The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Matthew 1

Mat 1:1

Mat -- John: See Lesson, How Jesus used the Old Testament.

See Lesson, Matthew's genealogy. Also see Article, Genealogies of Jesus.

See Article, Matthew and money.

One of the most marvelous verses in the whole Bible is Mat 1:1: "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham."

Think about it for a minute. There it sits, at the very beginning of the New Testament. Anybody can find it. Anybody can remember where it is. No searching the memory banks for a "good verse" to use. No flipping through pages, muttering, "Now where WAS that verse?"

When you think about it, this IS pretty much the beginning for most everyone except Christadelphians: "I don't bother much with the Old Testament, of course," they say. "Too much dull history, and lists of names. The New Testament is all I need!"

"Fine," we say, "Let's go there!"

And now that one has begun at the beginning, the message of this single verse -- at the very crossroads of the Bible, the bridge between Old and New -- is... breathtakingly simple: Here, at the very beginning -- the jumping-off place -- of the New Testament, the reader is actually directed to look back at the Old... "HALT! Proceed no further until you look back and understand WHY it is important that Jesus Christ is the son of Abraham and the son of David."

And right away, the reader can be introduced to the promises -- resurrection and eternal life on the earth, the Kingdom of God, and the throne of David, and the Second Coming. Some of the most positive, and fundamental, teachings of the Bible.

And -- if you have a memory like a sieve, or can't remember a single thing under pressure -- how do you get to those promises? No problem. Alongside Mat 1:1 in your Bible margin, simply write: (a) "Abraham": Gen 12 and Gen 13 (and Gal 3:16,27-29 if you want to be adventurous!); and (b) "David": 2Sa 7 (and maybe Isa 9:6,7 and Luk 1:31-33).

Now you are off and running!

RECORD OF THE GENEALOGY: "Book" (biblos, Bible) of the "genesis". A new beginning; a spiritual creation.

DAVID... ABRAHAM: Both David and Abraham received the promises of God with faith and joy (Mat 22:43; Joh 8:56). "How they would have rejoiced to read this 'dull' chapter" (WEnj 188).

Think of the analogy of a wealthy family (this analogy is actually used in Gal 4). All the children receive a generous "inheritance" (or at least their share is laid up in trusts or the like, for their use at a later date). But the children -- as they grow up -- also willingly and eagerly go to work in the family business, doing their own part to cause the family enterprise to grow, and making wise and prudent decisions about the "investments" of the company... not just for themselves, but especially for their own children and grandchildren. Here is a lengthy list of names, a list that can make for very dull reading. But if we make it personal, it comes alive! Read the genealogy as though it were your own family history (and it is: for if you belong to Christ, then are you Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promises: Gal 3:16,27-29). When read that way, it is immensely exciting. It is as though you suddenly discover that you are "heir" to a vast fortune (and what a property! the whole world in fact: Gen 13:14,15; Rom 4:13; 2Sa 7:12-16!) through an obscure branch of the family tree which you had never considered before. Just think: if you learned of this possible "inheritance", how avidly would you read and reread that "dull", "dry" list of names, just to be sure that it did in fact lead finally to you! And then how eagerly and avidly would you go to work at the family's enterprise, knowing that one day it would all belong to you!

DAVID: Jesus is called Son of David: Mat 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30,31; 21:9,15; 22:42.

Mat 1:2

JUDAH AND HIS BROTHERS: As with vv 3,11, calls attention to God's selectivity.

Mat 1:3

The women in Jesus' genealogy: Jesus as a friend of publicans and sinners: Mat 8:10; 9:10; 11:19.

Mat 1:4

AMMINADAB: Father-in-law of Aaron (Exo 6:23).

Mat 1:8

JEHORAM THE FATHER OF UZZIAH: Skipping 3 generations here: the descendants of Athaliah: Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah: 2Ki 8:16-18,26; 2Ch 21:6; Deu 29:20. To fulfill prophecy: "God will blot out their names."

