The Genealogy of Jesus
“So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.”
We’ve finally come to the conclusion of Matthew’s genealogy.
Matthew ends the genealogy with a statement that is kind of strange. He says between Abraham and David there were 14 generations, from David to the exile there were also 14 generations, and from the exile to Jesus, there were 14 generations. If we’re looking at Matthew’s genealogy as an essay, this is a weird conclusion. As we study this verse one question comes up: why are three groups of 14 generations so important? And then that question leads to another question: What does that have to do with Jesus being the Christ?
Honestly, I’ve spent a lot of time studying this verse, praying about it, and researching it. And when I say a long time, I mean since March. Back when I first sat down to study this verse I was excited. I had already seen how Matthew shaped his genealogy to show us who Jesus is and why He came. I saw the flow of the genealogy in each section I studied. And I was interested to see how Matthew wrapped it all up.
But this verse has been a bit of a hard one. I know, it’s only one sentence, how hard can that be? I know. I’ve been asking that myself. And I do understand the basics of it. Matthew, at the very least, is simply trying to show how God has arranged all of Israel’s history t culminate in the person of Jesus. I don’t know if there’s much more to it than that. But there’s always the part of me that really wants to dig into it. I want to see what else might be in there. And honestly, that interpretation doesn’t really answer the first question. It doesn’t really answer why Matthew focuses so much on the number 14.
So, I’ve been doing some research, and a lot of praying, over the past few months. I keep coming back to this verse to see if I can make sense of it. In my research, I’ve found some interesting theories and thoughts about Matthew’s conclusion here. And I do want to share those with you in this post. I would love to hear what you think about it too!
Embrace the Struggle
Something I do want to touch on a bit before we move too far forward is that it’s ok if it takes you a long time to understand what you’re reading. This verse has taken a long time. And I’m not even really satisfied with how I’m leaving it here.
But that’s just part of studying the Bible.
You’re going to come to passages that are hard to understand the first time through. And it’s ok to struggle through it and to go see what other people are saying about it. I think sometimes we get this idea, or at least I get this idea, studying the Bible is supposed to always be easy. At least personally, I tend to have the idea that I’m supposed to understand every single word and story that I read. I can just open the Bible to any verse or story and understanding will just flood my brain.
And the truth is that does happen. I’ve had so many times when I’ve been hurting or wrestling with something and I’ve come across a verse or passage that just speaks right to my situation and my heart. There have been just as many times when I’ve sat down to study a passage and God shows me the depths of it. And that’s the Holy Spirit at work.
However, there are also many passages and stories that take a lot more effort to understand. There are a lot of parts of the Bible that I still read and say to myself “What??” I’ve had to wrestle a long time with some stories to figure out what’s going on. And there have been times, like right now, where I’ve prayed about it, I’ve researched it, I’ve studied it, and I just have to humbly go to God and admit that I still don’t see it. And guess what, the Holy Spirit is at work in that too.
I think maybe in our church culture we’re used to perfectly polished sermons and Bible studies. We’re used to preachers and Bible teachers always having something to say about every part of the Bible. We’re used to seeing people who every Bible study perfectly buttoned up and understood.
And maybe that’s part of why we sometimes have a hard time studying the Bible. We start to study and then we get to a difficult verse or passage. We have a hard time understanding it. And then we assume maybe that kind of studying isn’t for me. We quit because it gets hard. “I just have childlike faith and that’s ok.” But, I wonder what would happen if we pushed through the hard passages? Maybe it’s hard because God wants you to grow a bit? Anyone who’s worked out or played a sport knows you have to push through pain and struggle in order to grow and get better. I think sometimes the same is true for studying the Bible.
I just want to encourage you guys with that. If you start following this study and think “Wow she is so smart! Look at how well she understands the Bible” just know I don’t always understand. I’m not always so smart. And if you find yourself struggling to understand different parts of the Bible, you need to know that it’s ok.
Understanding doesn’t always come when we want it to. God doesn’t work on our timelines. In my head, I knew I needed to have something ready to write about Matthew 1:17. In fact, I needed to have it ready two days ago (in case you didn’t notice that this post is late). God, apparently, has a different timeline.
And that’s ok.
