Matthew’s genealogy, unlike Luke’s, places Jesus firmly into Judah’s royal family tree. Starting with Abraham, it traces a lineage forward to David and then, through the clearly documented heirs of David’s throne, up until Judah’s return from exile. Mystery shrouds most of the names that follow, fourteen generations that span repeated periods of foreign rule and during which the Davidic dynasty eludes our sight. Before the fall of Jerusalem, it was probably possible to verify them against temple records1. Yet, the obscurity, into which 70 C.E. subsequently plunged them, cannot diminish their implication that Jesus was a king from David’s line.
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba have already shown us that there is more to Matthew’s list of names than genealogy alone. However, in claiming its tripartite composition he takes his argument further, for he also omits four men whose arrogance provides a stark contrast to the women’s obedience, an Adam to their Eve. When taken together with his fourteen-fold divisions, his additions and omissions both serve to reinforce the significance of Melchizedek’s legacy as the legacy of Eve.
The challenge of the four missing men
Hebrew thought associates the number seven with rightness or completeness, a symbolism that extends to the number fourteen. This has led some scholars to suggest that Matthew’s intent was to portray Jesus as the especially significant first son in the seventh group of seven generations2. However, the perfect symmetry of Matthew’s genealogy is illusory, for to achieve three sections of fourteen he omits a number of generations. Even leaving aside issues of divine inspiration, the Gospel writer’s education was unlikely to have failed him as he wrote this ‘master work’. Thus, whilst conventional wisdom suggests that any argument from silence is bad, here the silence is a bit too loud to ignore. Matthew wants us to notice his contrivance and to follow where it points.
Much of the apostle’s information was already in the public domain of first Century Palestine. Thus, he starts with the familiar trilogy of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then follows that with the genealogy of David as given in Ruth (Gen 46:8-12, Ruth 4:18-22). He then includes the first six monarchs from the Chronicler’s list of post Davidic kings3. However, the next on Matthew’s list are Ozias and Joatham. He has omitted at least three kings, but Ozias is variously applied to either Ahaziah or Uzziah4, the kings that could be at either end of this gap. He has left his reader to decide precisely which he has omitted, though there is method in this madness. After skipping these kings, Matthew and Chronicles remain again in step5 until the omission Jehoiakim. Thus, Matthew’s second span of fourteen generations omits four kings.
For an audience that contained Levites, the missing kings are not the obvious choices. Had we been them, we would probably have included kings like Joash, whose stories portray our family in a good light (2 Kgs 11:2), whilst excluding some, like Amon, who received nothing but criticism (2 Chr 33:21-25,2 Kgs 21:19-26). However, look closer at these kings and a common denominator surfaces, for all four squandered the glory God had given them as Adam’s heir.
Jehoiakim stands out because of an incident, the prelude to which was God’s curious request that Jeremiah tempt the Rechabites (Jer 35:1-11) to disobey their father Jonadab’s command6. Their resolute refusal to do so, coupled with Israel’s status as God’s firstborn son7, enabled the Lord to contrast the behaviour of the two groups. Within that context, the public reading of Jeremiah’s prophecies concerned the palace officials so much that they took the scroll before Jehoiakim. Yet, when reminded of his heavenly Father’s commands, this Son of God8, in stark contrast to the Rechabites, duly treated them with utter contempt and burnt the scroll.
The Rechabites’ faithfulness had garnered a divine assurance that they would never lack a man to stand before him (Jer 35:18-19). However, in response to Jehoikim’s arrogance God gave an unequivocal assurance that none of his descendants would ever sit on the throne of David (Jer 36:30), i.e. be able to stand before God on Judah’s behalf.
Ahaziah and a heritage lost
Now we come to the other three and the problem posed by the ambiguity in Matthew’s list. Is his Ozias in front of the gap and therefore representing Ahaziah? The fact that the Matthew uses a name that applies to two individuals is his way of providing a subtle clue where to find the link. Ahaziah appears to be the main name used for Joash’s short-lived father, for before he ascended the throne his name was Jehoahaz (2 Chr 21:17). One must suspect his mother Jezebel’s influence in this, for she had lost a brother by the name of Ahaziah, the other individual we are looking for who shared that name. Look at Joash’s father and there is no sign that he lost his heritage through disrespected for God’s word, the theme that stands out so predominantly with Jehoiakim. However, look at the namesake-uncle, the king of Israel, and we will find it there. After being injured in an accident, the king sent messengers to seek counsel from Baal. However, Elijah intercepted these and sent them back with God’s warning that the king would die (2 Kgs 1:1-16). Ahaziah then showed his complete contempt for this messenger of God’s word, by sending his military to haul Elijah into court. Fire from heaven then consumed two companies of fifty before a commander showed adequate respect and escorted Elijah to seal the kings judgment. With his subsequent death, Ahaziah lost his inheritance as the throne passed to his brother Jehoram.
