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Matthew 1:1-17

8th December 2002

Most people are interested in their ancestors. I am more interested in my descendents! To listen to some people, the best part of their family is all underground! But that is perhaps sour-grapes of one who is married to a woman who is a descendent of Captain James Cook and his wife. There it is, all set out clearly on the huge genealogical charts we have been given. Beverley's ancestors may include the heroic, but mine include the alcoholic! My ancestors came from Scotland, and we do have a convict among them and probably many more! Consequently I am more interested in my children and their children, and hopefully I will see great grandchildren eventually!

But families in retrospect or in prospect are interesting. Why? Because of insights we all can gain. Sometimes you see that good parents have bad children. Sometimes good parents have good children. Sometimes bad parents have good children and sometimes bad parents have bad children. It is very interesting. It leads one to think that of the effect of genes, early environment and peer group friendship, it is the latter that may be of biggest influence upon us.

Some people are interested in their families for snobbish reasons and for pride. Other people are ashamed of their parental background and many suffer from the knowledge of illegitimacy, adoption or mixed-race background. In either of these extremes Jesus speaks to us. So many of us come from unusual backgrounds of which we may be ashamed. In His birth in Bethlehem, Jesus was like us in every respect including his family! He had some good and some bad ancestors.


Jewish people are interested in genealogies. The book of Genesis starts with the descendants of Adam down to Noah. Genesis 5 The we have the descendants of Noah's sons. Genesis 10 Then the descendants of Shem's sons down to Abram. Genesis 11 Genealogies are very important. Matthew took the names in the first two-thirds of the genealogy of Jesus from the Old Testament lists 1 Chronicles 1-3; Ruth 4:12-22 Matthew also relies on sources outside the Bible. Good records were kept at least until the end of the first century after the birth of Jesus. Josephus, the Jewish historian tells Life 6:1 of "public registers" from which he extracts his genealogical information in his histories.

The genealogy of Jesus is arranged in such a way to be memorable - that is, it is a mnemonic. There are three groups of ancestors: Abraham down to David; which tells of Israel's good times; David down to the time of the nation's exile in Babylon which were the bad times; and from the return of the nation to their home land down to the coming of Jesus, which were good times. Each group has fourteen ancestors carefully arranged. Strictly speaking the Greek text speaks of "all the generations from Abraham to David ... to Christ" but since the omissions are obvious to both Matthew and his readers, the three groups of fourteen are included for a teaching purpose.

You realise that on a mobile phone, each number represents three letters and by pushing the numbers in right order, you can send worded messages. So the letters in the name David add up to fourteen. The significance of this is that Matthew's purpose is to show that Jesus is the descendant of King David.

Further more, those numbers make a 3 X 14 pattern and a 6 X 7 pattern, where the number seven is the divine number. This is saying Jesus is the divine Son and His coming will inaugurate the seventh seven, the sign of the dawning of the Messianic Age. By this Matthew points out that the promised "Son of David" is the Messiah who will bring in God's kingdom. Matthew starts his Gospel by introducing such themes as the son of David, the fulfillment of prophecy, the supernatural origin of Jesus the Messiah, and the Father's sovereign protection of his Son in order to bring him to Nazareth and so accomplish the divine plan of salvation from sin. Matthew's first two chapters are a "record of the origins of Jesus Christ."

The designation "Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham" resonates with Old Testament prophecies concerning King David's line 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 2:2; 105:15 "Christ" was the Messiah who would bring in the promised reign of God. In Jesus' day, Palestine was rife with messianic expectation. Matthew links "Christ" and "Son of David" leaving no doubt who Jesus is. "Son of David" is a title recurring throughout Matthew's Gospel. 9:27;12:23;15:22;20:30-31;21:9,15;22:42,45 God promised David that one of his descendants would establish God's kingdom that would endure forever. 2 Samuel 7:12-16 Isaiah foresaw that a "son" would be given, a son with the most extravagant titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace: Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this" Isaiah 9:6-7

Jesus is also "Son of Abraham." "Son of Abraham" was a messianic title in Judaism. The covenant with the Jewish people had first been made with Abraham Genesis 12:1-3; 17:7; 22:18 Paul sees this as basic to Christianity. Galatians 3:16 More important, Genesis 22:18 God had promised that through Abraham's off-spring "all nations" would be blessed. So with this allusion to Abraham, Matthew is preparing his readers for the final words of this offspring from Abraham--the commission to make disciples of "all nations" Matthew 28:19 Jesus the Messiah came in fulfillment of the kingdom promises to David and of the Gentile-blessing promise to Abraham.

Matthew's aim in including the genealogy is to show that Jesus Messiah is truly in the kingly line of David, heir to the messianic promises, the one who brings divine blessings to all nations. Therefore the genealogy focuses on King David Matthew 1:6 on the one hand, yet on the other hand includes four interesting non-Jewish women.


