1:17 probably used [gematria] to make connections between the genealogy of Jesus, the “Son of David” and David’s name in Hebrew (D + V + D = 4 + 6 + 4 = 14). Thus, Jesus’ genealogy is divided into three sets of fourteen generations, reflecting the importance of David’s number.
The name David equals 14 and there are 14 generations from Abraham to David, from David to the exile and from the exile to the Son of David. How easy is that to remember? Coolness.
Though there are 3 groups of 14, there is another way that Matthew chose to break up this list. If you look at the list carefully, you notice something in verses 2 and 11. ⚡
What do YOU see in these verses?
Matthew 1:2 CSB
2 Abraham fathered Isaac,
Isaac fathered Jacob,
Jacob fathered Judah and his brothers,
Matthew 1:11 CSB
11 and Josiah fathered Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
In these two verses we have the phrase, “and his brothers”. What is that all about? Many of the others had brothers. David had six of them, Solomon had a bunch, and Judah had eleven. ⚡
It was the generation of Judah and his brothers that Israel was in Egypt.
It was during the time of Jeconiah and his brothers that the Jews were in Babylon.
WHY would he throw that phrase in there? Why draw attention to Egypt & Babylon, even in such a subtle way?
Let’s fast-forward a little bit to the events that Matthew is going to mention in his account of the life of Jesus. After the wise men visit:
Matthew 2:13–15 CSB
13 After they were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. 15 He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called my Son.
The connection to Egypt is a fulfillment of prophecy. Of course, there are other ways that the image of Egypt will be used in the gospel accounts to demonstrate the work of the Messiah.
So what about Babylon? ⚡
Matthew 2:16–18 CSB
16 Then Herod, when he realized that he had been outwitted by the wise men, flew into a rage. He gave orders to massacre all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then what was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 18 A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.
Ramah was the staging grounds for the deportation into Babylon. While Jeremiah was prophesying about the Babylonian exile, Matthew connects that with the act of Herod.
I do not want to delve into these two stories much right now, but simply wanted you to see the amazing intentionality of this list! I have a feeling I could spend months more studying it and still not get all the connections.
There are a lot of surprises in this list; at least I think so.
There are both good kings and bad kings. You have the BEST of the kings (David, Solomon and Hezekiah) and you have the worst of the kings (Ahaz, Manasseh [the worst])
Though there are at least 15 kings of Judah listed, only one of them is given the title, “King” - David.
CSB Study Bible: Notes Chapter 1
Several kings are named also, but only David is explicitly given the title King. This highlights that the Son of David (Jesus) will likewise be a kingly figure.
The royal lineage of Jesus is traced through Joseph.
Do you notice anything unique about this verse?
Matthew 1:16 CSB
16 and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Messiah.
Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. In verse 16 it says, Joseph who was the husband of Mary, who (feminine) gave birth to Jesus. You can also notice that the word “fathered” or “father of” is not listed with Joseph. Matthew will stress this point even more in the next section of the divine genealogy of Jesus.
Q: If Joseph was not the biological father, was Jesus really from the line of David and Abraham? ABSOLUTELY!
Joseph would have been considered the legal guardian, or father of Jesus much like an adoption. There is not a Hebrew word that directly correlates with adoption. When Moses was “adopted” by Pharaoh’s daughter, the accounts says that Moses “became her son.” Obed became the son of Naomi - there was no adoption as we call it.
This understanding of a patriarchal society helps us to understand why Jesus was considered a descendant of Abraham and David through Joseph - though Jesus was not physically the father.
Judah - the 4th son. There was a blessing pronounced upon hum by his father, Jacob/Israel:
Genesis 49:10 CSB
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until he whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to him.
Though many hoped David would be that man, he was not. This was a prophecy of the one God would send whose kingdom will not end - the Messiah.
There are 5 women mentioned. 4 of them are in the genealogy and are NOT Jews.
CSB Study Bible: Notes Chapter 1
Matthew mentioned four women in his genealogy, all of them Gentiles. Tamar was a Canaanite. Rahab was from Jericho. Ruth was a Moabitess. Uriah’s wife Bathsheba was probably a Hittite. The mention of these women signals God’s intention to include Gentiles and women in his redemptive plan.
THEN we read that this chosen one comes through Judah’s relationship with Tamar. Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law. The story looks like like:
Judah got Tamar ( a Canaanite) as a wife for his son, Er. THIS was bad. Er was so wicked, God put him to death! (Gen 38:7). Er’s brother, Onan was to marry Tamar and have a child so that the line of Er could continue. But, Onan is evil, and God has him put to death (Gen 38:10). Tamar then disguises herself as a prostitute for a pagan shrine - and Judah hires her - another detestable act! She has twins, and Perez was technically the second son.
WHAT A MESS! This is nothing at all like God would have intended and yet THIS is the in the genealogy of the kings of Israel and the Messiah?
Speaking of prostitutes, Rahab is a central figure in the Joshua story! She was a prostitute that his two spies and sent them back to Joshua a different way. She is commended as a woman of faith in the New Testament books of Hebrews and James. Apparently, when Jericho was destroyed, she matriculated into the nation Israel:
Joshua 6:25 CSB
25 However, Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, her father’s family, and all who belonged to her, because she hid the messengers Joshua had sent to spy on Jericho, and she still lives in Israel today.
To top it all off, she got married and was the great-grandmother of King David! [It might be great-great-great as The time from Jericho [circa 1400 BC] to David [1040 BC] was 360 years which is most likely more than 3 generations]
She was also the mother-in-law to Ruth, the Moabite that came back with Naomi after losing their husbands. Boaz acts as a kinsman-redeemer and marries Ruth to provide a child for Naomi. This is the second thread of a kinsman-redeemer we have in this list. BOTH of them are Jewish men who are to have a child with non-Jewish women. Both of them point to a Messiah who is not of the same physical lineage who will redeem the inheritance of a people.
It is the child that Boaz and Ruth have, which was given to Naomi to redeem her inheritance, that Naomi named Obed who was the father of Jesse the father of David.
Then there is the entire Bathsheba story! This is the Genesis temptation all over again. David saw, desired and took what God told him not to, and it ended in death - the death of the Uriah as well as the first child born to them. It was their second child, Solomon that God would bless and who is in the lineage.
Not only was it uncommon to name women in a genealogy during Matthew’s time, the ones that he does mention are not all flattering to the list. If you are looking at the pedigree of a king, these are the names you might want to omit! However, Matthew added them, intentionally. These women represent many things, but especially the need for the saviour and the inclusion of the non-Jews in the blessing of the Messiah.
Zooming back out at the entire list, we can certainly come to the conclusion that it was designed to point us to some specific conclusions. It starts with the Patriarch and ends with the Messiah. It start with the one who was promised to be a great nation and to bless the other nations and it ends with the one who IS the blessing to the nations!
It is obvious from this list that Matthew has come to the conclusion that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham and of Genesis 3:15. He wants his readers to make that connection up front so they can track with the logic of the rest of the writings.
Beginning with Genesis 3:15, God promised a Redeemer; and Jesus Christ fulfilled that promise. Fulfilled is one of the key words in the Gospel of Matthew, used about fifteen times.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 11). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
ask: So what do you think? Is there more there than you thought? Does it make you want to dig in a little deeper? If nothing else, there should be some threads that you will see woven into the gospel account.
There are a lot of things we can take away from this list. Let me leave you with a few: