Monday, February 18, 2013

Reflections on the Genealogy of Jesus

It's not uncommon in Genesis to see whole lists of begats at the beginning of a passage.  These genealogical recordings can be very boring to read to the untutored, to eyes who do not know the meaning or the purpose.  The Gospel of Matthew beings with just such a recording, a genealogy of Jesus Christ, recording his origins.  It takes a well-tutored eye to catch what is being said, to understand that what is being done here is more than just recording a family history.

If this pedigree were simply concerned with recording his family history, we would expect to see it begin with Adam.  However, it doesn't. It begins with Abraham.  The reason for this is to show that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of that covenant God made with Abraham all those many thousands of years earlier. The line continues from Abraham to Isaac, the son that God spared on the day the Old Covenant was made.  Jesus would be the fulfillment of that covenant by being the son who was sacrificed in Isaac's place.

The next person in the lineage of Jesus is Isaac's son Jacob, the younger brother, and the father of the people of Israel.  Out of Jacob came the 12 tribes, one for each son Jacob had.  This is to show that Jesus is truly a child of Israel.  What happens next though is unexpected. The tribe that Christ flows from is Judah, the third son of Jacob's by Leah.  That Judah comes from Leah is significant.  She was not the favored wife, not the preferred wife, she was the wife that Jacob was tricked into taking.  God honored the years of Leah's pain and grief by producing the savior out of her.  Out of her sacrifice came the glory of the nations.

It is Judah's son Perez from which Jesus descends.  The story of Perez's birth is found in Genesis chapter 38, and it is not one of Judah's finer moments - not that Judah was known for fine moments. Judah, after all, had been intent on killing his younger brother Joseph before his oldest brother Reuben suggested that maybe they should just scare him a little by throwing him in a well.  Judah's first born son, Er, took a wife named Tamar.  Er made God angry and God killed him.  Judah's second son, Onan, took Tamar as wife like he was supposed to but instead of raising up children for his brother's honor like he was instructed, he purposefully spilled his seed on the ground denying both his brother and Tamar the children God wanted them to have. This made God angry, and God killed Onan as well.  So Judah sent Tamar home to her father's house to wait until the youngest son, Shelah, was grown but Judah had no actual intention of marrying Shelah to Tamar because he was afraid of losing that son, too.

Tamar eventually realized her father-in-law had no intentions of marrying her to Shelah, and when she heard her father-in-law was going to be in the neighborhood for a sheep shearing, she took action. She dressed herself like a whore and sat at the entrance where he would be sure to see her.  She knew he had a weakness for women. She agrees to sleep with him for the price of a goat, and gets him to give her a pledge. That day, she conceives the sons she was denied earlier.  Later, Judah sends the goat but nobody knows who the harlot is and so Judah decides to let the woman keep the pledges to avoid embarrassment. Three months later, he hears that his daughter-in-law is pregnant. Outraged, he's prepared to burn her for it until Tamar revealed that the father was Judah himself. Judah let her live and admitted his part in it all but didn't do the honorable thing by giving her to his son in marriage, nor by taking her as his own wife, but abandoned her among her people. God chose to honor Tamar for the wrongs that had been done to her by Judah and his sons by allowing her oldest son, Perez, to be the one from whom Jesus descended.

Perez's line continues through his oldest son Hezron, then on to Ram, then Amminadab, and then Nahshon, and then on to Salmon.  This same Salmon married Rahab the harlot.  Rahab was the same harlot in the book of Joshua chapter 2 who offered shelter to the messengers of Israel who went in to Jericho, refusing to hand them over to the king, lying for them and then hiding them from the king. Because she did this, she and her family were spared when Jericho was taken down by God. For her role, she was honored by God and through her son Boaz, the savior would come.

Boaz married Ruth, a Moabite.  Ruth was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, and when her husband died she refused to abandon Naomi. Instead, she traveled with Naomi and cared for the woman in her old age for Naomi's sons had both died.  When she married Boaz, she honored Naomi by giving him  her first born, Obed.  Obed would father Jesse, who in turn would father King David. So God honored Naomi's faith in him and her kindness to Ruth, as well as Ruth's loyalty to her mother-in-law and Boaz's honoring of the law by bringing the savior out of their line. I have only covered Matthew 1:2-6, but as you can see there is plenty to reflect on in this passage alone.  I will reflect on the next portion tomorrow.

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