A couple years ago on staff at the church, we took a 90-day challenge to read the Bible from start to finish in three months. The challenge is the 15 chapters a day I’d read, in addition to my regular quiet time, prayer, worship, etc. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy, and for me it was more of a 100-day challenge by the time I finished. I did, however, gain a lot of insight reading through it that quickly.
When you get to the book of Matthew, you think in terms of the Gospel and story time about Jesus, fun parables, action scenes, and the like. But first you hit Matthew 1, the genealogy of Jesus. You know what I’m talking about: this guy begot that guy, that guy begot other guy, other guy begot someone else. Um, no offense, but a little boring to us Westerners. However, one of the benefits of speed reading the Bible is I began to recognize the names in Matthew as I never had before, considering I’d just read about them less than two months prior. As I went back and identified most of the people, I started figuring something out. So here goes: Matthew 1:1-16 is in bold below, with some helpful notes.
This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham:
Abraham was the father of Isaac.
Abraham (Abram) doubted God’s promise that he would be the father of countless people. His wife was skeptical because they were both seriously old. This is like someone telling your great-grandparents they’re about to have a kid. Gross, and also implausible. Abraham thought he’d just help God out a little and took his wife’s servant as his baby mama instead. Then, of course, Abraham’s wife regretted their servant-love decision and got paranoid and they turned out the servant and her son. God sent along Abraham and his wife’s real son at just the right time. That’s where Isaac came in. Abraham and Sarah’s impatience and doubt could have ticked God off, but he stayed true to his promise, gave them a son, and blessed the servant and her son, Ishmael.
Isaac was the father of Jacob.
Technically Jacob was the second-born but his brother, Esau, sold him his birthright for a bowl of stew. Apparently Jacob was a good cook. He must have inherited it from his mother, Rebekah, because she cooked such a delicious goat meal, she fooled Isaac into thinking Jacob was Esau. Confusing? Jacob dressed in Esau’s clothes, stuck goat skin on his arms and neck, and tricked his then-old-and-blind father, Isaac, into thinking he was Esau. The entire charade allowed Jacob to steal Esau’s blessing, which was actually a pretty sweet deal (“You’ll be master of your brothers, people will bow down to you, nations will be your servants,” that sort of thing).
Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.
Jacob had two wives but four women who fathered his twelve children. Jacob was promised Rachel’s hand in marriage after working for her father for seven years. (I wonder if Ronnie would have accepted that deal for me…) But on the wedding night, Jacob’s new father-in-law tricked him into marrying his other daughter, Leah. Jacob got to marry Rachel later, and he loved her more than Leah. Leah felt a little neglected and God had mercy on her, allowing her to have a bunch of kids when Rachel couldn’t even have one. That’s where Judah came from, the lonely, less-loved Leah.
Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar).
Okay, scandal here. So Judah had three sons. The oldest son married this girl, Tamar. He was a jerk, though, and was killed before they had any kids. So, as was their custom, the second son married Tamar and was instructed to have kids with her to make up for his dead brother. This son didn’t want to have kids with her and, um, pulled out, so to speak. (If you’re familiar with the term “onanism,” it’s named after this dude, Onan.) Thus, Onan died. Judah was afraid his third son would also die if he married Tamar, so Judah made up some BS story to keep her waiting. Tamar figured it out, dressed up like a prostitute, tricked Judah into having sex with her, and that’s where we get the twins Perez and Zerah.
Perez was the father of Hezron.
Hezron was the father of Ram.
Not much here, although if Hazron’s son Caleb was the same Caleb son of Jephunneh, I totally would have chosen to use him over this Ram guy, because that Caleb was awesome. People can’t agree whether or not the two Calebs were the same person. Otherwise, not much mentioned with these people, and I’m refraining from making a “Dodge, the father of Ram” joke.
Ram was the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.
Nahshon was the father of Salmon.
Not much here, either, except maybe Nahshon was the father of seafood. And the color of metrosexual polo shirts.
Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Okay, Boaz was the old guy who married Ruth after she became a widow but stayed faithful to her mother-in-law and the family. Rahab, Boaz’s mom, was the prostitute who saved Joshua’s spies in Jericho. Sure, she had to lie to save them, but their lives were spared. In return, her life (Jesus’ ancestors’) was spared with the little help of a red rope in the window (Red Rope District?).
Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
See above. It’s actually a cool story. Plus, Boaz got a free sandal out of the deal.
Obed was the father of Jesse.
Jesse was the father of King David.
Jesse had eight sons, and David was the youngest. When God sent Samuel to anoint David, Samuel was certain David’s oldest brother was the would-be king. Apparently he looked the part. God told Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” Good verse, that one. Plus, it turned out David was pretty handsome himself and had pretty eyes.
David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).
Alright, you’ve probably heard this one before. David was pretty much the most perfect man until Jesus came along. He was hot, he was talented, he was humble, intelligent, tough, fearless, friendly, sweet—you get the idea. Every girl’s dream guy. Except he was too many ladies’ man. He had something like 10+ wives and countless concubines. And yet, as if that wasn’t enough, he went up on the roof and spied on this girl Bathsheba taking a bath (If it had been a shower, would she be Showersheba?). Bathsheba was gorgeous, but just so happened to be married to another man. David didn’t really care about that part. He got Bathsheba in the sack and she ended up pregnant, as these things tend to go. David didn’t want to admit to his sin, however, so he tried to get Bathsheba to sleep with her husband right away in the hopes of passing it off as a legitimate child. The husband was too faithful to David, however, and wasn’t sleeping with his wife at the moment. So, in return for his faithfulness, David sent him off to war and had him deliberately killed. (A similar thing happened in “Man in the Iron Mask.”) For shame. Having an affair? Bad. Plotting to have the woman’s husband murdered? Worse.
The child died as a result. Soon David and Bathsheba got pregnant again, this time with Solomon, who became the wisest man who’s ever lived (except perhaps Jesus, you know).
Solomon was the father of Rehoboam.
Rehoboam was the father of Abijah.
Rehoboam was kind of a jerk. And by “kind of” I mean “a lot of.” Once he became king, he told the people of Israel he was going to treat them like crap. Then he turned away from God and led the Israelites into doing the same. These were not good things.
Abijah was the father of Asa.
Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram.
Jehoram was the father of Uzziah.
Uzziah was the father of Jotham.
Jotham was the father of Ahaz.
Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.
Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh.
Manasseh was the father of Amon.
Amon was the father of Josiah.
Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).
After the Babylonian exile:
Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Akim.
Akim was the father of Eliud.
Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.
Okay, you get the idea. There’s more we could say about the people in the paragraph above, but we’d be here all day. So here’s the deal: Jesus, as we know, sums up God’s greatest glory. Jesus was perfect, holy, completely sinless. That’s a big deal. As a result, I’d assume Jesus’ lineage would be equally holy, or at least slightly more so than it actually was. Would we really expect God to bring his son to earth via such fallen people? Surely he wasn’t rewarding Abraham’s disbelief, David’s affair, Judah’s lies, Jacob’s charade, Tamar and Rahab’s prostitution. No, he wasn’t rewarding it; he was redeeming it. This is what it looks like, the position of Christ the Redeemer in our lives. God used some of the biggest screw-ups in the Bible to bring about his greatest glory. He could have used one of David’s original wives to bring about Solomon rather than the adulteress. He could have used Esau, Isaac’s actual firstborn son, rather than the son who stole and tricked his way into the firstborn position. He could have brought Jesus to earth through countless ways and people, but he chose to redeem their sins through both the birth and death of Jesus.
And what this means for me, for us, is he’ll do the same for us. Just like Romans 8:28, all things work together for both our good and God’s glory. Even if we’ve screwed up big time in our lives, God can—and will—still use it. In fact, he knew in advance all the decisions we’d make and used those in his plan for glory. This isn’t me saying, “So do whatever you want, ‘cause God can use our screw ups.” This is me encouraging you, saying, “Don’t stress so much about your failures. What we see as failures, God sees as important parts of his great plan.” Sure, we have to suffer the consequences of our mistakes and bad decisions here on earth, but if we keep our faith in God, when we get to heaven I’m confident he’ll reveal to us, “Look how this worked out for my best.”