There are a couple of other noteworthy features in Matthew’s genealogy, which invite one into a deeper study and contemplation of the importance of this tether to salvation history.
Notice that the evangelist sums up Jesus’ impressive pedigree with these words:
“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” (1:17).
The question is “Why?” I think there are several reasons, I’ll share only one here and a couple tomorrow, Lord willing.
One reason is that Matthew was, of course, proving Jesus’ legitimate claim to the Davidic throne; Jesus is, in fact, David’s Greater Son. The ‘son of David’ motif is plain throughout Matthew. But the rhetorical point of Matthew’s framing of the genealogy is even more sublime.
The hopes and expectations bound up with the omni-blessing Seed of Abraham finds a more specific identity in the Davidic covenant. This narrowing specificity is, nonetheless, anticipated in earlier prophecies, such as Gen 49:10, the Scepter of Judah, and the “star/scepter” sign in Balaam’s fourth oracle. Abraham’s coming Seed was to be a ruler, a king.
These promises are made explicit in Yahweh’s covenant with David. “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me [Yahweh]. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16).
Now there was one of two ways this promise could be fulfilled. Either Solomon would inaugurate a perpetual dynasty, one that would augment the rule of Yahweh’s kingly co-regent in both space and time, or the promise would find its realization in a peculiar One who could sustain that rule without end. This dilemma is answered by Matthew’s next generational junction—“from David to the deportation to Babylon.”
This junction in the pattern eliminates the possibility of the perpetual line of kings. The Babylonian siege and resultant exile terminated the hope of an everlasting line of ruler’s from David’s loins.
The OT prophets, writing before, during and after the exile, began to point the faithful ones forward to the second option above (see also Ps 89, etc). The Davidic dynasty would be restored, but not through means of ordinary generation. Rather Yahweh’s Servant—David’s true Son, who is also David’s Lord (Ps 110)—would arrive in history, finally and fully establishing God rule, God’s Kingdom. Moreover, the Jewish apocalypticism of the Second Temple period was rife with messianic expectations. All the hopes of Israel rested in the Advent of Yahweh’s promised Messiah, and with him, the greatly anticipated “last days,” the fulfillment of the messianic age.
It seems, therefore, that if Abraham’s Seed would more specifically be the fulfillment of the promised king from the Davidic dynasty, and the “deportation to Babylon” and its entailments would demand that the sure promises made to David could only be realized in the Messiah, then Matthew’s ‘3 times 14’ framework, and especially its summary statement in 1:17, is a rhetorical case that 2000 years of Israelite history and hope had culminated and been fulfilled in the Advent of Jesus Christ. The waiting was over, the messianic age had arrive. Jesus is the greater Son of David, King of Israel.
Solomon, in spite of all his wisdom and riches, could not discharge the role of ‘Son of David.’ But, Shema!, Hear O’ Israel, “something greater than Solomon is here” (Matt 12:42)! Amid great strife and competition with a self-made impostor, Adonijah, Solomon was hastily made king of the Jews (1 Kings 1); David’s greater Son, against the Roman-made imposter, Herod, was “born king of the Jews” (2:2). Concerning Solomon, a message from Yahweh was carried by the prophet Nathan, naming the child Jedidiah, “beloved of the Lord” (2 Sam 12:24—25); concerning the Messiah, a direct edict came from Heaven for all to hear, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17; cf. 2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7; Is 42:1), and so his name was to be “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). And because Jesus would save his people from the captivity of their sins, “they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)” (Matt 1:23).
Although many of the people had returned from the land of Babylon, the land to which they had returned was now ruled by a new Babylon, Rome. Their nationalistic souls were provoked day and night by the promised land’s defilement and uncleanness, trodden underfoot by the iron-clay soles of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream idol (Dan 2). They had returned to the land, but the exile wasn’t over!
First century Judaism had morphed the old covenant religion into an infinite series of laws, but no liberty. It offered meticulous jurisprudence, but no justice. It had sacrifice, but no mercy. The elders of Israel, with their religion and false king, had succeeded only in giving God’s people another unbearable yoke, in addition to Rome’s yoke of bondage. There was Sabbath upon Sabbath, but no rest for the wearied souls of God's heritage.
Matthew’s point, however, was that the exile was now over with the Advent of Jesus and the subsequent inauguration of the messianic age. The provisional temple of the restoration had now finished its archetypical course; its antitype had arrived to give real substance to its shadowy proleptic purpose, “something greater than the temple is here” (12:6). For those with ears to hear, the cry went out, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (11:28—29). The real return from exile, then, was not coming out of Babylon, but coming to Jesus. In Jesus alone is there eschatological Rest for God’s people.
King David had establish a kingdom by the blood of his sword; his greater Son, King Jesus, has come and established a Kingdom by the blood of his cross, giving his people rest from their enemies.
Matthew 1:17, therefore, is the evangelist’s bottom line, his apologetic absolute. The present age was closing and the long awaited messianic age has dawned in Jesus Christ’s Advent. The rest of Matthew’s Gospel is an argument for and demonstration of this fact.
I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.
St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4
St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4