Thursday, June 1st, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Contending for the Faith Contending for the Faith
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 1". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ ctf/ matthew-1.html. 1993-2022.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 1". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/
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Matthew opens his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus. While the modern reader perhaps finds this beginning unnecessary and tedious, the ancient Jew would find it both an interesting and necessary way to begin a man’s life story. This "biography," however, is more than that of a mere man. In this gospel, Matthew portrays Jesus as King and Savior of the world. Thus, Jesus’ pedigree is of paramount importance to the narrative. Ancient Jews were keenly aware that the Messiah would come via the correct lineage. To Abraham, the anticipated promise is given of One who will bless the world (Genesis 12-14, 22:18). The "King" would come from the root of Jesse through the throne of David (2 Samuel 6:17, Psalms 110:1-4). From the outset, Matthew builds a prima-fascia case by tracing Jesus to both of these Old Testament sages.
To ancient Jews, genealogies are more than cold lists of ancestors dead and gone. Traditionally they serve several purposes. In the Old Testament, they distinguish the tribes of Israel and affirm the purity of God’s people. One’s lineage reminds him of his national and family identity. Barclay notes that if a man finds any admixture of foreign blood, he loses his right to be a Jew (Barclay 12). After the conquest of Canaan, genealogies were important in determining a family’s place of residence because occupation of the land was according to tribes, families, and father’s houses (Numbers 26:52-56). In certain situations, transfer of property required correct records (Ruth 4:1-10). Even under Roman rule, lineage played a role in census taking as is evidenced by Luke 2:4. Joseph and Mary were required to register in Bethlehem because Joseph was of the house and family of David.
For the tribe of Levi, pedigree held an even higher purpose. From this tribe came the priests. One was required to demonstrate Aaronic descent in order to serve. During Israel’s post-exilic return from Babylon, Nehemiah records a controversy arising over this very issue. "These sought their register [among] those that were reckoned by genealogy, but it was not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood" (Nehemiah 7:64). It is little wonder then that the Old Testament abounds with genealogical material such as that found in Genesis 5, 10, 11, 22; Exodus 6; Joshua 7, 13; 1 Chronicles 1-9, 2 Chronicles 23, 29, etc. Clearly, the Jewish audience to whom Matthew writes expects no less as they read about the One who will reign forever over Israel as "Priest" and "King."
In relaying the genealogy of Jesus, Matthew opens the window of God’s grace and allows the gentle breeze of salvation to blow in. Long before Abraham, God begins unfolding His grand tapestry of redemption. The Jews of Jesus’ day miss the point. To them, their ancestry is little more than proof that they are children of Abraham – and thus automatically saved. John the Baptist challenges the misconception, however, that because they are children of Abraham they have it "made in the shade of their family tree." On the banks of the muddy Jordan, he reminds the Jews that God can raise up children to Abraham from stones (Matthew 3:8-9).
Matthew’s genealogy also affirms the historicity of Jesus. For Matthew, Jesus is one who influences the physical realm of time and space. While the Jews of Jesus’ days do not challenge this concept, certain groups of the late first century/early second century do. The Gnostics and Docetes are two groups who seek to minimize or even deny the physical nature of Jesus. This denial is probably the reason the apostle John, writing near the end of the first century A.D., stresses that Jesus came in the flesh (1 John 4:3). Jesus is truly a man and assumes human nature. He does not come in "appearance" only but comes to shed real blood on Calvary.
Future Genealogies No Longer Needed
With Matthew and Luke’s genealogy, further record keeping has no spiritual value. The Messiah has come! In fact, because A.D. 70 brings the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, and official records, if Jesus is not the true Messiah there will never be one for verification of lineage is now impossible. Jesus has the correct lineage. He is the promised "Seed."
Differences between the Gospels
Each gospel writer differs in his introduction of Jesus. Matthew satisfies the Jewish mind by recording Jesus’ genealogy through David and Abraham. Luke, the only other synoptic writer to give an earthly genealogy, satisfies the Gentile mind by tracing the "Second Adam" back to the "first" (Luke 3:38). In so doing, he shows Jesus’ mission is for the entire human race. Mark gives no earthly genealogy but begins his gospel with "Jesus, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). With this phrase, he takes his audience, generally held to be Roman, to the power behind the Messiah. The Roman mind, accustomed to conquest, will want to know the source of Jesus’ authority. What greater authority is there than that from heaven? Unlike the Synoptics, John begins with Jesus, the Divine pre-incarnate Logos. In doing so, he satisfies the theological expectation of a "universal" audience by demonstrating that He transcends humanity.
A quick glance at Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies reveals several differences. Many view these lists "so bare of practical use and so full of difficulties…that they skip them and go on with the "more important lessons which encourage faith and godliness" (Fowler 3). In reality, however, there are no more important lessons than those learned from these lists. Comparison reveals unparalleled beauty and richness in diversity.
Unlike Luke, who begins with Jesus and goes back to Adam, Matthew begins with Abraham and comes forward to Jesus. While Luke goes from son to father, Matthew traces his line from father to son. Matthew’s focus is on Joseph; thus, his genealogy shows that Jesus is of legal kinship to David and legal heir to David’s throne through his earthly father. Note, too, Matthew gives the royal family of David through Solomon and the kings of Judah. However, while Matthew shows Jesus is legal heir and recipient of the royal line, he does not attempt to prove that Jesus actually possesses David’s blood. David’s blood does not physically pass to Jesus from Joseph, for He is only "as was supposed" the son of Joseph (Luke 3:23). In contrast, Luke provides the bloodline descent of Jesus through Mary directly from David (the Eli of Luke 3:23 is probably Joseph’s father-in-law, Mary’s father. See definition of "father" below). Luke, however, is not concerned with title to a throne, for he traces the Davidic family through Nathan, a non-ruling son.
The above explanation of the differences between Matthew and Luke seems to be the most concise and probable. One should note, however, that scholars are not always in total agreement. R.T. France, for example, suggests Luke is not writing a genealogy of Jesus through Mary but is in fact tracing Joseph’s physical line while Matthew traces the "official" line. By this theory, both lines are Joseph’s (p. 72). The theory is not without merit and proponents. Such notable scholars as Alford, Ellicott, Fairbain, and Farrar, as well as many of the Church Fathers accept this view.
Whatever explanation one accepts the beauty of the two genealogical lines shine in the Messiah. In Matthew’s record, Jesus inherits the throne of David although he does not receive the blood of David. In Luke’s record, Jesus inherits the necessary bloodline. Thus, Jesus is a physical descendant of David through Mary and a legal descendant of David through Joseph. In both instances, Jesus is the "Son of David."
