Anchor Sunday School Class
Matthew Chapter 1
THE ANCESTORS OF JESUS / 1:1-17
Jesus entered human history when the land of Palestine was an insignificant outpost of the vast and mighty Roman Empire. The rule of Rome brought military peace to the whole world, and thus to Palestine; however, it did not eliminate oppression, slavery, injustice, and immorality. The Jews resented the Roman intrusion into their daily and religious life. Into this world of conflict and sin, Jesus came as the promised Messiah.
More than four hundred years had passed since the last Old Testament prophecies, and faithful Jews all over the world were still waiting for the Messiah ( Luke 3:15). Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Matthew wrote this book to Jews to present Jesus as King and Messiah, the promised descendant of David who would reign forever ( Isaiah 11:1-5). The Gospel of Matthew links the Old and New Testaments, containing many references to show how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies.
Believers should not be put off by this long list of names at the beginning of the New Testament. Present-day Christians, like their early counterparts, should remember that the roots of their faith lie in Judaism. Jesus was a Jew, lived among the Jews, and followed their laws (insofar as they were truly God's laws); and he fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures as he did so. Matthew's many quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament should cause believers to stand in awe at the unfolding of God's wonderful plan from ages past.
God's plan continues to unfold, and we are part of it. The end of Matthew's Gospel records Christ's Great Commission to the apostles, that they should "make disciples of all the nations" ( 28:19 nkjv). We believe because others obeyed Christ and carried the message to us. We fulfill the Great Commission today when we take part in sharing the gospel message with unreached people and nations.
1:1 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham. NIV The first seventeen verses of Matthew's Gospel present Jesus' ancestry. Giving a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ was the most interesting way that Matthew could begin a book for a Jewish audience. The Old Testament contains several genealogies: See Genesis 5; Ruth 4:18-22; and 1 Chronicles 1-9. Genealogies served several purposes in Bible times. They traced ancestral claims to land and positions of authority, they were outlines for tracing history, and they revealed ancestral origins. Because a person's family line proved his or her standing as one of God's chosen people, Matthew began by showing that Jesus was a descendant of Abraham, the father of all Jews, and a direct descendant of David, fulfilling Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah's line ("son of" can also mean "descendant of"). The facts of this ancestry were carefully preserved. This is the first of many proofs recorded by Matthew to show that Jesus was the true Messiah. Matthew traced the genealogy back to Abraham, while Luke traced it back to Adam. Matthew wrote to the Jews, so Jesus was shown as a descendant of their father, Abraham. Luke wrote to the Gentiles, so he emphasized Jesus as the Savior of all people.
Matthew's first sentence communicates the banner headline. He holds nothing back. Jesus is the Christ (God's long-promised Messiah)! He's the Savior of Israel (David's son)! He's the hope of all nations (Abraham's son)! Call a press conference, roll the videotape, this is big news.
People with news as good as this should get prickly with excitement to tell others. Don't be one of those who holds it in. Let the world know. Like Matthew, share the excitement. Be a missionary wherever God has put you. With your life and by your words, tell others the Good News: Jesus, the Savior, has come and he's here today.
This family line was traced through Joseph, who is listed in 1:16 as "the husband of Mary" not the father of Jesus. Because Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant, Joseph was not Jesus' father by sexual union, although Joseph was certainly Jesus' father by law and by paternal care. Matthew's genealogy gives Jesus' legal (or royal) lineage through Joseph, a descendant of King David. Jesus was first of all called son of David. God had promised to King David, "Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever" ( 2 Samuel 7:16 niv). That verse was fulfilled in Jesus Christ who will reign as king forever: "I, Jesus, . . . am the Root and the Offspring of David" ( Revelation 22:16 niv). Prophesying Jesus' coming and reign, Isaiah wrote,
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. . . . 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 niv)
Jesus was called son of Abraham, indicating more than just his heritage among the Jews. God had told Abraham,
"All peoples on earth will be blessed through you" ( Genesis 12:3 niv).
"I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you" ( Genesis 17:7 niv).
"Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me" ( Genesis 22:18 niv).
In the first 17 verses we meet 46 people whose lifetimes span 2,000 years. All were ancestors of Jesus, but they varied considerably in personality, spirituality, and experience. Some were heroes of faith—like Abraham, Isaac, Ruth, and David. Some had shady reputations—like Rahab and Tamar. Many were very ordinary—like Hezron, Ram, Nahshon, and Akim. And others were evil—like Manasseh and Abijah. God's work in history is not limited by human failures or sins, and he works through ordinary people. Just as God used all kinds of people to bring his Son into the world, he uses all kinds today to accomplish his will. Consider the following questions:
l Whatever your background, have you put your trust wholly in Christ and turned from your sins?
l Whichever your gender, have you opened your mind and heart to God's instruction, and do you depend on God for guidance each day?
l Whatever your talents, have you committed your life to God so that, whether you're a carpenter or an executive, you do everything for God's glory?
