December 11, 2019

Jesus’ Ancestors (1:1-17) – Part 2

This emphasis on genealogical purity was even harsher when it came to the centuries-long Jewish expectation of a future messiah. His pedigree had to go back all the way to Abraham, and, more specifically, he had to be a “son of David”. This is why Matthew starts his genealogy of Jesus with, “Abraham was the father of Isaac…”. Messiah’s family history had to be built on this exclusive bedrock.

It is surprising to the modern reader to discover in doing a little historical study that most people in Jesus’ day were illiterate. There were many scrolls in the synagogues and courts of law, but no books, as we know them today. And, all of those religious and legal works were written and copied by ‘hand’. So, when a rabbi taught there were few, if any, note-takers. Learning was done by memorization.

This is why Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus is recorded in three groups of fourteen people each. Each group of fourteen is a summary and they’re listed in orderly fashion to assist memorization. The theologians call this literary device a “mnemonic.”

So, the first groups of fourteen trace Jesus’ genealogical history from Abraham to King David (vv. 1-6). The second moves from David to the Babylonian exile (vv. 7-11). And the third progresses from Babylon to “Jesus who is called Messiah” (vv. 12-16). And that is Matthew’s point precisely – Jesus is Messiah, child of Abraham, Son of David, Son of God.

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