In the previous session, we discovered that Matthew clarifies Jesus as the Messiah. This meant that Jesus was the completion of all creation. All of history and everything happening now and everything that will be done in the future forever finds its consummation in the bodily life of Jesus Christ (particularly as fulfilled in the crucifixion and resurrection). Jesus is the seventh day. He is our rest. He is the completion of creation. As we are completed in Jesus Christ, we are made perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect. Matthew’s message to the Jews in the genealogy account was that they were not yet complete. Their fulfillment could only be found in Jesus, their Messiah.
Today we will observe verses 2 through the first half of verse 6. This is the first third of Matthew’s genealogy and the first 14 generations that Matthew lists. Through the genealogy, Matthew covers the three major portions of recorded Old Testament history: inception, kings, and exile. The first third represents the inception (though Matthew does not begin with Adam as Luke does).
Abraham fathered Isaac,
Isaac fathered Jacob,
Jacob fathered Judah and his brothers,
Judah fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar,
Perez fathered Hezron,
Hezron fathered Aram,
Aram fathered Amminadab,
Amminadab fathered Nahshon,
Nahshon fathered Salmon,
Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab,
Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth,
Obed fathered Jesse,
and Jesse fathered King David.
Abraham and Isaac
In the previous session we discussed God’s promise to Abraham, so we don’t really need to go over those details again. In Matthew’s genealogy, Matthew works through the lineage coming from Abraham in a very particular way and being very specific about the names he is mentioning. We remember that Matthew was careful to include only a certain number of generations. He was also careful to include the names of particular people while excluding some others. As we walk through the genealogy, we want to know why Matthew included some names and excluded others while striving to accomplish his apologetic purpose.
Matthew begins the genealogy with Abraham and Abraham’s son, Isaac. If you don’t know the story of Abraham and Isaac, I will summarize it for you:
- Abraham is promised that he will be the father of many nations and that all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through his descendants (Gen. 12:3).
- Abraham is promised, though his wife is baron, that he will have a son from his own body who will be his heir (Gen. 15:4).
- After waiting, Abraham’s wife convinced him to lay with another woman so that he could produce an heir for himself. He named his illegitimate son Ishmael (Gen. 16).
- God still promises Abraham a legitimate son who will be his rightful heir and the heir of the promise (Gen. 18).
- The son of promise, Isaac, is born (Gen. 21:1-8).
- In Genesis 22, God commands Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice:
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he answered.
“Take your son,” He said, “your only son Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
So Abraham got up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took with him two of his young men and his son Isaac. He split wood for a burnt offering and set out to go to the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there to worship; then we’ll come back to you.” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac. In his hand he took the fire and the sacrificial knife, and the two of them walked on together.
Then Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and said, “My father.”
And he replied, “Here I am, my son.”
Isaac said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Abraham answered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Then the two of them walked on together.
When they arrived at the place that God had told him about, Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood. He bound his son Isaac and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.
But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”
He replied, “Here I am.”
Then He said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from Me.” Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son. And Abraham named that place The Lord Will Provide, so today it is said: “It will be provided on the Lord’s mountain” (Genesis 22:1-14).
Since this is not our primary text, I might point out just a couple of details. First, the purpose of sacrifice was the covering of sin (see Genesis 3:21). Abraham was a sinful man, as exemplified in his sin with Hagar and in lying about his wife two chapters earlier. So, the payment for sin was life. That is the price. Scripture tells us that the wage of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
Abraham took his son to the makeshift alter understanding that God would provide the sacrifice (Gen. 22:8). God did indeed provide a scapegoat (Gen. 22:13). This is a pictorial prophecy concerning the Messiah. People were unable to provide a sufficient sacrifice to atone for sin. A sacrifice would need to be made on their behalf. There would need to be a perfect scapegoat. The latter half of Romans 6:23 would continue, “but the gift of God is eternal life.”
Jacob and Judah
Isaac was the father of Jacob (who was Israel) and Jacob’s fourth oldest son was Judah. Jacob sinned against God, yet was the child of promise in his generation. He would become the father of the twelve tribes explicitly. We see modeled in his life a pattern of having to be humbled by God. The same was true for Judah, who unknowingly slept with his late son’s wife, a Canaanite woman named Tamar (Gen. 38). This detail is important because Matthew includes Tamar’s name in the genealogy. Not all of the men are listed with their wives (or sexual partners). Tamar is the first. Matthew went out of his way to list her by name while writing to his fellow Jews.
