Jesus’ Scandalous Family History

I was reminded this week that where we come from matters. While having lunch with a friend we were discussing our backgrounds…where we grew up, what we enjoyed doing as kids, and we found some common ground that we didn’t know we had. Where we come from matters.

Matthew starts his gospel off with a genealogy of Jesus that tells the reader where he came from. In the genealogy we learn that Jesus came from the lineage of many great names that the Jewish world would remember: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Solomon. Matthew also includes the names of some Gentiles, some women, and some rather scandalous events that occurred. “Zerah (whose mother was Tamar)” was born as a result of her grandfather sleeping with a prostitute who just happened to be his own daughter-in-law. The child born of this sinful act wound up being an ancestor of Jesus (Gen. 38).

Rahab was a prostitute that helped save two Israelite spies as they entered the city of Jericho. The Israelites spared her and her family for her kindness, and she wound up marrying a guy named Salmon, with whom she had Boaz. Boaz eventually married a gentile woman named Ruth and the two of them had children and grandchildren, one of whom was King David. (Joshua 2, Ruth 4). King David committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba, had her husband killed, and the two of them had a child named Solomon, also an ancestor of Jesus (2 Sam. 11).

There are other names we could mention, but Matthew does something here that is highly unusual. We think of genealogies as being fixed…we trace our ancestors generation by generation. Matthew doesn’t. He includes three people from the same generation, as well as leaves a few generations out in order to provide for us these specific names so we would know where Jesus came from. But he does something else amazing as well that we miss with our english eyes.

The number 7 in scripture indicates perfection, completeness, and God’s involvement (think about creation). Ray Vander Laan points out that when you look at Matthew’s genealogy in Greek, here’s what you find:

The number of words in Jesus’ genealogy is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words that begin with a vowel is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words that begin with a consonant is evenly divisible by 7. The number of letters used is evenly divisible by 7. The number of vowels used is evenly divisible by 7. The number of consonants used is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words that occur more than once is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words that occur only once is evenly divisible by 7. The number of nouns is evenly divisible by 7. The number of non-nouns is evenly divisible by 7. The number of proper names is evenly divisible by 7. The number of male names is evenly divisible by 7. The number of female names is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words beginning with each letter of the alphabet is evenly divisible by 7. If you add up the value of all the letters (because they used letters for numbers) it is evenly divisible by 7.

Even though some of the readers of Matthew’s gospel may have turned up their noses at the genealogy of Jesus, Matthew is telling us it was perfect, and orchestrated perfectly by God.

Where we come from is important, and God has put you in this world in just a way that you too can do something great in His Kingdom. We look at the dark spots in our backgrounds as an obstacle, but God uses those dark spots to save the world. Where we come from is important, but God’s more interested in where we’re going.