By recording two genealogies, scripture solves a major prophetic difficulty. Hundreds of years before Jesus, God places a curse upon the descendants of Jehoiachin (also called Coniah), king of Judah and ancestor of Jesus. Because of Coniah’s wickedness God declares, "None would prosper sitting on the throne of David" (Jeremiah 22:24-30). However, by providence Jesus is not a blood descendant of Coniah. Gromacki observes,
The dilemma of Israel was this: How could she have a Jewish king, even if permitted by the Roman empire, if a divine curse rested upon the royal line? The only way that this difficulty was solvable was through the virgin conception. Jesus gained His physical rights to the throne of David through Mary. As the legal, but not actual firstborn son of Joseph, He received the legal royal rights without being involved in the curse (p. 75).
Like many modern millenialists, first century Jews misunderstands the spiritual nature of David’s throne and Jesus’s kingdom. They think the Messiah will reign on the literal and earthly throne of David. The Old Testament predicts the Messianic reign (Jeremiah 23:5; Daniel 7:13-14; Amos 9:11, Isaiah 9:6-7; Psalms 89:35-37 etc.). Peter, however, affirms on Pentecost that these prophecies are fulfilled (Acts 2:29-36; Acts 15:16-18). He states Jesus is then reigning on David’s throne, even as he speaks. Since Jesus is not then reigning in Jerusalem, since no literal throne is perceptible, and pagan Rome rules the world, is Peter mistaken? The key to understanding Peter’s affirmation is that the Davidic throne Jesus takes is a "spiritual throne." It is not a literal one (John 18:36). Even Matthew’s use of the phrase "Kingdom of Heaven" indicates a spiritual reign rather than a temporal. When Jesus arises and ascends to the right hand of God, He assumes the spiritual throne of David and is granted all power (Hebrews 1:3; Psalms 24:7-10; Matthew 28:18). The events of Matthew 24 prove conclusively that the Messianic Kingdom is not destined for physical Jerusalem. Franklin Camp observes that it is amazing that even with God’s judgment of Judaism and the destruction of the temple, the majority of the religious world thinks God will restore this old dead carcass when Jesus returns. Camp further notes that the nation of Israel is only a temporary arrangement to bring the Messiah into the world. (79). Its design is never to be reborn for a millennial reign of Jesus. As per the curse on Coniah, Jesus can reign freely and prosperously, although a descendant of the royal line for the curse rests on "one reigning in Judah" (Jeremiah 22:30). Jesus reigns in Heaven!
While Matthew’s and Luke’s order differ, a major difficulty arises in Luke’s statement that Joseph is the "son of Heli" (Luke 3:23). Most hold that while Luke’s list is the genealogy of Mary, Luke replaces her name with that of her husband’s. Thus, Luke says, "Joseph, the son of Heli." Such a practice is apparently common among the Jews, as a woman’s name does not usually stand in official genealogical tables. Furthermore, depending on circumstance, the term "son" might have at least five different uses. Fowler identifies the following. 1. Natural son -- a descent with connection by birth. 2. Grandson -- more general descendant (Genesis 46:26-27). 3. Son-in-law -- by marriage one is the "son" of his father-in-law. 4. Adopted son -- legal but not natural born (Genesis 48:5-20) 5. Levirate son -- (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and Ruth 4:1-22) (18-19). Thus, one is well within the context of Luke’s purpose in interpreting "son of Heli" as "son-in-law" of Heli.
* Only two names are alike and may refer to different people.
The important fact that must not be lost is that the combined genealogies tell the whole story of Jesus. There is little value in dwelling on textual or technical variations between the accounts, as they do not materially affect the truth of Jesus’s Sonship. Even the Jews do not dispute Jesus’s earthly genealogy. Thus, Jesus is the true king, the Son of David. Jesus is a true Jew: the Son of Abraham. Jesus is a true man: the Son of Adam. Jesus is Divine: the Son of God. Jesus is all in all.
Characteristics of Matthew’s Genealogy
Matthew provides a rare insight into the background of Jesus. His genealogy not only reveals the nature of the Messiah but of God’s redemptive plan. Matthew’s list emphasizes Jesus is truly human. His total deity in no way infringes on his total humanity. He is the true God-man. Hence, Jesus understands the human condition (Hebrews 4:15).
Matthew’s list emphasizes the sinfulness of man. The need for a Savior is evident in the infamous actions of some in His ancestry. Fowler accurately observes that Jesus is not "PRODUCED BY THE LINE OF DAVID: He was given to it" (14). His sinlessness is contrasted with the sinfulness of humankind (1 Peter 1:18-19).
One of the most outstanding characteristics of Matthew’s genealogy is his inclusion of women. Females typically are not part of Jewish genealogical tables. Although Matthew draws no conclusion from this peculiarity, some speculate he includes women to show the universality of the Messiah’s mission (Galatians 3:28). An example is the case of Ruth, a Gentile from the hated Moabites whose faith brings her into God’s plan. Others see the inclusion of the incestuous Tamar, the prostitute Rahab, and the seduced but guilty Bathsheba, as a contrast to the chaste virginity of Mary. In any event, Matthew affords women unprecedented status (Matthew 9:18-22; Matthew 28:1).
Matthew divides his genealogy into three "artificial" groups. The artificial grouping of these well-known names is probably arranged for easy memorization. Matthew records, "So all the generations from Abraham to David [are] fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon [are] fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Jesus [are] fourteen generations" (17).
The division of three groups is "artificial" because it omits three generations in verse eight, where we would expect to find the additional names: Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. Likewise, Matthew omits Jehoiakim in verse eleven. Because these names are a matter of public record, their omission is not for the sake of argument but rather for the sake of easy remembrance. Fowler notes that the early church, in conflict with Jews, could more easily use the long, difficult list, having committed it to memory (16).
Matthew never bases any argument on these groupings and never indicates they are exhaustive. Thus, any criticism of his arrangement is unwarranted. Matthew’s arrangement is not primarily historical. He reasons to the point that Jesus has the correct lineage. Jesus is the son of David through Abraham.
THE ANCESTRY OF THE KING
The book of the generation of Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
The book of the generation: This phrase has several possible meanings. Some see it as a reference only to Matthew 1:1-17, some to chapters one and two, while others to the entirety of Matthew’s gospel. Historical evidence, however, indicates that biblos geneseos was a common Jewish expression for the account of a man’s pedigree, descent, or genealogy (see Genesis 5:1). McGarvey observes this would be inadequate as the title for the entire narrative and, therefore, relates to the genealogy (15). The change in context at verse eighteen seems to corroborate the view that Matthew’s word choice has reference only to the first seventeen verses.
