2 Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
4 Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
6 and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asa,
8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,
Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
9 Uzziah the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah,
11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah[c] and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
12 After the exile to Babylon:
Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
13 Zerubbabel the father of Abihud,
Abihud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
14 Azor the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Akim,
Akim the father of Elihud,
15 Elihud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.
17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.
Matthew's "Boring" Introduction
It takes some perseverance to read all of the Holy Scriptures. It's not easy reading through the rituals of Leviticus, or the census figures of Numbers, or the strange visions Ezekiel. Any person who embarks on reading the Bible from cover to cover must have some degree of determination.
Genealogies with strange names are some of the less exciting portions of the Scripture yet Matthew introduces his gospel with one. In the few writing workshops I attended, we were told to learn how to compose a good introduction. Potential readers would discontinue reading if you have a crappy first paragraph.
Why then did Matthew begin with a boring genealogy? The answer is that it is boring only to the modern readers. For Matthew's audience, it is the most exciting thing that could be heard. It proclaims that Israel's long awaited Messiah has finally arrived!
Our lack of excitement over these verses indicates that our modern idea on the meaning of Christmas is distant from the ancient Jewish concept of the Messiah. A first century Jewish reader of Matthew would have had his heart thumping upon reading verse 1: "This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham". It calls to mind two important covenants in the Hebrew scriptures: the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.
The Promised Seed who will Crush the Serpent's Head
The first two chapters of Genesis give us an account of how the world came into existence. God made everything in six days. Man was the crown of creation for he was made in God's likeness and image. All things were beautiful and perfect: "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." (Gen 1:31)
The third chapter tells us about the entry of sin into the world. Adam and Eve chose to believe the serpent's lies. They rejected God's word. That single act ruined the world which used to be all bright and beautiful. Child-bearing became painful, even life-threatening. The ground was cursed therefore a man must go through painful toil so he could provide for himself and his family. The ground that used to yield only what was useful to man now also yields not just useless stuff but also things that would hurt him (thorns and thistles).
Then the worst of it all, the entrance of death and things associated with it, like suffering, sickness, murder and wars (Gen 3:19). All the heartbreaks and heartaches that you experienced as an individual and even the whole world in general is all because of sin's entry into the world.
Yet along with all the sad news contained in chapter 3 is a great promise. This is the first ever Christmas-related verse:
"And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel." (Genesis 3:15)
This verse is also known as the proto-evangelion or the first announcement of the gospel. An offspring of Eve would one day give Satan a fatal blow that would crush his head. The mastermind of sin's entrance into the world would be defeated in the end. The wait for the victorious Messiah started in the garden.
With this foundation in the background, we could now proceed tackling the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.
Christmas and the Abrahamic Covenant
Genesis 12:1-3 is the primary verse on the Abrahamic Covenant:
Abraham, who was then called Abram, was asked to leave the comforts of his home country to go and live into the unknown somewhere else. Along with it are promised personal, national and universal blessings. In faith, he obeyed.
This covenant also effectively narrowed down the puzzle into one nation. I mean, all the nations in the world came from Eve. From what nation will the serpent-killer come from? With God's dealing with Abraham, Israel is now identified as the home country of the Messiah. For from Abraham came, Isaac. And from Isaac came Jacob. And from Jacob came the 12 tribes of Israel.
A Scripture-informed Jew understood the connection between Abrahamic covenant and Christmas. For instance, Mary the mother of Jesus said:
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Furthermore Zechariah, the father of the other miracle child (John the Baptist) in the Christmas narratives regarded the birth of the Messiah as a fulfillment of the oath made by God before Abraham that He will be against Israel's haters and oppressors (see Luke 1:71-75)
Christmas and the Davidic Covenant
I have said earlier that the puzzle has been narrowed down into a nation. It has been further narrowed will further be narrowed down into one tribe in Genesis 49:1 & 10 when Jacob said that the scepter will not depart from Judah. David was from that tribe. While reigning as king, God made a covenant with him. The most relevant promise in the covenant is found in 2 Samuel 7:16-- "... your throne will be established forever."
When the Angel Gabriel gave the word to Mary that she would be the bearer of the Messiah, he said “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
So it turns out that the genealogy that is uninteresting to us brings so much excitement to the original Jewish audience of Matthew, for it traces the lineage of the newborn-king and connects him to the great promises made by God to Abraham and David.
Doubting Jesus as the fulfillment of the evangelion?
Some may ask, "Whatever happened to the promise crushing of the serpent's head?". This is a legitimate question since we could still see so much evil and suffering all around in the world.
John the Baptist, the one who introduced Jesus to the public as the "Son of God" and "the Lamb" (John 1:34-35) sent representatives to Jesus one day to ask this question: "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" (Luke 7:19). Imprisoned (and eventually beheaded), perhaps he started to entertain doubts because Jesus hasn't been making any political progress.
And at the Emmaus road, there's a couple of men who hoped that Jesus was the one who was going to redeem Israel but were then frustrated when they witnessed how he was sentenced to death and eventually crucified (Luke 24:20-21).
Jesus told them: "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?"
Excited about the sequel of the story
Some promises of God were fulfilled on Jesus' first coming. The reason why there is still sin, pain, evil, suffering and grief in the world is because the completion of the promises is yet future. To put it in another way, Christ's first coming is Part 1 of the story. It was exciting and the climax was when Jesus rose from the dead proclaiming his victory over sin. The sacrifice has been made. The atonement is powerful. “Death has lost it's sting!”
Yet the best is yet to come. And since Part 1 of the story was so much engaging, it should move our hearts to be excited about the sequel. He shall return! We shall soon see the fatal blow upon the serpent's head.
"The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." (Romans 16:20)
“And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever." (Revelation 20:10)
Do you believe these? If you don't, I would like to say this to your face, “"How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:20)
May the promises fulfilled in the incarnation of Christ give us the faith to wait for his return. And while waiting, may we live pleasing lives before our Present and Future King.