What's With All Those Begats?
I am sure that some of you are wondering what I am going to do with this text. Those who have studied the Bible know that this is one genealogy of many. It is hard to read names that seem so hard to pronounce. I spared you a little by not reading a much longer list in First Chronicles. I found when I get to that list, I try to plow through it as quickly as possible to get to the “good stuff”. At least this is the genealogy of Jesus, so if any list of names is important in the Scripture, it is this one. But as we shall see, the “begats” of the Bible have a vital function and are just as important and inspired as the rest of Scripture. Let’s see why?
First of all, the begats tell us that people like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, David, and many others were real human beings who lived in time rather than myths used to tell stories. These people lived in history and in a historical context. They lived within the realms of creation, time, and space. These bible characters were real people who lived real lives, just like us.
Some of the people in the Bible play more prominent roles in history than others. The roll call of faith in the 11th chapter of Hebrews brings this out. Some like Abraham and Sarah have comparatively much written about them. Others are simply named. And others are part of a nameless cloud of witnesses. But all of God’s saints, named or unnamed in this life are included in God’s plan and are, therefore, important.
Besides this, when we are dealing with the genealogy of Jesus, we are shown that Jesus became a human being who lived within the very creation which He created, and lived with us in the realms of time and space. Jesus was no myth or phantom. He became just as human as everyone else. And as a human being, he had to have a genealogy.
When we study genealogies, we must understand genealogies as meaning more than biological descent, although they certainly have an important biological element. But if they were strictly biological, we would have a major problem with the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Matthew traces the genealogy through David’s son, Solomon, and Luke traces it through his son, Nathan. Other than a couple of convergences, they do not come together until we get to Joseph. This has caused a difficulty that have perplexed the greatest minds in Christendom.
The most common resolution to this is to say that Matthew traces Jesus’ descent through Joseph and Luke through Mary. Because Jesus was only apparently the son of Joseph, Luke found it necessary to trace Jesus’ humanity through Mary. Luke does bring out the idea by saying that he was supposed to be thought of as the son of Joseph. But this is far from saying, the “son of Mary” and tracing the genealogy through her. By all appearances, Luke is providing us with Joseph’s genealogy, not Mary’s. A literal reading of Matthew leads us to the same conclusion. This solution seems to be one of desperation rather than a plausible one.
However, another way to look at the begats is within the context of legal right of descent. In our law, an adopted son or daughter has the same legal standing as a biological child. This would be even more absolutely true in the ancient world. The Roman Emperors, for example, adopted their successors as their children. Julius Caesar was not the biological father of Augustus. I believe he was a nephew. And Augustus adopted Tiberius as a son, even though he had grandsons through his daughter. In this context, adoption conferred the right of kingship. This kind of practice was common in the ancient world.
Matthew first reckons Jesus genealogy from Abraham to King David, Israel’s first king. Solomon was his biological child and even though he was not the oldest son, was accorded the right of kingship. The line continued biologically down to the exile. However, God cursed the line of Solomon and it dies out at this time when all the seed royal was put to death before Zedekiah’s eyes. When the direct royal line is broken, then the right to be the next king has to be traced back until on can be found in a different line. In this case, all of Solomon’s descendants were dead, and the right of kingship then fell upon another descendant of David. Then when the Solomonic line died out, the right of being the next king of Israel fell upon another line. Yet this son would be reckoned as a descendant of Solomon by adoption. This right passed through Zerubbabel which appears in both Luke and Matthew’s genealogy. Apparently, there was another interruption in the line of Zerubbabel’s oldest son, and the line had to be reckoned through another son. Here the legal and biological diverge only to converge again at Joseph.
So if we understand Matthew’s genealogy as a legal one with the right of kingship, and Luke’s the biological one traced through Adam, the difficulties dissolve. This makes sense of the parable Jesus casts against His adversaries from the 110th Psalm in which He asks them how the Messiah could be David’s Son when David Himself called Him Lord. And as Matthew traces the genealogy though Abraham first, then David, the genealogy is more than just a royal one. It is the genealogy of the right to be the chosen seed to fulfill the promise God gave to Abraham. This right was not reckoned biologically in the sense that the promise should have gone through Ishmael and not Isaac, if the right of kingship is reckoned according to human laws.
It is interesting that Matthew includes four woman in the genealogy of Jesus in demonstrating His right to be the Messiah, the King of Israel. Two of them were Canaanites who were under the ban of God. The third was Ruth a Moabitess who by the Law of Moses, no Israelites was allowed to marry. The fourth, Bathsheba, was the wife of a Hittite. Rahab was a prostitute, and Tamar and Bathsheba played the whore. It is most interesting that women were included at all, no less women who would have been most certainly excluded as well as any child they bore from the kingship. This shows that God’s will triumphs over human prejudices. It also shows that God intended Gentiles to be included among the People of God from the very beginning. They are Israel who God calls “Israel”. It is by the will and grace of God and not of the will and reckoning of men. In this Matthew is in complete agreement with John who says that God’s children are not born of the will of the flesh or of man. Rather they are begotten of God.