Jesus: "Jesus" is a common name in first century households and is the equivalent to the Hebrew name "Joshua" (Luke 3:29; Acts 13:6; Colossians 4:11; Hebrews 4:8). Jesus is the Latin form of the Greek Iesous, which in turn is the Hellenized form of the Hebrew Jeshua. This personal and private name of our Lord means, "Jehovah is Salvation." Mary and Joseph do not arrive at this name by chance but by command of the heavenly messenger (1:21).
Jesus: "Jesus" (Christos) is from the Greek verb meaning to anoint (chrio) and is equivalent to the Hebrew term, Messiah. It is the Savior’s official title and shows He is the anointed one. In the Old Testament, priests, kings, and prophets receive anointing to signify their office (1 Samuel 10:1; Exodus 28:41). Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18) and fills the role of Prophet, High Priest, and King. As Prophet, Jesus is God’s Messenger (Hebrews 1:1). As priest, He is our Mediator and makes intercession for us (Hebrews 7:22-27). As king He is the Monarch who rules our lives (Matthew 28:10; Acts 2:36).
the son of David, the son of Abraham: Jesus is the descendant of both David and Abraham. These two sages figure heavily in God’s Old Testament plan. The seed promise is given to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:16) and later God promises David the Messiah will sit on his throne (Psalms 110:1; Acts 2:29-36). Matthew’s Jewish audience, no doubt, finds these references persuasive. In the genealogy that follows, Matthew uses these two names as break points in the three groups of fourteen names that comprise the list (Matthew 1:17). For the Jew, there is no ancestor greater than Abraham. Likewise, no king is greater than David. Jesus descends from, yet transcends, both (John 8:58).
Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren
Abraham: Abraham is the father of many nations, and through him the world is blessed (Genesis 12:3). When God calls Abram, he is seventy-five years old and childless (Genesis 12:4). Twenty-four years later God renews his covenant, changes both Abram’s and Sarai’s names, and promises them a son (Genesis 17:1). When Abraham is one hundred years old, God fulfills the promise in the providential birth of Isaac (Genesis 17:17, Genesis 18:11).
begat Isaac: The word begat (egennesen) is "used with regularity through verse 16, until the birth of Jesus is reached when there is a sudden change" (Robertson 4). The term may refer to immediate parentage. In some contexts, however, it refers to a direct descendant farther removed. Compare this fact to the discussion in the "introduction to chapter one" on the term "son" as found in Luke’s genealogy.
and Isaac begat Jacob: Like Sarah, Isaac’s wife Rebekah is barren until the Lord opens her womb (Genesis 25:21). Twins, Jacob and Esau, are born and each becomes the father of a nation (Genesis 25:23).
and Jacob begat Judas: From Jacob, whose name God later changes to Israel, come twelve sons, one of whom is Judah (Genesis 32:28). Here Matthew singles out Judas (Judah) because David and Jesus both descend from his tribe. As Jacob is dying, he blesses Judah by saying, "the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come" (Genesis 49:10). Jacob’s statement is a prophetic reference to the Messianic Kingdom over which the Christ will reign.
and his brethren: The word "brethren" refers to the other sons of Jacob. Collectively they comprise the nation of Israel, the chosen race from whence the Messiah comes. In the case of Isaac and Jacob, neither of their brothers, Ishmael and Esau respectively, are part of God’s promise regarding the Messiah.
And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;
And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar: 1 Chronicles 2:4 records the incestuous relationship of Judah with his daughter-in-law, Tamar. This relationship leads to the birth of twin sons, Phares and Zarah. Before the affair, "Thamar" is the wife of Er, Jacob’s son who dies in the land of Canaan (Genesis 46:12). Genesis 38:6-30 records the events of Tamar’s harlotry and deceit leading to the conception of Phares.
The scriptures are candid. Matthew makes no effort to hide the wickedness of Tamar, showing the need of a Savior within Jesus’ own lineage.
and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram: Little is known of Esrom and Aram. They are listed in 1 Chronicles 2:5; 1 Chronicles 2:9.
And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon;
Aminadab’s daughter becomes the wife of Aaron and gives birth to Nadab and Abihu (Exodus 6:23). Naasson, son of Aminadab, is associated with the census of the wilderness wanderings. He aids Moses and Aaron in counting his own tribe of Judah (Numbers 1:7; Numbers 7:12). Salmon is mentioned in Ruth 4:21 and in 1 Chronicles 2:11; but beyond these references, little is known.
And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse;
In this list, King David is fourth from Salmon, even though there is a gap of 366 years between the two names. This span is explained by the fact that Matthew’s list is truncated. It is not the evangelist’s intent to give an exhaustive list of Jesus’ ancestry. Matthew is simply reasoning to a point. He asserts Jesus has the correct lineage; thus, he mentions only the most notable figures in Jesus’ family tree.
Rachab: Rahab is the Canaanite of Joshua 2:1. Although a non-Israelite, by divine providence, she becomes the wife of Salmon and the mother of Boaz.
and Booz begat Obed of Ruth: Boaz is a major player in the Old Testament book of Ruth. This book tells of a widow’s devotion to God as she leaves her own Moabite people and returns to Jerusalem with her Jewish mother-in-law after the deaths of both their husbands. Once in the land of Palestine, Ruth marries Boaz, relative to Elimelech the husband of Naomi.
The book of Ruth is a masterpiece that portrays divine providence. Neither Rahab, from the pagan Canaanites, nor Ruth, from the rebellious Moabites (Genesis 19:37; Judges 11:17; Numbers 25:1) are God’s by birth. Nevertheless, God uses them in bringing forth the Messiah. Ruth becomes the mother of Obed, the father of Jesse and grandfather of David.
And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her [that had been the wife] of Urias;
And Jesse begat David the king: This verse speaks of both royalty and ruin. David, son of Jesse, is the greatest king of Israel; and every Jew thrills at the mention of his name.
and David the king begat Solomon: David’s son, Solomon, is the last king of the united monarchy. Although Solomon is of great wisdom (1 Kings 3), he fails in passing that judgment to his son, Rehoboam, who oppresses and divides the kingdom (1 Kings 12:10-11). It is Solomon who builds the temple in his father’s stead, for David is a man of war (1 Kings 6; 1 Chronicles 28:3).
of her [that had been the wife] of Urias: Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, is a major player in one of David’s lowest spiritual moments. 2 Samuel 11 records David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah. Because of David’s sin, Nathan the prophet rebukes him. Furthermore, the child Bathsheba conceives from this union dies. Later, however, God blesses the union with the birth of Solomon who becomes the last king of the united monarchy (2 Samuel 12:24). With Solomon, Matthew ends his first group of fourteen.
