Count Down to Christmas — part 2

Matthew 1:1-17

boatyardIt’s easy to let your eye slide right over the genealogy of Jesus — those names are unfamiliar and hard to pronounce – but if you do, you’ll miss some rare jewels! It is common in a patristic society to list only the names of the fathers in a genealogy, so when Matthew includes five women, we should take note.

The first thing we see is that these women are not the sterling mothers of the Bible. Where is Sarah or the great queens of the kingdom? Instead, it’s almost like Matthew has gone out of his way to list the “shady women in the tree.”

The first, Tamar (v. 3), tricked her father-in-law, the patriarch Judah into fathering her son (Genesis 38). The second, Rahab (v. 5), had been a prostitute (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25). The third, Ruth (v. 5) was a woman of great virtue, but the circumstances of her proposal to Boaz were prone to suspicion (Ruth 3). The fourth woman in the tree, Bathsheba, isn’t even named directly because of the shame of her adulterous affair with David (v. 6; cf. 2 Samuel 11). She is “referred to only as ‘Uriah’s wife,’ perhaps to remind the reader of David’s adulterous and murderous behavior.”[1]

Finally, the fifth woman in the genealogy is Mary the mother of Jesus (v. 16), but what links Mary with the previous four “shady” women in tree? It must have been known that Mary was pregnant when Joseph married her and it was scandalous to become pregnant out of wedlock (Matthew 1:17, 18).

God’s love is not reserved for “perfect people.” He loves even the broken – perhaps especially the broken. David was an adulterer, murderer and many other things besides, but still he was called a “man after God’s own heart.” Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba were hardly perfect, but the Gospel of Matthew links them with Mary the mother of Jesus. Perhaps there’s hope for us!

[1] Blomberg, C. (1992). Matthew (Vol. 22, p. 55). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Count Down to Christmas — part 1

Matthew 1:1-17

DSC_0086With Christmas so near, it is appropriate to re-tell the story again. In Matthew’s Gospel it begins with the genealogy of Jesus. The story fascinates me for three reasons: (1) the numbers don’t make sense to our Western minds, (2) five women are included in the genealogy – something that was very strange in a first century Jewish record, and (3) Matthew and Luke give two very different accounts of the lineage of Jesus. Over the next three articles, we’ll explore these three observations.

First, Matthew plays with the numbers to break the names down into three groups of 14 although the actual numbers he gives are 13, 14, and 13 – and Matthew actually leaves out several people to follow his scheme of 14-14-14. Our western, scientific minds balk at this. The Certified Public Accountant in our American hearts misses the point completely.

A common rabbinic method of interpreting the Bible[1], like numerology, uses the value of the letters of the alphabet to explain the meaning of the text. Each Hebrew letter also has a numeric value. It’s like counting in “Roman Numerals” in English. Don’t you remember doing this in elementary school? The letter “i” equals one. The letter “v” equals five. The letter “x” equals ten and so forth. The great gift of the Arabs were Arabic numerals: 1, 2, 3, 4 …. Before that people used their alphabets to count with. Conversely everyone’s name, when the value of the letters are added up, has a numeric value. In Hebrew (which has no vowels), King David’s name: DVD equals 4 + 6 + 4 which equals the number 14! Matthew goes out of his way to say Jesus is the “son of DaViD (14),” “son of DaViD (14),” “son of DaViD (14).”

In other words, God’s promise to King David is fulfilled in Jesus:

2 Samuel 7:11 the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ ” 17 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.



[1] This method is called “Gematria.” “One of the rabbinic hermeneutic rules for interpreting the OT. It consisted of explaining a word or group of words according to the numerical value of the letters or by substituting and rearranging certain letters according to a set system. By that rule of interpretation, for example, some rabbis have argued that Eliezer (Gn 15:2) was worth all the servants of Abraham put together, for Abraham had 318 servants and Eliezer’s name equaled 318 (Gn 14:14).”

Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. (2001). In Tyndale Bible dictionary (p. 517). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

Caught Red-handed

Have you ever been caught with your hand in the cookie jar? There was no doubt you were guilty, but still you denied it? Waiting for Christmas is an unbearable time for kids. While my younger brother and I were growing up, I remember there was still a week to go when we discovered where mom and dad hid the presents. They were on the top shelf of their closet – way out of reach for us, but the knowledge that they were there, right there above our heads was just too much.

Then, one day, mom and dad left the house to visit the neighbors next door. It was our big chance! We quickly assembled our tiny tot wicker chairs, I climbed up to the clothes rod and did a pull up. As my brother held the contraption together, I was able to describe the treasures that were above us. “A cowboy six gun and holster set and it has the pop out darringer belt buckle!” “A Fort Apache play set!” The list went on treasure after childhood treasure. Then we heard the front door open.

Mom and dad were home and there was no escape! Always a quick thinker, I jumped down and told Mike to close the closet door. We sat on our chairs in the dark listening to our parents calling our names. Suddenly the closet door slid open and there we were: two innocent angels.

Dad looked down and asked the obvious question, “What are you boys doing?”

We were guilty and there was no denying it, but still we tried. “Just sitting.”

Mom joined dad and it was all they could do not to breakout laughing, but we needed to be taught a lesson. “Hmm. You’ve been looking at the presents haven’t you?”

“No dad, honest!” I lied. He saw right through me.

“Well, we’ll just have to take them all back to the store.”

“No! No!” Not that! How awful. We were just about to receive everything we dreamed about for Christmas and now they were going back! It was too much. Mom and dad took the presents down from the shelf and packed them up in bags. It was too much! The punishment was too severe.

Fortunately the toys magically appeared beneath the tree on Christmas morning any way, but I learned an important lesson that I’ll never forget: Post a guard on the front porch!