God wants to use you.
Jesus Christ will reign forever, and he will also reign over a kingdom of greater scope than only a Jewish kingdom. He will reign over faithful believers from all the nations. While Matthew seems to have written this book for the Jewish Christians to give them further assurance in their faith, in the first verse he stated that the gospel was meant for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. As Jesus fulfilled God's covenant with David, so he also fulfilled God's covenant with Abraham. Through faith in Jesus Christ, anyone from any nation will be blessed through Abraham's covenant, will find salvation, and will "be blessed" with eternal life.
1:2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. NRSV Starting with Abraham, the recognized father of the Jewish nation, Matthew continued to list Jesus' ancestors to prove that Jesus was the "son" (or descendant of) both Abraham and David. The phrase "was the father of" can also mean "was the ancestor of." Thus, there need not be a direct father-and-son relationship between all those listed in a genealogy.
In ancient times, genealogies were often arranged to aid memorization. Matthew recorded his genealogy in three sets of fourteen generations (see 1:17 and explanation there): the first set from Abraham to David; the second from David's son Solomon to the Exile in Babylon; the third from the return from exile to Jesus' birth. God's plan unfolded across the generations; he controlled history in preparation for the arrival of his Son.
Abraham, as noted above in 1:1, was called by God, received God's covenant promises, and believed the Lord—so "the L ord reckoned it to him as righteousness" ( Genesis 15:6 nrsv). His story is told in Genesis 11-25. (He is also mentioned in Exodus 2:24; Acts 7:2-8; Romans 4; Galatians 3; Hebrews 2; 6; 7; 11.)
Abraham was the father of Isaac. Abraham and Sarah wondered if God would ever send them the promised son. (If Abraham's descendants were to be too numerous to count, he certainly needed to start with one descendant!) But God always keeps his promises. Genesis records the story of Isaac's birth (and his near sacrifice) in chapters 21 and 22.
Isaac became the father of Jacob. These three men—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—are often named together as the "patriarchs," fathers of the nation and receivers of God's covenant (see Genesis 50:24; Exodus 3:16; 33:1; Numbers 32:11; Deuteronomy 1:8; 6:10; 9:5, 27; 29:13; 30:20; 34:4; 2 Kings 13:23; Jeremiah 33:26; Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:28; Acts 3:13; 7:32).
Jacob had many sons by his wives Rachel and Leah, including Joseph, whose coat of many colors caused great envy among his older brothers. Jacob's twelve sons became the twelve tribes of Israel (see Genesis 49:1-28). Matthew, desiring to trace Jesus' royal lineage, made special note of Judah because the royal line was to continue through him. In Jacob's blessing upon Judah, he had said, "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet" ( Genesis 49:10 nrsv). King David was from the tribe of Judah ( 2 Samuel 2:4; 1 Chronicles 28:4).
The mention of Judah's brothers may have served to remind Matthew's readers of the twelve tribes of Israel that corresponded with the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus to continue his work. Later in his book, Matthew would record Jesus' words to the Twelve: "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" ( 19:28 niv).
1:3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram. NIV An interesting sidelight appears in this verse. One might expect a genealogy to avoid mention of less reputable ancestors, but Judah's sons were born by Tamar, who had prostituted herself to her father-in-law. The story of Judah and Tamar is told in Genesis 38—an intriguing tale of evil, judgment, lies, deceit, and ultimate vindication. While Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah, he was not married to their mother, Tamar. Perez and Zerah were twins (see also 1 Chronicles 2:4). The line tracing Perez to King David is also recorded in Ruth 4:12, 18-22.
Matthew's inclusion of four particular women in his genealogy reveals his concern to do more than relay historical data. While we might have expected him to include Sarah and Rebekah (wives of Abraham and Isaac, respectively), he chose instead Tamar (who had seduced her father-in-law), Rahab and Ruth (who were not Jews; also, Rahab had been a prostitute), and Bathsheba, called "Uriah's wife" in 1:6 (who had committed adultery). In other words, these women were less-than-sterling examples to have in one's ancestral line. Yet this was the line into which God's Son was born. The suspicion of illegitimacy surrounded these four women's sexual activity; this fits with the suspicion surrounding Mary, Jesus' mother—a suspicion that Matthew spent much time refuting. These were normal people, sometimes caught up in their own sin, all of them in need of God's mercy and grace. God sent his Son as Savior of all people—Jews, Gentiles, men, women—those pretty good and those very evil. No matter what the sins of the people, God's plan was never thwarted, and God's Son was born according to his plan.
Not much is known about Hezron and Ram. Hezron is mentioned in Genesis 46:12 and 1 Chronicles 2:5. Ram (or Aram) is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 2:9.
In Jesus' family tree, we don't find all sports heroes and presidents. Some very bad-news characters formed his past. But Matthew does not hide them, and Jesus' parents, for all we know, never let the past determine the present.
Overcoming a dysfunctional past is not easy, but never adopt the past as your excuse. With Jesus, life starts over with new energy, new purpose, and new love. Start your day with prayer, live it by the promises of God's Word, and use your church's resources and friendships to mend, heal, and overcome. No excuses!
1:4 Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon. NIV Amminadab and Nahshon are mentioned in Exodus 6:23—Amminadab's daughter and Nahshon's sister, Elisheba, married Aaron, who became Israel's high priest. Mentioned in Numbers 1:7, Nahshon was chosen to help Aaron number the men of Israel who could fight in the army. Then in Numbers 2:3, Nahshon is called "the leader of the people of Judah," meaning that he was in charge of that tribe. He also was in charge of bringing an offering for the dedication of the altar in God's tabernacle—and he brought his offering on the first day ( Numbers 7:12-17). Salmon is mentioned again only in the genealogy in Ruth 4:18-22. These men are also listed in 1 Chronicles 2:10-11.
1:5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse. NIV Rahab is the woman of Jericho who hid Israel's spies and eventually was saved by them when the Israelites destroyed Jericho. Rahab was a prostitute ( Joshua 2:1) who operated an inn on the city wall. She came to believe in Israel's God, and she protected the spies and helped them in their mission: "'The Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you.' . . . So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall" ( Joshua 2:11-12, 15 niv). Rahab is included in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. She is the only non-Jew mentioned there by name.
There is a chronological problem in making Rahab the actual mother of Boaz, however. As with the phrase "father of," those listed as mothers in a genealogy may be ancestors rather than actual mothers.
However, chronology was not a concern with the next three people. The book of Ruth tells the story of Boaz and a young woman named Ruth, who had come to Israel from the nearby nation of Moab. Boaz married Ruth, and they became the parents of Obed ( Ruth 4:13-17). Obed later became the father of Jesse ( Ruth 4:21-22). See also 1 Chronicles 2:12.
1:6 And Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife. NIV Jesse had several sons, one of whom had been anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the next king of Israel after King Saul (see 1 Samuel 16:5-13). Placing the word King with David reminded Matthew's Jewish audience of the glorious reign of King David, the promises that God had given to David, and the fulfillment of those promises in the appearance of an even greater King—the Messiah himself. The story of David is told in 1 and 2 Samuel, with the transfer of his throne to his son Solomon recorded in 1 Kings 1.
Solomon was born to David and Bathsheba (described here as having been Uriah's wife). The story, recorded in 2 Samuel 11, describes David's murder plot against Uriah in order to get Uriah's wife for himself. God was very displeased with David's evil actions, and the first child born to David and Bathsheba died ( 2 Samuel 11:27-12:23). The next child born was Solomon, who later ruled Israel during a reign that would be described as the golden age of the nation. His God-given wisdom became known worldwide, and he wrote many of the proverbs in the book of Proverbs, as well as Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. His story is told in 1 Kings 1-11 and 2 Chronicles 1-9.
1:7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa. NIV At the end of Solomon's glorious reign, his evil son Rehoboam split the kingdom because of a prideful and ill-advised decision (see 1 Kings 12:1-24). Two kingdoms emerged: The southern kingdom, called Judah, was ruled by Rehoboam; the northern kingdom, called Israel, was ruled by Jeroboam. But the kingdom of Israel had a succession of evil kings. Eventually Israel was conquered by Assyria, and many of its people were taken away into exile. The kingdom of Judah had both good and bad kings. This genealogy traces only the line of the kings of Judah.
Rehoboam's son Abijah (also called Abijam) was also an evil king who "committed all the sins that his father did before him; his heart was not true to the Lord his God, like the heart of his father David. Nevertheless for David's sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, setting up his son after him, and establishing Jerusalem" ( 1 Kings 15:3-4 nrsv). This son was the godly king Asa who "did what was right in the sight of the Lord, as his father David had done" ( 1 Kings 15:11 nrsv).