Mat 1:11

Excludes Jehoiakim, poss because he was appointed not by God, but by the king of Babylon.

Mat 1:12

JECONIAH: The two lines (Joseph's in Mat and Mary's in Luk) converge in 2 successive generations (Shealtiel and Zerubbabel). Was Jeconiah the father of Shealtiel (here), or was Neri the father (Luk 3:27)? One of the two lines (in Mat and Luk) was prob perpetuated through an adoption. Either way, legally or by blood, Jesus was descended from David. See Jer 22:30n also.

SHEALTIEL THE FATHER OF ZERUBBABEL: Poss excluding one generation: 1Ch 3:17,18.

Mat 1:16

AND JACOB THE FATHER OF JOSEPH...: This generation is Joseph's -- whereas the one in Luk 3 is Mary's. This generation stresses kingly (David) and national (Abraham) inheritance, which would naturally come through the "father". Thus, legally speaking, Jesus was the heir of Joseph.

JESUS, WHO IS CALLED CHRIST: The total number of persons in genealogy is 41. How does the writer arrive at 42? A couple of possible answers: (1) Jesus is 41st, and Christ is 42nd -- being "born" twice. Or, (2) perhaps the 42nd generation is the multitudinous Christ, the "seed" of Isa 53:10,11, and the "generation" of Psa 22:31.

Mat 1:17

First 14 generations: royalty given. Second 14 generations: royalty removed. Third 14 generations: royalty restored.

As with the lunar cycle (complete in 28 days): the 42 generations sym the waxing (to David), waning (to Jeconiah), and waxing again (to Christ) of Messianic fortunes.

3 x 14 = 42 "stations" in the "wilderness" of man (Num 33), until the promise is received. Also, 42 periods of affliction (Rev 12:6; 13:5,12), until deliverance.

Mat 1:18

By the time Mary returned from Judea to Nazareth her pregnancy was at least three months advanced (Luk 1:56). If not already obvious, her condition would be discovered not long thereafter -- most likely by her parents. This is implied by the statement: "She was found to be with child." Mary did not reveal the past events to any but Elizabeth and Zechariah until her condition was known. Her silence was the result (we may suppose) of equal parts modesty and faith; modesty in speaking of such an intimate matter, and faith that God would reveal His purpose when He chose, and to whom He chose. It must be pointed out that the last phrase of v 18 ("through the Holy Spirit") does not describe what was known immediately -- either by Mary's parents or by Joseph. This is certain because of what follows in the narrative.

The position of this last phrase is Matthew's explanation, by which the link is made to the foregoing genealogy (esp with v 16) and to the succeeding prophecy (v 23). The first intimation Joseph received of anything extraordinary in his betrothed wife may have come from his in-laws, or the secondhand gossip of not-so-friendly neighbors.

Matthew's narrative is so brief that the reader is compelled to select from different possibilities. Did Joseph go direct to Mary for confirmation, or did he inquire of others (her parents, perhaps) in order to be sure? A good guess of what happened (and it can only be a guess) is this: When Mary's parents discover her pregnancy, they naturally question her, but she says that she must first speak to Joseph. She may have felt that, since her condition is now in the open, the first explanation is due to her "husband", not her parents. The next reasonable guess would be that Mary's father approaches Joseph with the unwelcome news, and with an understandable accusation framed. Joseph can do nothing else but assert his innocence, which only makes a bad situation worse.

