As we explore the story of Messiah’s birth, we begin with Matthew’s version. In the first few installments, we’ll look at the big picture. What are the parts of Matthew’s story and how do they basically function?
In this installment, I’ll preview the four parts of Matthew’s story and zoom in for more detail on the first part.
The Parts of Matthew’s Story of Messiah’s Birth
–Matt. 1:1-17 is the genealogy of Yeshua. It is a genealogy that makes a statement about who Yeshua is.
–Matt. 1:18-25 is what we call a TYPE SCENE. A type scene is an event that follows a familiar pattern. This is a type scene about a childless woman having a special child whose birth means salvation for Israel.
–Matt. 2:1-12 is a kind of anointing scene, a little like when the prophet Samuel came to anoint David king, but also it is like when Balaam came out of the east and blessed Israel. Yeshua, the baby, is like ideal Israel receiving the blessing of pagan diviners.
–Finally, Matthew 2:13-23 is a reliving of the story of Israel fleeing danger into Egypt and coming out in an Exodus. Only in this story, Israel is Yeshua, the Moses-like figure who will be Israel’s savior.
The Meaning of the Genealogy (Matt. 1:1-17)
I’m not going to cover all of the issues in this genealogy. They are many. For example, Matthew says in 1:17 that there are 14 generations in each section, but careful counting will show you the numbers don’t exactly fit (section one has fourteen generations, section two has fifteen though it is because David’s name is repeated, and section three has fourteen but only with Jeconiah’s name repeated).
One detail I will briefly comment on, before getting to my main point about this section, is the inclusion of four women in the genealogy: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the “wife of Uriah” (Bathsheba). Commentators have given various reasons for their inclusion. My preference is to see them all as women who gave birth under questionable circumstances, like Mary. Yet, also like Mary, each one of these women advanced God’s plan in the world. They are women who might have been regarded as scandalous, like Mary, but who were used by God in spite of any such questions.
Now, getting to the main point: what is going on with this genealogy?
If you want to understand how genealogies worked in the Jewish world, the key book is Chronicles. Genealogies were often symbolic. They skipped generations. The point of genealogies was often subtle, more than just a list of generations and ancestors. Furthermore, though the idea might be ludicrous to you and me, genealogies were written to be memorable. People would actually memorize portions of genealogies and it was all a way of recounting history and giving it meaning.
Matthew does something very “Chronicles-like” in his genealogy.
Thus there were fourteen generations from Avraham to David,
fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian Exile,
and fourteen generations from the Babylonian Exile to the Messiah.
Matthew gives his genealogy of Yeshua with two things in mind.
First, he chooses to show us Messiah’s lineage in a 3 X 14 pattern. The number 14 is twice 7, which is an important number in the Bible. It signifies something complete and in the providence of God.
Second, 14 is the numerical value of the name David in Hebrew.
Matthew is saying that Yeshua was born at the time God chose and that Yeshua is the Son of David expected to come.
Now, mind you, Matthew is not proving anything with this genealogy. Matthew has skipped generations to arrive at this neat 3 X 14 pattern. If you compare this genealogy with either Chronicles or Luke you can see the skipped generations. So what use is a 3 X 14 pattern if it is artificially contrived?
The ancients were often interested in things that seem odd to a modern reader. Proofs and evidence were not always the highest priority of ancient readers. Patterns were important because they made memorization easier. Patterns were also a sort of poetic device. Matthew shows us the lineage of Messiah to make it memorable and to declare something.
What Does the Genealogy Declare?
People might have wondered: “Why did God wait so long to send Messiah?” Matthew is saying, Messiah came at the right time.
History can be divided into the time from Abraham to David, David to the exile, and from the exile to Messiah. Messiah came in a pattern of history, about as long after the exile as it was from Abraham to David and David to the exile (Abraham to David was twice as long as David to exile and exile to Messiah).
Matthew’s genealogy is saying that the first century was the right time for Messiah, Son of David to come.
And for many reasons we would have to agree. The temple was destroyed in the generation after Messiah. He came just before the second destruction. He came to Judaism at the crossroads. And he came to the expanding Roman empire. The lineage of Messiah reveals God’s perfect timing in sending his Messiah.