We’ve been taking a closer look at the birth story of Messiah. We may end up with twenty parts to this series, because I have a lot to say. It may take a dozen posts just to get through Matthew’s version.
At the moment, we are going through the four parts of Matthew’s story (1:1-17; 1:18-25; 2:1-12; 2:13-23) and looking at the big picture. What pattern is Matthew communicating to us in each of these sections. In “Messiah’s Birth Story, Part 3,” I explained some of the meaning of the genealogy. Now, we are looking at 1:18-25.
Matthew 1:18-25 as a Type Scene
We have here a variation on a TYPE SCENE, a concept I was introduced to by Robert Alter in his immensely useful book, The Art of Biblical Narrative. Let me first explain to you what a type scene is.
Say you turn on a television and you see a scene before you. In far less than a second you are able to take in this scene and know exactly what is on the screen.
You see before you two men standing on a street in a setting that looks to be from the 1800’s with buildings lining each side of the dirt street. The men have their hands near their hips and are facing each other, each staring the other down in grim silence. They have on their hips leather belts with revolvers.
Do you have any trouble knowing in one second what this scene is all about? Of course you recognize a Western when you see one. And the gunfight scene is a type scene, a familiar and repeated scene which occurs with many variations in Westerns. Others might include an angry gunfighter bursting through the swinging doors of the saloon or the gunfighter and the saloon girl falling in love.
So, let me talk to you about one of the Bible’s common type scenes. You have a woman who is childless. She is in distress about her situation. An angel comes and speaks to her or to her husband. A promise is made of a coming birth of a special child. This child will be a savior to his people, or in some way very important to God’s plan. Sound familiar? One of the places where just such a story happens is with Samson. And now we see such a story in the account of Messiah’s birth.
There are plenty of other type scenes in the Bible, such as a man coming to the aid of a woman at a well. But Matthew 1:18-25 is a variation on the type scene of a special birth announcement.
Here is how the birth of Yeshua the Messiah took place. When his mother Miryam was engaged to Yosef, before they were married, she was found to be pregnant from the Ruach Hakodesh. 19 Her husband-to-be, Yosef, was a man who did what was right; so he made plans to break the engagement quietly, rather than put her to public shame.
Exploring the Meaning in the Variations
Mary is childless, like Samson’s mother and other women who have appeared in such scenes. Only in this story, she is supposed to be childless. In fact, here is a great variation on the usual story: Mary’s distress is not that she is childless but that she becomes pregnant prior to marriage.
The women in these stories often face some type of shame in their childbearing or lack of it. In Mary’s case, she could be stoned to death. But Joseph is going to give her a certificate breaking their betrothal.
Into that story comes an angel. The angel appears to Joseph and reassures him, “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” It is a special conception. Rachel and Samson’s mother and Hannah, mother of Samuel, and others in the Bible, they had special conceptions too. Isaiah the prophet, in Isaiah 7 and 8, he also had a special conception of a special child.
But the conception that has taken place here tops them all. This is not just a BARREN mother receiving a miracle child. This is a VIRGIN mother receiving the most miraculous child of all.
And the children of Rachel were special. Samson was a savior to his people. Samuel was a great prophet.
And Isaiah’s child was a sign of coming peace. But Yeshua? What would he do? Would he save people from the famine like Joseph or from the Philistines like Samson?
No, the angel said something greater.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Yeshua, [which means ‘ADONAI saves,’] because he will save his people from their sins.”
And so we see something here: a pattern of Israel’s history, a type scene, repeated in the life of Yeshua. It is meaningful to Matthew and his assumed audience that the patterns of Israel keep showing up in Yeshua’s life. Perhaps we can become more like Matthew’s assumed readers and catch the wonder of the pattern ourselves.