And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa;
And Solomon begat Roboam: Solomon begins the second group of fourteen names. All who are in this group are kings with the names being taken from 1 Chronicles 3:10-14. Though blessed with heavenly understanding, Solomon’s wisdom does not continue with his son. During Rehoboam’s reign, the kingdom of Israel falls into civil strife because of poor governmental policies. Ten tribes, under the leadership of Jeroboam, an upstart political opportunist, divide to the north and take the designation of "Israel." The two tribes that remain loyal to Rehoboam in the south take the name "Judah."
At the hand of Jeroboam I, Israel abandons her religious roots. To ensure the ten northern tribes will not return to Jerusalem to worship, Jeroboam strategically devises gods of gold and cultic centers at Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:29). Their break with God’s pattern ultimately leads to their demise. Because the southern two tribes remain somewhat faithful, God allows Judah to stand for more than one hundred years after Israel falls to Assyria.
When Samaria, Israel’s capital, falls in 722 B.C., Assyria disperses the northern tribes; and many are carried away captive. Sargon II records in his Annals that he leads away as booty 27,290 of Samaria’s inhabitants. The depletion of Israel by this forced exile results in resettlement throughout the land by Babylonians, Elamites, Arameans, and others drawn from other conquered territories (Orlinski p. 87).
Even after Babylon conquers Assyria some one hundred years later (c. 606 B.C.), the land does not return to its original demographics. Resettlement, intermarriage, and deportation have taken their toll. Israel remains only a visage of what she had once been.
Roboam begat Abia: Rehoboam, king of Judah and a contemporary with Jeroboam, takes the throne at forty-one years of age and reigns seventeen years (1 Kings 14:21). War continues between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all their days (1 Kings 14:30). Abijah (Abia) reigns in Jerusalem three years. Scripture notes that he walks in all the sins of his father, and his heart is not loyal to the Lord his God as was the heart of his ancestor David (1 Kings 15:3).
and Abia begat Asa: Asa comes to power in the twentieth year of Jeroboam’s reign and rules forty-one years. He does that which is right in the eyes of the Lord (1 Kings 15:11).
And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias;
Joram begat Ozias: Matthew lists Joram as the progenitor of Uzziah (Ozias). As can be seen from 2 Chronicles 22:1; 2 Chronicles 24:1; 2 Chronicles 25:1, however, three names are omitted in Judah’s kingly succession. They are Ahaziah, son and successor of Joram; Joash, son and successor of Ahaziah; and Amaziah, son and successor of Joash. Thus, Uzziah, here the "son" of Joram, is in reality the fourth generation descendant of Joram.
And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias;
And Ozias begat Joatham; This verse depicts the inconsistent history of Israel. Jotham, who comes to the throne at the age of twenty-five years, reigns sixteen years. Scripture records that he does right in the eyes of the Lord (2 Chronicles 27:1-3).
Joatham begat Achaz: Ahaz does not follow in Jotham’s righteous steps but makes images to Baal and burns his children in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. His reign is characterized by pagan sacrifices "under every green tree" and gross moral decline (2 Chronicles 28:4).
Achaz begat Ezekias; Hezekiah’s reign brings Judah back to God. He cleanses the temple and repairs it, restores worship, reforms the nation, and in the end, learns the meaning of humility (2 Chronicles 29:32).
And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias;
And Ezekias begat Manasses: The legacy of many righteous parents is the ungodliness of their children. The irony of Manasses, however, is that he is apparently born after his father, Hezekiah, should have rightfully died (see 2 Kings 20:1-11). 2 Kings 20:6 says that God hears Hezekiah’s bitter pleas for health and adds fifteen years to his life. During this fifteen-year period, Manasseh is born. It is obvious, however, that Hezekiah does little to train his son, for when he takes the throne at age twelve he sets the nation of Judah on a course of destruction. 2 Kings 21 says that Manessah builds altars to pagan gods within the temple. Furthermore, he practices sorcery, sacrifices his own son in the fire, and does many other abominable sins. Because of these sins, God humbles him and lets the Assyrians take him prisoner. After he repents, God restores him to his throne. His wicked influence, however, continues as the people pursue their idolatrous ways.
Manasses begat Amon; Amon also does evil in God’s sight and even surpasses the wickedness of his father. Finally, his own servants murder him (2 Chronicles 33:24).
Amon begat Josias; Josiah takes the throne at age eight. At sixteen, he begins to seek God, and at twenty he begins to purge Judah of paganism (2 Chronicles 34:3). Like his great-grandfather, Hezekiah, he seeks the Lord.
And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon:
And Josias begat Jechonias: Between Josiah and Jechoniah (aka: Jehoiachin), Matthew omits the name of Jehoiakim. Second Chronicles records that after Josiah is slain in the Valley of Megiddo the people take Jehoahaz, Josiah’s son, and make him king. After only a three-month reign, however, king Pharaoh-Necho of Egypt, who overruns Judah, deposes Jehoahaz and makes his brother Eliakim king. Pharaoh changes Eliakim’s name to Jehoiakim (2 Chronicles 36:4). After Jehoiakim, his son Jechoniah (aka: Jehoiachin or Coniah) reigns. His evil brings a prophetic curse from Jeremiah that none of his descendants will prosper on the throne (Jeremiah 22:30).
Some have seen difficulty in Jeremiah’s words "write ye this man childless" because Jechoniah did, indeed, have offspring. There is no contradiction, however, between Matthew and Jeremiah for Jeremiah does not say Jechoniah should be literally childless but rather that "no more shall a man of his seed prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling in Judah." Thus, the childlessness is in reference to the throne in Judah.
Finally, king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon deposes Jechoniah and makes Zedekiah (Jechoniah’s uncle, Jehoiakim’s brother, and Josiah’s third son) king over Judah and Jerusalem. Zedekiah is Judah’s last king. Having disregarded the prophetic warnings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and placing his trust in Egypt, he rebels against the king of Babylon. As a result, the Chaldean army destroys Jerusalem as well as Solomon’s magnificent temple (2 Kings 25:4-7). The total of the Babylonian oppression, from the deportation that occurred in about 605 B.C. to the end of the captivity in 536 B.C. was "seventy years" (Jeremiah 25:11).
And his brethren: This word probably refers to the kindred of young king Jechoniah. Matthew uses the term in the broad Hebraic sense much as Abraham uses the term "brother" to refer to his nephew, Lot (Genesis 14:14).
