The Scriptorium

Genealogical Rosetta Stone

We begin with Matthew's genealogy of Jesus. Matthew 1.1-17

Gleanealogy: Foundations (1)

Pray Psalm 110.3.
Your people shall be volunteers
In the day of Your power;
In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning,
You have the dew of Your youth.

Sing slowly and contemplatively Psalm 110.1-3.
(Aurelia: The Church’s One Foundation)
“Sit by Me at My right hand,” the Lord says to my Lord,
“until I make Your foot stand on all who hate Your Word.”
From in His Church the Savior rules all His enemies,
while those who know His favor go forth the Lord to please.

Read Matthew 1.1-17

1. How many different aspects of this genealogy can you identify?

2. Why should Matthew begin his gospel with a genealogy?

The Rosetta Stone, you will recall, is a stele which includes a royal decree in three ancient languages. Its importance lies in the fact that the known languages on the Stone unlock the languages formerly unknown. That is, the Greek text of the decree holds the key for unlocking the Egyptian hieroglyphs, which, before the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, were an impenetrable mystery.

The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 is the key to unlocking the treasures in all the other genealogies of Scripture. Matthew composed his genealogy to speak powerfully to his generation about the pedigree of Christ.[1] I encourage you to read and meditate on these verses, seeking the Spirit’s guidance to yield more of the fruit He has hidden there (Prov. 25.2).

Right away we observe that this genealogy is unique, in that it consists of both an ascending and a descending aspect. The ascending aspect is in verse one – rising from Jesus through David to Abraham – and provides an outline of the genealogy and summarizes its purpose: Jesus is the Davidic King, and the Seed of Abraham! He is the “end of the line” for the promises of God’s covenant and the kingdom entrusted to David and his heirs forever. The ascending and descending character of this genealogy makes us think about going up and down on a ladder, an image Jesus applied to Himself from the dream of the patriarch Jacob (cf. Jn. 1.51). The form of the descending aspect is rhythmic (begat, begat), with only brief intermittent asides to remind readers of important moments of grace to Gentiles (with Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, David and Bathsheba).

Beginning in verse 2, the genealogy descends from Abraham. We recall from John’s gospel that being in Abraham’s line was the identity most of the Jews of Matthew’s day would have acknowledged as their own (cf. Jn. 8.33-39). Right away, Matthew ran the risk of making his gospel a stumbling stone for Jewish readers, since in a line descending from Abraham, he includes Gentiles, deliberately mentioning three women in the list of those who have a claim to the promises of Abraham and the Kingdom of David (vv. 3, 5). Our great Savior and Threshold gathers all the harvest to Himself, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, sinners of every stripe.

The literary structure of this genealogy captures our attention It is not merely implicit, but made explicit by Matthew’s introduction (v. 1) and his comment in v. 17. The genealogy is composed in three segments: Abraham to David, David to the captivity, the captivity to Joseph, thus suggesting a triune design, and implying the work of the Triune God in superintending the unfolding story bound up in this genealogy. Each section consists of fourteen generations, which is two times seven, the number of perfection. Is Matthew pointing to the perfection of Jesus both in His deity and His Manhood? Alternately (see the anonymous quote below), we might consider the 42 generations as six periods of seven generations each, each generation a complete “week” of work and rest, and the six “weeks” of seven being a “week” itself, but only of work. The seventh day/week of rest comes now, with Immanuel (cf. Heb. 4.1-11).

The genealogy “turns” on crucial moments in the history of God’s covenant: Abraham, David, Babylon and Matthew’s own day. Each of these historical moments is of enormous significance in the fulfillment of God’s covenant with His people, and serves to highlight the covenantal focus of the entire genealogy. The events of Matthew’s day are the culmination of a long history of God’s covenant faithfulness.

We further note that the names of many who are included (not all are) point to God and His continuous work of keeping covenant with His people. We see the divine morphemes - -yah, jeho-, ‘-el – especially from the mention of David on (one of those bearing the name of God is a Gentile, Uriah the Hittite). This injects an energy of the Presence of God among His people, which is realized in the birth of Immanuel.

One final note which I consider to be very important: Mention is made of Israel’s being “carried away to Babylon”, “brought to Babylon”, and in “captivity in Babylon” (twice!); but no mention is made of the return. It’s as if Matthew was saying to his readership, “We’re still captive and waiting for our deliverance today.”

Hold this genealogy up to the Light of God’s Word, and you can see how it reflects His workmanship, and how at every stage it points us to Christ and His mission. It thus serves as a kind of Rosetta Stone for understanding other genealogies in the Scriptures. Matthew wants us to see that, from the beginning of God’s dealings with His people, His covenant has been reliable, sure, and orderly, advancing ineluctably through the corridors of time to bring forth the Christ. In every age, God raised up faithful men and women to receive His grace and diffuse it throughout the world in faith and obedience. Matthew thus teaches us to see such divine order and work in all the genealogies of Scripture, and to see them all as pointing forward to the coming of Christ. And he encourages us to admire these faithful – though fallible – generations, to thank God for their faithfulness, and to hope that we might be included among their ranks.

1. How many different aspects of this genealogy could you take as a focus for more concentrated meditation and prayer?

2. Choose one of those. Think about it deeply, as it shows up throughout the genealogy. Listen as the Spirit prompts you to focus on this name or that. Offer prayers of praise for God’s work, thanks for His people, and longing to be found in the genealogy of God’s people.

3. How would you summarize the teaching of this genealogy in one sentence?

The reason why forty-two generations are given according to the flesh of Christ being born into the world is this: forty-two is the product of six times seven. Six, however, is the number that signifies work and toil, for the world was made in six days—it is a world made in work and toil and pain. So, appropriately, there are forty-two generations before Christ being born into the world in toil and pain, and these generations contain the mystery of work and toil.
Anonymous, Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 1

Lord, Your story is written with beauty, wonder, faithfulness, mystery, and love. My part in that story today is to…

Pray Psalm 110.
Rejoice in the beauty and power of Jesus, exalted in glory. Thank Him for the faithful people who have gone before you in His covenant. Offer yourself in specific ways as a “volunteer” today.

Sing Psalm 110.
Psalm 110 (Aurelia: The Church’s One Foundation)
“Sit by Me at My right hand,” the Lord says to my Lord,
“until I make Your foot stand on all who hate Your Word.”
From in His Church the Savior rules all His enemies,
while those who know His favor go forth the Lord to please.

Filled with the Spirit’s power, in holy robes of love,
from early morning’s hour they serve their Lord above.
Christ reigns a priest forever, the King of Righteousness
and King of Peace who ever His chosen ones will bless.

The Lord at Your right hand, Lord, in wrath shall shatter kings,
when judgment by His strong Word He to the nations brings.
Then, all His foes defeated, He takes His hard-won rest,
in glorious triumph seated with us, redeemed and blessed!

T. M. Moore

The genealogies of Scripture reveal the heart of God in His covenant relationship with His people. To learn more about God’s covenant, order our book, I Will Be Your God, by clicking here. You can learn to sing all the psalms to familiar hymn tunes by ordering a copy of The Ailbe Psalter (click here).

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All psalms for singing adapted from
The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006). All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).


[1] I’m grateful to my colleague, David Sincerbox, for sharing with me his research on this genealogy.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore