MATTHEW CHAPTER 1.
The Legal Genealogical Table of Christ. Matt. 1, 1-17.
V. 1. The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. This is the title, or caption, which Matthew places at the head of his book. The entire Gospel is a book of the generation of Jesus Christ in the sense which the Jews usually attached to the expression in similar connections, meaning an account of the chief events in a person's life, more or less briefly related, Gen. 5, 1; 6, 9; 37, 2; 2, 4; Num. 3, 1. The evangelist offers a history of the birth, acts, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the first verses are a genealogy in the most restricted sense of the term, as presenting a table of Christ's legal forefathers through His foster-father Joseph, rightful heir of the kingdom, the thought most interesting to Jewish Christians. Matthew calls Jesus the Son of David, the king of the Golden Age of the Jewish people, to whose family the promise of the Savior was at last restricted, 2 Sam. 7, 12.13; Ps. 89, 3. 4; 132, 11; Is. 11, 1; Jer. 23, 5. Christ was prophesied under the very name of "David," Ezek. 34, 23. 24; 37, 24. 25. "Son of David" was the official title which the Jews applied to the expected Messiah, Matt. 9, 27; 12, 23; 21, 9; under this designation they had been led, by prophetic authority, to expect Him. But it would also arouse the attention and hold the interest of Christians of Jewish descent to know that the Christ whom Matthew proclaimed was the son of Abraham, for they knew that the father of their race had received the promise of the Lord: "In thee and thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed," Gen. 12, 3; 18, 18; 22, 18. "For this reason he refers only to those two fathers, Abraham and David, since to these two alone the promise of Christ was made in these people. Therefore Matthew emphasizes the promises to Abraham and David, because he has a definite intention with regard to this nation, in order that he might influence them, as heirs of the promise, in a charming manner, to accept the Christ prophesied to them and to believe that this man was Jesus whom they had crucified." 2)
The evangelist now offers the genealogy proper: V. 2. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; v. 3. and Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Fhares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; y. 4. and Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; v. 5. and Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; v. 6. and Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; v. 7. and Solomon begat Boboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; v. 8. and Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; v. 9. and Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; v. 10. and Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; v. 11. and Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon; v. 12. and after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Sala-thiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; v. 13. and Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; v. 14. and Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; v. 15. and Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; v. 16. and Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. In three sections of fourteen members each the progenitors of Joseph are tabulated, reaching back to Abraham, the father of the faithful. No person ever born into this world could boast, in a direct line, a more elevated or illustrious ancestry than Jesus Christ. The kingly, the priestly, the prophetic offices were represented in this list in all their glory and splendor. "The holy Matthew writes his Gospel in a most masterly manner and makes three distinctions of the fathers of whom Christ sprang forth, fourteen patriarchs, fourteen kings, and fourteen princes. . . . There are three times fourteen persons, as Matthew himself names them; from Abraham to David, both included, are fourteen persons or members; from David to the Babylonian captivity, again fourteen members; . . . and from the Babylonian captivity to Christ there are also fourteen members." 3)
A careful comparison of the list as here given and the account found in the Old Testament. 2 Chron. 22-26 shows that Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah followed after Joram, before Uzziah. The explanation for this difference is found in the fact that the word begat in Old Testament genealogical tables is sometimes used in a wider sense, as here, when it is said of Uzziah's great-great-grandfather that he begat Uzziah. The omission of the three kings was of no consequence to the evangelist's argument, which was to show the legal descent of Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus, and therefore of Jesus Himself, in an uninterrupted line from David, and consequently from Abraham. "What need is there of many words? Matthew himself shows sufficiently that he did not want to enumerate the generations with Jewish strictness, and so excite doubtfulness. For almost after the manner of a Jew he makes three times fourteen members of fathers, kings, and princes, but with deliberate knowledge he omits three members of the second section, as though he would say: The genealogical tables are indeed not to be despised, but herein lies the chief thing that Christ is promised through the generations of Abraham and David." 4)
