The opening line of a book is very important, but you would not call the opening line of Matthew’s gospel an attention grabber: “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham . . .” (v. 1).
Historically, genealogies have revealed something of the values of a culture, and this is true of the genealogies of Israel as recorded in the Bible (e.g., 1 Chronicles 1–9). Ancient genealogies were selective, and Matthew has selected just 42 of Jesus’ ancestors. He has arranged them in three groups of 14 which cover the three great epochs of Jewish history: from Abraham the patriarch to King David (vv. 1–6); from David to the exile in Babylon (vv. 7–11); and then from the exile to the coming of the true son of David, Jesus (vv. 12–16).
Do you see Matthew’s main point? It is simply that Jesus is the climax of Israel’s history. God is the author of history, and He will bring it to its ordained end. Jesus is the ultimate goal of history.
However, this genealogy does not just tell us who Jesus is, but why He came. In Matthew’s long list of names we find the presence of four unusual women. Matthew does not record the traditional matriarchs of Israel: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah. Instead, he mentions four women with Gentile backgrounds: Rahab, a Canaanite; Tamar, likely another Canaanite; then a Moabitess, Ruth; and finally Bathsheba, the wife of a non-Jew, Uriah the Hittite (see 2 Samuel 11:3). Some Bible scholars believe that by marrying outside of her race, Bathsheba, although born a Jew, became a Gentile as a result.
By providing this list of names, Matthew is preaching the gospel to us. God’s salvation is for men and women. The good news is for all people, both Jew and Gentile. God’s ultimate plan is to form a people for himself from all nations.The overarching theme is clear: all of history will find its fulfilment in the eventual plan and purpose of God. Just as He brought the first stage of history to its ordained climax, so He will guide the next. Again, the climax will be the coming of Jesus!
This is very comforting. These opening words of Matthew’s gospel remind us that God is sovereign. His salvation plan embraces all of mankind, regardless of race or gender, and in carrying out His plan He can use anyone He deems fit, just like these four women.
Think about these four women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba). What does their place in Jesus’ genealogy say about the way God works? How might they be preparing us for the next woman in our story: Mary, the mother of Jesus?
Sometimes we may think that the world is in chaos and wonder what the future holds. What comfort can we draw for our lives today from Matthew’s brief survey of history?