I made a commitment to write my way through Matthew. But honestly, nothing dampens your enthusiasm like having to start with a genealogy.
I’m not ashamed to say that I tend to scan them, if I bother reading them at all. I mean, come on. I don’t even know the name of the people three generations back in my own family tree. Our culture doesn’t really care where we came from . . . or where we’re going.
So despite the fact that I know that all Scripture is useful, I have a hard time caring about Amminadab’s offspring. Sorry . . . Nahshon.
The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah
The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:
Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king.
David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. Solomon was the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa.Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah. Uzziah was the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah. Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor. Azor was the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud. Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob. Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.—Matthew 1:1–17
Building a kingdom on a faulty foundation
When you do read about the genealogies, you often hear about the revolutionary way Matthew includes women into Jesus’ lineage (a no-no) or the parade of sinners that contribute to his pedigree.
My friend Chuck does a good job unpacking these issues in his post Matthew’s Subversive Genealogy of Jesus. Jesus’ human bloodline is a complete and utter mess.
Here’s a guy who isn’t unfamiliar with the law of God, but isn’t opposed to watching women bathing from his roof. He’s stricken by a particular beauty and questions his advisers about the woman. The NASB has this to say about what happens next, “David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house.”
He didn’t woo or seduce her—he used his position as king to compel her to come and have sex with him. She didn’t really have a choice and therefore couldn’t have consented. This was rape by use of compelling power, pure and simple. Her return home should have been a clear sign that she was more into being Uriah’s wife than being David’s concubine. David, who wants to own Bathsheba but doesn’t want to get blood on his hands, has Uriah sent to the frontlines of battle and left unprotected to be killed.
When Bathsheba learns about his death, we’re told “when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband.” But this isn’t just customary mourning (ʾēbel), it’s mourning more closely related to wailing and lamenting (saphad). She was genuinely horrified and heartbroken.
Now, I know that you’re tempted to say, “When David was confronted, he repented.” That’s absolutely true. There’s a temptation to let David off the hook here because he’s the hero of biblical literature—a man after God’s own heart—but let’s look unflinchingly at David’s sin. This episode makes him a power-abusing rapist and murderer.
Can you imagine if Bill Clinton had done this?
We wink at this episode with David, yet often refuse to give penitent people close to us a clean slate for much tamer sin.
This bloke twice passes off his beautiful wife, Sarah, as his sister because she’s so hot, and he’s scared that he’s going to be killed and she’s going to be taken from him. I mean, he’s fine with her being taken from him . . . as long as he isn’t killed.
The first time he pulls this stunt, she’s taken into Pharaoh’s house (most likely a reference to her being part of Pharaoh’s harem), and Abraham is rewarded with livestock and servants. Yeah, he swaps cows, sheep, and slaves (both genders *wink*) for his wife.
Who knows how long this goes on? Long enough that the Lord strikes Pharaoh’s house with plagues (plural). Some will try to convince you that God intervened before Pharaoh could defile her, but I highly doubt it. There seems to be a bit of time passing here, and Pharaoh did pay Abraham handsomely for her. It’s not likely that he had to spend months working up an appetite in order to indulge himself in Sarah’s beauty.
God doesn’t send plagues when Abraham pulls this crap a second time with Abemilech. So the plague thing with Pharaoh was probably a last resort from a God who was tired of this whole scenario turning into a prolonged Russ Meyer film.
And like I said, he does it again. This time God intervene’s before Abemilech can enjoy the new edition to his court.
Poor Abemilech . . . in a perfect example of “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Isaac pulls the same “that’s not my wife, it’s my sister” nonsense that his father pulled with Sarah–with the same king!
Luckily Abemilech looks out his window one day and sees Isaac “caressing” (I looked up the Hebrew word for caressing and it said, “see petting” so . . .) Rebekah and gets wise.
Abemilech can’t catch a break from these lying Israelites.
Judah (and his brothers)
Of course we know that Judah and his brothers sold their younger brother Joseph into slavery because he was daddy’s favorite. Then they covered Joseph’s tunic in blood and said, “Wow, pop. Look what we found, doesn’t this look like Joseph’s jacket?” To which Isaac screams, “OMG! He must have been eaten by animals!”
“Tough break dad, what’s for dinner?” I guess boys will be boys.
But Judah’s mention in this genealogy is in his connection to Tamar. Interesting story this one . . . Tamar was the wife of Judah’s son, Er. Er dies and, as is the custom, Tamar gets handed off to Er’s brother Onan so that Onan can create a descendant for Er (*shrugs*), but—in a verse that somehow gets used as a prohibition on masturbating (Gen. 38:9)—Onan wastes his sperm by throwing it on the ground. This ticks off the Lord (who seems to have a real thing against Judah’s sons), and he dies too.
Judah’s out of marrying-aged children to force his daughter-in-law to have sex with, so he tells her to go back to father and live like a widow (a horrible sentence) until his last son is old enough to marry.
