When you read the genealogy of Christ that begins the first chapter of the New Testament, it is like reading a very short version of the history of the whole Old Testament. By showing how Jesus was connected to the history of God’s people, Matthew revealed that Jesus was truly the One that all the covenants and prophesies were about.
This is how Matthew began;
“A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David,
the son of Abraham:”
Wow. Do you see the first person Matthew linked Jesus to? King David! Any Jewish person who knew the Old Testament would sit up and take notice when they learned that Jesus was a descendent of David. This is what was written in the Psalms:
“You have said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn to David my servant:
‘I will establish your offspring forever,
and build your throne for all generations.’”
The Jewish people would know exactly what Matthew was trying to say! Jesus was in line for the throne of Israel! He was eligible to be King! He could be the Messiah! He could be the One to bring the Day of the Lord and the Kingdom of God!
Matthew also showed that Jesus was a descendant of Abraham. God had made a covenant commitment to Abraham that he swore he would never break. He said that Abraham would have so many descendants that they would be like stars in the sky! By the time of Jesus, God had kept that promise. The children of Abraham, the nation of Israel, was very great. But God also promised that all the nations of the world would be blessed through Abraham. The Jewish people often forgot about that part of the promise. Matthew wanted to show how Jesus had come not only to be the Messiah to the Jews. He came to be the Savior of the world! He was the highest, most important fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham!
So let’s go on this path with Matthew from Abraham all the way to Jesus. As I describe the list that Matthew wrote down, I will try to explain what a Jewish person would have remembered when they read it. Any Jewish family would immediately remember that Abraham was a man of great faith in the Lord. He trusted God even when it seemed like there was no way God could fulfill His promises to him. God had declared that this faith was precious to him. It was this faith that made Abraham righteous. The Jews were very proud that he was the father of their nation.
Abraham had a son named Isaac. God renewed the covenant of Abraham with Isaac. He promised that Isaac’s descendents would become a great nation. Isaac had a son named Jacob, and the Lord renewed the covenant of Abraham with him, too. Jacob had twelve sons, and they were the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Out of those twelve tribes, the Lord called out one very special son. His name was Judah, and he was a very, very sinful man. He did some shockingly sinful things. But Judah also did something remarkable. He realized how wicked he was, and he repented! He allowed God to change his heart. He became a man of great sacrifice and love. Because of his obedient repentance, the Lord honored Judah above all his brothers. He promised Judah that the kings of Israel, anointed by God Himself, would come from his descendants. The only rightful king to rule over God’s people had to come from the line of Judah. Can you see why it was important for Matthew to present Jesus as his descendant?
Judah had a son named Perez. Perez’s mother was a woman named Tamar, and Matthew was careful to mention her name. Now, in the ancient genealogies of all the nations, it was very rare for a woman’s name to appear. Usually they only tell about the fathers. Why do you think Matthew made sure to add her name?
Well, Tamar was a woman who showed great courage because of her faith in God. She was a foreigner who came from a nation of people that worshipped terrible idols. Yet she was loyal to God’s plans and promises when the men of God’s chosen family were being very sinful and faithless. Her boldness made sure that the line of Judah continued on, and God blessed her for it. The Lord honored Tamar by putting her name in the list of those who were part of bringing the Messiah to earth.
Perez had a son named Hezron, who had a son named Ram. Ram was the father of Amminidab, and he was the father of Nahshon. Nashon had a son whose name was Salmon, and Salmon’s son was named Boaz. You might remember this honorable man. He was the husband of dear Ruth, and a whole book of the Bible was written about their love story. Matthew was careful to mention her name in the genealogy of Jesus, too! Why?
Well, Ruth was another foreign woman who showed tremendous faith at a time when the nation of Israel was rebelling against God. She left her foreign home and went to the land of Israel to serve her Jewish mother-in-law. She abandoned the idols of her own people to follow God and to live as a lowly servant in Israel. She honored the Lord with her humility and obedience, and God was greatly pleased. The devotion and trust of a non-Jew was precious to Him. He honored this humble woman by making her the great-grandmother of a king and the ancestor of the Savior of the world. And once again, the Lord used a non-Jewish foreigner to keep His covenant promises to Abraham. Matthew was trying to show his readers that it had always been God’s plan to bring salvation to all people of the world who put their faith in Him.
Ruth and Boaz had a much beloved son named Obed, who became the father of Jesse. This Jesse was the famous father of an even more famous son. He was the father of King David himself! David had many sons, but only one was chosen to sit on the throne of Israel. His name was Solomon, and he, too, was an ancestor of Jesus. Matthew makes sure to mention that Solomon’s mother was the wife of a man named Uriah before marrying King David. Why would Matthew mention this?
Well, it is interesting that God does not give the name of the wife in the geneology. God wanted to honor her first husband! This is interesting because he was a foreigner. He did not come from the nation that was God’s treasured possession, but he was willing to fight in their army. He was an incredibly noble man who honored the ways of the Lord. But David, the Jewish king, treated him with great sin and treachery. While Uriah was off bravely fighting battles for Israel, David took Uriah’s wife for himself. She became pregnant. Imagine the scandal it would cause if anyone found out! David covered his tracks by abusing his power. He made sure Uriah was put in a dangerous place in battle. It was certain he would die there, but Uriah faithfully obeyed King David’s orders and was killed. God saw what this loyal, foreign man did for the faithless king. He honored Uriah’s name by making sure it was remembered for all time in the genealogy of the Son of God.
King David was a great man, but he had sinned terribly and was judged severely. He could have rebelled and used his power to sin in even greater ways. Instead, King David did something that is remarkable in the long history of stubborn, powerful men. He repented. Just like Judah before him, David turned away from his sin, rejecting his former rebellion and pride. He went to the Lord with his awful deeds in tears and great sorrow, and the Lord forgave him and restored him to a right relationship with Himself.
This story is a story of God’s judgment, but it is also a story of His powerful grace. No matter how sinful the children of God were, the Lord kept His covenant promises to them. God went on to use King David’s marriage to Uriah’s wife to bring the next king of Israel. His name was Solomon, and he would lead the nation into its most glorious time in history.
In the ancient world, women and foreigners were often treated as less than human. It is a thing of quiet awe that the God of creation proved to see things very differently. The faith of Tamar, Ruth, and Uriah moved the heart of the Lord. They trusted Him, and the trust and hope that leans on God is what pleases Him the most. It is what we were made for. These beautiful characters were wonderful models for how true children of God were meant to live, and God honored them by giving them a very special, sacred place in His plans.
For the Jewish readers of Matthew, the names of Tamar, Ruth, and Uriah would have stood out in the genealogy as if they glowed. That these foreigners were given the unspeakably great dignity of being in the line of the Savior would have brought them up short. All along, God had been bringing aliens, outside of the nation of Israel, and outside of the covenant promise, to be a part of His salvation plan. The Messiah came to bring a New Covenant where the Good News would be proclaimed to all people of all languages and nations. In the genealogy of the Lord Jesus, Matthew shows us that this worldwide redemption was part of God’s plan all along. Messiah came not only to be the Savior to the Jews. He came to be Savior of the world.