I do want to go through some of the different interpretations I found while I was studying this verse though. I’ll just hit the main points of each of them. I’d like to hear what you guys think about all of this, so feel free to discuss in the comments either here or on Facebook.
With all of that being said, I do want to take a short amount of time to explain some of what I’ve read as I’ve studied Matthew 1:17. I’ll explain the three most common interpretations for the end of Matthew’s genealogy. I don’t want to get too much into which one is right or not. I’ll just share the details and let you guys think about them. I encourage you to talk about them in the comments or with other people.
An Organizational Tool
The first interpretation is one I’ve already touched on in this post. And it’s the most simple. Matthew simply used the 14, 14, 14 structure as an organizational tool. As we will see in the rest of the Gospel, Matthew likes to keep things organized. His Gospel is very well structured and thought out. So, it would make sense of the genealogy to be just as organized. I think at the very least, Matthew was just wanting to show his readers how God organized all of Israel’s history to point to Jesus.
I like the simplicity of this option. It doesn’t assume too much. One thing that can happen sometimes when we’re studying the Bible is we assume too much about what an author may or may not have intended to do. I know I personally get caught up in looking for deeper meanings that I miss the simple ones.
However, in this interpretation, we don’t really answer the question about the number 14. Obviously, Matthew thought the number 14 was important. He wants his readers to pay attention to the number of generations in each section.
The Seventh Seven
If you’ve been in church for a while you may know that the numbers six and seven are important in the Bible. In Genesis, God works for six days creating the world. Then, He rests on the seventh day. This becomes the pattern for Israel. God commands His people to rest on the seventh day of the week. The seventh day becomes holy. In Leviticus 25, we read about the Sabbath year:
“The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather its fruits, but in the seventh year, there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired worker and the sojourner who lives with you, and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food.”
This pattern of work and rest was important in the Old Testament. And as we will see in the rest of Matthew and the other Gospels, the Sabbath was just as important to people during Jesus’ day. The Pharisees were constantly challenging Jesus for performing miracles and “working” on the Sabbath.
So, what does this have to do with Matthew’s genealogy? Well, within each section there are 14 generations, or two groups of seven, because 7+7=14. And there are three sections or three periods of time. That means there six groups of seven. Jeffery Kranz, from OverviewBible.org, explains it like this:
“The people reading his gospel would’ve been after that last generation, which would put them in the following generational bracket: the “seventh seven.” So, just like in the Genesis story of six days of creation culminating in a time of rest, we have six periods of time culminating in the time of the Messiah—a king who was supposed to bring Israel and the nations peace, justice, and rest.”
So, Jesus falls in the last generation. All of these other periods of time people spent working. And the coming of Jesus ushers in a period of spiritual rest.
The final, and probably most common, interpretation has to do with David’s name. Matthew puts a lot of emphasis on king David. He tells us at the beginning that Jesus is the son of David. We’ve already discussed in other posts why that’s significant. God had promised His people through the prophets that one day He would send them a righteous king through the line of David. This king would set His people free and usher in the kingdom of God. The son of David was what everyone was waiting for.
We get one final nod to David in Matthew’s conclusion. In ancient Hebrew letters had a number associated with it. And so names and words also had numbers associated with them. You would get the number for a name by adding the numbers associated with each letter. For example, the letters for David’s name in Hebrew are 4, 6, and 4. And when you add these numbers together, you get 14. Interesting right? So Matthew may have had David’s name in mind when he wrote the last sentence in his genealogy.
Or it’s more of what I call an inspired coincidence. I don’t know if we can say for sure that Matthew intended to make the connection between the number 14 and David’s name. But it is possible God inspired him to see the 14, 14, 14 pattern and reveals the connection to David’s name to us. Either way, it’s cool to see all of the different connections between Matthew’s Gospel and the Old Testament.
Keep On Studying
I hope on some level this blog post was encouraging to you as you start to study the Bible. It’s not always easy. Answers don’t always come when we want them to. Sometimes we just have to be ok with simple interpretations. Sometimes we have to be ok with not fully understanding a passage the way we’d like.
But that’s ok. As long as we keep on studying.
I do hope the interpretations I presented for you gave you something to think about. I really would like to see what everyone else thinks about this verse and the genealogy as a whole, so feel free to discuss in the comments!