Matthew begins his gospel, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ …”, an allusion to the toledoth phrases of Genesis which form the framework of that record, introduc­ing the stories where God’s purpose is outlined and developed. They begin with Genesis 2:4: “These are the generations (Heb toledoth) of the heavens and the earth”. The second is Genesis 5:1: “This is the book of the generations of Adam”. Matthew, in his opening verse, introduces the one who will triumph where Adam failed: the one who was to become the firstborn of a new creation, the culmination of God’s purpose. In Matthew’s genealogy, he is described as both son of David, by birth “king of the Jews” (Matt 2:2), and also son of Abraham, heir of the promises. No more illustrious ancestry could be imagined.

It is clear that these genealogies, the three sets of 14 generations of Matthew 1, could almost be described as an appointed or nominated line of descent. The Divine hand overshadowed every generation. Firstborn sons are passed over and younger sons take precedence in the line of descent. Gentiles are included. Terrible sins are laid bare in the lives of those who take their place in the line of Messiah. This son will not be in ‘blue blood’ by human reckoning. To be sure there are great men as his antecedents, but wicked men, too, find their place. The whole panoply of human achievement and human failure, of godliness and godlessness are on display for our learning.

Abraham to David (Matt 1:2-6a)

This record draws on the genealogy outlined in 1 Chronicles 1 and 2. Every individual noted in Matthew 1:2 comprises individuals who are not firstborn sons, including Abraham. God chose each man for his position in His purpose and He has done the same for us. Even Judah is there. Judah, the libertine man of the world, abruptly brought to his senses by his daughter-in-law to become the leader among the brothers, recognized as such by his aged father who “sent Judah before him unto Joseph” (Gen 46:28), and who also marked out his tribe for kingship (Gen 49:10). Providence and Divine selection were clearly at work.

Five women are mentioned in this record, four in the first 14 names. There is Thamar whose incestuous union with Judah produced Phares and Zarah. Rahab the harlot and Ruth the Moabitess are included (v5). So too is Bathsheba, unnamed, referred to point­edly as “her of Urias” (v6). And finally of course Mary, who “was found with child of the Holy Spirit”, from a human perspective a likely story indeed! See those the Father included in the line of His Son – Gentiles, some of them; dubious in background and moral­ity to a casual observer. But how right that they are there: wonderful women of faith and character, overcoming impediments to lay hold of the hope of Israel, examples to us all.

So we begin with Abraham, the father of the faithful, and end in this first group with “David the king”. Now there are many kings in this chapter, but David alone is so designated, twice. He is the embodiment of kingship, the template for all his successors to follow, until “the great king” would come.

Solomon to Jechonias (Matt 1:6b-11)

We can happily trace the names in this record back to the list in 1 Chronicles 3:10-16 until we note that Joram (Jehoram) begat Ozias (Uzziah) (Matt 1:8). Yes, still in the direct line of David, but Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah (Joram’s son, grandson, and great grandson respectively) are omitted. Why should this be? The answer can be traced to the awful family consequences, which came from a terrible lapse in judgment by that great man, Jehoshaphat, who “joined affinity with Ahab” (2 Chron 18:1). His error was to make a marriage alliance in accepting Athaliah (“that wicked wom­an” 2 Chron 24:7), daughter of Jezebel, as wife for his son Jehoram. This foolish action stands in the record as a signal warning to any who are tempted to put “unity” before principle. Though technically in the Davidic line, the fact that God strikes them from the record of his son’s antecedents here in Matthew’s genealogy starkly indicates the Divine displeasure. In other words, this genealogy has a moral dimension built into the framework beyond just a description of lineal family descent.

See how the Chronicles account describes Ahaziah: “His mother’s name also was Athaliah the daughter of Omri. He also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab for his mother was his counsellor to do wickedly. Wherefore he did evil in the sight of the LORD like the house of Ahab…” (2 Chron 22:2-4). Three generations (Ex 34:7) were effectively counted in the line of Ahab and walked in his ways: “their exclu­sion is not oversight however, but a very careful discrimination between houses of Ahab and David” (H P Mansfield).

Matthew 1:11 presents a further point of interest to consider. Why does the record from David to the captivity conclude with the words: “Josias (Josiah) begat Jechonias (Jeconiah or Jehoiachin) and his brethren”? Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim, direct sons of Josiah, preceded Jeconiah as kings and he, in turn, was followed by Zedekiah his uncle. So why is the record apparently fore­shortened in this way and why of those four kings following Josiah is Jeconiah, who reigned for a brief three months, chosen as the one to be included in Matthew’s account?