It is absolutely remarkable that Matthew should include these four women. Usually women are not mentioned at all in such a genealogy, and certainly not four women like these! They were people who were best hidden!

TAMAR is the first mentioned. She is mentioned in the book of Genesis. Genesis 38:3 I remember reading in a magazine in 1965 a poem, entitled : "TAMAR" by G.M.Goulder. "Exceedingly odd is the means by which God
Has provided our path to the heavenly shore:
Of the girls from whose line
The true light was to shine
There was one an adulteress, one was a whore."

Tamar was a Canaanite woman who pretended to be a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law, became pregnant to him and had twins! One of those sons became the ancestor of King David and subsequently of Jesus!

RAHAB is the second mentioned. Rahab is mentioned in the book of Joshua. Joshua 2 She was also a Canaanite woman who lived with her children in Jericho. She hid two of Joshua's spies and saved their lives. They told her to tie a scarlet cloth from her window so Joshua's army would know to spare her and her children.
"And Rahab the harlot her sins were as scarlet
As the thread which she hung from the door
Yet alone of her nation She came to Salvation
And lived to be mother of Boaz, of yore."

RUTH is the third mentioned and one of the loveliest women in the Old Testament. Ruth 1: 1-5, 4: 7-17 But Ruth was also a foreigner from the Moabite people. The Moabites were despised by the Jews. But she marries Boaz, the son of Rahab the prostitute.
"And Boaz married Ruth, a gentile uncouth
In a manner quite counter to Biblical lore!"

Their son, Obed, became the father of Jesse whose son was King David. So among the ancestors of Jesus was Ruth who was another despised foreigner.

BATHSHEBA 2 Samuel 11 the fourth woman was the wife of Uriah the Hittite. She married outside her own people, a dreadful action. She was a beautiful woman whom David saw one hot night, when he was on the roof of his palace. Looking down, he saw her taking a bath, and ordered her to be brought to him for sex. To cover up, David arranged for Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, to be killed.
"And from there did spring Blessed David the King
Who walked on his palace one evening, and saw
the wife of Uriah from whom he did sire,
a baby that died - Oh! And princes a score!"

Another son, Solomon, one of the ancestors of Jesus who now has among his genealogy a murderer and another Gentile woman who "had been Uriah's wife." 2 Samuel 11:27;12:4 Bathsheba thus becomes the fourth woman to be mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus.

Several reasons have been suggested to explain the inclusion of these women. Some have pointed out that three were Gentiles and the fourth regarded as such. The Jewish Messiah would extend His blessings beyond Israel, even as Gentiles are included in His line. Three of the four women were involved in sexual sin and the other, Ruth, had her origin in incest. Genesis 19:30-37 Matthew introduces Jesus as the one who "will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:21 Any glance at some of the ancestors illustrates some of our common sins. All four reveal something of the strange and unexpected workings of God in preparation for the Messiah and that as such they point to Mary's unexpected but providential conception of Jesus. Saints and sinners are side by side among the ancestors of Jesus!


There are four changes of generations with differing results. Matthew 2: 7-8 Rehoboam is the father of Abijah. Abijah is the father of Asa. Asa is the father of Jehoshaphat and he is the father of Jehoram! Wicked Rehoboam was the father of wicked Abijah, who was the father of the good king Asa. Asa was the father of the good king Jehoshaphat, who son was the wicked king Jehoram.

Nearly four hundred years ago, Rev Thomas Fuller 1608 - 1661 an Anglican priest put this in a poem:

"Lord, I find the genealogy of my Saviour strangely chequered, with four remarkable changes in four generations Rehoboam begat Abijah: (A bad father begat a bad son)
Abijah begat Asa: (A bad father and a good son)
Asa begat Jehoshaphat: (A good father and a good son)
Jehoshaphat begat Jehorom: (A good father and a bad son). I see Lord, from hence,
That my Father's piety cannot be handed on:
That is bad news for me.
I see also that actual impiety is not hereditary,
That is good news for my son!


Legally Jesus stands in line to the throne of David; physically he is born of a woman "found to be with child through the Holy Spirit" 1:18 Her son is Jesus, "who is called Christ, the Messiah." Her son "will save people from their sins." The gospel of the ancestors of Jesus says:

You need never be ashamed of your background.
You can not blame your parents for your sin.
You can not blame yourself for your children's sin.
Every person stands over heredity and environment.
Every person ultimately is responsible to God.
God has children but no grandchildren!

"Faith of our fathers" is not enough! It must be a personal possession! Good and evil, they were part of Messiah's ancestry. God's grace does not run in the blood. God's providence cannot be deceived or outmaneuvered by our actions. Jesus was born that we might live. Have you found the life that Christ offers?


R.E. Brown, Birth of Messiah, p. 75ff

Wesley Mission, Sydney.