In addition to the reference to David, Matthew also begins his genealogy with a mention of Abraham. To identity Jesus as a “son of Abraham” would first of all establish Jesus as Jewish. But more importantly, it reminded one and all that Abraham is the beginning of the history of salvation for Israel. The genealogy itself is “a résumé of salvation history, of God’s way with Israel” (W. B. Tatum). God called Abraham and promised him that through his offspring the world would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). By making a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:1-21; 17:1-27), God promised to bring salvation to the world, beginning with giving the promised land to Abraham’s descendants and eventually installing David to rule them in God’s name.
So far so good. But soon Matthew stunned his audience. The people of his day were well versed in the hope of Israel’s salvation at the exclusion of Gentiles. The idea that God planned to save the entire world was not well accepted by the Jewish people, and when Matthew described the manner by which God was working to accomplish such salvation, some would have been insulted.
To begin with, it was unusual to include women in genealogies. Was God using women to set up His kingdom (the apostle Paul would say yes, Galatians 3:28-29)? Moreover, God was using Gentile women; the names of Rahab and Ruth clearly show that Gentiles were to be included in the ancestors of Jesus. But that is not all. The inclusion of Tamar, who seduced her father-in-law Judah (Genesis 38), and of Rahab the harlot (Joshua 2), implies that sexual irregularities can be part of God’s way to bring His plan to fruition. No less on Matthew’s mind was the mother of the Messiah who was found to be pregnant before the consummation of her marriage with Joseph. Such a beginning would cast aspersions on anyone presuming to be Messiah.
But Matthew is not done yet. David, so honored by Matthew, was identified as taking “Uriah’s wife” (Bathsheba) for himself. And Matthew’s listeners would complete this story by remembering that David eventually arranged for the murder of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:14-27). To top this all off, almost half of the kings from David to Josiah were judged to have done evil in the sight of the Lord.
What does all this say? Whether good or evil, God works through all to accomplish His goal. Our sinfulness will not derail God’s grace as it did not stand in the way of God completing His plan for Israel. None of us has passed the point of no return and we must show similar thoughts towards others (Ephesians 4:32). We must not limit God’s grace to a particular ethnic group or nationality. Neither should we limit God’s salvation to only those who think or look like us. This position does not override the truth that only those in Christ will be saved and this salvation is based solely on faith in Christ, the One named Jesus for “he will save his people from their sin” (Matthew 1:21). Rather, the power of our Savior to redeem us as sinners is introduced in the opening verses of Matthew as he describes God’s march toward redemption of the world, a development that will not be hindered by the sin of those He chooses to use or by the preconceived notions of those who think God only works with certain people.
by Dr. Rich Menninger
Dear Lord, let us be open to Your power to redeem as You work through the untidy and unexpected twists and turns of salvation. In the Name of the One who never ceases to amaze us, amen.