Another difficulty is in verse 11, where Josias is named as the father of Jechonias, whereas he was the grandfather, 1 Chron. 3, 14-16. The solution is found either by reference to the explanation above, showing that Matthew made use of a deliberate contraction, since the Jews were in the habit of extending the appellation "father" also to the grandparent; or we may adopt the marginal reading, which is based upon some Greek manuscripts: "Josias begat Jakim, and Jakim begat Jechonias." This would also yield the fourteenth member of this section, unless we include Jesus in this group. In a similar manner, though Jechonias had no brethren mentioned in Scriptures, his father had, and it is by no means unusual to find more remote relatives spoken of in this manner, Gen. 28, 13; 31, 42; 14, 14; 24, 27; 29, 15. "It is not to be supposed that the evangelist was at all concerned to make sure that no link in the line was omitted. His one concern would be to make sure that no name appeared that did not belong to the line." 5)
Another significant fact: Only four women are mentioned in the tables, and of these two were originally members of Gentile nations, Rachab and Ruth, and two were adulteresses, Thamar and Bathsheba. Note, also, that the last is not mentioned by name, the reference being both delicate and reproachful. "Of the kings and princes which Matthew enumerates, there were a few very bad knaves, as we read in the Book of Kings; yet God permits them to be entered as though they were so worthy that He should have wanted to be born of them. He also" has no pious woman described: the four women that are mentioned here were all considered knaves and impious by the people, and regarded as evil women, as Thamar, who with Judas, her husband's father, begat Phares and Zara, as is written Gen. 38, 18; Rachab is called a knave or harlot, Josh. 2, 1; Ruth was a Gentile woman, Ruth 1, 4: though she was pious in honor, since one reads nothing evil of her, yet because she was a heathen, she was despised as a dog by the Jews and regarded as unworthy before the world; Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, was an adulteress before David took her in marriage and begat Solomon with her, 2 Sam. 11, 4. All of which, beyond doubt, is enumerated for the reason that we should see how God desired to present to all sinners a mirror that Christ was sent to sinners and wanted to be born of sinners; yea, the greater the sinners, the greater the refuge they should have with the merciful God, Priest, and King, who is our Brother, in whom, and in none other besides, we may fulfill the Law and receive God's grace. For this He came from heaven and desires no more from us but only this, that we let Him be our God, Priest, and King. Then all shall be right and plain; through Him alone we become children of God and heirs of heaven."
The table of Matthew ends with the words, v. 16 a: And Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary. This fact, and the further circumstance that Luke, chapter 3, has an altogether different list of ancestors of Jesus, must be considered proof positive that we have in Matthew the genealogy of Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus. The aim of the evangelist therefore undoubtedly was to set forth Jesus as the legal son of Joseph, Mary's husband, at His birth, and as such the proper heir of David's throne. Joseph was, before the law, father of Jesus. All his rights and privileges, by reason of his birth and ancestry, were by law transferred to his son. As long as he lived, Joseph continued in his role as the legal paternal ancestor of Jesus, Matt. 13, 35; John 6, 42. In this way the name and position of Jesus, especially during His ministry, were put above reproach, Deut. 23, 2, and His claim as to being the heir of David's line was placed on a sound basis, even in the eyes of the sticklers for legal form.
Note the careful phraseology used by Matthew in this sentence, v. 16b: Mary, of whom was born Jesus. Not from them both, as natural parents, after the usual manner of procreation, was the Savior begotten, but of Mary only, thus placing the event which Matthew is about to relate entirely outside of the course of nature, beyond the plane of human understanding. Jesus is her son's name, after the great work which He came into the world to perform, the salvation of mankind. And He is called the Christ, which has precisely the same meaning as the Hebrew Messiah: the Anointed of God. It was His official title according to His threefold office, as the legitimate descendant of David, which the genealogy showed Him to be. He alone is rightly, above all His fellows after the flesh, called the Christ; He is King of kings and Lord of lords: the great King, who governs the entire universe with His almighty power and reigns in the hearts of His followers with His benign mercy; He is the Prophet greater than Moses, with a message of truth and love and grace divine for all men; He is the great High Priest, who in His own body and by the shedding of His holy, precious blood made full atonement for the sins of the entire world.
Such is Matthew's introduction to his Gospel. And in concluding this genealogy, which immediately places Jesus the Christ into the center before the minds and hearts of his readers, he gives a brief summary according to the divisions of Jewish history: V. 17. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David until the carrying away into Babylon are tour-teen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations. The three periods represent, respectively, the three forms of government which the Jews had: theocracy, monarchy, hierarchy, with judges, kings, and priests at their head. But, incidentally, the same division sums up Israel's fortunes. First came the age of slow and steady growth, with all the manifestations of the first love's zeal and fervor toward God, culminating in the reign of David. Then came the period of slow decline and gradual disintegration, ushered in with the luxurious reign of Solomon and characterized by the continuous and losing conflict with idolatry. And lastly came the period of a restored Church with internal ruin, of a dead orthodoxy, of an insipid ritualism. If any fact stands out clearly from this contrast, it is this, that redemption was most sorely and urgently needed.