No particular pattern appears—sometimes an evil king had a godly son (as Abijah and Asa); other times a godly king had an evil son (as Jehoshaphat and Jehoram). They were often judged by the standard of King David, who, despite all his mistakes, was considered a great and God-honoring king.
HELPING CHILDREN FIND FAITH
For all his reputed wisdom, Solomon wasn't much of a dad. Solomon's kids were rebels who never seemed to understand the importance of faith in God. They messed up all he had built, but not all the fault was theirs.
To build your children in faith, start with the simple steps. Don't skip church; be there with them. Don't convey how hard you've worked; rather, convey how much God has blessed. Pray at meals, at bedtime, whenever it's right, which is usually when you're most tired. Don't be a deadbeat: Give to missions and to the homeless—time and money. Show them how to love God, before you start the lecture.
1:8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah. NIV Good King Asa was the father of another good king, Jehoshaphat. King Jehoshaphat "walked in all the way of his father Asa; he did not turn aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of the L ord" ( 1 Kings 22:43 nrsv). However Jehoshaphat's son Jehoram (also called Joram) "did what was evil in the sight of the L ord" ( 2 Kings 8:18 nrsv). Still, God's promise would not be deterred. For even as the evil king Jehoram led Judah into evil, "the Lord would not destroy Judah, for the sake of his servant David, since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his descendants forever" ( 2 Kings 8:19 nrsv).
That Jehoram is called the father of Uzziah provides an example of how this phrase did not always mean actual "father of." According to the same genealogy in 1 Chronicles 3:10-12, Matthew omitted three names between Jehoram and Uzziah (also called Azariah): These three kings were Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. Scholars have offered various opinions for why these names were excluded— such as the fact that all three men had connections with Ahab and Jezebel (the exceedingly evil king and queen of the northern kingdom of Israel) and with Athaliah, a wicked usurper (see 2 Kings 8:26-27 and 11:1-20). But it is more likely that Matthew did not include these names in order to keep his pattern of three sets of fourteen generations in this genealogy.
After the reign of evil king Jehoram, his son Uzziah (Azariah) assumed the throne. Uzziah followed God for most of his reign and became very powerful and successful. However, "after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense" ( 2 Chronicles 26:16 niv), a job only the priests were entitled to do. God struck Uzziah with leprosy, and he "had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house—leprous, and excluded from the temple of the Lord. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land" ( 2 Chronicles 26:21 niv). The next verse tells of Jotham.
1:9 Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. NIV Apparently Jotham had learned from his father Uzziah's mistake, for the Bible tells us that he "grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God" ( 2 Chronicles 27:6 niv). But Jotham's good influence did not extend to his son, for Ahaz "walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree" ( 2 Kings 16:3-4 niv). Following the exceedingly evil reign of Ahaz came the prosperous reign of the good king Hezekiah. Scripture tells us that "Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him" ( 2 Kings 18:5 niv).
1:10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah. NIV Hezekiah obeyed God, but his son was the most evil king who reigned over the southern kingdom. "Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites" ( 2 Chronicles 33:9 niv). At the end of his life, however, Manasseh repented of his horrible sins ( 2 Chronicles 33:13).
Unfortunately, Manasseh's son Amon assumed too much of his father's character. Amon "did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as his father Manasseh had done. Amon worshiped and offered sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made. But unlike his father Manasseh, Amon did not humble himself before the Lord; Amon increased his guilt" ( 2 Chronicles 33:22-23 niv).
Once again, God had mercy on the nation, and Amon's son Josiah attempted to undo all his father's evil deeds. "Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses" ( 2 Kings 23:25 niv).
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Josiah might have said, "Hey, what's the use? Nothing can straighten out this mess." Or he could have said, "Whoa, I'm just one little guy in a big, big country. Gimme a break!" Or, "It's the old man's problem. Let him solve it!"
But Josiah did not look for excuses. He did what one faithful believer could do, and his world was better for it. Discover stories of other heroes of faith—men and women who did all that one person could and turned the tide. Be that person yourself, despite obstacles. One person with God can make a big, big difference. Be quick to take a stand against evil or to take the first step to bring about change.