Most suggest that this verse completes Matthew’s second group of 14 names (see verse 17). The problem that arises, however, is that there is difficulty arriving at the number 14 in each of Matthew’s divisions. How are we to explain this difficulty? Scholars have suggested several possibilities, but the most logical is that Matthew counts Jechoniah twice – once as the last person of group two (verse 11) and once as the first person of group three (verse 12). McGarvey and other noted scholars take this position (McGarvey 22). We must keep in mind that Matthew’s purpose for three groups is mnemonic. Thus, repeating one name, especially at a crucial time of Judah’s history, seems both logical and natural.
And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel;
And after they were brought to Babylon: The kingly lineage of the second group now gives way to Matthew’s third and final group. These final names are heirs of David, none of which reigned except Jesus. Jesus now reigns on the "spiritual" throne of David. For a second time, Matthew mentions Babylon reminding us of Israel’s tragic history.
Jechonias begat Salathiel; Matthew says Jechonias begat Salathiel. Luke, however, records Salathiel to be the son of Neri, descendant of David not through Solomon but through Nathan (Luke 3:27). Some scholars explain this alleged discrepancy by the Levirate law (Deuteronomy 25:5, Numbers 27:8; Numbers 36:8-9), maintaining that Neri is Salathiel’s natural father but because Neri takes Jechoniah’s widow Matthew inserts him as the "legal" father. Lenski sees the connection between Jechoniah and Neri as a result of Jechoniah’s son Assir leaving only a daughter who, according to Levirate law, marries a man of her paternal tribe, viz., Neri of David’s line through Nathan (Lenski 33).
Other scholars maintain that Luke’s Salathiel is a different person from Matthew’s (McGarvey, Fourfold 6). Salathiel is called the son of Jeconiah in 1 Chronicles 3:17; but Neri is not found in the Old Testament, only in Luke in the New Testament.
In reality, we can only imagine the exact relationship between Neri and Jechoniah. Nevertheless, it proposes no difficulty in Jesus’ right to David’s throne. We must remember that what is obvious to first century Jews might be unclear to readers today. Some see a contradiction between the prophecies of Jeremiah and the genealogical lists found here and elsewhere in the Old Testament. This apparent contradiction comes because it was foretold that Jehoiakim and Jeconiah would be "childless, having none to sit on the throne" (Jeremiah 22:30; Jeremiah 36:30). Yet both had descendants. Jechoniah himself fathered seven sons (1 Chronicles 3:17-18; 2 Chronicles 36:9-10). If, however, we accept the position that the prophecy is in reference to "legal proscription" rather than actual childlessness the problem vanishes.
In any event, the dynasty of this ruling family ends abruptly with the deportation and captivity. Jehoiakim has no grandson to continue the reign and Jechoniah’s throne lasts but a few months and does not prosper. Thus, there is a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prediction.
Salathiel begat Zorobabel; Matthew presents Salathiel as the father of Zorobabel, in accord with Ezra 3:2; Ezra 5:2, Nehemiah 12:1, Haggai 1:1 and Luke 3:27. First Chronicles, however, presents Pedaiah, a brother of Shealtiel, as the father of Zorobabel (1 Chronicles 3:19). Scholars propose several solutions. As noted the Leverite law may come into play. Shealtiel may have died without issue so that Pedaiah, his brother, "raised up his seed." Because of the weight of the above references, however, McGarvey seems persuaded that 1 Chronicles 3:19 is a corrupted text. Either way there is no major difficulty in tracing the lineage of our Lord.
And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor;
Unmentioned in scripture are the nine names that now follow from Abiud to Jacob. At this point Matthew undoubtedly traces Jesus’ lineage by using the highly cherished priestly records extant in his day. Because the Jews take great care to insure their genealogies and because they know the Messiah will come from the house of David, the list Matthew uses is probably common knowledge. The period Matthew covers in this section covers the inter-testament period (c. 400 B.C. to Jesus). For canonical purposes, Old Testament history ends during Zorobabel’s era with the writings of Nehemiah.
Zorobabel begat Abiud; Abiud is not mentioned with the five sons of Zorobabel listed in 1 Chronicles 3:19, leaving some to conjecture that Abiud is but another name for one of them.
And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud;
The period following Nehemiah’s priesthood is rife with interesting detail. Although canonical scripture is silent for some four hundred years, history reveals that much occurs that shapes the society into which Jesus is born. The Medo-Persian Rule (536-333 B.C.) follows the Babylonian exile after which Greco-Macedonian and Egyptian powers rule (333-200 B.C.). In the aftermath of these powers comes Syrian and Maccabean influence (200-63 B.C.). Finally, Rome comes to power. It is during the days of these kings that God establishes His kingdom (Daniel 2, Isaiah 2).
During this inter-testament period various events occur. Two major religious/political groups arise: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, LXX) is completed. Much of the Apocrypha is completed. Work on Herod’s Temple begins in 20 B.C. and continues until 64 A.D. Only seven years after its completion, Rome destroys it in 70 A.D.
And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob;
With these final names, Matthew begins to draw his genealogy to a close. The names here mentioned are likely drawn from the priestly records of the temple. The possibility also exists that the names were a matter of public record in accord with land legislation requiring sold property to be returned to the rightful heirs every fifty years ( Leviticus 25:13-34; Leviticus 27:14-25). With the collapse of the Jewish economy and the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., all record keeping comes to an official end. Thus, if Matthew’s genealogy does not lead us to the true Messiah, any future messianic claim is valueless. But Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and John’s question is thus splendidly answered: "We need not look for another" (Matthew 11:3).
And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Jesus.
Of whom was born Jesus: Matthew thus ends his usual formula. With all previous individuals, he uses the term "begat," signifying a father-son relationship and total humanity. Of Jesus, however, Matthew makes no such statement. Jesus is born of Mary with child from the Holy Ghost (1:18). The phrase "of whom" in English may leave doubt as to its grammatical antecedent (that is: is Jesus of Joseph or Mary?), but the Greek is quite clear with the use of a feminine pronoun. The connection Matthew makes between Jesus and Joseph is not physical. It is legal. "If Jesus had been born without a legal father, of Mary without a legal husband, his legal right to the inheritance from Abraham and David by virtue of the divine promise would have been void" (Lenski 34). Through Joseph, Jesus obtains legal right to sit on David’s throne. Here one also finds a fulfillment of Genesis 3:16. Jesus is not the seed of Joseph, as was supposed, (Luke 3:23) but is the "seed of woman."
One is reminded in this whole discussion of Jesus’ genealogy that He is not only rightfully king but also holds the title of High Priest. Moreover, while Jesus descends from kingly lineage, he does not descend from priestly lineage. Jesus is of the tribe of Judah not Levi. Thus, Matthew’s list in no way contradicts the writer of Hebrews who affirms that Jesus, like priest/king Melchizedek, is without earthly genealogy (Hebrews 7:3).