Joash ignores his ‘father’
The theme, of treating God’s word with contempt, continues into the remaining three omitted kings as a that trait that appears with Joash and then passes down through the generations. The influence of an ancestor persists within a family, thus Moses explained that the sins of guilty fathers would continue to negatively influence their sons, inviting punishment upon them in the third or fourth generation (Exod 34:7, cf. Deut 23:8). At the time of the Exodus, this was particularly apparent, for an adult generation was nominally forty years (Num 14:29, Exod 16:35, 30:14)9. One Pharaoh tried to murder the Hebrew children (Exod 1:22), forty years on another tried to kill Moses for siding with the Hebrews (Exodus 2:15), forty years on from that a new generation brought a new Pharaoh, but he was still not prepared to honour God. Each forty years was an opportunity for generational amendment and assessment. It is noteworthy that the total period from rebellion to demise was 120 years, the same period given to the rebellious generations before the flood (Gen 6:3).
Similarly, from the Hebrew’s initial rejection of Moses leadership, it was forty years before the Exodus. Then, after the second generation’s refusal to follow Moses into the land, the third generation got forty years before God expected a change of heart (Deut. 8:2). Israel having learnt its lesson, the outcome was altogether more positive.
The pattern apparent in God’s dealings with Egypt repeats with Joash and his heirs. God allows the dynasty three generations in which to learn righteousness the hard way. In the first two God uses prophets to call them to order, but in the third the intervention is direct (cf. Exod 34:7). This started when the chief priest10 Jehoiada saved the infant Joash, from the curse that overwhelmed Ahab’s house. This icon of God hid the prince in the Temple as part of his family (2 Chr 22:12, 24:22), becoming like a father to the child, he ensured Joash’s instruction in the scriptures, ushered him into sovereignty and continued to advise him as he grew in stature.
Whilst Joash responded to Jehoiada’s counsel, the country remained true to the Lord’s commands (2 Chr 24:14-18). However, once the priest died, the monarch began to turn to ungodly practices. Being merciful, the Lord sent the priest’s son, Zechariah, to remind Joash of his surrogate father’s words. Yet, by having this prophet stoned to death in the temple court, the rebellious sovereign showed utter contempt for his heavenly father’s commands (2 Chr 24:21). Because he destroyed both messenger and message, he suffered the ignominy of dying at the hands of his own servants and forfeited a royal burial (2 Chr 24:22-25).
Amaziah, following in his father’s footsteps
Joash’s son Amaziah, after starting reasonably, made the mistake of worshiping idols (2 Chr 25:1-28). God then sent a prophet, whom the king, succumbing to his father’s influence, threatened to cut down should he insisted on delivering the word of God. The prophet no longer had need of prophecy, for simple deduction was then enough to predict that trouble lay ahead. The king forced a foolish confrontation with the Northern Kingdom that left him so unpopular that his own people murdered him, setting his sixteen-year-old son on the throne in his stead.
An ambiguity put to good use
This brings us to the other candidate for Matthew’s fourth omission, Uzziah, also made a good start, emulating his father’s better points (2 Chr 26:4-5). However, as the Lord’s blessing brought power and status, with it came the pride that drove him to enter the temple intent on burning incense. The High Priest, and eighty priests with him, came after the king to remind him that God’s word reserved this activity to the Sons of Aaron (2 Chr 26:17-20)11. Yet, as the king faced this rebuke the dormant seed of his grandfather’s sin germinated. Uzziah turned upon those who sought to remind him of God’s command and, as rage flared across his face, so divine judgment touched his forehead. For the rest of his life he would bear the leprous mark of divine disapproval and his son Jotham would rule in his stead. Each generation, like Jehoiachim, had forfeited their glory by despising the word of God. Uzziah does not quite fit the pattern of the other three, but Matthew’s ambiguous use of Ozias allowed his fourth omission to reinforce the theme associated with that name by highlighting the experience of Ahaziah’s uncle.