1:11 And Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. NIV Matthew omitted another name from the lineage. Josiah was the father of Jehoiakim, who was deported to Babylon when he rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. After Jehoiakim was taken away, his son Jeconiah (also called Jehoiachin) reigned in Jerusalem. Jeconiah reigned for only three months before Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, causing the city to surrender. The phrase and his brothers refers to Jeconiah's brother Zedekiah whom Nebuchadnezzar placed on the throne of Jerusalem as a puppet ruler. Zedekiah's name was not mentioned because the royal line did not go through him, but through Jeconiah. However, Zedekiah made the grave mistake of also rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar, and this brought down the final wrath of Babylon. On his third visit to Jerusalem for battle, Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah completely, destroying Jerusalem including its beautiful temple. The entire nation of Judah was taken into exile to Babylon ( 2 Kings 24:16-25:21). This occurred in 586 b.c.
The exile marked the end of David's line and kingdom. It must have looked like all the promises had come to nothing. But in approximately 735 b.c., the prophet Isaiah foretold that "a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit" ( Isaiah 11:1 niv). Judah (the royal line of David) would be like a tree chopped down to a stump. But from that stump a new shoot would grow—the Messiah. He would be greater than the original tree and would bear much fruit. The Messiah is the fulfillment of God's promise that a descendant of David would rule forever ( 2 Samuel 7:16).
1:12 After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. NIV In this final grouping, Jeconiah (also called Jehoiachin) is listed as the father of Shealtiel, agreeing with 1 Chronicles 3:17. In listing Shealtiel as father of Zerubbabel, Matthew departed from the genealogy in 1 Chronicles 3:19 which lists Pedaiah as Zerubbabel's father. However, Matthew agrees with several other Scriptures that list Shealtiel as Zerubbabel's father ( Ezra 3:2; 5:2; Nehemiah 12:1; Haggai 1:1; 2:2, 23). Why are there differences among these genealogies? Scholars have offered various opinions, the most likely being that a "levirate" marriage took place—the marriage of a widow to the brother of her dead husband. The purpose of such a marriage was to carry on the dead man's name and inheritance. Family ties were an important aspect of Israelite culture. The best way to be remembered was through your line of descendants. If a widow married someone outside the family, her first husband's line would come to an end. Thus, Shealtiel may have died childless, and his brother Pedaiah may have married Shealtiel's widow. Pedaiah would have been truly Zerubbabel's father (as noted in 1 Chronicles), but Zerubbabel's birth, according to the laws of levirate marriage, would have carried on Shealtiel's name.
Zerubbabel figured prominently in Judah's history after the exile. When the people of Judah were finally allowed to return to their nation, Zerubbabel became their governor ( Haggai 1:1) and "set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, helping them" ( Ezra 5:2 niv). God greatly blessed his servant Zerubbabel, reaffirming and guaranteeing his promise of a Messiah through David's line, noted by the words of the prophet Haggai: "'On that day,' declares the Lord Almighty, 'I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,' declares the Lord, 'and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,' declares the Lord Almighty" ( Haggai 2:23 niv).
1:13-15 And Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob. NRSV Nothing is known from Scripture about any of these men because they lived during the intertestamental period. Matthew probably got their names from Jewish genealogical records.
1:16 And Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. NIV According to Luke 3:23, Joseph's father was Heli. The royal line continued through Joseph, who, though he was not Jesus' father, was the husband of Mary. Mary was the mother of Jesus. The words of whom are in the feminine gender, meaning that Matthew was referring specifically to Jesus being born of Mary, but not of Joseph (as Matthew will explain in 1:18-25). Jesus is called Christ; he is the Messiah. Matthew had completed his goal in listing this genealogy—showing, beyond any doubt, that Jesus was a descendant of David, thus fulfilling God's promises.
1:17 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. NIV The Gospel breaks Israel's history into three sets of fourteen generations, but there were probably more generations than those listed here. Genealogies often compressed history, meaning that not every generation of ancestors was specifically listed. What was Matthew's point in mentioning fourteen generations? There are three possibilities (some or all may have been true):
Some scholars propose that Matthew used the "perfect number" (seven) and made three groups of twice seven. (The Jews regarded "seven" as the number denoting completeness, wholeness, as in the seven days of creation.)
Some note that in making three groups, Matthew was focusing on significant points in Jewish history: the arrival of King David on the throne of Israel, the loss of David's throne to the Babylonian exile, and the restoration of the throne and promises in the birth of the Messiah.