So all the generations from Abraham to David [are] fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon [are] fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Jesus [are] fourteen generations.
Matthew sums up Jesus’ pedigree by calling his readers mind to three artificial groups of fourteen names for easy memorization. Boles comments, "The names in the first group, from Abraham to David, were patriarchs, David being the first in the line who was both a patriarch and a king (Acts 2:29). The second list of names were all kings and successors of David. The third group were all heirs of David’s throne, none of them reigned except Jesus, who now sits on David’s throne according to the promise" (23) (see also comments on verse 11).
The three periods are of very unequal length. Ellicott makes the following distinction.
1. Abraham to David : B.C. 1996 - 1085.
2. David to the Captivity : B.C. 1085 - 588
3. Captivity to the birth of Jesus : B.C. 588 - 4 (Ellicott 4)
THE BIRTH OF THE KING
Now the birth of Jesus was on this wise. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
Now the birth of Jesus was on this wise: Matthew begins his birth narrative with the espousal of Mary to Joseph and the conception. These are not the first events in the narrative. Luke’s account records the annunciation to Zachariah, the angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary (six months after his appearance to Zachariah), her visit to Elizabeth, and the birth of John, the "cousin" and forerunner of Jesus. Although difficult to ascertain with certainty the exact sequence of events, these precede Matthew 1:18 and are part of the complete picture.
The word "birth" is the same as is found in verse 1 (genesis) as is evidenced by the oldest and best manuscripts. We should not understand it in the sense of "engendering" (gennesis) but in the sense of "generation or origin" (Lenski 38). From verse 2 through verse 16, Matthew carefully uses the term "begat" to signify the human process of procreation. Now, however, he chooses a term that accords with Jesus’ virgin birth. Robertson says, "The evangelist is about to describe, not the genesis of the heaven and the earth, but the genesis of Him who made the heaven and the earth, and who will yet make a new heaven and a new earth" (6). John’s gospel reveals the pre-incarnate logos.
When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph: The Jewish marriage has three steps. First, there is the engagement. This step might be arranged during childhood and would be made via parents or a professional matchmaker. It might be made without the couple ever having seen each other as marriage was held to be too serious to be left to the dictates of the human heart (Barclay 19). Second, is the betrothal (espousal). Finally, there is the actual marriage when the parties come together as husband and wife. Before the actual marriage, however, all communications are generally conducted through the "friend of the bridegroom" (John 3:29) (Ellicott 6).
The espousal of Mary to Joseph is an important event in their lives together. Between the contract of marriage and the actual celebration of the vows, there is typically a period of some ten or twelve months (Barnes 4). During this time, the bride remains in her father’s house until the marriage ceremony. A third party, usually the "friend of the bridegroom" (that is, best man) conducts all communication between the promised husband and wife.
Some compare the espousal period to western society’s pre-marital engagement period. This analogy, however, does not adequately portray its seriousness and significance. In biblical times, "espousal" is not merely a statement of intent but is a legally binding covenant. Both bridegroom and bride pledge their loyalty to each other in the presence of witnesses (Hendriksen 130). The man who betroths a maiden is legally her husband (Genesis 29:21; Deuteronomy 22:23 f.) and an informal canceling of betrothal is impossible. It takes a legal divorce to dissolve the arrangement, and any breach of faithfulness is considered adultery. McGarvey observes, "Hebrew betrothals set the world a good example. Hasty marriage is too often followed by hasty repentance. No woman of Israel was married unless she had been first espoused" (Fourfold 23) In the case before us, Mary is pure. The child she carries is from the Holy Spirit. Wayne Coats observes, "As an engaged couple, Mary and Joseph were pure and chaste. They were unlike so many engaged couples today whose sexual habits exceed that of rabbits and whose morals would make a baboon blush" (Getwell 105). God always forbids sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage (1 Corinthians 6:9; Hebrews 13:4). Young couples today must follow the chaste example of the earthly parents of our Lord.
She was found with child of the Holy Ghost: What now follows is perhaps the most singularly challenged fact of human history: the virgin birth. To acknowledge the virgin birth of Jesus is to accept His deity. To accept His deity is to acknowledge His lordship. To acknowledge his lordship is to accept the necessity of obedience. To accept obedience is to acknowledge our sins. In this point, however, the world finds Jesus a stumbling stone (Matthew 11:6; 1 Corinthians 1:23). Choosing to worship the creation rather than the creator, evil men exalt themselves to the self-imposed status of deity (Genesis 3:5; Romans 1:25; Philippians 3:19). Sadly, many modern-day "Bible theologians and preachers" no longer accept the truth of Jesus’ virgin birth. The halls of so-called "Christendom" overflow with skeptics who place Jesus’s birth in the same genre as pagan mythology.
Jesus’ birth is not just miraculous but is the crowning event of all human history. As with the resurrection and ascension at the end of Jesus’s earthly ministration, so the virgin birth demonstrates His deity. There are other miraculous births in scripture but none like that of Jesus. For example, there are the births of Isaac, Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist. The birth of Jesus surpasses them.
Then Joseph her husband, being a just [man], and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
One can only imagine Joseph’s feeling at the discovery of Mary’s pregnancy. Had the Holy Spirit not been at work in this matter, only one conclusion is possible. Many, including some of the greatest commentators, assume Joseph immediately suspects Mary of unfaithfulness and, therefore, sets about to put her away. McGarvey says, "Supposing that Mary had committed adultery, Joseph at once resolved to put her away" (24). We do not discount such scholarship; but, in reality, the scriptures are silent as to Joseph’s thoughts.
The only emotion scripture attributes to Joseph is fear (Matthew 1:20). This fear (phobos - to put to flight by terror), as mentioned by the angel, is obviously that which leads Joseph to consider discontinuing a relationship with Mary; however, if Joseph believes Mary is an adulterer, "fear" seems to be an inappropriate emotion. Rage or anger would surely be a more natural response.
Several important points suggest Joseph does not think she is guilty of sexual misconduct. First, Luke’s account shows that Mary is of impeccable character. She is a virgin, highly favored, and blessed. God is with her (Luke 1:28). It is unlikely that will assume the worst about a woman of such noble character. Second, because Joseph is a "just" man, he keeps the Mosaic Law. Deuteronomy 22:23, however, dictates that when a betrothed woman willfully participates in illicit sexual activity with another man, she and the man must be stoned. Since Joseph does not enforce this penalty, it implies he views her as innocent. Third, commentators generally believe that Joseph’s action of putting her away quietly stems from Deuteronomy 24:1-4. As will be seen in Matthew 5:32, however, this Old Testament regulates divorce for causes other than "fornication." Therefore if Joseph is about to exercise his right based on Deuteronomy 24, he does so knowing she is free from sexual misconduct.