The patriarchs were revealed to have been filled with much sin. If they could not be righteous, then there was need for a Messiah because if not even the patriarchs could be righteous, how did Jews during Matthew’s time hope to earn their righteousness before God? Religion could not accomplish that. It seems as though Matthew (a filthy tax collector by trade) was intentionally pointing out the dirty details of the spiritual heroes of the Jews, so that he could emphasize, with every letter, the desperate need for a Messiah and, through this genealogy, identify Jesus of Nazareth as that Messiah.
Rahab and Ruth
Tamar was a Canaanite woman and tricked her father-in-law. Matthew also went out of his way to include two other women: Rahab and Ruth. Rahab was a Canaanite woman as well. She was a prostitute who married into the Israelite community (Ruth 4:20-21, 1 Chronicles 2:10-11). Ruth was a Moabite woman (Ruth 1:4). David’s ancestry is built through both Israelites and foreigners. There was no such thing as a pure bloodline. The kingly line was produced using both Jews and Gentiles. The throne would be over both Jews and Gentiles. God would accomplish His purpose by redeeming (as Boaz did with Ruth, Ruth 4) His bride and the land for Himself. It could not be the religious act of people.
The Messiah would belong to David as David belonged to Abraham. This genealogy is traced through Joseph’s line (v. 16). Joseph was Jesus’ adoptive father. Mary was also in David’s line. Some commentators even claim that this gospel is traced explicitly through Mary’s line because a different name was given to Joseph’s (her husband) father in Luke 3:23. Which would, in Matthew’s genealogy, make Joseph the name of Mary’s father as well. But, this would be a very un-Jewish way to present the genealogy according to Matthew. We remember that Matthew’s purpose is not to present a strict chronology. It is unclear, according to Scripture, who Mary’s father was. It is clear that when they returned to the city of their fathers for the census of the time, they returned to the city of Joseph’s father, the city of David (Luke 2:4). So, it is reinforced that both Gospels are giving an account of Jesus’ lineage explicitly through Joseph.
In Romans 1:3, we read that Paul’s understanding (which was itself Jewish) was that Jesus needed to be born a descendant of David according to the flesh. This could mean one of two things. First, as some suggest, it could mean that Jesus needed to be a biological descendant of David. Second, it could mean that in His incarnation Jesus simply needed to be in the family line of King David. So, we observe context. We use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Was it necessary that the Messiah be a biological descendant of David? We will observe 2 Samuel 7:12-16 again, in more depth than we did in the previous session:
“‘The Lord declares to you: The Lord Himself will make a house for you. When your time comes and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up after you your descendant, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to Me. When he does wrong, I will discipline him with a human rod and with blows from others. But My faithful love will never leave him as I removed it from Saul; I removed him from your way. Your house and kingdom will endure before Me forever, and your throne will be established forever.’”
We will intentionally parse this out together. First of all, it is clear that the Lord is the one making the house. This is confirmed in the first third of Matthew’s genealogy. When David would die, God would raise up David’s descendant (singular) from David’s own body. Here, God is making a specific promise regarding Solomon’s reign (fulfilled in 1 Kings 11:11-12). Solomon also built a house for God’s name (1 Kings 6). It was through Solomon that the throne of David’s kingdom would be established forever. Solomon was the fulfillment of God’s biological promise to David. Solomon would receive God’s faithful and fatherly love, unlike Saul. David’s house and kingdom would endure before God forever, and his throne established forever. This would not necessarily continue biologically. The Messiah needed to legally be the heir to the throne that was established through Solomon. Adoption was viable, and I think purposeful just as the inclusion of Gentile women in the kingly lineage was purposeful.
In the first third, Matthew was not merely giving an account of Jesus’ ancestry, but very intentionally highlighting the work of the Messiah. He would be a deliverer, clothing His people in His righteousness by grace alone. He would be the scapegoat, not only for His people among the Jews but among the Gentiles also. The literal history of God’s national people is a living parable concerning the kingdom for God’s true children in Christ.
- How might we think about the Muslim belief that the kingdom would come through Ishmael, Abraham’s illegitimate son?
- How does recognizing the sinfulness of the patriarchs help us to think about our own salvation by grace alone in Christ alone?
- Why is it significant that Matthew traces Jesus’ lineage through his adoptive human father (we will answer this when we get to verse 16)?