HELPFUL HINTS: There are a number of things that took me several years to comprehend, but which turned out to increase my joy of reading:
First: “Do not read fast, just to reach the end of the document in a hurry.” I used to do that in High School so I could finish my assignment and get out of class early. I learned very little and remembered even less. Read slowly, examining each word for its meaning.
Second: If after reading a sentence the meaning is not crystal clear, read it again and again until it makes sense. This will not only enrich your knowledge, but you will maintain it longer in your recall memory bank.
Third: Since you are reading the Bible, do it for God’s glory. Make Him proud of you for taking the time and interest in what He inspired those who believe in His Son to write for our benefit. Now, enjoy!
NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verse 1-5: “This is the family history of Jesus the Messiah. He came from the family of David, who was from the family of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac. Isaac was the father of Jacob. Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah. (Their mother was Tamar.) Perez was the father of Hezron. Hezron was the father of Ram. Ram was the father of Amminadab. Amminadab was the father of Nahshon. Nahshon was the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz. (His mother was Rahab.) Boaz was the father of Obed. (His mother was Ruth.) Obed was the father of Jesse.” One of the first questions a Christian, who starts reading this Gospel, might ask, is this: “Why did the writer start with such a long, boring genealogy?” The answer to that is quite simple. He wanted any Jew who opened this scroll to see that the subject being written about was a born Jew, with a documented Jewish lineage. That way, they would be more prone to continue reading. Then they would then find out that not only was this Jesus a Jew, but that the biographer of His story was a Jew as well, and wrote in Hebrew like a Jew. I experienced first hand what difference this can make while training and serving as a chaplain resident at a major hospital. Each week, a member of our class would be assigned to speak at a chapel service which was open to hospital patients, families, and staff. On the day I was assigned to speak, I opened by saying that I wanted to read from an ancient document about a conversation between two men, a Rabbi and a fellow Jew. So I read my text in which the Jew addressed Jesus as “Rabbi.” When the service was over, a Rabbi, who was part of the team, came running up to me and asked excitedly, “Tell me what document you were reading from. I can tell that the words you read certainly came from a wise Rabbi, I would recognize them anywhere!” You can imagine the look on his face when I opened my Bible and pointed to a scripture from the Gospel of Matthew.1 If we are willing to read the Old Testament while keeping it in context of the times during which Moses and the Prophets lived; or read the works of Shakespeare with the understanding that this was during Elisabethian times in England, then why not, in order to better understand what is being said in the New Testament, give it the same privilege of speaking to us with the authenticity that comes from knowing what kind of world Jesus and the disciples faced during the time of their ministry. For the Christian, it is important to examine this genealogy on a spiritual level, because the promise for their redemption and salvation is traced back to Abraham. This makes any claims by Jesus to be the son of David and the promised Messiah, verifiable. The Jews had clear rules on how a family history was generated. They said: “…only a father’s family may be called a pure-blooded family, but a mother’s family cannot be called a pure-blooded family.”2 This no doubt was very influential in Matthew’s charting the genealogy of the family of Jesus. But just reading this genealogy it is not enough to get all the nuances. For instance, when reading it in the King James Version, the phrase “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ,” might conclude that this was His full name. I found out that others drew the same conclusion. One Jewish commentator said: “Yeshua the Messiah” is rendered “Jesus Christ” in other English versions, as if the man’s first name were “Jesus” and his last name “Christ.” Neither is the case.”3 It would be more grammatically correct if rendered: “Jesus the Christ.” This combination comes from the Hebrew: Yeshua the Messiah. The word Messiah represents the phrase: “Anointed One,” can be traced to Daniel’s prophecy where he speaks of an “anointed leader or prince.”4 The word Messiah is never used in Jewish Scripture, but it is utilized in the Dead Sea Scrolls and other rabbinic literature. Furthermore, the idea of an everlasting king who is a descendant of David, is based on God’s promise to David: “When your days come to an end and you sleep with your ancestors, I will establish one of your descendants to succeed you, one of your own flesh and blood; and I will set up his rulership. He will build a house for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever. I will be a father for him, and he will be a son for me…Thus your house and your kingdom will be made secure forever before you; your throne will be set up forever”.5 In Jewish theology the significance of being known as the “Anointed One” is that whether they are a king or priests, they are invested with authority in any ceremony to anoint with holy oil.6 Therefore, inherent in the concept of “Messiah” is the idea of a special person being given God’s priestly and kingly authority. In addition, a very beautiful suggestion is found between the lines of these verses containing our Lord’s genealogy. How could the divine Son of God who descended from heaven to earth, through the womb of a virgin woman in human form after being conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, have a human ancestry? Again, any Christian reading this lineage might find it boring and repetitious, but to the Jewish reader it was a clear standard for establishing one’s place in the Jewish family. History tells us that Jews were careful not to cite any women, foreigners, or people of ill repute in their genealogies, because that would be unacceptable in order to keep the purity of the family heritage intact. In examining this genealogy of Jesus, it’s clear to see that Matthew was tracing it through the lineage of Joseph. Some people question this since it appears that Joseph had very little to do with Mary’s pregnancy? The wonderful truth is this: both the natural ancestors and spiritual descendants of Jesus Christ are related