References in Psalms to the Virgin Birth: (a) Psa 22:9,10: The AV mg has: "kept me safe". This was fulfilled in Mat 2:13-16. (b) Psa 69:8: "My brethren" = "my mother's children", but not "my father's children" -- implying that Jesus had no human father! (c) Psa 71:6: "You brought me forth, or upheld me from the womb!" (d) Psa 86:16 / Psa 116:16: Cp with Luke 1:38,48: Mary is the "handmaiden" of the LORD, and in these words she gives her consent which is necessary for the conception of the unique child in her womb. (e) Psa 89:26,27: "I will appoint him my firstborn". Cp Col 1:15,18. The "first Adam" and "last Adam": referring to the one who is "firstborn" not just by his birth, but by his special selection by his Father, and especially by his overcoming of sin and death. (f) Psa 110:3: Why does David call him "Lord"? Because, though born after David, Jesus is greater than he -- being the son of the Most High. See v 3: "From the womb before the morning I begat thee" (LXX). (g) Psa 132:11: "From your belly" (AV mg) -- ie, not "loins" (as of paternal origin), but "womb" (maternal origin). This is the same word in 2Sa 7:12. Cp with Luke 1:42.

Mat 1:19

See Lesson, Joseph a righteous man.

Mat 1:20

JOSEPH SON OF DAVID: A woman's identity is merged into that of her husband, and this is why Joseph (and not just Mary) needed to be descended from David.

Both Mary and Joseph are asked by God to accept the disgrace and shame of a couple who have "sinned". Joseph is told to name the child (Mat 1:21), an act which would be interpreted by all as an admission of paternity. (This would also be equivalent to an admission that he had lied in previously asserting his innocence) In the eyes of the people, then, either Joseph was a weak man who could not control his passions, or, worse yet, a fool duped into raising another man's son. (Because of Mary's three-month sojourn in Judah, the tongue-waggers could make a strong argument for the latter view.) Such matters would not be soon forgotten in a close-knit country village.

God could have made it easier. He could have smoothed the way, but He did not. Mary must now gather her belongings and go quietly to the house of Joseph. She would go with relief, certainly, that her beloved no longer doubted her, and that he was one with her in understanding the marvelous revelation of God. But she would go also under the disdainful eyes of her friends and relatives, and perhaps the sorrow of her parents, which she could do nothing to alleviate. For Mary and Joseph there would be no happy wedding, bridesmaids, feasts, laughing children, gifts or good wishes. The cloud of suspicion was made worse because there could be neither repentance nor explanation, only passive endurance (see 1Pe 2:20,21).

God saw to it that His own Son was provided with sterling examples of such traits in his childhood. Jesus was "called" to follow the pattern of meek suffering in well-doing that Mary and Joseph set for him. The grace under pressure which they showed during an extended trial was the object of his keen discernment. He could not fail, as he grew up, to hear the whispers and the innuendoes (cp later incidents: ie Joh 8:1-11); but from his parents, never a complaint. These lessons were taken to heart, and given the perfect reinterpretation in his own life.

Mat 1:21

SHE WILL GIVE BIRTH TO A SON: But not, "she will bear to YOU a son" (as in Gen 17:19; Luk 1:13), because Joseph was not literally the father. But see Mic 5:2: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come FOR ME one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient time."

YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM THE NAME: Joseph was not the "amiable nonentity" so often portrayed. He, not Mary, was appointed the custodian of Jesus (cp Mat 2:13,14,19-21).

BECAUSE HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS: Coming as it does right after the genealogy (which highlights so many of the sins of his ancestors), this promise emphasizes that the work of Jesus will be efficacious even for sins that are past: Rom 3:25; Heb 9:15.

With this cp Psa 130:1-8; 131:1-3 (RSV: "as a child quieted at its mother's breast"). Psa 130:8 is esp apt: "He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins."

Mat 1:23

VIRGIN: Gr "parthenos".

GOD WITH US: Thus Mat's gospel begins AND ends (cp Mat 28:20).

Mat 1:25

BUT HE HAD NO UNION WITH HER UNTIL...: This was Joseph's choice; it was not apparently required by God. Had he chosen to have relations with Mary no one would ever have known. Nor would it have been wrong. It would, of course, have been the expected thing. Such a restraint, which he willingly imposed upon himself, tells us much about the dedication and sensitivity of this man Joseph.

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