Years later Judah’s wife dies and he does the customary mourning thing and then heads to Timnah where Tamar is. Knowing he’s on his way and that his third son is marrying age, she covers her face with a veil and waits for him at the city gate. Judah sees her, assumes she’s a prostitute, and greets her with immortal pick-up line, “Here now, let me come in to you.” (Obviously, Genesis wasn’t much different than Tinder.)
Smartly, she negotiates a baby goat out of the deal—even more smartly she basically gets his identification as a promissory down payment on the goat. When Judah gets home he sends his friend to go pay his debt and get his stuff back. As it turns out, no one knows anything about a prostitute that hangs out at the city gate. So naturally Judah’s like, “Uh . . . well, let’s just forget about my stuff because we’re going to look like idiots.”
A couple months later Judah gets a text, “Yo bro, guess wut? Tamar, that whore, is pregnant.” And Judah’s like, “KTHXBAI!” And he indignantly rushes back to Timnah, where he says, “Send that whore out here where we can burn her in the street!” (Because as we all know, women have always suffered the worst for the indiscretions of men.)
And like a boss she sends out Judah’s stuff and says, “I’m pregnant by the guy who owns this stuff.” And Judah’s completely busted—enter the twins, Perez and Zerah.
(Side note: This whole episode is always portrayed as a trick Tamar played on Judah. I don’t necessarily buy it, but it does play into our whole “those conniving women using their wiles to trick men” narrative.)
Rahab: Here’s the prostitute from the book of Joshua whose misdirection (lie) enabled the Israelites to capture Jericho.
Ruth: I love Ruth. . . but she was a Moabite, and as we know, “No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the Lord. (Deut. 23:3)”
Solomon: David’s son was the wisest man that ever lived (with 700 wives and 300 concubines). Did “wise” used to mean “busy?”
Rehoboam: Meet the horribly politically unsavvy son of Solomon. After the king’s death, the people come to Rehoboam and say, “Look, man. Your dad was kind of a jerk and taxed us like crazy . . . probably because all those damned wives he had to support. What do you say? Wanna lighten up on us a bit?”
Rehoboam seeks counsel from some of the older, wiser advisers to his father, and they suggest that lightening up would be a good idea. All he has to do is treat them kindly and grant their petition, and he’ll be a hero. But Rehoboam blows them off and goes and asks a whole bunch of stupid, young guys what they think he should do, and they’re response is amazing . . .
“Dude,” they say, “you need to go to them, look these people straight in the eye, and tell them ‘You thought my dad was a bad ass? Well, my little finger is thicker than my dad’s manhood” (I’m not kidding. 1 Kings 12:10). “You thought my old man was tough, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” And he follows their advice. So . . . typical jerk politician.
Uzziah: This guy took the throne and had one of the most prosperous kingdoms since Solomon. Things are going great until he starts to get a little full of himself, bypasses the established order of the priesthood and marches into the Temple to burn incense on the altar. I know, I know . . . it doesn’t sound like a big deal. But it’s a total jackass move of a guy who becomes so arrogant that he thinks he can do whatever he wants—and ends up with with a bad case of rage leprosy.
Ahaz: Impressionable grandson of Uzziah who thought the Assyrians were soooooo cool. After checking out the altars of Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser, he came back and rebuilt and reorganized God’s Temple so it could have a little more of that Damascan feng shui. His descent into idol worship eventually leads him to sacrificing one or more sons in a fire to Molech (2 Chron. 28:3).
My place in Jesus’ filthy pedigree
I could keep going, but you get the point. Jesus’ genealogy is complete chaos, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
There’s a certain virtue applied to Christianity in America. In the small christianized burg where I live, going to church every Sunday gives you an air of well-bred credibility. It’s easy for religion to give us a collective sense that we’re better, more stable, and more righteous than everyone else—or at least than the world’s unwed teen mothers and followers of other religions.
But as long as we’re clinging to our culture’s idea of Christianity’s respectability, we’re missing the point of Christ’s genealogy—or his whole ministry for that matter. We’re a total friggen mess. We aren’t grafted into this family tree based on our moral superiority, and once we’re in, our goodness definitely isn’t holding us fast.
My story is full of terrible moments and episodes that wouldn’t play any better than the chumps in Christ’s genealogy. I can’t sit here and feel superior that I haven’t had the opportunity to fail as dramatically as the people in Jesus’ family tree. But I can assure you that I’ve taken advantage of many opportunities to sabotage situations, relationships, and my own righteousness.
When I’m completely honest, I know that it’s fear of repercussion and consequence that keeps me from doing a lot of stupid things, and not necessarily my inherent goodness.
The moment I start delving into Jesus’ lineage, I’m encouraged. Jesus didn’t descend pure and untouched into the sinful brokenness of humanity. He sprung from it, and for all our sake’s
Even before it begins, the genealogy of Jesus is an invitation to the outsiders, failures, criminals, and losers to join the family of God.
None of us deserve to be part of it, and yet here we are.