by John Wijngaards, Mission Today, Spring 1996

Matthew 1 : 1-7

“Table of descent of Jesus Christ, son of DAVID, son of Abraham.”

Abraham Solomon Jechoniah
Isaac Rehoboam Shealtiel
Jacob Abijah Zerubbabel
Judah Asa Abiud
TAMAR Perez Jehoshaphat Eliakim
Hezron Joram Azor
Ram Azariah Zadok
Amminadab Jotham Achim
Nahshon Ahaz Eliud
Salmon Hezekiah Eleazar
RAHAB Boaz Manasseh Matthan
RUTH Obed Amon Jacob
Jesse Josiah Joseph MARY

There were thus fourteen generations from Abraham to DAVID, fourteen from DAVID until the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to Christ.”

FINDING out about one’s family tree is quite popular nowadays. People want to know where their grandparents and great grandparents came from. There are firms that help in this search. For a fee they will check out names in birth and marriage registers until they trace your ancestors from the 1800s or even earlier.

Genealogies were even more important for the contemporaries of Jesus. Families who had returned from Persia after the Exile wanted to prove that they derived from original Jewish stock. People kept lists of their ancestors that went back many generations.

It is no surprise therefore that we find in the Gospels lists of the ancestors of Jesus. Matthew 1:1-17, given on this page is one example. But this is not an ordinary list. It has been carefully composed to make a few special points. It is a list in which numbers are used to make us reflect on the meaning of Jesus’s ancestry.

Please read Matthew 1:1-17 to see what I mean, or look at the summary of it which is printed above. It will strike you that the ancestors are divided up in three tables of 14 generations each. Why the n u m b e r fourteen? The reason lies in the name “David”. Jesus’s contemporaries used to attach numerical values to consonants. Vowels were not written and did not count. David, Dawid in Hebrew, consists of three consonants: D + W + D, in which D = 4 and W = 6, responding to their places in the alphabet. David therefore equals 4 + 6 + 4 = 14. The whole family tree, broken up in groups of fourteen, expresses that Jesus is the Son of David prophesied as the Messiah in 2 Samuel 7:12!

Moreover, seven is a number of blessing, as you will know. The ancestors of Jesus filled 3 x 14 = 6 x 7 generations, which makes it as a most blessed time. It also fulfils Daniel 9:24 according to which the Messiah will come after seven times 70 years.

Then look at the four mysterious women mentioned in the family tree. Rahab hailed from Jericho (Joshua 2:1), Tamar from Canaan (Genesis 38:6), Ruth from Moab (Ruth 1:22) and Bathsheba was Hittite (2 Samuel 1.1:3). They were all non-Jewish and represent the four corners of the world! The message is clear: though Jesus was a Jew and a direct descendant from David, he is also related to the whole human family. He is truly one of us.

Lists are supposed to be boring. Does not this one hide delightful surprises? And how appropriate a text to reflect on each year in preparation for Christmas. This is why it is this Gospel text which opens and closes the eight days of spiritual preparation which precedes that great feast.