Now it is time to move on to the New Testament.
The Gospel of Matthew
Allusions to the theme of a Davidic Messiah were expressed repeatedly in the Hebrew Scriptures but the Second Book of Samuel, Chapter 7 verses 12-17, is undoubtedly the primary text upon which Israelite expectations of a Messiah of Davidic ancestry is based:
"When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David (2 Samuel 7:12-17 ESV).
The three major elements of this text are:
The Davidic descent of the Messiah;
The father-son relationship between God and the Messiah;
The perpetual nature of the Davidic throne.
An accurate rendering of Matthew 1:1 into English is vital if we are to understand the premise on which the author bases his entire set of arguments. Whether wholly or in part, current translations fail to provide this essential accuracy so the author must supply the deficiency. An accurate translation is:
The book of the generation(s) of Jesus Anointed, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Within this single verse are contained several points of great significance to Israelite peoples:
Matthew’s very first words, “The book of the generation(s)” recall for the reader the words of Genesis 5:1, “This is the book of the generation(s) of man…” With this phrase, Matthew introduces the theme of the new beginning, the new creation, a theme which underscores the entire New Testament;
Matthew’s selection of Abraham and David was not merely because Abraham was the “father” of the Israelite people and David was Israel’s greatest King but, more importantly, because both men were the recipients of great and enduring promises from God;
Matthew states his belief that Jesus is the Anointed one of God (Messiah), but more precisely that he is the Messiah of the royal House of David. Thus Matthew’s Jesus is not only the fulfilment of the primary Israelite expectation—that the Messiah will be a descendant of David, according to God’s promise—but also that, in Jesus, all the hopes and promises, indeed all the Scriptures given to his ancestors have now been fulfilled and embodied.
The unique religious and political character of ancient Israelite society mandated the keeping of genealogies. Genealogies were a testament to God’s providential rule of history and defined a person’s identity within the family and the tribe. By the time of Jesus, the two major genealogical registers considered most vital were those of the descendants of the kingly House of David and those of the priestly House of Levi. Josephus, in his autobiographical Life (6), refers to the “public registers” from which he extracts his own genealogical information. (See also Josephus Contra Apion I, 28-56 [6-10]) and Genesis Rabbah 98:8 which records that Rabbi Hillel was proved to be a descendant of David because a genealogical scroll was found in Jerusalem.)
Matthew’s genealogy is similar to that of Ruth 4:18-22 in that it is concerned with recording only the highlights of God’s saving plan for Israel through the Davidic line. When we read through the genealogy, we see in verses 2-17 that it serves three major purposes:
To demonstrate God’s salvation plan for Israel
By removing what he considers unimportant generational steps, Matthew is able to construct a genealogy around the three great rise and fall periods of Israelite history: Captivity-Freedom; Freedom-Captivity; Captivity-Freedom.
- From Abraham’s Babylonian Captivity (Ur of the Chaldees) rising to freedom with the Davidic Kingship;
- From the freedom of the Davidic Kingship sinking to the depths of the Babylonian Captivity;
- From the depths of the Babylonian Captivity rising again to the glorious freedom of the new Kingdom of God under a new Davidic King.
To demonstrate that the plan was achieved in the past through unusual circumstances
If one refers to the stories of the four women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba—one will find that all of them took decisive steps vital to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for Israel, regardless of whether their actions had contravened normal social relationships or whether they were “insiders” or “outsiders” (non-Israelites). For Israelites, the names of these women would have evoked memories of the inscrutable yet saving purposes of God, which have never been constrained by biology, social norms, or ethnicity (see Ruth 4:17).
To demonstrate that the plan is being achieved in the present through similarly unusual circumstances
Unlike other genealogies in the Hebrew Scriptures, Matthew mentions Jesus first, then switches back to Abraham and then down through the generations to Joseph. Jewish readers would have been immediately alerted to something not altogether regular. Matthew has thus carefully prepared the ground for the two revelations of verse 18:
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah (anointed) happened in this way. When his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, before they lived together she was discovered to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18 ISV).
Firstly, God is working out his present salvation plan through another woman, Mary, just as he did those four times previously through Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba.
Secondly, Joseph is not the father of Jesus. Matthew knows that his readers will wonder why he has gone to considerable trouble to carefully construct and provide a genealogy, only to then inform them that Jesus is not the son of Joseph. He also knows that his readers, his Jewish readers, will search back through the genealogy to find the answer, and they will find it and understand.
The contemporaries of Jesus, if they ever gave it more than a passing thought, believed that Jesus was the son of the parents who raised him—Joseph and Mary—but Matthew found it necessary to deny this common perception for a compelling reason that had absolutely nothing to do with a “virgin conception/birth”. Stay tuned for the next post.