When reading the Bible everyone always says to skim or skip the genealogies. They say they’re boring or unimportant and just slow us down in getting to the good stuff, but they’re wrong. The genealogies ARE the good stuff.
Matthew 1 shows us God’s faithfulness through the generations. In good times and bad, prosperity and slavery, He was with the Israelites, steadily leading them toward the point in time when He would send Jesus to Earth. It’s just a long list of names, but there is SO MUCH meaning in each one. Each name is a story of God’s faithfulness and intentionality, using simple individuals to help weave together a beautiful story of redemption, culminating in the Easter story, where Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to save humanity.
The more we study the Old Testament — the one people call boring or irrelevant or too hard to apply or hard to read — the richer this chapter of Matthew gets. Matthew was Jewish. He was trying to methodically lay this out for his contemporaries to see that Jesus really was the Messiah. The Jewish people who read this would have known the context behind each name through their deep study of the scriptures. When we know the stories behind these names we are better able to understand God’s heart for people and its redemptive nature. The ancestors of Christ weren’t all super-human people of faith. They didn’t live perfect lives, they didn’t do everything in a cookie-cutter manner, just how you’d expect them to act when knowing they’re the ancestors of Jesus, the perfect lamb.
There’s a lot of drama hidden in the lines of this list. But Jesus doesn’t want perfect; He wants something real and a dedicated heart that’s always trying to be better. His family wasn’t special because they did exactly what was expected of them by God. They’re special because they didn’t and chased after God anyways after they messed up.
There were a few names in the list that really moved me when thinking that they were part of the genealogy of Jesus. We tend to read the Old Testament in singular stories rather than one long story consisting of a revolving cast of characters. It’s crazy when you realize these people all had a person in common: Jesus.
“Jacob, the father of Judah and his brothers”: God is using the unexpected here. We all know about Joseph and the technicolor dream coat. It’s a story that we’re taught from an extremely young age. If we were asked to name Jacob’s sons, Joseph would be the Family Feud winning answer. Yet Joseph isn’t the son who represents the tribe of Israel that Jesus belongs to. It’s Judah. A relatively unknown brother in the 12 pack. A son of Leah, Jacob’s wife he didn’t want but was tricked into marrying who was always coming in second behind her beautiful younger sister. Judah was one of the brothers who sold Joseph off to the merchants traveling to Egypt. His only redeeming quality in that story was suggesting the brothers sell Joseph into slavery instead of killing him because of their deep seated jealousy. Not exactly big brother of the year material here. Yet he is the chosen tribe.
“Judah, the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar”: Judah ends up having 3 sons with a Canaanite woman and the first two are deemed too wicked to live and are put to death by God. (God is really heavy handed with his righteous justice in the Old Testament. Y’all better behave!) His first son’s wife Tamar is left childless and Judah denies her his 3rd son to continue the oldest’s family line. Tamar then disguises herself as a prostitute and sleeps with her father in law to conceive the next generation in the Messianic line. If that isn’t the stuff of soap operas, I don’t know what is. It’s ridiculously scandalous, but God redeemed her sin and situation for His plan and His good. Despite what some think, God is not a goody-goody who is too good to associate with certain people. Jesus has his family drama just like everybody else.
“Salmon, the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab”: Rahab was also a prostitute, but even worse, she was a citizen of Jericho, a city of pagans that God had sentenced for destruction so the Israelites could take it over. She believed in the God of the Israelites because of the wonders He had accomplished getting them out of Egypt and she chose to shelter the two spies from the king’s manhunt inside the walls of Jericho. Because of this she was rewarded for her faith. Not only was she spared, but she was welcomed into the Israelite’s family and became a part of the line of Jesus. There is no sin too great for God to forgive and it doesn’t disqualify us from being used for great things. We believe in a God of remarkable transformations. Faith in God is rewarded, regardless of our past actions.
“David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife”: Last one. These additions of women to the genealogy add so much color to the story of Jesus’ family. It’s incredible. We all know the story of David and Bathsheba, but I find it so fascinating how Matthew chose to reference Bathsheba. She’s not just listed as Solomon’s mother, but as Uriah’s wife, reminding readers of one of David’s more egregious sins. He was known to Israel as the greatest king, yet he had a man murdered so he could have her as his wife. And after all of that God still allowed him to be a part of the line of Jesus. He made big mistakes, but he was humble enough to repent of his sins just as much. Humanity is messy and sinful, but God still chooses to let us be a part of his plan, even though we are hopelessly inept. He loves us enough to walk with us as we struggle to follow him daily.
There are many other intriguing stories hidden within the lines of Matthew 1. There are parts of ourselves present in all the failures represented in those characters, yet we are invited to be a part of the story, just like those in the line of Jesus. God chooses to use broken people and restore them to be used for His good. What an example for us to follow. All these flawed characters led up to the most pristine human to ever live, and he died so that we may also be pristine and flawless in the eyes of God if we trust in him. The Easter story is made more beautiful when we zoom out a little bit to see the full story, the story of God redeeming the Israelites and inviting us into that fold, the story of successes and failures ending with the greatest comeback ever.
Happy Easter, guys. He is risen!