Listening to the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17)

Published on Monday, 16 October 2017 05:43
We can see in this genealogy a fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 53 that the Messiah would be numbered with the transgressors. Of course, this prediction is fulfilled in a variety of ways, such as when Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan and when he was numbered with the criminals at the cross. And it is also fulfilled here because every person, apart from Jesus, who is mentioned in the list was a transgressor of God’s law. It is even possible for us to look at Old Testament passages and see what some of those sins were.

It has often been pointed out that Matthew mentions four women in the list – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. We might be surprised at the women he does not mention – Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, for example. Regarding the women he mentions, it is often said that there are question marks about their characters. I don’t think Matthew stresses that aspect. It is likely that Tamar and Rahab were immoral, but we cannot say that there was anything immoral about Ruth. Bathsheba was compelled by royal demand to yield to the intentions of David. Rather than highlight their sinfulness, I would suggest that the inclusion of them highlights their outsidedness and their weakness. 

We know that Tamar, Rahab and Ruth were Gentiles, and it is possible that Bathsheba was as well given that she was married previously to Uriah the Hittite. Here we are given an insight into the plan of God, which was to include Gentiles in his kingdom. 

Moreover, each of those women was vulnerable: Tamar had been abandoned, Rahab was in danger of perishing in Jericho, Ruth was a widow with no prospects in a strange land, and Bathsheba was the victim of a royal whim. Yet they found a place in God’s programme, a reminder that he shows grace to the unworthy. They were taken from the place of being nobodies and were made recipients of honour by God.

What else does the genealogy remind us of? We can see connected to it the patience of God regarding the right time for Jesus to come into the world. As Paul writes in Galatians 4:4-6: ‘But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.’ No doubt, the Lord had many reasons for choosing the moment of the birth of the Messiah.

We also see connected to it the fact that the Lord is interested in people. It is likely that we would be unable to say very much about the names mentioned here. Yet the Lord knows who they were. Not all of them would be regarded as true believers in Jesus – for example, Jeconiah was cursed by God, but many of them were. Their names may be forgotten even by those who read their stories in the Bible, but their God never forgets them.

Moreover, we are reminded here that the Lord can protect his plans no matter how dangerous a situation becomes. If there ever was a threat to the royal line disappearing into oblivion, it was during the time the people of God were in exile in Babylon. Yet even then the Lord preserved the record of the line from whom the Messiah would eventually come. 

The genealogy also reminds us that the sins of believers cannot prevent the fulfilment of God’s intentions, even although the sin had sad consequences for the guilty person. David sinned regarding Bathsheba, and we might imagine that any child coming from that relationship would be ignored by God. Yet we see that Solomon, instead of being allotted a place elsewhere, becomes the next person in the genealogy. All we can say as we look at this is, ‘The Lord is wise and gracious.’

The genealogy also reminds us that the Lord is a covenant God. We see this in the first verse where reference is made to two covenants, those with Abraham and David. This is a reminder that he never forgets his promises and that we should not judge situations by what we can see. When did it ever look as if the Lord would fulfil his promises? Even the best of the people mentioned in the list failed in one way or another. But it was not dependent on human faithfulness, but on the promise and power of God. No doubt, many devout persons prayed earnestly for the Lord of the covenant to keep his covenants with Abraham and David.

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