The texts we are going to look at today are the genealogies of Christ, and other passages related to them, but the theme of this message will be on the promises of God. The fact of genealogies in Scripture are often nothing more than an obstacle to Christians in their Bible reading, but this is not the way to think of them. The genealogies are vast and intimidating mountain ranges, but what we need to realize is that there are actually rich veins of gold there. Like the land of Havilah, the gold is good there (Gen. 2:12).
“THE book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren . . .” (Matthew 1:1–2).
“And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli . . .” (Luke 3:23).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
One of the more obvious facts about the genealogies of Matthew and Luke is that they are different. A common solution is to say that one of them is the line of Joseph, and the other the line of Mary. But this doesn’t really solve the problem because the lines are not entirely different. And besides, both claim to be the line of Joseph (Matt. 1:16; Luke 3:23). And because we don’t examine the problem closely, what God gave as a testimony to the fact that He is a covenant-keeping God is used by us as a way of rattling our faith instead of establishing it.
A genealogical line is called a stirp. Luke traces the Lord’s descent all the way back to Adam. Matthew gives us His line from the time of Abraham. We know that Matthew relied on a written account because in verse 1 he mentions the book. Luke follows Genesis 5 and 10, including Canaan between Arphaxad and Shelah, in line with the Septuagint. The stirps in Luke and Matthew run basically the same from Abraham to David. They then diverge from David to the Exile. Matthew goes through Solomon, and Luke goes through someone named Nathan (1 Chron. 3:5). They join up again in Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, before splitting up again. Then they both arrive at Joseph of Nazareth. So that is our central problem. There are some other very minor glitches which can be easily resolved, and so we won’t bother with those here.
But we should face the problem. It is not normal for the patrilineal lines of two brothers, Solomon and Nathan, to land on one individual, Joseph, a millennium later. Still less can distinct stirps converge, diverge, and then converge again. And if we try to solve the problem with a Joseph/Mary division, we just flip the problem over to the other side. Do we want to explain the divergences or the convergences? We have to explain either way.
EXCOMMUNICATED FROM THE LINE
Matthew omits four ancestors of Christ from his account—Ahaziah, Jehoash, Amaziah, and Jehoiakim. This is not arbitrary or capricious. The first three of these were removed because of the curse pronounced by Elijah. Ahab’s line, to the fourth generation, were expunged, as Moses said. (Ex. 20:3-6).
“‘Behold, I will bring calamity on you. I will take away your posterity, and will cut off from Ahab every male in Israel, both bond and free” (1 Kings 21:21, NKJV).
And Jehoiakim was a really bad actor, and he fell under Jeremiah’s curse:
“Therefore thus saith the LORD of Jehoiakim king of Judah; He shall have none to sit upon the throne of David: and his dead body shall be cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost” (Jeremiah 36:30).
So Matthew excludes illegitimate kings or kings who disqualified themselves and were cursed.
THE VARIABLE OF ADOPTION
According to Matthew, Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel. According to Luke, Neri was the father of Shealtiel. Which was it? Again, a prophetic curse pronounced on Jeconiah helps us out.
“Thus saith the LORD, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah” (Jeremiah 22:30).
We are told in 1 Chron. 3:16 that Jeconiah had a son, Zedekiah (likely named after his great-uncle). But the very next verse (1 Chron. 3:17) lists seven sons of Jeconiah, none of whom were Zedekiah. While captive in Babylon, according to an ancient source, Jeconiah had married a woman named Tamar, and their son Zedekiah died young and without issue. Jeconiah then adopted her sons by a previous marriage, from the time when she was married to Neri, and Shealtiel becomes the crown prince. Neri was descended from Nathan, that mysterious son of David. Thus Jeremiah’s curse is fulfilled, and Matthew and Luke are both right.
Was Joseph’s father Jacob or Heli? The best explanation comes from a second century source (Sextus Julius Africanus) who knew descendants of the Lord’s brother James. He said that the discrepancy was the result of a levirate marriage. Heli had died without issue, and so his brother Jacob raised up seed for him—by law a child of Heli, and biologically a son of Jacob.
HOW TO MINE FOR GOLD
At the risk of causing your eyes to glaze over a little bit more, I will conclude with just a little bit more. For the ancients, they used to keep careful track of the genealogies. They did this because they were looking intently for the way in which God would fulfill His promises. At the end of Ruth, this blessing is pronounced by the elders of Bethlehem.
“And let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah, of the seed which the LORD shall give thee of this young woman.” (Ruth 4:12, 18-22).
Pharez had a twin, Zarah, who was the first born twin who came out second. He was marked by a scarlet thread around his wrist. Generations later, Zarah had a descendent, a man named Achan, who stole some things in the battle of Jericho. He and his whole royal line were wiped out as a result. Rahab, who had marked her house with a scarlet rope, came out into Israel, and married a man named Salmon. Their son was Boaz, who later married Ruth. The thing that this illustrates is that these men and women of faith were tracking with the genealogies carefully. They were looking for the Christ.
“And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16).
“And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,” (Luke 3:23).
So always look for the Christ. Always look to the Christ. He is the desire of nations. He is risen with healing in His wings. He is the gold in the land of Havilah.