This devotional is Day 13 of the 25-Day Advent Series “The Wonders of His Love.” Follow along with us as we grow in grace through the Christmas story by subscribing or bookmarking the home page above!
Scripture: Matthew 1:1-17
It is easy, and even understandable that one might gloss over the list of names in Matthew 1:1-17.
It is a long genealogy but more importantly, it is a curated one. Subtly but intentionally, Matthew opens his story with the words: “The historical record of” (Mt 1:1 HCSB).
Hearing this phrase calls to mind a similar one, one Matthew wanted his audience to recognize. It is the one repeated throughout Genesis (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1, etc.). It means “the record of the generations/origins of…”. It was a record of creation itself, followed by the record of humanity, with an emphasis on the chosen people of God.
“The historical record of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1) connects Jesus to this long history and simultaneously marks the beginning of something else that is brand new.
Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Mt 5:17), and Matthew takes care to demonstrate through ancestry that Jesus is exactly who Israel was waiting for.
He begins with the ancient heritage of Abraham which confirms Jesus’s Jewish roots, and points to His fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to make him the father of many nations (Gen 17:3-8).
Matthew also includes mention of Jacob the father of Judah, and his brothers, tying Jesus to the twelve tribes of Israel and pointing to the fulfillment of the prophetic blessing over Judah’s rule (Gen 49:10).
Notably, “Jesse fathered King David” (1:6) signals a turn in the genealogy, emphasizing kings. Jesus’s royal bloodline establishes both His qualifications as a coming King, and as the fulfillment of God’s word to David.
“Your house and kingdom will endure before me forever, and your throne will be established forever.’” (2 Sam 7:16)
The second transition occurs at the mention of Jechoniah (v. 11) and the exile to Babylon (a loss of kingship). Israel is displaced from their homeland. They eagerly await the promise of the Messiah-King who will bring freedom and restoration from exile.
Matthew then makes a curious summarizing statement:
“So all the generations from Abraham to David were 14 generations; and from David until the exile to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the exile to Babylon until the Christ, fourteen generations.” (Mt 1:17)
It may come as a startling fact, but by modern methods, this is not historically accurate. There were more generations than Matthew reported (for example, three between Joram and Uzziah in verse 8).
This is a curated list, remember? It isn’t about genealogical precision, it is about something much greater. Summarizing in this way was an acceptable and understood practice at that time.
Matthew is looking back over history and saying everything that happened before this points to something new, something better.
In Leviticus we find the answer to Matthew’s mystery equation. There is an extensive description of an ordinance from the Lord that becomes an integral part of Israel’s culture and life. The Lord ordained times of rest and liberty known as Sabbath years and Jubilees. This is how it worked:
“You may sow your field for six years, and you may prune your vineyard and gather its produce for six years. But there will be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land in the seventh year, a Sabbath to the Lord: you are not to sow your field or prune your vineyard.” (Lev 25:3-4)
So a Sabbath year came every 7 years; it was like the ultimate weekend and it lasted all year. Then, there was Jubilee:
“You are to count seven sabbatical years, seven times seven years, so that the time period of the seven sabbatical years amounts to forty-nine… You are to consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom in the land for all its inhabitants.” (Lev 25: 8, 10)
The instructions for Jubilee go on for forty-four more verses, and they include some very surprising rules!
God speaks of debts being erased (entirely forgiven!), property returned, slaves freed, captives released, it is an incredible thought! What weeping and rejoicing must have taken place over the surge of healing and justice that came after forty-nine (7×7) long years!
Do you see the trend? The number seven is emphasized again and again in the Old Testament, and represents completion, perfection and fulfillment.
Matthew is declaring that up until Jesus there were six sets of seven generations [(2 x 7 = 14) x 3], and the coming of Jesus is the initiation of the seventh set of seven: 7×7!
Jesus’s birth brings us eternal rest, forever freedom, and erases our greatest debt— He is the Jubilee of Jubilees!
This Jubilee is not just for the Jews of Israel, it’s for us too.
In God’s kindness he has grafted in the Gentiles, including you and me (Rm 11:17)!
Matthew also intentionally includes four women in the lineage— Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife— all women who, by birth, were outside the family of God. These Gentile women were brought in to the covenant love of God, and chosen to play a vital role in the coming of Jesus Christ! What sweet and precious news!
“As it also says in Hosea,
I will call Not My People, My People,
and she who is Unloved, Beloved.
And it will be in the place where they were told,
you are not my people,
there they will be called sons of the living God.” (Rm 9:25-26)
In the simplicity of a genealogy, Matthew grabs his reader’s attention by way of a significant and treasured tradition: family records.
He calls to mind the many promises of God from Genesis to Malachi and declares that with Jesus all these things are fulfilled, a new order is being established, and the ultimate Jubilee has arrived!
O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem,
unto your own and rescue them!
From depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.
Questions for the Heart:
- What surprised you about this breakdown of the genealogy?
- How does knowing Israel’s past highlight Jesus as Savior?
- Do you see Christ as “the Jubilee” – your source of freedom and promise of eternal restoration with God?
About the Author
Stephanie Smith writes at Read Cook Devour where she shares recipes, strategies for kingdom-minded living, and practical discussions of Scripture. She is passionate about helping women think deeply about God’s Word and apply it to their lives.
Stephanie lives on the west coast of Florida where she stays busy as a wife and mother of two. She loves a good conversation about food or impactful literature, and will enthusiastically seize a clean counter to cook or bake another mess. She enjoys a glass of wine, but can usually be talked into ice cream instead.