The Old Testament priest/scribe Ezra was a man of God. His lifestyle provided a model of practical godly leadership to a people in desperate need of hearing God’s word and seeing God’s will lived out practically.
In the ancient Hebrew language, the infinite construct with the preposition לֽ (pronounced ‘le’) often complements the main verb by expressing the purpose, goal or result to which the main verb points. In Ezra 7:10, there are three infinite construct forms that are used in this way in a verse which highlights Ezra’s personal commitments.
Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary defines the Greek compound verb ‘‘ as meaning ‘to cast, drive, expel, send or thrust out of’. The word is a composite of 2 Greek words, namely, the preposition ‘‘ meaning ‘of’ or ‘from’ and the verb ‘‘ meaning ‘cast, drive etc’. The verb ending here is presented in the first person singular. Nevertheless, once the various personal endings have been accounted for, the verb occurs 81 times in the Greek New Testament.
In the opening verse, Matthew strikes a note which seems to resound throughout his gospel. He is concerned, almost with a singular focus, upon portraying Jesus as the Jewish messiah descended directly from the royal house of King David, and of the seed of the patriarch Abraham, unto whom the divine promises were first given [Gen 12]. The primary aim of ‘the book of the genesis‘ [see part 1 below], is to fully demonstrate that Jesus was no arbitrary man of wisdom, no accident of the time but someone who may only be fully understood and appreciated in terms of who and what had preceded him.
‘Meticulous Matthew’ then, fully immersed in rabbinical patterns of thought, portrays a wonderful symmetry of numbers. He divides his genealogy of Jesus into three groups – from Abraham to David; from David to the Babylonian Captivity [ie. the end of the monarchy] and from the period of the Babylonian Captivity to Jesus. Matthew informs his readers that each of these three groups contains 14 generations. [It is interesting to note that the second group omits 3 generations – see 1 Chron 1-2 for details].
What then is the significance of these numbers, the three groups of fourteen? One suggestion is that the name ‘David’ comprises three Hebrew consonants –דוד [dalet, vav, dalet]. The letters of the Hebrew language also function not dissimilarly to Roman Numerals, in that each letter also holds a numerical value. Dalet is the fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet whilst Vav is the sixth. Simple arithmetic will quickly conclude that dalet, vav, dalet may be presented numerically as four, six, four which when added together equals fourteen. Matthew therefore is likely to be using a further allusion here to the ‘Davidic’ nature of Jesus.
There is a further mathematical implication which may be apparent in Matthew’s opening chapter. Jewish sacred arithmetic often calculated the future by reference to Jeremiah’s prophecy of God’s salvation after seventy weeks. In Daniel we find this interpreted as seventy weeks of years [490 years]. Here in Matthew then, these methods are perhaps also utilised. The period from the promise to Abraham to the birth of the Messiah is figured as three times seventy weeks of years, or three times fourteen generations which is the same thing. Thus at the exact fit time of prophecy and moreover of the lineage of David – Jesus who is called Messiah is born.
Such mathematical/rhetorical devices were highly valued in first century Mediterranean societies.
The author of the first of the four canonical gospels has occasionally been referred to as ‘meticulous Matthew’. He regularly displays intentional precision in his account of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. This he does in order to accentuate truths that are both relevant and vital to the believer’s life and doctrine. This precision is very apparent in the genealogy Matthew constructs to present Jesus as the Christ at the beginning of his gospel. Consideration has already been given in part 1 [below] to the punning allusions of a ‘new scripture’ etc. Here then are some further considerations.
When Matthew constructs his genealogy of Jesus he says ‘….and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ’. [Matt 1:16, NIV]. To whom do the italicised words ‘of whom’ refer? Is it to Joseph as father? Mary as mother? Both Joseph & Mary as parents?
Clearly it is possible for the English word ‘whom’ to fit any of the 3 above possible meanings. Behind the English words ‘of whom’ however, stands the Greek relative pronoun h|s. The feminine gender of the relative pronoun points specifically to Mary as the one from whom Jesus was born. The genealogy regularly emphasises the male who fathers a child, but here ‘meticulous Matthew’ delivers a precise statement of the relationship of Jesus Christ to Joseph & Mary. While the genealogy establishes that Joseph is the legal father of Jesus, Matthew emphasises that Mary is the biological parent ‘of whom’ Jesus was born. Further, the passive voice of the verb ‘egennhqh‘ [was born] – the only passive among the forty occurrences of the verb gennaw in the genealogy – prepares for Matthew’s emphasis upon divine action in the conception and birth of Jesus [1:18-25]
The feminine gender of the pronoun then, prepares for the virgin birth by empathically shifting the attention from Joseph to Mary. He intentionally stresses that Mary is the mother of Jesus, and later will clarify that the conception is miraculous, brought about by the Spirit of God. Jesus Christ is indeed the son of David, the son of Abraham [1:1] but he is also the Son of God, Immanuel, ‘God with us’ [1:23]. This is no ordinary man in the line of David. This is our Saviour and Lord – fully man and fully God. Amen.
The first chapter of Matthew is, to the 21st Century Western mind, a chapter that is generally avoided or overlooked. One may often wonder what purpose the genealogy serves. The following comments will hopefully provide a few ideas for consideration.
Matthew begins with the words ‘biblos genesews Ihsou Cristou….‘ These words are a pun that has a variety of possible meanings. ‘The book of the genealogy of Jesus Messiah’ or ‘The book of [the] Genesis of Jesus Messiah’ or ‘The book of the origin of Jesus Messiah’. The opening pun then connects with the last words of Matthew’s gospel ’till the end of the age’ [Matt 28:16], thus marking off the beginning and the end. Moreover, the last passage of the work, an edict by the risen Lord Jesus [Matt 28:18-20], closes the gospel with a similar type of message to that which closes the Hebrew scriptures, the edict of Cyrus in 2 Chron 36:23. Thus the gospel begins with ‘the book of genesis/origins’ and ends with a final edict of one empowered by God just like the sacred scriptures of Matthew’s day. Further, by beginning with a genealogy and closing with an edict, Matthew’s work likewise follows the pattern of the last book of the Hebrew bible, Chronicles. For Chronicles [called in Hebrew ‘The Book Of Days’ = genealogy] begins with a genealogy and ends with an edict from one with power over ‘all the kingdoms of the earth’ [2 Chron 36:22-23; used by Ezra 1:1-2] namely, God’s chosen, Cyrus [Isa 45:1; see Isa 44:28].
By whichever allusion, it appears that Matthew offers a new ‘scripture’ which goes all the way from ‘the beginning’ to the ‘end’. In between these brackets Jesus’ five major speeches [each ending with the phrase ‘When Jesus finished….’ [Matt 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1] would have us think the new ‘scripture’ is a new ‘Torah’ from the new prophet, the new Moses, Jesus, son of David, son of Abraham.
Such punning allusions were highly valued in the oral culture of the first century Mediterranean world. The importance of such genealogies is easy for the modern reader to underestimate and overlook. In antiquity it was more than a source of mere information, a person’s lineage was a source of pride, but also a device for self aggrandizement, a claim to authority, to political or civil rights or even the right to speak. By tracing Jesus’ genealogy back to Abraham, Matthew asserts his social position as a true Israelite. By invoking the name of David the royal role of Jesus is underscored. Matthew has therefore accorded Jesus a position at the very top of Israelite social honour scale, a position that perhaps ‘explains’ how his subsequent career was so out of keeping with the status of a village artisan.