Read Matthew 1
The Hebrew people, mostly called Jews after the Babylonian Exile, placed great importance on their lineage. Who’s your daddy? That was the question of the day if you met someone new.
Think of Peter. He was Simon bar Jonah. He was the son of Jonah or John, but these people kept up with more than one generation. OK then, who was his father, and his father?
It was the strength of their culture and also their stumbling block. We are children of Abraham often was their excuse for not knowing God as he desired to be known. John the Baptizer rebuked the very religious noting that God could make children of Abraham from the stones around them.
John was not the Messiah and he told anyone who asked. He said one who is much greater was coming. Now was the time for repentance. We will get to that part in a couple more chapters.
Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy from Abraham to Jesus. If you want to go from Jesus all the way back to Adam, you must venture into Luke’s gospel. There are a couple of name variations, but the trip is the same.
This was important to God’s Chosen People. They were directions to who the person was. He was known by his father and his father before him. Sometimes, some landmarks along the way help.
Here is how we use landmarks in giving directions in Oklahoma. Let’s say you were telling a stranger how to get to the Jones’s house out in the country.
Go north along the county road until you get to where the Jackson’s barn used to be and turn east. It burned down 20 years ago and the weeds have overgrown that patch now, but that’s where you turn. Go a quarter mile after the road goes from blacktop to dirt, they may have graveled that by now, but after a quarter mile from where the road turns to dirt or gravel, slow down because the makeshift bridge over the tin horn sometimes washes out there, plus sometimes the sand plums along the road are ripe, then keep going another few miles until you can see the flattop mountains on the horizon. You know you are getting close. Turn right at the next chance you get. Go a couple more miles. The house will be on the right. Go to the back door. Nobody ever answers the front door.
You can’t miss it.
How did Matthew put landmarks in the genealogy of Jesus?
There are the obvious landmarks: Abraham, David, the Babylonian Captivity, and Christ. There were 14 generations between each. We can do all sorts of math to try and define this as what is to come, but in Matthew’s time to the believing Hebrew, now often called a Jew, it spoke to three periods.
The first is from Abraham to David. David was not the first king, but the one after God’s own heart and in whose line the Savior would be born.
The second period takes us from the building of a Temple for God to its destruction.
The third from the captivity to the Christ, a time in which a second temple would be built and we would be told of another temple in which God would dwell.
Are there other landmarks?
How about the women? Did you notice the women? In the age where everything was defined by who your father was, there are 4 women who define this lineage that lead up to Mary.
Let’s start with Tamar. Remember that Jesus is of the tribe of Judah. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. For that reason, Judah had to be upright in all regards. He was as close to sinless as a man can get. Not!
Judah had three sons. The first was Er. He found a wife for him named Tamar. Er wasn’t much of a son. In fact the scripture said he was wicked. He died without giving his wife a child.
Realize this is before the Law of Moses had been given. It’s over 400 years before but Judah told his second son to lie with Tamar and give her a child in her brother’s name. He had intercourse with her but used his own form of birth control and did not give her a child. This was wicked in the sight of the Lord and he was not around much longer either.
So Judah told Tamar to live as a widow in his household until his third son was old enough to take a wife or at least give her a child in the name of her deceased husband. In the meantime, Judah’s wife died. To help him get over his grief, he slept with a prostitute, or at least he thought the woman was a prostitute.
It was in fact, Tamar, who had heard that her father-in-law was headed to Timnah to sheer his sheep, took off her widow’s clothing and dressed in different attire with a veil to hide her face and went ahead of him.
At this point I will add, if Hollywood never produces another movie or soap opera, that’s just fine. The stories in the Bible have more intricacy and intimacy that those west coast yahoos produce in a lifetime.
Tamar was camped out near Enaim and presented herself as a sacred prostitute or a shrine prostitute. These were common in pagan culture and obviously acceptable to Judah. These prostitutes offered their services as a sacrifice to some god to produce fertile crops. Some may have raised money for their respective temples—not the temple that was yet to come through Solomon.
Yes, you can’t get away from fundraisers, even in the Old Testament. As I mentioned, this was before the Law of Moses. But once God began speaking to the people through Moses, he commanded that dog don’t hunt. It came out a little differently in Hebrew. Spend some time in Deuteronomy 23.
Back to Judah heading out to sheer sheep. He slept with Tamar not knowing she was Tamar and promised her a young goat, but she wanted something to hold until the goat was delivered. At least that was what she said. Judah gave her his seal and the cord attached to it as well as his staff as a deposit on the promised livestock.
When Judah returned home he sent the goat but there was no shrine prostitute. In fact, his messenger was told that position had not been filled for some time.
Meanwhile on the Homefront, someone noticed that Tamar was pregnant. She was condemned as a prostitute and was to be put to death. She was to be burned to death.