In Jehoiakim, Joash, Amaziah and Uzziah we have four sons of Adam who form a neat contrast to the four daughters of Eve. Four rulers who showed contempt for God’s word and lost their glory (a pattern reinforced by the experience of Ahaziah’s namesake uncle), contrasted with four women who risked all to uphold their heavenly Father’s commands and in doing so preserved a heritage. In contrasting the actions of these sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, Matthew alludes to the Edenic principles that male leaders will forfeit their heritage if they despise God’s word, whilst should they go astray God will preserve the Edenic heritage through a woman.
With much of Judaism opposed to Jesus’ teaching, Matthew’s lesson, taught through silence, served as a warning to his readers. Jesus’ earliest followers identified in their Messiah an unadulterated source of God’s words, for John’s Gospel implies he was the Word of God (John 1:1-2) and is unequivocal in asserting that the words of Jesus were the words of the Father who sent him (John 14:24)12. Those who despise God’s word and attempt to destroy its messengers forfeit their glory and all authority in the Kingdom of God.
Symmetry and the fortunes of a priesthood
There is a pattern to Matthew’s additions and omissions, for he adds four spouses into his first section and then omits four men from the second. Neither the division into fourteens nor the distribution of anomalies is arbitrary. Aptly, fourteen is the numerical value of the name David (Hebrew uses letters to represent numbers)13, for, at the heart of this contrived structure, lies David and his role as priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Matthew spells out for us the boundaries of the three sections, Abraham to David, David to deportation to Babylon, deportation to Messiah. His first section starts with a man that God called out of Mesopotamia and it ends with a priest king after the order of Melchizedek, a ‘man after God’s own heart’ who fulfilled God’s promises to Abraham. The middle section inverts this progression. Starting with the blessed reign of Solomon, a high priest after the order of Melckizedek, it ends with Judah going into exile in Mesopotamia. The final section then seems to recapitulate the first, opening with God calling a nation out of Mesopotamia and ending with Jesus, a priest king after the order of Melchizedek, a man who shared God’s heart and a man destined to fulfil God’s promises concerning the Messiah. In the first section, the actions of the four women find fruition in the fulfilment of God’s promises to Abraham, as David finally secures that heritage. In the second section, the actions of the four kings result in the complete loss of the land once promised to Abraham’s children. The message is clear. To receive the promises of God, his daughters must preserve the heritage of the Seed of the Woman, stepping forward in obedience to wade against the tide of rebellion. Simultaneously, his sons must take utmost care not to become arrogant, despise their heavenly father’s word, and thereby squander their glory.
Before finally leaving Matthew’s Genealogy, there is one more issue that I shall briefly address, albeit almost as a footnote. It concerns the final group of fourteen. Matthew gives just eleven generations between Zerubbabel and Joseph, yet Luke lists some eighteen. Here may be some more omissions, though, with the potential for a youngest son to be the same age as his eldest sibling’s children, this need not be the case. However, the real surprise in this group, is how the royal line, as given by Matthew, drops out of sight, especially given the significance of David’s heir.
The cultic dependence of Aaron’s line on that of David (as discussed in Chapter 7), together with the disappearance of Joash, may help suggest why Jesus’ ancestors remained so hidden.
As David fled, it fell to the Levites to aid him during his fugitive years, providing a secure home for him in Hebron (2 Sam 2:1). In which respect, it is interesting that the only Levites granted territories in Judah were the Kohathites (Josh 21:4), the group entrusted with the safekeeping of holy items during transit (Num 4:4-16). Yet that was not last time they would provide refuge for a fugitive and thereby ensure the Seed a future in the land.
Following the divine overturning of Ahab’s dynasty, Ahaziah’s wife, Athelia, a daughter of Ahab, moved to eliminate her husband’s heirs. Yet, before she could complete here grim objective, their aunt, Jehosheba, snatched the king’s youngest son to safety (2 Chr 22:10-12). As with Matthew’s added women, her intervention preserved a heritage, however then a loyal priesthood had to play its part.
With the descendants of Aaron reliant upon the Priesthood of Melchizedek, it became imperative for them to preserve an heir for the Davidic line. So, once Jehosheba took the infant to her husband, the Chief Priest Jehoiada, the salvation of Joash was assured. In the temple, as part of Jehoiada’s family, the priest’s power and influence could hide and protect him (2 Chr 23:1-7). To the outside world David’s line was dead, yet all the while the precious secret was entrusted to the priests, the stump of Jesse remained alive.
In the presence of God, Joash waited for his ‘father’ to appoint a time and announce that David had an heir. Then, when came the time for Joash to claim his inheritance, Jehoiada called together those still loyal to David’s house and declared him king. A glorious coronation forced all to acknowledge this sovereign ‘given by the Lord’14, whilst, taken completely by surprise, Athelia was defeated, cast out from the holy place and killed (2 Chr 23:11-15). With the revelation of Joash, the cornerstone was again in place and the process of restoring the God ordained order could begin.
The priestly possibility
A close tie between David’s heirs and the priestly classes is evident from Jesus’ nativity and it is well known that Mary’s extended family was married into the priesthood (Luke 1:5, 36). Bethlehem itself also had associations with Levites, first hinted at in Judges (Judg 17:7), but evidenced in Jesus day by the temple employees use of the nearby ‘watchtower of the flock’ (Migdal Eder, from which Jewish tradition held that God would reveal Messiah, and from which they watched over the flocks used in temple sacrifices15). The Levitical connections probably extend to Nazareth as well, for a Jewish source, reflecting upon the Great Jewish Revolt (63-73 C.E.), cites Nazareth as then the home to the eighteenth of the twenty-four orders of priests who served in Jerusalem16, an observation confirmed by fragments of a third or fourth century list of priestly orders, found in Caesarea17. It is also interesting that the pool of names in Matthew’s third section shows a distinct bias towards those of priests18, a bias that, despite his genealogy taking a different line, is also found in Luke (Luke 3:23-27)19. Given all that, it is hard not to see parallels between Matthew’s nativity and the hiding of Joash. In both an heir of David escapes a murderous massacre, and then grows up unobtrusively amongst a community of priests. In both the narrative moves inexorably toward the revelation of a hidden King.
I find it rather appealing that the line of Christ might have lain hidden, like Joash, its secret guarded by a loyal priesthood. Each generation diligently entrusting the secret to the next, the whole time wondering if theirs would be the generation to see the king in all his glory. Corrupt though it might have become on occasions, the Levitical priesthood preserved David and later intervened to hide Joash in their midst. Such an arrangement may well also have kept both heir of David and seed of the woman safe throughout the long years that followed Zerubbabel, out of sight for its own protection, until, with Jesus, the time had come for it to resume centre stage.
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1 Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary, 46.
2 N. Thomas Wright, Matthew for Everyone (London: SPCK, 2004), 3.
3 Solomon, Rehoboam, Abija, Asa, Jehoshaphat and Joram (1 Chr 3:10-11, Matt 1:7-8).
4 France, Matthew, 74.
5 Joatham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon (1 Chr 3: 12-13, Matt 1:9-10).
6 The command to abstain from wine and dwell in tents implies a desire for holiness.
7 God speaks of all Israel as sons (Deut 14:1) and Israel as a firstborn (Jer 31:9 and Exod 4:22).
8 Israel used this title especially of David (Ps 89:27), whom God spoke of as his son (Ps 2:6-7) and who cried out to God as ‘Father’(Ps 89:20-29). Solomon enjoyed a similar relationship (2 Sam 7:14, 1 Chr 22:10).
9 Moses was forty when fled from Egypt eighty when he returned and one hundred and twenty when he died leaving Israel to enter the land (Acts 7:30, Exod 7:7, Deut 31:2).
10 There is overwhelming circumstantial evidence that he was the High Priest. The king considered him a fit husband for his daughter; He crowned Joash and anointed him as king (2 Kgs 11:12); They buried him amongst nobility (2 Chr 24:16); The Levites answered to him (2 Chr 23:2 & 8); He mediated on behalf of the entire nation (2 Kgs 11:17); He lived in the temple (2 Chr 22:12, cf. Lev 21:10-12).
11 The one who offered incense had to be a ‘seed’ of Aaron (Num 16:40).
12 In John 8:37-47, Jesus argument appears derived from the idea of obedience to the Father’s words.
13 France, Matthew, 75.
14 The meaning of the name Joash (Strong, “3101 יׄואָשׁ,” Concordance).
15 Alfred Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, (Bellingham, Wash: Logos Research Systems, 2003,) 1:186-187.
16 Barnabas Meistermann, "Nazareth," in The Catholic Encyclopedia 10:n.p. Cited 22 June 2006. Online: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10725a.htm.
17 "Nazareth." n.p. [cited 26 Jun 2006]. Online:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazareth.
18 Eleazer and Zadok are well-known priests (Exod 28:1, 1 Chr 18:16), the name Eliakim was associated with both royalty (2 Chronicles 36:4) and the priesthood (Neh 12:41), and Jacob was a patriarchal ‘priest’.
19 It has a Levi, an Eli and two Mattathias (An elderly priest called Mattathias played a pivotal role during the Maccabean period). With the exception of Amos and Nahum, both namesakes of famous prophets, the rest remain obscure.