Lately it seems that tracing one’s family tree is becoming quite the thing to do. There are numerous organizations and websites dedicated to family tree research. Some who have traced their lineage have found distant relatives whose accomplishments were considerable; having made significant contributions to society, and who may even have gained fame as a result.
If you wanted to impress somebody with your ancestry, you would undoubtedly want to highlight the more illustrious ancestors, and omit certain others. You would be proud of the great-grandfather who was the Chief Rabbi of such-and-such a city, or the great-great aunt who invented a gadget that made cooking easier, or the late cousin who founded a school or a hospital. I am proud of the fact that my own half-brother Douglas is a modern descendant of Maimonides! On the other hand, there are inevitably those relatives you’d just as soon leave off your chart – people like the uncle with the strange facial tick who tells the same stories of his “glory days” every time he sees you, or the distant relative who was hung for being a horse-thief.
Yeshua’s genealogy represents a key facet of the necessary credentials for His Messianic claim. One might expect impeccable ancestral credentials from the Messiah – a high sense of “yichus” (Yiddish for “pedigree”). After all, if He’s a king there had better be some impressive family history there. Let’s consider Yeshua’s genealogical record presented by Matthew (1:1-16): The book of the genealogy of Yeshua the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. To Abraham was born Isaac; and to Isaac, Jacob; and to Jacob, Judah and his brothers; and to Judah were born Perez and Zerah by Tamar; and to Perez was born Hezron, and to Hezron, Ram; and to Ram was born Amminadab; and to Amminadab, Nahshon; and to Nahshon, Salmon; and to Salmon was born Boaz by Rahab; and to Boaz was born Obed by Ruth; and to Obed, Jesse; and to Jesse was born David the king. And to David was born Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah; and to Solomon was born Rehoboam; and to Rehoboam, Abijah; and to Abijah, Asa; and to Asa was born Jehoshaphat; and to Jehoshaphat, Joram; and to Joram, Uzziah; and to Uzziah was born Jotham; and to Jotham, Ahaz; and to Ahaz, Hezekiah; and to Hezekiah was born Manasseh; and to Manasseh, Amon; and to Amon, Josiah; and to Josiah were born Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. And after the deportation to Babylon, to Jeconiah was born Shealtiel; and to Shealtiel, Zerubbabel; and to Zerubbabel was born Abiud; and to Abiud, Eliakim; and to Eliakim, Azor; and to Azor was born Zadok; and to Zadok, Achim; and to Achim, Eliud; and to Eliud was born Eleazar; and to Eleazar, Matthan; and to Matthan, Jacob; and to Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Yeshua, who is called the Messiah.
Now be honest… did you skip that section? If not, how fast did you go through it? Granted, such a reading doesn’t always inspire. But remember that Matthew composed his book during a time of severe opposition to the legitimacy of this fledgling messianic movement. There were plenty of Jewish religious zealots bent on discrediting Yeshua. If Yeshua’s Israeli and specifically Judean ancestry were not both verifiable and credible, that alone would have been sufficient grounds to dismiss both the Man and His Movement. Let’s examine this genealogy again (a little more slowly and attentively this time), a genealogy spanning nearly 2,200 years.
The book of the genealogy of Yeshua the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. These are very first words of the New Testament yet, amazingly, there are still those who refuse to acknowledge the Jewishness of the Book! What we have at the outset is the assertion of the legal and tribal basis for the claim that Yeshua is the Messiah. In this one verse we have three remarkable claims; the first being the confident assertion that Yeshua was, and is, the Messiah; the second claim, that He is legally and rightfully heir to the throne of David and the fulfillment of the prophecies of 2 Samuel 7 and Isaiah 9; and third, that He is a descendant of Abraham, the progenitor of our people. That might seem insignificant to some, but in accordance with the Torah (Deuteronomy 17) the king of Israel must be an Israeli.
To Abraham was born Isaac; and to Isaac, Jacob; and to Jacob, Judah and his brothers; That seems straightforward enough, and certainly would have been elementary to any first-century Jew. It would also have been easy to gloss over, save the fact that in this one verse we’ve just covered 270 years of our ancestral history, not to mention 49 of the 50 chapters of Genesis! But of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah we have no problems. Well… almost none. There is the matter of Abraham lying (twice!) about his wife; Isaac playing favorites with his children, Jacob deceiving his father; Judah conspiring with his brothers to rid themselves of Joseph (it was Judah who suggested they sell Joseph to the Midianites). Remember, though, that this is a very real, very human genealogy. Matthew is setting out to establish, not the impeccable moral quality of, but the undeniable Israeli identity of Messiah’s human ancestors. And to that extent, there’s no problem here.
And to Judah were born Perez and Zerah by Tamar; and to Perez was born Hezron, and to Hezron, Ram; Any problem here? Yes. A big problem! …and to Judah were born Perez and Zerah by Tamar; for those who have never studied Genesis, or for those who have forgotten, let me point out that Tamar was not Judah’s wife. She was his daughter-in-law! The whole sordid affair is found in Genesis 38. Granted, Judah didn’t know it was his daughter-in-law; he thought she was a prostitute. That doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better about it. Already we have in Yeshua’s genealogical record at least one ancestor (Perez – whose name means “breach”) born of an incestuous relationship. But this too would have been common knowledge to any first-century Jew – though perhaps not so well-known among Jewish people today, owing largely to our biblical illiteracy. You may be relieved to know that of Hezron (whose name means “enclosure” – perhaps signifying that the breach had been healed and the damage contained) and Ram (whose name means “exalted”) we find no particular problems. The biblical record says very little about their lives, and perhaps it’s just as well.
And to Ram was born Amminadab; and to Amminadab, Nahshon; and to Nahshon, Salmon There are no problems with any of these individuals, and we’re still on track as pertains to the thoroughly Israeli ancestry of Messiah Yeshua. The same cannot be said, however, of the next group. We will need to consider the next verse a section at a time. And to Salmon was born Boaz by Rahab; Yes, that Rahab! The Rahab described in Joshua 2. Does that really mean Yeshua’s ancestry included a former Gentile prostitute? Yes, it does. Of course, that also means that at some point Rahab must have married within Israel. Can you imagine the scene… “Mom, I’d like you to meet my fiancee, Rahab. She used to be a prostitute, and… well… she isn’t an Israeli, mom. Wait, Mom, listen – she’s given up that way of life and has become one of us. In fact, she was our point-person at Jericho and even saved the lives of our two spies. Yes, mom, that Rahab!” The Scriptures not only commend Rahab for her role in the Jericho encounter, but in both Old and New Testaments, she is shown to be an example of how foreigners might join themselves to the community of Israel. Still, did she have to be included in Yeshua’s genealogical record? Wouldn’t it have been a lot less controversial if Matthew had simply omitted her name? This is admittedly not the world’s most pristine family line, but it is the family line of God’s choosing, and the theme running through it will become increasingly evident. For now, let’s consider other names in this section.
And to Boaz was born Obed by Ruth; Many people are familiar with the story of Ruth, but it has special meaning for Gentiles within the messianic movement. In Ruth we read of a Moabite woman who is drawn to, and ultimately attaches herself to the people and the God of Israel. It is evident that both Boaz and Ruth were righteous individuals. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Ruth was a Moabite woman – part of a people who were specifically excluded – in perpetuity – from the assembly of Israel (see Deuteronomy 23:3-6) for their part when the Midianites attempted to have Israel cursed by Balaam. Solomon married Moabite women and was condemned by the writer of 1 Kings for it. In Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 13 the Jewish men who had married foreign wives (including Moabite wives) were rebuked and urged to break off those marriages. How is it that this particular union between an Israeli and a Moabitess becomes the exception? How can we deem acceptable an ancestry which includes a Moabite woman? Wouldn’t this alone negate the genealogy and thus disqualify Yeshua as Messiah?
The answer is “no” for two important reasons: first, Ruth joined herself to Israel and to Israel’s God (thus forsaking Moabite culture and Moabite religion). She is considered, both by biblical writers and in Jewish tradition, as having become a proselyte, a convert to Judaism, and a full-fledged member of the Jewish community. The barring of intermarriage and Moabite participation in Israel’s assembly didn’t have as much to do with ethnicity as with the issue of maintaining the purity of Israel’s doctrine and practice. Ruth was clearly a singular person of proper faith. Second, Ruth was a direct ancestor of King David. Consequently, if anyone would disqualify Yeshua on the basis of having a non-Israeli in the genealogy, they would also have to disqualify King David! And who would dream of doing that? Clearly, God is trying to communicate something to us through Yeshua’s genealogy. Let’s wait a little longer before taking up the “grand theme.”
And to Jesse was born David the king. And to David was born Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah; Clearly there is no problem with Jesse or David as pertains to their national origin. They were a Judean family from Bethlehem. The problem is that Solomon was born to David by “her who had been the wife of Uriah.” Her name was Batsheva, and she was a married woman when David first set eyes on her. David committed adultery with Batsheva, got her pregnant, and then conspired to have her husband killed to cover up their affair, and to create the illusion that she was a war widow, and eligible for him to marry. David committed adultery with Batsheva, and yet she is named in the genealogy of Messiah. Well, not exactly “named” – she is referred to as her who had been the wife of Uriah. Does this genealogy seem to be going from bad to worse? As we pointed out earlier, this is a very human genealogy!
Consider the implications – thus far we’ve seen in Yeshua’s genealogy one ancestor born of an incestuous relationship, two foreign women, one of whom had been a prostitute and the other part of an enemy people forever excluded from the Israeli community. Now we have an adulterous man and woman becoming the parents of Solomon! How can this be? One might justifiably ask, “Why would God allow such sinful people to be part of Messiah’s lineage?”
David might have fooled the people, but he hadn’t fooled God. When confronted by Nathan the prophet David acknowledged that he had sinned against the Lord, to which Nathan replies, “The Lord has also taken away your sin; you shall not die.” Sin? Yes. But also, and more importantly… redemption. In each of these representative members of Yeshua’s genealogy, we witness the theme of redemption. The situations themselves may have been difficult, even disastrous, but not one individual, not one circumstance, was beyond God’s power to redeem, to restore and from which to create good! The God of Israel can, and does, use imperfect people – people like you and me, to accomplish His will. Though in some cases these individuals suffered the earthly consequences of their actions, it does not diminish the fact that God redeemed their lives and situations, turning them to good, and He can turn your life around for good, too.
Next comes a list of Israel’s kings: and to Solomon was born Rehoboam; and to Rehoboam, Abijah; and to Abijah, Asa; and to Asa was born Jehoshaphat; and to Jehoshaphat, Joram; and to Joram, Uzziah; and to Uzziah was born Jotham; and to Jotham, Ahaz; and to Ahaz, Hezekiah; and to Hezekiah was born Manasseh; and to Manasseh, Amon; and to Amon, Josiah; and to Josiah were born Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. Do you see the problem? It’s Jeconiah, otherwise known as Jehoiachin – a wicked king who lived during the Babylonian invasion; a contemptible man who sold his people out, and was cursed by God to the effect that not one of his descendants would ever rule on the throne of David! “As I live,” declares the Lord, “even though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were a signet ring on My right hand, yet I would pull you off…” O land, land land, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord, `Write this man down childless, a man who will not prosper in his days; for no man of his descendants will prosper, sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah'” (Jeremiah 22).
Matthew declares what anyone investigating Yeshua’s genealogy would have eventually come upon – Jeconiah. Didn’t Matthew know about this curse? Of course he did! How then does he reconcile a curse upon the line of this wicked king with the fact that Yeshua is descended from him? The answer comes to us from a prophecy in Haggai: “But now be strong, O Zerubbabel” declares the Lord… “for I am with you”… “On that day,” declares the Lord of hosts, “I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, my servant,” declares the Lord, “and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you,” declares the Lord of hosts. Whereas God had described Jehoiachin as a signet ring He would pull off His hand, to Zerubbabel, his descendant, the Lord promised to treat him as a cherished signet ring! How is this possible? The answer is found in the forgiving and redeeming nature of God. True, Jehoiachin was cursed, and God’s word fulfilled, but God, in His time, and by His rightful authority, reversed the curse on His family-line, describing Zerubbabel as a chosen servant! The same Lord of righteousness is also the God of mercy, who graciously restored the line of David.
Here is the last section of Messiah’s genealogy: And after the deportation to Babylon, to Jeconiah was born Shealtiel; and to Shealtiel, Zerubbabel; and to Zerubbabel was born Abiud; and to Abiud, Eliakim; and to Eliakim, Azor; and to Azor was born Zadok; and to Zadok, Achim; and to Achim, Eliud; and to Eliud was born Eleazar; and to Eleazar, Matthan; and to Matthan, Jacob; and to Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Yeshua, who is called the Messiah. In this list of kings and their descendants, there are several about whom we know very little, other than their mention here. One thing that does stand out is that it does not say “to Joseph was born Yeshua.” Later in his book Matthew will make the case for the Divine origin and virgin birth of the Messiah. Nevertheless, Yeshua is the legal heir of Joseph, and therefore entitled to sit on David’s throne.
In conclusion, several main points come out in Yeshua’s genealogy recorded by in Matthew:
First, Matthew makes abundantly clear that Yeshua is the Divine, virgin-born, prophetically announced Messiah, legally entitled to sit on David’s throne.
Second, there is universality to the Good News about Yeshua – it is Good News for Jew and Gentile alike. Both Jews and Gentiles were ancestors of the Messiah, and God continues to redeem people from all nations.
Third, our Redeemer God can use imperfect people like you and me to accomplish His purposes. God can redeem even the most troubled, questionable circumstances, and turn them around for good, and to His glory. Ordinary, even flawed human beings, so prone to err, can be used by God to do wonderful things. If anyone imagines himself beyond the scope of God’s redemptive power, I encourage you to take the message of this otherwise scandalous genealogy to heart. Consider those whose lives the Lord turned around, and who ultimately were privileged to be part of Messiah’s ancestry. Whoever you are, and whatever you have been, you are within God’s reach. You have only to turn to Him and be embraced in His love and forgiveness.