Others point out the use of David's name in this genealogy because Matthew wanted to prove that Jesus descended from David. The Hebrew numerical value of David's name is fourteen. The "numerical value" refers to the values of the Hebrew consonants in David's name (DVD = 4+6+4=14), accounting for the focus on three sets of fourteen generations. Some are concerned that in counting these generations, each section doesn't add up to fourteen. However, ancient counting would alternate between inclusive and exclusive reckoning. A duplicated name from one set to the next may or may not count with either the previous or following set. The same sort of reckoning was true with Jesus being in the grave for three days—the three days included part of Friday, all of Saturday, and part of Sunday, but not three twenty-four hour periods. This reckoning was standard to Matthew's day.
A problem also seems to arise in comparing Matthew's genealogy with Luke's (recorded in Luke 3:23-38). Matthew's differences can be explained by his omitting names in order to achieve his symmetry of three sets of fourteen generations. Also, most likely Luke was tracing Jesus' natural human ancestry through Joseph, while Matthew was focusing on the legal and royal names to emphasize the succession of the throne of David and Jesus' arrival as the promised King. Matthew stressed Israelite history. Luke's longer genealogy traces Jesus' ancestry through David's son Nathan, not through Solomon, as Matthew did. Matthew also includes the names of four women, which Luke does not.
To his Jewish audience, Matthew gave a documented genealogical record of Jesus' ancestry so they could see for themselves that Jesus did indeed fulfill the requirements as the Son of David.
AN ANGEL APPEARS TO JOSEPH / 1:18-25
The fact that Jesus was born to Mary even though she had not had sex with Joseph (as noted in 1:16) needed to be explained to Matthew's readers. In this section, Matthew relates the story behind Jesus' birth and how all attempts to thwart God's plan go awry when God gets involved. We can appreciate God's miraculous working in both Joseph and Mary. Although God's actions were beyond their comprehension, and although they may have faced misunderstanding and questioning looks from those around them, Mary and Joseph willingly followed God's guidance. How willing are we to do what God wants, no matter what? Can we follow God's guidance without question?
1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. NIV In 1:16, Matthew had stated that Mary was Jesus' mother, but Joseph was not his father. This needed some explanation, for, taken at face value, it sounded immoral.
Jesus' mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph. Modern readers need to understand the traditions involved in ancient Jewish marriages. First, the two families would agree to the union and negotiate the betrothal, including a price for the bride that would be paid to the bride's father. Next, a public announcement would be made. At this point, the couple was "pledged." This is similar to engagement today, except that it was much more binding. At this point, even though the couple was not officially married, their relationship could be broken only through death or divorce. Sexual relations were not yet permitted. This second step lasted for a year. During that time, the couple would live separately, with their parents. This waiting period would demonstrate the bride's purity. If she were found to be pregnant during that time, the marriage could be annulled. Otherwise, the couple would be married and begin living together.
Because Mary and Joseph were pledged to be married, they had not yet had sexual relations (the meaning of the phrase "before they came together"). Yet she was found to be with child. Mary was pledged and pregnant, and Joseph knew that the child was not his own. Mary's apparent unfaithfulness carried a severe social stigma. According to Jewish civil law, Joseph had the right to divorce her. The law also explained that the penalty for unchastity was death by stoning ( Deuteronomy 22:23-24), although this was rarely carried out at this time. That Mary was "found" to be pregnant indicates that she may not have immediately told Joseph, but had waited until her condition could be seen. This probably occurred after her return from visiting her pregnant cousin Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist) with whom she had stayed for three months (see Luke 1:39-56).
Removing any doubt of Mary's purity, Matthew explained that Mary was pregnant through the Holy Spirit. During Old Testament times, the Spirit acted on God's initiative (for example, see Genesis 1:2). Thus, the divine initiative in Mary's conception was made clear. Luke 1:26-38 records this part of the story. When the angel announced to Mary that she was chosen to be the mother of the promised Messiah, Mary asked the obvious question: "How will this be . . . since I am a virgin?" ( Luke 1:34 niv). The angel's amazing answer both surprised and reassured Mary: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God" ( Luke 1:35 niv). Mary humbly accepted the angel's words, "I am the Lord's servant. . . . May it be to me as you have said" ( Luke 1:38 niv). Surely Mary's mind must have tumbled with concern over how Joseph would respond. She chose to trust the Lord, however, and the Lord took care of Joseph, as we see in the following verses.
FULLY HUMAN, FULLY GOD
Why is the virgin birth important to the Christian faith? Jesus Christ, God's Son, had to be free from the sinful nature passed on to all other human beings by Adam. Because Jesus was born of a woman, he was a human being; but as the Son of God, Jesus was born without any trace of human sin. Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. The infinite, unlimited God took on the limitations of humanity so he could live and die for the salvation of all who believe in him.