In the end one must be careful not to ascribe motives to Joseph where the bible ascribes none. Rather than assuming she is guilty of fornication, it is just as likely that Joseph knows she is innocent and is terrified of raising the Son of God.
In any event, Joseph’s righteous character is revealed in three ways.
First, he is a "just" man. The term used here (dikaios) denotes one whose heart is right before God and who follows the right conduct (Vine 283). This description does not mean that Joseph is sinless in an absolute sense but that he keeps the Law to such a degree that God is pleased. God is more interested in Joseph’s inner qualities than in his social status, wealth, or popularity. Joseph is a carpenter of humble means. We see Joseph’s desire to do what is right in Joseph’s willingness to follow Deuteronomic Law by putting Mary away (Deuteronomy 22, 24). Joseph’s character places him in the same category with Elizabeth and Zacharias who are both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless (Luke 1:6). It is interesting to note that God uses those who present themselves as instruments of righteousness. The parents of both John and Jesus are of pure heart and life. Couples today need to take heed to this prescription for a happy family.
Second, he is a "merciful" man. Joseph has two options upon discovering Mary’s pregnancy. He can either expose her and let whatever Jewish law in force at the time take its course (if not the death penalty of Deuteronomy 22:22) or he can take advantage of Deuteronomy 24:1 and his right to present her with a bill of divorcement void of specific cause (Lenksi 43; Boles 25; Fourfold 23; McGarvey 24). This deliberation apparently takes place quietly before only two witnesses rather than in a public forum where full reasoning will be required. Edersheim says, "It was a relief that he could legally divorce her either publicly or privately, whether from change of feeling, or because he had found just cause for it" (Edersheim 154). In any event, this tradition leaves the question of divorce entirely at the will of the husband (Keil and Delitsh, Pentateuch, 416). As noted above, the fact that Joseph chooses this private method further indicates he is aware of Mary’s innocence and wants to avoid the ridicule of Jews who will surely deny the child’s divinity.
The phrase "make her a public example" (paradeigmatizo) means to hold up to infamy or to expose to public disgrace (Thayer 480-1-3856). The term "put her away" (apoluo) here used is the same term for divorce as found in Matthew 5:31; Matthew 19:9 (Vine. 329).
Third, Joseph is a "thoughtful" man. There is no indication that when confronted with a difficult situation he flies into a rage, acts rashly, or has an improper attitude. Verses 19 and 20 indicate the soul-searching of this righteous man. He does not act with vengeance against Mary or blame her but rather deliberates upon what will be best for her well-being. His sense of justice and mercy are granted time to harmonize with each other. There is no reason that justice and mercy need to exclude one another. What a wonderful lesson for all husbands as they lead their families. Kindness in a relationship is the prayerful balance of justice and mercy. Joseph is a practical example of Ephesians 5:28-29 at work. All young women should seek these qualities in a mate.
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
God provides an answer for those who seek his will. Today His written word guides us (John 17:17; Hebrews 1:1). For Joseph, however, God intervenes in his dilemma with a dream. Matthew records four dreams: this one, the second one to Joseph (2:13), the dream of the Magi (2:12), and that of Pilate’s wife (27:19). These all follow in the same mode of communication used by God in Old Testament times (Genesis 20:3; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 7:1; and others). Scripture does not explain how ordinary dreams differ from divine revelation, but the Jews of this period attach great significance to dreams.
In this case, the angel confirms the story that Mary had no doubt already explained to Joseph (McGarvey 24). The angel calls Joseph, "son of David," which brings to his mind his royal lineage and the responsibility he now assumes as the Messiah’s earthly father. The angle calls Mary, "his wife" to remind Joseph that the relationship he has set about to dissolve is still sanctioned by God. Furthermore, the angel tells Joseph not to fear. This word (phobeo) means to be seized with alarm or to be put to flight (Thayer 655-2-5399) and indicates the emotional state of Joseph. The angel’s name is not given. It is possible, however, that it is Gabriel (see Luke 1). Angels (angelos --messenger) both in the Old and New Testaments are messengers from God.
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
and thou shalt call his name JESUS: With this instruction, we see two very significant facts. First, we see the importance of names. "Jesus" means, "Jehovah is salvation." Note that Joseph is not given the right of naming the child. In good Jewish fashion, this privilege is that of His true Father. Names in both the Old and New Testament times are important. Many times an individual’s name is given because of some physical characteristic or some event that surrounds his/her birth. We remember, for example, Adam naming Eve, "the mother of all living" (Genesis 3:20), and Rachel, who dies in childbirth, names her son Benoni, meaning "son of my pain" (Genesis 35:18). With such significance given to names in scripture, it is no wonder that God carefully chooses and commands the name of His Son.
for he shall save his people from their sins: Second, we see the mission of Jesus. Jesus comes to seek and save the lost, to give abundant life, and to redeem mankind (Matthew 18:11, John 10:10, 1 Peter 1:18-19). No parent knows exactly what his or her child will become in life but Jesus’ mission is pre-set. His mission is a spiritual one.
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
that it might be fulfilled: One of Matthew’s interests is the fulfillment of prophecy. We have noted that some 40 Old Testament passages find their fulfillment in the life of Jesus. This phrase is singular to Matthew, and he uses it some nine times in his gospel.
Which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet: This phrase reveals the essence of inspiration. God spoke through the prophets. Peter says, "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation, For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:20-21). In the New Testament era, God also uses inspired prophets and apostles to reveal His word (John 16:13, Ephesians 4:11-13, 1 Corinthians 2.). Paul says God places his power in earthen vessels that its Excellency might be of God, not of men (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Even today in a non-miraculous age, God uses the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe (1 Corinthians 1:21, Matthew 28:18). Nowhere do we find the Holy Spirit acting apart from the scriptures in guiding men to obedience. The Word is the tool by which the Spirit converts mankind (Hebrews 4:12, Ephesians 6:17, Colossians 3:16, Romans 10:14).
Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
Some seven centuries before the birth of Jesus, Israel’s king Pekah and Syria’s kind Rezin threaten Ahaz, the king of Judah. They intend to destroy David’s dynasty and establish a new kingship (Isaiah 7:6). If they had been successful, the Messianic line would have been in jeopardy.