Jehoahaz’ reign was brief and inglorious. After three months he was set aside by Pharaoh-Necho, who took him to Egypt where it seems he promptly died (2 Kings 23:34; Jer 22:11-12). There is no record of any children. His older brother Eliakim or Jehoiakim was placed on the throne by Necho and reigned for 11 years. He was godless, brutal, and avaricious. Nebuchadnezzar had him slain at Jerusalem, “buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem” (Jer 22:19).

Jehoiakim’s young son, Jehoiachin (Jechonias in Matt 1:11), a youth of 18 years (2 Kings 24:8), succeeded his father on the throne for three months. He was removed from the throne by Nebuchadnezzar, who took him off to Babylon, including “the king’s mother, and the king’s wives” (2 Kings 24:15). Zedekiah, Jehoiachin’s un­cle, was then placed on the throne of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. After Zedekiah’s foolish rebellion against Babylon, this “profane wicked prince of Israel” (Ezek 21:25) was taken as he tried to flee, forced to see his sons slain before his eyes and then had his own eyes put out (2 Kings 25:7).

So Jechonias is the only one left alive, with his wives, and able to continue the line of David in Babylon, and it would seem for this reason he is the nominated seed of David at the time of the captivity and so marked the end of the second fourteen in Matthew 1:11.

Jechonias to Jesus (Matt 1:12-16)

It seems Jechonias is counted at the end of the second generation of 14 and then at this transi­tion point in Judah’s history, he is included again to mark the first of the third group of 14 names: “Jechonias begat Salathiel”. Some critics have said that this begettal contradicts Jeremiah’s words of doom against Jechoniah: “write ye this man child­less, a man that shall not prosper in his days, for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah” (Jer 22:30). But this merely excludes specific rulership, not a line of descent. Some suggest Salathiel was the son of Assir mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:17, but the NET Bible translates that verse: “the sons of Jehoiachin the exile (treating Assir as a proper noun meaning “exile” or “captive”), Shealtiel his son” removing that apparent difficulty.

Matthew continues that “Salathiel (Shealtiel) begat Zorobabel”. The record in 1 Chronicles 3:17­ 19 indicates that Shealtiel and Pedaiah were broth­ers and that Zerubbabel was the son of Pedaiah. Brother Robert Roberts comments (Christadelphian Vol 34 Pg 498): “Is it impossible that Zerubbabel, while the actual son of Pedaiah, may have been so by the widow of his brother Shealtiel or Salathiel, and therefore known as the son of the latter? We have no information; but we have the two facts that Zerubbabel was the son of Pedaiah, and that he was genealogically reckoned as the son of Salathiel, Pedaiah’s brother, from which some such inference follows”.

The genealogy continues to “Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ”. So this genealogy serves to establish Jesus’ legal line of descent from King David through to his ‘legal’ father, Joseph.

What of the three divisions of 14? It is difficult to be certain as to why this should be. Some have noted that 14 is the numerical value of David’s name, and that 3 x 14 stamp this record with the royal Davidic descent. This may well be so. Others have suggested that the divisions in this fashion are also an aid to memorisation. Some might be attracted to the thought that 3 x 14 = 42, which comprises 7 (the covenant number) and 6 (the number of flesh) and that this combination is at­tractive in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.

“… Which was the son of God” (Luke 3:38)

The genealogy in Luke 3 goes back to God Himself, while Matthew begins with Abraham. It is clear that Matthew’s purpose is to point to Jesus as both the seed of Abraham, and the seed of King David, heir to both the promises and the throne. But why does Matthew not make direct reference to Jesus as Son of God? Well, in actual fact, he does. In Matthew 1:20 he is described as “conceived of the Holy Spirit”. In verse 21 he is called Jesus (the salvation of Yahweh) because he is a Saviour raised up by God. In verse 23 he is called Emmanuel – God with us. In Matthew 2 Jesus is described by birth as King of the Jews (v2) and by birth as the Messiah (v4). His position as seed of the woman is emphasised through constant repetition. We have the phrase “the young child and his mother” over and over in Matthew 2:11,13,14,20,21. And in the midst of these statements, in verse 15, the cry of God rings out, drawing upon the words of Hosea 11:1, “My son”. This very cry was to claim him as His own.

Conclusion

Matthew 1 provides us with an inspired, selected genealogy to demonstrate Jesus’ legal descent from Abraham and David. The line is inclusive; the depths of evil, and the heights of faith are revealed; Jesus was indeed part of the race he came to save. The blood of Moabites and Canaanites formed part of his heritage. Having no children, he has called us to be part of his Father’s great family. What a privilege we have to be called to be part of that great genealogy, sons and daughters of Abraham, of David, and of our Lord himself.

This is not an easy section of Scripture to grasp and we welcome any comments and insights that might help us to have a better understanding of it.