She was brought before Judah and had the seal, cord, and staff sent to him. I am pregnant by the man who owns these she said.
OMG! Judah had been played and he knew it but he knew he deserved it because he had not followed through with giving her to his third son. Tamar was not a prostitute but she knew how to turn a trick.
The result of this was two sons, Perez and Zerah, which brings us back to the genealogy. The rest of which will occur after the exodus from slavery in Egypt, at least as far as the women go.
The next is Rahab. Yes, Rahab the prostitute—not a pretend prostitute but most likely the real deal—helped define the lineage of Jesus. God’s Chosen People were entering the promised land and she was their ally. She was not one who endured over 400 years of slavery in Egypt. She likely did not worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but she knew the Lord was with these people who were coming to claim the land promised to them.
The next was Ruth. She was a God-fearing Hebrew girl who always kept the law and never worked on the Sabbath. Wait! That’s not exactly correct. She was from Moab and there was a lot of pagan worship there. Ruth married one of Naomi’s sons. Both of her sons died and Naomi was heading back to Bethlehem. She told her daughters that their odds of finding another husband were better in Moab than in Judah. That brings us to words that resonate.
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.
It also leads us back to the genealogy and Boaz the father of Obed whose mother was Ruth.
You have heard of those television shows called the Real Wives of Somewhere in California or Omaha or Army Wives or maybe the next one will be the Wives of the Pandemic. I’m going to tell you they have nothing on Old Testament Wives. Forget Hollywood. The good stuff is already written.
Which brings us to Bathsheba. She was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who apparently was an exceptional warrior. Bathsheba on the other hand had her own attributes and they were on display for King David as she bathed on her roof.
You know the story. Bathsheba comes to see the king. There is a little fling and Bathsheba is pregnant. That brings us to the problem of her belonging to another man, Uriah. David called Uriah back from the front of the current war and asked for a report. Surely, he is honored that the king has called for him personally.
David doesn’t want a report. He wants an excuse to send Uriah home to his wife so he thinks the child that is coming will be his. Uriah won’t go see her while his fellow warriors are still in the field. That shot a hole through that plan.
On a side note, these are not warrior codes. Had Uriah gone back to a modern-day unit they would have laughed him off the battlefield. They called you home and you didn’t spend the night with your wife. Are you crazy? You could die tomorrow.
Which is in fact close to what happened. David sent orders to the field commander to put Uriah in the toughest area. It accomplished what David wanted. Uriah was killed.
This story has everything to make it a best seller in our times—sex and violence.
David took Bathsheba as his wife. The kid conceived out of wedlock died but their next child was perhaps the wisest man ever. His name was Solomon and Solomon would build the first Temple.
It’s men all the way up to Mary. Mary found favor with the Lord, yet what she was asked to do would make her look unfaithful. She would have a child who would be the Savior of the world, not by her betrothed husband, but by the Holy Spirit.
Joseph had a problem with this story, but an angel of the Lord came to him at night and told him to take Mary as his wife. What was conceived in her was of the Lord.
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 Messiah.
I recently came across this posting online (original source unknown) about how many people it took over 12 generations to produce you. The number was 4,094 over about 400 years. If we extended the same model to 14 generations, it would be over 16,00. It’s sort of an inverted pyramid scheme to get to you.
There are two points that I want you to take away from this. The first deals with Matthew’s gospel. For all of the human contributors to the line of Jesus, only these few were the direct line to him. Of over 8,000 people who might have contributed to the gene pool (remember that Joseph didn’t make a contribution), only these few define the lineage and it leads to Joseph.
You would think out of that many, God could have selected a little better breeding stock than characters from ancient soap operas. But consider that Jesus was not only God with us, but fully human as well. He resisted temptation, but in the human flesh which he lived for over 30 years, temptation was there.
Jump ahead to Hebrews for just a moment.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
Matthew gives us a human lineage to our Savior though there are no genes passed on to Jesus by this genealogy. But this is the human lineage to which he belonged. The Son of David would minister to the Children of Abraham. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah would know the same temptations of his ancestors but would not sin.
Most of those who doubted Jesus never took the time to consider his human lineage. It might have been an eye opener, but perhaps with their eyes fully opened the religious leaders would have never sought to kill Jesus, who gave himself willingly to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
This lineage is important, but not exclusive of one that is greater. Jesus was the only begotten Son of God. That’s a very succinct lineage.
I said that I had two points from the Ancestral Math posting. Here is the second. Whether you look back to your great grandparents or back 14 generations and consider all the people it took to make you, ask yourself this question.
What am I going to do with all of these contributions?
We will get to a similar question in 24 more chapters, but for now, ask: What am I going to do with what I have?
Read Matthew 2 every day this week. The journey has begun.