At this critical juncture, Isaiah comes to Ahaz with the command to trust in divine deliverance. God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign to confirm His sovereignty and power over the impending situation. Ahaz, however, mocks God’s offer, hoping instead to secure an alliance with Assryia. With hypocritical piety, Ahaz exclaims, "I will not ask nor will I test the Lord." In the face of this refusal, Isaiah reveals that God will reveal His own sign—a token of His providential love. God’s assurance to safeguard David’s throne will come via a virgin who will give birth to the Deliverer. Thus, the coming hope will not be dependant on human effort but on God’s divine intervention.
Behold, a virgin shall be with child: Of the many difficulties surrounding this verse, two points must be discussed in some detail. (1) Is Matthew’s use of the Greek term parthenos (virgin) honest since the Hebrew text employs the "less specific" term almah? (2) Does Isaiah’s prophecy refer exclusively to the virgin birth of Jesus or does it find some general fulfillment in Isaiah’s time as well?
Those who deny the inspiration of scripture often raise the first question. Rather than allowing Matthew to clarify Isaiah, they allege that he rather "interprets" Isaiah by placing a "spin" on the verse that Isaiah never originally intended. They see Matthew’s account as mistaken at best and perhaps even dishonest. However, does Matthew deliberately take an Old Testament verse and place his own interpretation upon it in an attempt to prove the virgin birth? The answer is a resounding "No!" Consider the following facts regarding Isaiah 7:14.
1. The source Matthew uses for his quotation is not from the Hebrew scriptures but from the Septuagint translation. The Septuagint (LXX) is a translation of the Hebrew text into Greek and has its origin some 285 years before Jesus. It is the bible of the first century and is that used by Jesus and his apostles. Matthew cannot be accused of placing a Christian "twist" on Isaiah 7:14 because it is Jewish scholars who translated the passage and who choose to translate the Hebrew word almah with the more specific Greek word parthenos.
2. The term parthenos (virgin) is specific and leaves no doubt as to the virgin birth. The Hebrew term almah does not contradict this interpretation. Almah is never used of a married woman, either in the Bible or in other literature. Furthermore, while other more ambiguous words might have been chosen for the passage (ex. bethulah –woman), the Holy Spirit chooses one that refers to non-married persons. Martin Luther said, "If a Jew or Christian can prove to me that in any passage of Scripture almah means a married woman, I will give him 100 florins, although God alone knows where I might find them" (Hendricksen 137). In English the word almah is most closely approximated by maid or damsel, but the use of "virgin" is preferred because it stresses the supernatural nature of the sign. In no case is the translation "young woman" justified as is found in the Revised Standard Version and other modern texts.
3. Matthew’s use of the Septuagint is a case of the New Testament’s clarifying the Old Testament. Matthew’s inspiration did not contradict Isaiah’s but rather revealed it. Scripture never contradicts scripture. If one’s interpretation of a verse contradicts his interpretation of another verse, he has either misapplied one or both texts.
The second difficulty with Isaiah 7:14 involves the nature of Isaiah’s prophecy. Among those who believe in Jesus’s virgin birth, there are two main groups of interpreters. First, there are those who maintain a "double reference theory." According to this theory, a prophecy has two meanings and is to be interpreted first in light of events occurring when it is written. In this case, the "young woman" has reference to someone living in the days of Ahaz and Isaiah. Only secondarily does it refer to a "virgin." The second view, the "single reference theory," holds that the passage has only one meaning and refers directly to Jesus’s virgin birth (Hendriksen 134). In other words, the passage is to be seen as prophetic from beginning to end.
Depending on one’s view, one will interpret any Old Testament prophecy in light of one of these two theories.
But which is correct? We consider the following while recommending G. F. Battey’s essay on this issue (1990 PS Notes 119-140).
1. If Isaiah 7:14 has two fulfillments, one specific and one general, might it be said that it could have had many more. Maybe there are a dozen fulfillments! In addition, if there are a dozen meanings, then it has no meaning at all!
2. We must be careful not to read into a passage something that is not there. Careful consideration of Isaiah 7:14 does not reveal that a virgin would give birth in the day of Ahaz. Rather it shows that the length of the prophetic child’s infancy would be the length of time Judah was yet to suffer affliction at the hands of Syria and Israel (Isaiah 7:16). Considering Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 7:16, the prophet can be understood as saying that within a very short time the "land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings" and the Messianic promise will be left intact. David’s house will not fall; the Messiah is yet to come as predicted. Matthew here gives a straight-line prediction concerning Jesus the Christ.
and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us: The term "Emmanuel" (God with us) is one of the most beautiful words describing our Lord. For here, in the person of the Christ, God meets His people. All of God’s qualities are found in Jesus (Colossians 2:9). No other may make such a claim.
Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
It is impossible to say exactly how much time transpires between Mary’s conception and the marriage ceremony. With his doubts resolved, however, Joseph sets about to establish a home for his newfound family, thus avoiding any public shame. Fowler remarks that the birth of Jesus takes place far away from Nazareth where Mary might avoid the gaze of prying eyes (Fowler 42).
Joseph’s character is here manifest in his obedience to the divine command. Everything about this legal and earthly father of our Lord rises above reproach. As Mary’s life stands as an example for every young woman, so Joseph’s stands for every godly husband.
And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: Here Matthew destroys the apostate doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. The scripture clearly teaches that Mary did not remain a virgin after Jesus’ birth. The word "till" shows that after Jesus’ birth Joseph maintains a normal marital relationship with his wife. Matthew 13:55-56 also points out that Jesus has other "brothers and sisters." While Mary is a pure and godly woman, there is absolutely no biblical authorization for worshiping her. Catholic prayers that invoke the intercession of Mary and, likewise, Vatican II, which encourages persevering prayer to her, are contrary to God’s word (Matthew 4:10; 1 Timothy 2:5). Hebrews tells us that marriage is honorable and the marriage bed is to be kept pure (13:4). There is no need to "protect" Mary from such imagined defilement? Note, however, that Joseph "knew" her not is in the imperfect tense, thus indicating he maintains sexual separateness from Mary until after Jesus’ birth.
Thus Matthew ends chapter one. The Jesus has come and a new dawn arises upon a world previously cast with long shadows of sin. The Lion of Judah is revealed. Spiritual victory is sure.
It has been rightly noted that secular history is filled with man’s futile attempts to become God. Such mortals as Alexander the Great, Lenin, Hitler, and Buddha have tried and failed. By their pride, many have suffered. Spiritual history, however, records only one God who would become man: Jesus. By his humility, salvation comes to many (Philippians 2).
"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on [him the nature of] angels; but he took on [him] the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto [his] brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things [pertaining] to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted" (Hebrews 2:14-18). To God be the glory; great things He hath done.