Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
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Mt 1:1-17. Genealogy of Christ. ( = Lu 3:23-38).

1. The book of the generation—an expression purely Jewish; meaning, "table of the genealogy." In Ge 5:1 the same expression occurs in this sense. We have here, then, the title, not of this whole Gospel of Matthew, but only of the first seventeen verses.

of Jesus Christ—For the meaning of these glorious words, see on Mt 1:16; Mt 1:21. "Jesus," the name given to our Lord at His circumcision (Lu 2:21), was that by which He was familiarly known while on earth. The word "Christ"—though applied to Him as a proper name by the angel who announced His birth to the shepherds (Lu 2:11), and once or twice used in this sense by our Lord Himself (Mt 23:8, 10; Mr 9:41)—only began to be so used by others about the very close of His earthly career (Mt 26:68; 27:17). The full form, "Jesus Christ," though once used by Himself in His Intercessory Prayer (Joh 17:3), was never used by others till after His ascension and the formation of churches in His name. Its use, then, in the opening words of this Gospel (and in Mt 1:17, 18) is in the style of the late period when our Evangelist wrote, rather than of the events he was going to record.

the son of David, the son of Abraham—As Abraham was the first from whose family it was predicted that Messiah should spring (Ge 22:18), so David was the last. To a Jewish reader, accordingly, these behooved to be the two great starting-points of any true genealogy of the promised Messiah; and thus this opening verse, as it stamps the first Gospel as one peculiarly Jewish, would at once tend to conciliate the writer's people. From the nearest of those two fathers came that familiar name of the promised Messiah, "the son of David" (Lu 20:41), which was applied to Jesus, either in devout acknowledgment of His rightful claim to it (Mt 9:27; 20:31), or in the way of insinuating inquiry whether such were the case (see on Joh 4:29; Mt 12:23).

2. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren—Only the fourth son of Jacob is here named, as it was from his loins that Messiah was to spring (Ge 49:10).

3-6. And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; 4. And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; 5. And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; 6. And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her of Urias—Four women are here introduced; two of them Gentiles by birth—Rachab and Ruth; and three of them with a blot at their names in the Old Testament—Thamar, Rachab, and Bath-sheba. This feature in the present genealogy—herein differing from that given by Luke—comes well from him who styles himself in his list of the Twelve, what none of the other lists do, "Matthew the publican"; as if thereby to hold forth, at the very outset, the unsearchable riches of that grace which could not only fetch in "them that are afar off," but teach down even to "publicans and harlots," and raise them to "sit with the princes of his people." David is here twice emphatically styled "David the king," as not only the first of that royal line from which Messiah was to descend, but the one king of all that line from which the throne that Messiah was to occupy took its name—"the throne of David." The angel Gabriel, in announcing Him to His virgin-mother, calls it "the throne of David His father," sinking all the intermediate kings of that line, as having no importance save as links to connect the first and the last king of Israel as father and son. It will be observed that Rachab is here represented as the great-grandmother of David (see Ru 4:20-22; 1Ch 2:11-15)—a thing not beyond possibility indeed, but extremely improbable, there being about four centuries between them. There can hardly be a doubt that one or two intermediate links are omitted.

7-8. And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; 8. And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias—or Uzziah. Three kings are here omitted—Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah (1Ch 3:11, 12). Some omissions behooved to be made, to compress the whole into three fourteens (Mt 1:17). The reason why these, rather than other names, are omitted, must be sought in religious considerations—either in the connection of those kings with the house of Ahab (as Lightfoot, Ebrard, and Alford view it); in their slender right to be regarded as true links in the theocratic chain (as Lange takes it); or in some similar disqualification.

11. And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren—Jeconiah was Josiah's grandson, being the son of Jehoiakim, Josiah's second son (1Ch 3:15); but Jehoiakim might well be sunk in such a catalogue, being a mere puppet in the hands of the king of Egypt (2Ch 36:4). The "brethren" of Jechonias here evidently mean his uncles—the chief of whom, Mattaniah or Zedekiah, who came to the throne (2Ki 24:17), is, in 2Ch 36:10, as well as here, called "his brother."

about the time they were carried away to Babylon—literally, "of their migration," for the Jews avoided the word "captivity" as too bitter a recollection, and our Evangelist studiously respects the national feeling.

12. And after they were brought to Babylon—after the migration of Babylon.

Jechonias begat SalathielSo 1Ch 3:17. Nor does this contradict Jer 22:30, "Thus saith the Lord, Write ye this man (Coniah, or Jeconiah) childless"; for what follows explains in what sense this was meant—"for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David." He was to have seed, but no reigning child.

and Salathiel—or Shealtiel.

begat Zorobabel—So Ezr 3:2; Ne 12:1; Hag 1:1. But it would appear from 1Ch 3:19 that Zerubbabel was Salathiel's grandson, being the son of Pedaiah, whose name, for some reason unknown, is omitted.

13-15. And Zorobabel begat Abiud, &c.—None of these names are found in the Old Testament; but they were doubtless taken from the public or family registers, which the Jews carefully kept, and their accuracy was never challenged.

16. And Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus—From this it is clear that the genealogy here given is not that of Mary, but of Joseph; nor has this ever been questioned. And yet it is here studiously proclaimed that Joseph was not the natural, but only the legal father of our Lord. His birth of a virgin was known only to a few; but the acknowledged descent of his legal father from David secured that the descent of Jesus Himself from David should never be questioned. See on Mt 1:20.

who is called Christ—signifying "anointed." It is applied in the Old Testament to the kings (1Sa 24:6, 10); to the priests (Le 4:5, 16, &c.); and to the prophets (1Ki 19:16)—these all being anointed with oil, the symbol of the needful spiritual gifts to consecrate them to their respective offices; and it was applied, in its most sublime and comprehensive sense, to the promised Deliverer, inasmuch as He was to be consecrated to an office embracing all three by the immeasurable anointing of the Holy Ghost (Isa 61:1; compare Joh 3:34).

17. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away—or migration.

into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon—the migration of Babylon.

unto Christ are fourteen generations—that is, the whole may be conveniently divided into three fourteens, each embracing one marked era, and each ending with a notable event, in the Israelitish annals. Such artificial aids to memory were familiar to the Jews, and much larger gaps than those here are found in some of the Old Testament genealogies. In Ezr 7:1-5 no fewer than six generations of the priesthood are omitted, as will appear by comparing it with 1Ch 6:3-15. It will be observed that the last of the three divisions of fourteen appears to contain only thirteen distinct names, including Jesus as the last. Lange thinks that this was meant as a tacit hint that Mary was to be supplied, as the thirteenth link of the last chain, as it is impossible to conceive that the Evangelist could have made any mistake in the matter. But there is a simpler way of accounting for it. As the Evangelist himself (Mt 1:17) reckons David twice—as the last of the first fourteen and the first of the second—so, if we reckon the second fourteen to end with Josiah, who was coeval with the "carrying away into captivity" (Mt 1:11), and third to begin with Jeconiah, it will be found that the last division, as well as the other two, embraces fourteen names, including that of our Lord.

Mt 1:18-25. Birth of Christ.

18. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise—or, "thus."

When as his mother Mary was espoused—rather, "betrothed."

to Joseph, before they came together, she was found—discovered to be.

with child of the Holy Ghost—It was, of course, the fact only that was discovered; the explanation of the fact here given is the Evangelist's own. That the Holy Ghost is a living conscious Person is plainly implied here, and is elsewhere clearly taught (Ac 5:3, 4, &c.): and that, in the unity of the Godhead, He is distinct both from the Father and the Son, is taught with equal distinctness (Mt 28:19; 2Co 13:14). On the miraculous conception of our Lord, see on Lu 1:35.

19. Then Joseph her husband—Compare Mt 1:20, "Mary, thy wife." Betrothal was, in Jewish law, valid marriage. In giving Mary up, therefore, Joseph had to take legal steps to effect the separation.

being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example—to expose her (see De 22:23, 24)

was minded to put her away privily—that is, privately by giving her the required writing of divorcement (De 24:1), in presence of only two or three witnesses, and without cause assigned, instead of having her before a magistrate. That some communication had passed between him and his betrothed, directly or indirectly, on the subject, after she returned from her three months' visit to Elizabeth, can hardly be doubted. Nor does the purpose to divorce her necessarily imply disbelief, on Joseph's part, of the explanation given him. Even supposing him to have yielded to it some reverential assent—and the Evangelist seems to convey as much, by ascribing the proposal to screen her to the justice of his character—he might think it altogether unsuitable and incongruous in such circumstances to follow out the marriage.

20. But while he thought on these things—Who would not feel for him after receiving such intelligence, and before receiving any light from above? As he brooded over the matter alone, in the stillness of the night, his domestic prospects darkened and his happiness blasted for life, his mind slowly making itself up to the painful step, yet planning how to do it in the way least offensive—at the last extremity the Lord Himself interposes.

behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph thou son of David—This style of address was doubtless advisedly chosen to remind him of what all the families of David's line so early coveted, and thus it would prepare him for the marvellous announcement which was to follow.

fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost—Though a dark cloud now overhangs this relationship, it is unsullied still.

21. And she shall bring forth a son—Observe, it is not said, "she shall bear thee a son," as was said to Zacharias of his wife Elizabeth (Lu 1:13).

and thou—as his legal father.

shalt call his name JESUS—from the Hebrew meaning "Jehovah the Saviour"; in Greek Jesus—to the awakened and anxious sinner sweetest and most fragrant of all names, expressing so melodiously and briefly His whole saving office and work!

for he shall save—The "He" is here emphatic—He it is that shall save; He personally, and by personal acts (as Webster and Wilkinson express it).

his people—the lost sheep of the house of Israel, in the first instance; for they were the only people He then had. But, on the breaking down of the middle wall of partition, the saved people embraced the "redeemed unto God by His blood out of every kindred and people and tongue and nation."

from their sins—in the most comprehensive sense of salvation from sin (Re 1:5; Eph 5:25-27).

22. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet—(Isa 7:14).

saying—as follows.

23. Behold, a virgin—It should be "the virgin" meaning that particular virgin destined to this unparalleled distinction.

shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which, being interpreted, is, God with us—Not that He was to have this for a proper name (like "Jesus"), but that He should come to be known in this character, as God manifested in the flesh, and the living bond of holy and most intimate fellowship between God and men from henceforth and for ever.

24. Then Joseph, being raised from sleep—and all his difficulties now removed.

did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife—With what deep and reverential joy would this now be done on his part; and what balm would this minister to his betrothed one, who had till now lain under suspicions of all others the most trying to a chaste and holy woman—suspicions, too, arising from what, though to her an honor unparalleled, was to all around her wholly unknown!

25. And knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: and he called his name JESUS—The word "till" does not necessarily imply that they lived on a different footing afterwards (as will be evident from the use of the same word in 1Sa 15:35; 2Sa 6:23; Mt 12:20); nor does the word "first-born" decide the much-disputed question, whether Mary had any children to Joseph after the birth of Christ; for, as Lightfoot says, "The law, in speaking of the first-born, regarded not whether any were born after or no, but only that none were born before." (See on Mt 13:55, 56).

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