to Him by prophecy in a promise. Jesus was as much a descendant of David as we are descendants of Emmanuel. The reason why Jesus is first called the son of David, and then the son of Abraham, is because Matthew wanted the Jewish reader to see that Jesus was tied to David as the son of royalty, and to Abraham as the son of promise. It was necessary to start with Abraham because the Jews taught: “Two hundred and ninety-two years passed from the time of the Flood until the birth of our forefather Abraham – who is the origin of our lineage, the ancestor of many nations.”7 Therefore, Jews could not be displeased with Matthew for beginning the genealogy of our Lord with Abraham. In reality, it seems an odd way to begin because Abraham was neither Jew nor Israelite. He was a Semite from Chaldea. However, he was the obedient one to whom God made this promise: “I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you and I will make your name great; and you are to be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, but I will curse anyone who curses you; and by you all the families of the earth will be blessed”.8 As one Rabbi points out, here we have three promises made by God to Abram: He will father a great nation; His name will become great; and He will be a great blessing. To this the Rabbi adds God’s message to Abram: “Being a source of blessing will make it impossible for you to become the victim of anyone’s curse. In the unlikely event that anyone should attempt to place a curse on you, I, Myself, will curse that person.”9 It is thrilling to see that these same three promised were fulfilled in Abraham’s future son, the Messiah. And just as this was contingent on Abram leaving his homeland and go to Canaan, so it was contingent on the Son of God leaving His heavenly homeland and come to earth. Also, another Rabbi points out that God promised Abram to go with him and guide him to carry out His will. So it was with our Lord, that the Father was with Him and guided Him to His destiny in order to fulfill His will. No wonder Matthew wanted to tie the genealogy of Jesus to Abraham.10 Some other Jewish Rabbis commented on this promise of God to Abraham. One of them remarked: “Some say a change of residence also can avert a harsh decree, as may be seen from what happened to our father Abraham. After the Lord said unto Abram: ‘Get yourself out of your country, away from your kinsmen and away from your father’s house11,12 there followed directly, the words, ‘And I will make you a great nation’.”13 Another Rabbi taught that God said to Abraham: “Since it is not becoming for Me to be called on to bestow blessing upon My creatures, I will turn over the bestowal of blessing to you Abraham – whomsoever you bestow blessings on I will place My seal on the blessing you bestowed.”14 How well this fits into our message to sinners, that they move out of the world of sin where they are living, and move into the new place of living in Christ where they will not only be blessed, but be a blessing to others. That means, we need not only ask God to bless others, but we can bless them in His name as well and He will give it His stamp of approval. One Jewish commentator mentioned that Noah blessed his sons; Isaac blessed Jacob; and Jacob blessed the twelve tribes; and the predecessors of Moses bestowed many blessings on their particular generations. So He asks: “From whom did Moses’ predecessors learn that each of them was to bestow blessings when there was need for it? They learned to do so from no other than the Holy One. For when Adam came into the world, the Holy One blessed him;15 when Noah and his company came out from the ark, the Holy One…appeared at once above Noah and blessed him.16 The world was maintained by this blessing until Abraham came into the world, and for his sake the Holy One added this blessing.”17 One Jewish translator renders this blessing on Abraham this way: “I will bless you…and you will be a blessing.”18 Another Jewish commentator points out that this blessing on Abraham was contingent upon his willingness to leave the Ur of the Chaldees with its idol worship; where he suffered because of his worship of the One True God, “…so the Eternal told him to leave theses places…to fulfill his original intention that his worship be dedicated to Him alone.”19 So that’s the key to keep the blessings flowing from God out into the world. Therefore, this makes it that much more important that we know whom we bless and why we give them our blessing. Oh what a wonderful message we find in these somewhat tiresome list of names in the family of Jesus the Christ.
1 Matthew 22:36 – The Complete Jewish Bible: “Rabbi, which of the laws in the Torah is the most important?”
2 Babylonian Talmud, Translated into English with Notes, Glossary and Indices under the Editorship of Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, The Soncino Press, London, 1935-1948, Seder Nashim, Masekhet Yabamoth, folio 54a
3 Jewish New Testament Commentary: A Companion Volume to the Jewish New Testament, by David H. Stern, Published by Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1992, Kindle Edition, loc. 436-437
4 Daniel 9:25
5 II Samuel 7:12-14, 16 – Complete Jewish Bible
6 Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, by John M’Clintock and James Strong, Harper Brothers, Publishers, New York, 1891, Vol 1 – “Anoint”, p. 239
7 Yohassin the Book of Lineage by Rabbi Abraham Zacuto (1565), Translated and Edited by Israel Shamir Zacuto Foundation, Zacuto Foundation, 2005, pp. 29-30
8 Genesis 12:2-3 – Complete Jewish Version
9 Torah Commentary Tzror Hamor by Rabbi Avraham Saba, Translated by Eliyahu Munk, Lambda Publishers, New York, 2008, loc. cit., p. 182
10 Ramban (Nachmanides), Commentary on the Torah, Genesis, Translated and Annotated by Rabbi Dr. Charles B. Chavel, Shilo Publishing House, Inc., New York, 1999, loc. cit., pp. 167-168
11 Ibid. 12:1
12 Robert Alter suggests a different translation: “Go forth from your land and your birthplace and your father’s house.” Genesis, Translation and Commentary, Robert Alter, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 1996, loc. cit., p.50
13 Peskita de-Rab Kahana, Piska 28:3, Translated from Hebrew and Aramaic by William C. Braude and Israel J. Kapstein, Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 2002, pp. 581-582
14 Ibid., Supplement 1, pp. 605-606
15 Genesis 5:2
16 Ibid. 9:1
17 Pesikta de-Rab Kahana, op. cit., Supplement 1:11
18 Robert Alter, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Nachmanides Commentary on the Torah: Genesis, Translated and Annotated with Index by Rabbi Dr. Charles B. Chavel, Shilo Publishing House, New York, 1999, p. 168, loc. cit.