In his THI article “Son of David, Son of Abraham,” Peter Leithart notes that Matthew’s genealogy “contains a summary of redemptive history.” This statement is only too true and one that deserves further elucidation.
Biblos geneseōs. The first two words of Matthew’s Gospel are usually translated “The book of the genealogy;” however, these two words could also be translated as “The book of the genesis.” This difference may seem trivial at first, but this subtle difference provides us with an interpretive key to what Matthew is doing with his opening genealogy. It was well-known during the first-century that the Greek title of the first book of the Bible was Genesis. Matthew is directing our attention back to the book of Genesis so we might better understand the message he is writing… the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
If Matthew is, indeed, deliberately linking the opening of his book with the book of Genesis, then we should expect to see other references back to Genesis. This is exactly what we do see. The genealogy is bracketed by the names Abraham and Isaac at the beginning of the genealogy and the names Jacob and Joseph at the end of the genealogy. This bracketing is highly suggestive and seems to be hardly a coincidence. The entirety of redemptive history up until Jesus is encompassed in the lives of the four patriarchs. Now, obviously the names Jacob and Joseph in the genealogy are referring to different historical people, but this literal reference in no way destroys the literary and typological linkage.
This possibility becomes even more plausible when we examine the boundaries Matthew places within the genealogy. The movement is from Abraham to King David to the exile in Babylon to the Christ. In the narrative of the lives of the patriarchs, we see a similar movement. The narrative progresses from Abraham to Isaac, the promised birth of whom is explicitly associated with the coming of kings (Gen. 17:6); to Jacob, who had to journey out of Canaan into Egypt with his family; and finally to Joseph, who became a servant, went through a symbolic death and resurrection, and was ultimately raised to the right hand of Pharaoh over both Jew and Gentile. It is quite apparent from this that Matthew is constructing his genealogical record to subtly demonstrate the typological parallels between Genesis and the rest of redemptive history up to the life of Jesus. Thus, Matthew is simultaneously rehearsing all of Israel’s history and the story of Genesis.
Things actually start to get more interesting when we compare the Genesis account of the lives of the patriarchs with the whole of Israelite history. Let us examine briefly the account of the life of Abraham up to the birth of Isaac and compare that account to the time from Abraham to King David.
Abraham to Isaac
Abraham to King David
|Abram goes to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan (Gen. 12:10-16).||Jacob goes down to Egypt because of a severe famine in Canaan (Gen. 40-50).|
When we first meet Abram, he has just made his journey into Canaan from Ur, and due to a severe famine in the land, Abram had to journey down to Egypt to escape the harsh conditions of the famine. Similarly, late in Jacob’s life, a severe famine occurs in Canaan, and after a series of deceptions by Joseph, Jacob brings his entire family and entourage down to Egypt to likewise escape the harsh famine that had afflicted the land.
|God sends plagues against Pharaoh because of Sarai (Gen. 12:17-19).||God sends plagues against Pharaoh because of Israel (Ex. 1-12:32).|
After Abram goes down into Egypt, his worst fear is realized when Sarai is brought into the house of Pharaoh because of her beauty, presumably into the harem. Because of this wicked act by Pharaoh, Yahweh sends plagues against him and his house. Pharaoh gets the message and promptly sends Abram and Sarai out of Egypt. This same scenario happens to Israel after she has spent many years in Egypt. Once a new Pharaoh comes into power, he forgets about Joseph and enslaves Israel. Because of this wicked act by Pharaoh, Yahweh once again sends plagues against Egypt. Here, however, this new Pharaoh is a little slower getting the message, which results in the ruination of Egypt. Finally, Pharaoh lets Israel go.
|Abram and Sarai leave Egypt with great wealth (Gen. 12:20-13:2).||Israel leaves Egypt with great wealth (Ex. 12:33-39).|
While Abram was in Egypt, he acquired great wealth, due in large part to Pharaoh dealing well with Abram because of Sarai. When he at last learns the truth about who Sarai is, he returns her to Abram and sends them off with all they had accumulated while in Egypt: livestock, servants, silver, and gold. Likewise for Israel at the time of the Exodus. Israel comes out with great wealth including livestock, silver, gold, and a mixed multitude accompanying them out of the now ruined kingdom.
|Abram fights a battle to rescue Lot (Gen. 13:3-14:16).||Israel fights Amalek (Ex. 17:8-16).
The next event recounted in the life of Abram centers around his relationship with Lot. A dispute arises between Abram’s and Lot’s herdsmen, which results in the two men separating from one another due to the greatness of each man’s wealth. Lot travels east and eventually comes to live in Sodom. At some point Lot is kidnapped by Chedorlaomer and the kings allied with him. When Abram is informed of the kidnapping, he gathers his fighting men, and they go and fight against Chedorlaomer, soundly defeat him, and achieve their aim in rescuing Lot. It is important here that we notice that among Chedorlaomer’s victories, before he encounters Abram’s formidable forces, were the Amalekites. Turning our attention back to the events after the Exodus, immediately after a quarrel breaks out amongst the people over the issue of water, the Amalekites show up to fight with Israel. Joshua chooses men to fight, and they go to battle. Eventually, the Amalekites are defeated, just as they were all those centuries before by Chedorlaomer.
|Melchizedek brings bread and wine to Abram (Gen. 17-24).||God gives manna and water to Israel (Ex. 16-17:7).|
The next parallel between the life of Abram and later Israelite history is fairly straightforward. Abram, after his defeat of Chedorlaomer, is met by Melchizedek, who brings him bread and wine. This instance is matched by the events in Exodus where Israel is provided manna and water in the wilderness by God himself. In this case, the two events center around the sacraments.
|Abram’s vision and Hagar (Gen. 15-16).||Israel comes to Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19-23).|
The events that come next in each of the respective story lines would not be so easily linked if not for the Apostle Paul. In Gal. 4:22-31, Paul makes the connection between these two seemingly disparate pieces of history. Paul says explicitly that “Hagar is Mt. Sinai in Arabia.” Hagar is the slave wife of Abram, and she corresponds to the children born for slavery at Sinai. At Sinai great smoke and fire enveloped the mountain. In Abram’s vision just prior to the account of Hagar and Ishmael, he sees great fire and smoke from a furnace. Perhaps most definitively are the two utterances by God himself when he tells Abram, “I am Yahweh, who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans…,” and when he tells Israel in Ex. 20:2, “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you of the land of Egypt… .” Paul conceivably made this connection between Abram/Hagar and Mt. Sinai based upon this typological relationship between Genesis and the later history of Israel, which he either had observed himself or had learned from his reading of Matthew’s Gospel. Either way, his “allegorical” interpretation is not arbitrary.
|Covenant made with Abram and meal (Gen. 17-18:21).||Covenant made with Israel and meal (Ex. 24).|
Covenant meals are the primary connection between the next two components of each story. God shows up at Abram’s dwelling place where God promises Abram a son by Sarai. This covenant of circumcision is ratified and immediately (in narrated time) followed by a meal that Abraham prepares for the three men who appear at his dwelling place. In the same manner, after the covenant made at Sinai with Israel, God summons Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s sons, and seventy elders to meet him on the mountain to eat and drink.
|Abram intercedes for Sodom & Gomorrah/Two angels “spy” out land and Sodom & Gomorrah destroyed (Gen. 18:22-19:29).||Moses intercedes for Israel/Twelve spies spy out the land and two say that the land can be destroyed (Ex. 32; Num. 13-14).|
Once the meal Abraham makes for the three men concludes, they proceed to tell Abraham about the situation involving the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. One of the men, in an incarnate form of God, sends the other two to investigate the claims that have been made against Sodom and Gomorrah. While these two spies are making their way to the city, Abraham intercedes for the city on behalf of the righteous living therein. Similarly, after Israel sins against God at the golden calf, Moses intercedes on behalf of the people. After the incident of the golden calf, the next narrated events do not occur until Num. 13-14 where we read that Moses sent spies into the land to gather information and bring back some of the fruit of the land.
|Lot and his daughters (Gen. 19:30-38).||Israel encounters the Moabites (Num. 22-25:9).|
Lot and his family have to flee Sodom in order to escape the coming destruction. Lot’s wife perishes during the flight from the city due to her giving into the desire to look back. Lot and his daughters find refuge in a cave, and there his daughters take it upon themselves to lay with their father in order that they might bear children. One of the offspring produced from these incestuous unions was Moab. While wandering through the desert as a result of their disbelief, Israel encounters the Moabites, who bring into their employ Balaam. Israel’s downfall occurs when they begin to whore with the daughters of Moab and fall into sexual sin.
|Abram journeys to Ai, Bethel, and Shechem symbolically conquering the land (Gen. 12, 13).||Joshua conquers Ai, Bethel, and Shechem (Josh. 7-10).
Shortly after Israel’s encounter with Moab, Moses gives his final words to the people and is succeeded by Joshua. Joshua makes his push into the Promised Land and conquers Ai, Bethel, and Shechem. These three cities are the same ones Abram journeys to back in Gen. 12-13. The places Abram had dwelt become the places of conquest by his descendants.
|Abraham in the land of king Abimelech, the Philistine (Gen. 20, 21:22-34).||Abimelech is made king and after his death, the Philistines become prominent (Judg. 8:29-16:31).|
The action picks back up again with the story of Abraham after the story of Lot and his daughters concludes. Abraham is in the land of Abimelech, the king of Gerar, who was a Philistine. In the book of Judges, we meet another king named Abimelech, who was also a Philistine. Here we need to note that prior to Abimelech’s appearance in Judges, the Philistines do not play any significant role, but subsequent to his appearance in the narrative, the Philistines play a prominent role within the narrative.
|Isaac born (Gen. 21:1-7).
|King David is born (Ruth 4:13-22; I Sam. 16:1-13).|
At long last, the son promised to Abraham is born. Isaac’s birth, as we have already noticed, is linked with the coming of kings (Gen. 17:6). As we progress through the story of Israel, the birth of Isaac parallels the birth of David, who will later become the king of Israel.
|Hagar and Ishmael cast out of Abraham’s dwelling (Gen. 21:8-21).||Saul is rejected as king (I Sam. 15).|
Isaac’s birth creates tension between the boy and Ishmael. Because of this tension, Hagar and Ishmael are cast out of Abraham’s dwelling so that the promise might proceed through the promised son, Isaac. This situation is similar to the one between David and Saul. Saul had been rejected as king, but even though David had been anointed, he continued as king for a time. However, the time did come for Saul and his family to be cast out so that the kingship could pass through the newly anointed king. Both Isaac and David are fulfillments of the promise. In Matthew’s the opening sentence, he says that David is the son of Abraham, which makes David parallel to Isaac.
Thus, we can see that the life of Abraham up to the birth of Isaac does, indeed, foreshadow the history of his descendants. In the next part of this investigation of Matthew’s genealogy we will consider the parallels between the Genesis narrative, extending from Isaac to Jacob’s journey to live in Egypt and the events extending from King David to the exile into Babylon.
Kelly Kerr teaches at Franklin Classical School, Franklin, Tennessee.