As a child I remember reading Matthew 1:1-17 — the infamous genealogy of Jesus Christ — and thinking to myself,
Why is this in here? It’s so borrrrrrring! What’s the point?
Somewhere between Amminadab and Abijah my mind began to drift, only momentarily brought back to the task at hand by Salmon (a fish?) and David (because anyone who kills a giant with a rock is worth noting).
Several years down the road I learned that the genealogy was actually quite important for the Jewish readers for which Matthew was written. It served to show that Jesus was from the line of David and that, because of this, he had the proper pedigree to be the long-awaited Messiah.
Okay, I’ll shut my mouth about this genealogy stuff being meaningless. But it’s still boring.
Ahhhhh….the days of innocent Bible reading, when passages such as this could just be skipped over, labeled “Not Important,” and never thought of again. All I really need to do is memorize a few key verses and I’m good, right?
- For God so loved the world…
- I can do all things through Christ…
- I have come that you might live life abundantly…
- If you ask anything in my name…
- Come to me all who are weary…and I will give you rest…
- You will receive power…
If only. As I continue to read Scripture, learn from others, and experience day-to-day life on this planet, I continue to realize that there are mountains of fascinating insights, deep meanings, and undeniable truths lying just below the surface of the words and stories of Scripture–hidden gold just waiting to be discovered. Even the genealogy of Matthew, much to my surprise, was full of a few crazy-fun and meaningful nuggets of truth.
Read more about looking at Biblical text from the literary point of view
Well, whadduya know about that. Go figure.
Matthew’s genealogy does something that would likely have taken listeners by surprise. Generally speaking, genealogies were important because they proved a person to be who he or she claimed to be. In general, a genealogy was intended to make a person “look good” and present the highlights of his or her family line.
Now, we all have people in our families that we tend not to talk about. In a public setting we try, as much as possible, to avoid having to connect ourselves to closely to these “characters.” Matthew is forced to include at least one scoundrel–Judah–in his genealogy, but there are others that have no business being included…unless Matthew is trying to do something more than just presenting the historical picture of Jesus’ family tree and the literal facts of his claim to be the Messiah.
What is Matthew trying to do? None of these four women required inclusion, given that they are women and ancient genealogies generally traced only the male lineage (see all of the other generations listed without any women being mentioned at all). Not only that, but one of these women is a foreigner, one slept with her father-in-law to reveal how rotten he was, another was a prostitute by profession, and the yet another–by the mere mention of her name (though she was herself innocent)–reminded the entire nation of Israel about the infidelity and murderous schemes of their greatest king. This is not the kind of stuff you would normally use to present the family line of holy Messiah, sent from God the Father.
Names carry with them stories, images, remembrances, and emotions. When names are lost, so are stories; so are identifies, so are histories, so are the reminders of what God has done and what God is doing. In short, Matthew isn’t just giving his listeners–which now extend to modern-day readers–not only boring list of names, but a brief reminder of key stories of how God has worked among them in the past and a introduction to what God has and is doing for them through the Messiah, Jesus.
Reminders of God’s calling are found in the name “Abraham.”
Reminders of God’s protection and salvation are there in the mention of “Jacob and his sons.”
Reminders of God’s love for the sinner are found in the name “Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).”
Reminders of God’s love for the foreigners and the outsiders are found in the name of “Ruth.”
Reminders of our human capacity for sin and God’s forgiveness and mercy for even the mightiest of sinners is found in the name of “David.”
In short, as Andy Stanley explains, these controversial, head-shaking, gasp-inducing names are included in the genealogy not only because they are part of the story, but also because are the point of the story, the very reason for which the Messiah was sent.
It’s probably been awhile since you read Matthew genealogy. Go back and read it now, slowly, and noticing the curious names in the first half of this fascinating list–go here to read it online. The second half of the list is made up mostly of people we’ve never heard of and, if not for this list, would probably never know. This too, I think, reminds us of something very important. Not every person–most, in fact–don’t become a King David or a Rahab or an Abraham or a Ruth. Most of us, though loved by our families and friends, will not be remembered by history. Yet, even these 14 generations of “no-names” listed by Matthew each played their part.
When we read about what such good people were Mary and Joseph, we must realize the contributions of the generations that came before them. Someone once told me that my job as a parent was not only to raise my children, but to also raise my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In raising my own children I was also influencing the kind of parent they would become. That was a transformative idea for me. In the same way, every name in the genealogy represents a story of grace, forgiveness, mercy, God’s love, and behind-the-scenes faithfulness. It is a little bit of history used to help set the scene of Matthew’s gospel, to be sure, but so much more than mere history, as is most of Scripture. It is an introduction to the grand story that Matthew intends to tell in the word’s that follow; a story that would change the entire world.
“Heavenly Father, creator of everything. We praise your name and give thanks for your unending love; the same love that sent Jesus Christ to this world to save us…to save me. Thank you for your love for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Thank you for seeing the faith of Rahab, for extending your grace to the outsiders like Ruth, and for your forgiveness of David’s great sin. May I, like David, be a man/woman after your own heart. Let my life be used for you glory and to bring honor to you, whether I am known by many or by few. Thank you, Father. May it be so.”
Articles you might enjoy: