I’ll confess to you right here and now that when I sit down to read the Bible, I skip the genealogies, but when I sit down to study the Bible, I look for genealogies. For many who casually read the Bible, genealogies are cumbersome, boring and wearysome, but for more than casual readers, we come to realize that they are not included in the inspired text just to fill space or aid in curing insomnia; they tell a story.
Matthew begins his telling of the story of Jesus Christ by giving us some vital insight into just exactly who this Jesus guy is, and He is no ordinary man. It is no coincidence then, that this is no ordinary genealogy. When most people look at a Biblical genealogy, we assume that this is an exact record of biological ancestry; a pedigree one might say, but this isn’t always the case, in fact it seldom is just that. Sometimes, genealogies in the Bible don’t match up exactly, and skeptics and scoffers have no end of fun criticizing the Scriptures for what they assume to be historical inaccuracies, because they overlook the fact that the Scriptures are not like other books, for they are God’s revelation of Himself to Man, not the mere musings of the human mind.
In order for us to get the value of Biblical genealogies, we must realize that they are not so much concerned with a person’s biological ancestry as they are with demonstrating a person’s corporate and tribal status within the larger community. We can see this by noticing that in most cases, the great names are first, and the last name is the person who is being magnified by the presence of the greater names. By doing this, a storyteller can set up the basis for telling the descendant’s story by putting the descendant (last name) into the context of his great ancestors.
Matthew does not follow that pattern here, for he does not build Jesus up by associating His name with His great ancestors, rather he builds up the ancestors by associating their names with that of Jesus, which is the first and last name that is mentioned. I think a quick look at the structure will show you what I mean:
First off, we are looking here at Matthew 1:1-17 which is broken into three main sections. Verses 2-6 cover the time in the history of the Jewish people from Abraham to David, a period that culminates in the high point of Israelite history in the beginning of the Davidic monarchy. In verses 7-11, Matthew reminds his readers both of the glory of the Davidic reign and the steady slide that resulted in Israel’s darkest period of captivity. The third period, in verses 12-16, extends from the captivity to Jesus, a period in which there is no king, a period in which the Jews are at the mercy of foreign powers and in which their hopes of redemption grow and are finally met when Jesus comes onto the scene as the culmination of Jewish history. Notice verse 16 where Jesus is born and is named by Matthew as “Jesus who is called Christ”. In doing this, Matthew is making all who have gone before subservient to Jesus, the Redeemer of Israel.
Note verse 17:
Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.
In this summation, Matthew has done two interesting things: First, he has tied Jesus to the history of Israel so as to place Him at its very center, and second, he set up His arrival as a the beginning of a whole new era, an era that is not like any that has come before. In doing this, Matthew has also forced us to notice the number 14, as we’ve noted previously, pointing us to Jesus as King, son of David.
As we move deeper into the Christmas season, I think we would do well to keep in mind who Jesus is, that the incarnation of Jesus is a really big deal because of His identity rather than on the celebration itself. We often talk about “the reason for the season”; it’s almost cliché, but maybe this is too simplistic a view. I’m not entirely convinced that Jesus is the reason for season, but that’s a discussion for another time, what is really important in my view, is Jesus… no more, no less. Everything else is fluff.
And that is the point 12 months a year, not just in December.