We then see the importance of the genealogy. We are Children of God by the will and grace of God. It is not based on biological begetting. It is instead a begetting of the Holy Spirit. Biologically, as the descendants of and under the curse of Adam, whether Jew or Gentile, and are therefore excluded from being God’s children. But God is the one who calls those who were “not His people”, His people. In this spiritual but nevertheless real sense, we are part of God’s genealogy. This is not in the same sense as Jesus our Savior whose eternal begetting of the Father in which as a member of the Trinity shares in the full being and deity of God. He is Son by natural right. We are adopted children, yet share in the rights of being God’s family.
It is wonderful to know that Jesus knows all of His sheep by name. No one is unimportant to Him. Even though we may not share in the fading glories of human history and are only a number or statistic in this life, we are called by name by the one who holds the genealogical roll book in Heaven. Those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ share in the greatest of all promises. Like Abraham, we must reckon the city that God builds something worthy of forsaking all human citied for. It is far better to wander in the wilderness of this life as a despised nobody than to wander in the wilderness of eternity, permanently excluded from the city which God has built. We have been called by One whose name is above all names, One who has made us priests to God and given us an eternal kingdom to which we are called to press unto.
Finally, we who have been begotten of God are called to be begetters. The commandment given to the first Adam was to fill all the earth with people. We who are the children of the second Adam are called to fill the earth with Christians. Matthew begins with a genealogy, but he ends with the Great Commission. “We need to go out of our ghetto and into the world to make disciples of people who are not yet the people of God. We must teach and baptize those who were once Gentiles and strangers to the promises of God our friends.
We realize that many have gone before us into the task. They have gone through dangers, toils, and snares to share the Gospel to a world. Many paid for their faithfulness to Jesus Christ with their lives. The only things that mattered to them was that they might hear the words “Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of the Lord.” They also desired that they might hear these same words spoken of you as well. We must arm ourselves with the same compassion and tell others.
The world today has declared themselves “relevant” and God “irrelevant”. But what men call “relevant” today will be “irrelevant” tomorrow. The fads of men are forever changing. But in the end, the march to find relevance apart from God is a suicide mission. In the end it is the one who is left standing on the battlefield who writes the history of the battle. That account is the only one that matters. As God most certainly will triumph in the end, the One who is changeless and eternal, it behooves us to be included in His list of names.
Are you relevant to God? It does not matter if the world considers you relevant or not. What matters is that your name is included in the genealogy of the Children of God. Lay aside the things which would hinder you and enter through the narrow gate. The broad way leads to destruction. It is the wide and glittery road to the eternal nowhere. The straight and narrow way does not look too promising at first. But it is the only way to heaven. O pilgrim press on to the Celestial City and go not to the left or right. To those who have not entered, consider where the path you are on is taking you. The signs of the destruction of the city of men is already underway. How many earthly cities like ancient Babylon have corrupted from earthly splendor to ruin. We can see American cities like Detroit which wer once a glory and splendor reduced to the decay we see today. If you take the way of destruction, you will end up destroyed and subject to the eternal wrath of God.
God has made a way for you. This very Jesus who was born in Bethlehem came to save you from destruction. He allowed His earthly life to be destroyed on a cross for you sin so that you would not face an eternal hellfire. If you will believe that He died for your sin and was raised by God on the third day for your justification and confess Jesus is Lord, you will be saved. I can only pray that you have felt the begetting power of His Holy Spirit and that you know that your name is now on the genealogical list of Heaven. Then even as your earthly body decays, dies, and rendered back to dust, you can live and die in confidence of the bodily resurrection in which you will have a body that will decay and die no longer in a city which has not tears or sorrows because death in unknown there.
Unless the Lord come first, you will die. When you die, you will no longer be the citizen of any earthly country. You might have been a veteran, and they might drape the flag of your country over your coffin. You may have made great contributions to society and been a great leader. They may speak great things over your corpse or ashes. Nevertheless, as great a citizen as you may have been is no longer of any manner. Soon the world will forget you and what you did here. History is the road to amnesia. Even the greatest of people are eventually reduced to a small place in the annals of humankind. It should be humbling to note that all your accomplishments will at best be reduced to a true/false question on a history quiz. Already the dust is getting pretty thick over even people like George Washington. I assure you that the world will forget you soon enough.
But God will not forget you, for good or ill. Either He will one day say “Enter into the joy of the Lord” or “Depart from Me, I never knew you.”