Because Jesus lived as a man, we know that he fully understands our experiences and struggles ( Hebrews 4:15-16). Because he is God, he has the power and authority to deliver us from sin ( Colossians 2:13-15). We can tell Jesus all our thoughts, feelings, and needs. He has been where we are now, and he has the ability to help.
1:19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. NRSV Joseph was called Mary's husband, even though they were not yet officially married. However, they were "pledged" (see explanation on 1:18), which was as legally binding as marriage. Joseph had a difficult decision to make. Being a righteous man, he did not want to go against God's laws. To marry Mary would have been an admission of guilt when he was not guilty. To have a public divorce would have exposed Mary to public disgrace, and apparently Joseph's compassion would not allow him to expose her to public humiliation. Therefore, he chose the option to have a private divorce before two witnesses and dismiss her quietly. This way he could keep his reputation, while still showing compassion.
Evidently, Mary had not explained her visit from the angel to Joseph at this time. Joseph only resolved to dismiss Mary after her condition had become visible ( 1:18). And the angel's words in 1:20 indicate that Joseph did not know the Holy Spirit's role in Mary's pregnancy. So, Joseph thought he had only two options: divorce Mary publicly or dismiss her quietly, but God had another option for Joseph.
God often shows us that we have more options than we think. Although Joseph seemed to be doing the right thing by breaking the engagement, God helped him make the best decision. We should always seek God's wisdom, especially when our decisions affect others.
1:20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." NRSV As Joseph began to move forward on his decided course of action, God intervened. The conception of Jesus Christ was a supernatural event beyond human logic or reasoning. Because of this, God sent angels to help certain people understand the significance of what was happening (see 2:13, 19; Luke 1:11, 26; 2:9). In this case, an angel appeared to him in a dream. Dreams function in the Bible as a means to convey God's message to people. They occur in three major portions of the Bible: Genesis 20-41; Daniel 1-7; Matthew 1-2. Based on Numbers 12:6, Jews believed that God communicated his will in dreams. In Matthew, dreams are used repeatedly to guide people ( 2:12-13, 22; 27:19). God used dreams in a special way during these key times. We can benefit spiritually from our dreams, but there is no certainty that they are authoritative messages from God.
Angels are spiritual beings, created by God, who help carry out his work on earth. They bring God's messages to people ( Luke 1:26), protect God's people ( Daniel 6:22), offer encouragement ( Genesis 16:7ff.), give guidance ( Exodus 14:19), carry out punishment ( 2 Samuel 24:16), patrol the earth ( Zechariah 1:9-14), and fight the forces of evil ( 2 Kings 6:16-18; Revelation 20:1-2). Both good and evil angels exist ( Revelation 12:7), but because evil angels are allied with the devil, or Satan, they have considerably less power and authority than good angels. Eventually the main role of angels will be to offer continuous praise to God ( Revelation 7:11-12). The angel who appeared to Joseph was one of God's messengers, sent to correct Joseph in his dealings with Mary.
The angel called Joseph son of David, signifying that Joseph had a special role in a special event. The angel explained that Joseph was to take Mary as his wife, for the child was to be in the royal line of David. Joseph, as "son of David," would establish that royal lineage. Joseph was not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife—no matter what the social repercussions might be. Of course, she was already his wife because they were pledged, but the angel told Joseph that instead of divorcing Mary, he should complete the marriage process and take her home as his wife. Mary had committed no sin. Instead, the angel explained that the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. God himself had caused this pregnancy, and the child would be very special—God's Son. He would also be the fulfillment of prophecy, as described in the next verse.
MAKING GOOD DECISIONS
When facing big decisions, some people freeze with fright. What if I decide wrong? What if I miss God's will? What if . . . ?
To make good decisions, first take all these worries and put them under God's promise: God cares for you, watches over you, and guides your steps.
Joseph came to the best decision he could, but God had other plans and made them clear. Most of our decisions will not be overruled by angels, but that's no reason for lack of confidence. To make good decisions, pray, evaluate all the options, talk with trusted friends, then act in faith. God is with you, every step.
1:21 "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name J esus , for He will save His people from their sins." NKJV The angel's message included telling Joseph what was to come and what he should do. There seems to have been no doubt that Joseph would hear and obey. Mary would give birth to a baby boy. Joseph was to name the child Jesus. "Jesus" is the Greek form of "Joshua." The name means "the Lord saves." Jesus' name identified him as the one who would bring God's promised salvation. The baby Jesus would be born to save His people from their sins. From the very start, the book explains, to a Jewish audience, that Jesus would not save the people from Rome or from tyranny, nor would he set up an earthly kingdom. Instead, Jesus would save people from sin. The words "his people" form a mystery to be unfolded in the pages of Matthew's Gospel. Who were "his people," and how would Jesus save them from their sins? The answers to these questions will be found in the unfolding story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.
A NEW LIFE
Jesus came to earth to save us because we can't save ourselves from sin and its consequences. No matter how good we are, we can't eliminate our alienation from God. Only Jesus can do that. Jesus didn't come to help people save themselves; he, and he alone, came to be their Savior from the power and penalty of sin. Thank Jesus for his death on the cross for your sin, and then ask him to take control of your life. Your new life begins at that moment.
1:22-23 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us." NIV Throughout his Gospel, Matthew delighted in quoting or alluding to Old Testament Scripture to show how Jesus fulfilled it. Jesus was to be called Immanuel—which means "God with us," as predicted by Isaiah the prophet ( Isaiah 7:14). Jesus was God in the flesh; thus, God was literally "with us." The point was not that Jesus would ever bear the name "Immanuel," but rather this name described Jesus' role—to bring God's presence to people. Jesus Christ, who was himself God ( John 1:1), brought God to earth in his human body—living, eating, teaching, healing, dying. Matthew closed his Gospel with the same promise of "God with us" because, before his ascension, Jesus promised his followers, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age" ( Matthew 28:20 nkjv). Perhaps not even Isaiah understood how far-reaching the meaning of "Immanuel" would be.
Matthew quoted Isaiah 7:14 probably from the Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament (the Septuagint). In Isaiah 7:14, "virgin" is translated from a Hebrew word used for an unmarried woman old enough to be married, one who is sexually mature (see Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:8; Psalm 68:25; Proverbs 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3; 6:8). Some have compared this young woman to Isaiah's young wife, who gave him a son ( Isaiah 8:1-4). This is not likely because she had already borne a child, Shear-Jashub, and her second child was not named Immanuel. Some believe that Isaiah's first wife may have died, and so this is his second wife. It is more likely that this prophecy had a double fulfillment. (1) A young woman from the house of Ahaz who was not married would marry and have a son. Before three years passed (one year for pregnancy and two for the child to be old enough to talk), the two invading kings would be destroyed. (2) Matthew 1:23 quotes Isaiah 7:14 to show a further fulfillment of this prophecy in that a virgin named Mary conceived and bore a son, Immanuel, the Christ.
1:24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife. NRSV The angel had spoken to Joseph "in a dream" ( 1:20), so immediately when Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. Joseph had been faced with a difficult choice after discovering that Mary was pregnant. Although he knew that taking Mary as his wife might be humiliating, Joseph chose to obey the angel's command to marry her. He did not hesitate. The decision was no longer difficult, for he simply did what he knew God wanted him to do. His action revealed four admirable qualities: (1) righteousness ( 1:19), (2) discretion and sensitivity ( 1:19), (3) responsiveness to God ( 1:24), and (4) self-discipline ( 1:25).
Apparently Joseph broke with tradition and took her as his wife, even though the customary one-year waiting period had not passed. However, Joseph did as God commanded and "completed" their marriage by taking Mary to live with him. No matter what the social stigma, no matter what the local gossips thought about this move, Joseph knew he was following God's command in marrying and caring for Mary during her pregnancy.
"BUT WHAT WILL EVERYONE THINK?"
Joseph changed his plans quickly after learning about God's plan for his life from the angel. He obeyed God and proceeded with the marriage plans. Although others may have disapproved of his decision, Joseph went ahead with what he knew was right. Sometimes we avoid doing what is right because of what others might think. Like Joseph, we must choose to obey God rather than seek the approval of others.
1:25 But had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. NRSV To squelch any doubts about the conception and birth of Jesus while Mary was still a virgin, Matthew explained that Joseph had no marital relations with her until after the son was born. These words also set aside the notion that Mary lived her whole life as a virgin; after Jesus' birth, Joseph and Mary consummated their marriage, and Jesus had several half brothers ( 12:46). Two of Jesus' half brothers figured in the early church—James, leader of the church in Jerusalem, and Jude, writer of the book that bears his name.
Traditionally, baby boys were circumcised and named eight days after birth. Luke records that "on the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus" ( Luke 2:21 niv). Joseph did everything that God had told him through the angel ( 1:21), naming the baby his God-given name: Jesus.
[Bruce B. Barton (2016). (p. 19). Life Application Bible Commentary. Tyndale. Retrieved from https://app.wordsearchbible.lifeway.com]
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