The Annunciation to Joseph and the Birth of Jesus. Matt. 1, 18-25.
V. 18a. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise, the evangelist writes. The reference is not so much to the actual process of generation, but expresses the general idea of origin. It was in this way that the Messiah assumed human nature, took upon Himself the form of our sinful flesh. As the Son of God He had no beginning, but is in the bosom of the Father from eternity, John 1, 18. As a human being He had a beginning, and this origin the evangelist relates: V. 18b. When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Mary had entered into a betrothal, into a contract of espousal, with Joseph. She had agreed to a marriage, she had pledged her word to Joseph, just as he was bound to her by his promise of betrothment. While Mary was in this relation to Joseph, and after she had given him her pledge as his promised bride, she still lived at her own or at her father's house. As a rule, some time elapsed before a betrothed virgin was formally given in marriage and taken to her husband's house, Deut. 20, 7; Judg. 14, 7. 8; 15, 1. 2. During this time, cohabitation did not take place, though the marriage contract was legal and binding. And it was then, before the celebration of the nuptials, that Mary was found with child. Her situation was not only delicate, but the most distressing and humiliating which could fall to the lot of a pure maiden. Knowing herself to be innocent of even the slightest transgression in deed, and fully convinced of the fact that her condition was due only to the supernatural working of the Holy Ghost, she nevertheless could expect no one to believe her defense, should she attempt one. "Nothing but the fullest consciousness of her own integrity and the strongest confidence in God could have supported her in such circumstances, where her reputation, her honor, and her life were at stake." 7)
At this critical juncture, Joseph proved himself all that a true Christian should be: V. 19. Then Joseph, her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. Unable to believe her innocent, which in the face of the evidence must have been beyond the average man's strength, he nevertheless found a way out of the difficult dilemma. As the betrothed husband he had the husband's rights and responsibilities. And he was a just man, righteous, a respecter of the Law, which was especially strict and uncompromising on the subject of infidelity in the woman, Deut. 22, 22-24. Yet he did not wish to expose Mary publicly and thus heap ignominy and shame upon her, for she was the woman to whom he had given the love of a husband. His humaneness and benevolence, his affection, were put to a severe test. But the result of his weighing the matter was that he did not choose strict measures, resolving rather upon a quiet cancellation of the bond of betrothal, without assigning a cause, in order that her life might be saved. Justice was tempered by mercy.
It was here that God interfered in behalf of the mother of His Son, according to His humanity: V. 20. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying: Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary, thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. Joseph's mind was still busily engaged with the perplexing problem; he was wrestling with painful, distressing, distracting thoughts, and even his kind expedient may have seemed harsh to him. But, behold! — a vivid introduction of the angelic appearance to emphasize the intervention of God. In a dream the vision came to Joseph to save him and his betrothed from an act which would result in disastrous consequences. The appearance of an angel in a dream was one of the methods which God used to "make known His will, or to reveal the future in special cases. The angel addresses Joseph, "Thou son of David," not to awaken the heroic mood, as has been suggested, but to emphasize the thought of the legal acknowledgment and adoption of the child. He should not fear to take home, publicly to accept, Mary as his wife. This simple acceptance of the angel's words meant for Joseph an act of faith similar to those performed by the great heroes of the Old Testament, to believe the Lord absolutely, in spite of all the evidences of the senses. This public recognition would save the honor of Mary and also that of her child. For instead of being the fruit of adulterous and licentious intercourse, the product of a most unholy cohabitation, the child which was to be born of her was of the Holy Ghost, begotten by deliberate intervention of God, against the course of nature.
The climax of the angel's message: V. 21. And she shall bring forth, a son, and thou shall call His name JESUS; for He shall save His people from their sins. It was thus ordained in God's counsel: She will give birth to a son, she is to become a mother, not only by supernatural interposition, not merely by God's giving new life to organs that were past the age of bearing, as was true in the case of Sarah and Elizabeth, Gen. 18, 10-14; Luke 1, 7, 13. 18, but by a miraculous suspension of the usual process of nature, according to which men are born of the will of the flesh and of the will of man, both sexes being active. And this son of Mary he, Joseph, was to call Jesus. This is a command in the form of a prediction. By giving to the child His name, Joseph would publicly recognize and formally adopt Him as his legal son. Jesus is to be the child's name, not indeed as a mere appellation to distinguish Him from other people, as in the case of the Hebrew synonym Joshua, Num. 13, 17; Zech. 3, 1, but as an expression of the very essence of the divine personality, through which the salvation of men would be gained. For the angel explains the name: He shall save His people from their sins That, in a sentence, is the end and object of His coming, that alone is His errand and mission: He, and no other. He alone, and He completely, saves. He brings full pardon, free salvation, complete deliverance, not only from the pollution and power, but also from the guilt of sin. To His people He brings this priceless boon, not merely to the members of His nation according to the flesh, to the Jewish people, but to all that are in need of a Savior, Matt. 18, 11. This is the Gospel-message, not that Jesus makes allowances for sin, but that He has made atonement for it; not that He tolerates sin, but that He destroys it.
Matthew now adds an explanatory note to show the fulfillment of the Old Testament types and prophecies in the person and work of Christ: V. 22. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, v. 23. Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son; and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. It was not an incident that just happened that way which the evangelist records, but an occurrence definitely decided upon and fully planned by the Lord centuries before. For it was He that spoke the prophecy through Isaiah, chapter 7, 14. The words as written by the prophet referred to a sign or miracle which the Lord promised King Ahaz in order to assure him that the counsels of the enemies of Israel should not stand, but that the latter should finally be utterly discomfited. In giving this sign, the Lord had in mind the spiritual Israel and its enemies, the deliverance being the redemption wrought by the Messiah. Before the eternal God, the space of seven hundred years is as a watch in the night. This sign was now to be given and the prophecy fulfilled. The virgin, not any virgin, but the one designated and chosen by God, being with child, was now about to bear a son. And they, not only His parents, but men and people that would know Him, especially those that would accept His salvation, would call His name Emmanuel: God with us. In the son of Mary these words were fulfilled, her son is God Himself; in His person the strong God, the almighty Lord, is with us, not according to His condemning justice, but according to His loving-kindness and tender mercies, Is. 9, 6; John 1, 1. 14; 1 Tim. 3, 16.
The result of the angelic vision: V. 24. Then Joseph, being raised from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife. As soon as he awoke from sleep, he was immediately, energetically active and set about to act upon the divine instructions. He took Mary home as his wife, he celebrated the betrothal with all customary Jewish ceremonies. She who was his wife by betrothal now was given this position in the eyes of the whole world. But the marriage was not consummated at that time: V. 25. And knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: and he called His name Jesus. Joseph did not enter into the natural relations of marriage with Mary until her son, the promised Messiah, had been born. It is a moot question whether Mary and Joseph ever lived together in the usual matrimonial intercourse and begot children. The Roman Catholic theologians and a great many Protestant commentators argue with much spirit that the firstborn son of Mary was her only son. Some have held with one of the early Church Fathers that the "brethren" of Jesus mentioned in various passages. Matt. 12, 46; 13, 55; Mark 3, 31; Luke 8, 19; John 2, 12; 7, 5; Acts 1, 14; Gal. 1, 19, were the cousins of the Lord, the sons of Alphaeus, Joseph's brother, and of Mary, the wife of Alphaeus, the sister-in-law (not sister) of the mother of the Lord. Others have held that they were the stepbrothers of Jesus, by a former marriage of Joseph. As a matter of fact, the question is of little import and can have no doctrinal significance. It is not for historical, exegetical, or dogmatic reasons, but only for motives of reverence that men have been prompted to insist upon the alleged fact of Mary's perpetual virginity. 8)
The evangelist concludes the narrative by stating that he, Joseph, called the name of Mary's son Jesus, thus following the divine command, assuming the legal paternity of the child, and incidentally expressing his hopeful belief in the Savior of mankind.
Summary. Jesus Christ, the son and legal heir of David, beyond whom His genealogy can to Abraham, the father of the faithful of all times, was conceived and born of Mary, the virgin mother, after Joseph, His foster-father, had been instructed through a wonderful angelic vision as to God's interposition.