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Matthew 1:1 . The book of the generation, or rather the genealogy, of Jesus Christ. This is the Hebraical mode of writing. Moses says, Genesis 5:1, This is the book of the generations of Adam. Jesus, a Saviour, was his proper name. Christ, the anointed, the Messiah, was his surname of dignity and office, as prophet, priest, and king.
This genealogy was no doubt taken from the public records among the jews, neither the evangelist Matthew nor Luke is responsible for omissions of names, or the difficulties under which both the genealogies may seem to labour. It is obvious from the Chronicles, and from the great pains which Ezra took to purify the jewish seed, that the genealogies of families would be preserved by the jews in the best possible state of correctness. On the return from Babylon they divided the nation into ten classes, three of which were noble; the priests, the levites, and the Israelites of pure blood. The other seven were children by mothers forbidden by the law to have any alliance with the priests. To these must be added proselytes, emancipated servants, the Nothi, or persons in unlawful wedlock, the Nethinims, the illegitimate, whose parentage was uncertain, and the foundlings. So Dr. Lightfoot reckoned. By a nation whose genealogy was connected with nobility, and with the promise of the holy seed, the public registers would be kept as correctly as possible.
But how are we to reconcile the difference between the genealogy of St. Luke, and this of St. Matthew? It is replied, that they follow different lines of descent, and harmonize in the grand points. The genealogy itself is divided into five parts. From Adam to Noah from Noah to Abraham from Abraham to David from David to Zerubbabel and from Zerubbabel to Christ. Now from David to Zerubbabel, the two evangelists follow different lines. St. Matthew ascends from Solomon, and St. Luke descends to Nathan; but they both meet in the person of Salathiel. The one takes his line from Zerubbabel by Rhesa to Mary, the other from Zerubbabel by Abia to Joseph. It will be asked again, why St. Matthew should make Joseph’s father to be Jacob? St. Luke says that his father was Eli. The learned reader is here referred to Chrysostom, to Ambrose, and the Synopsis, where he will find a long note. Spanheim has also discussed it among his doubts. The substance of the criticism is, that Jacob was the proper father of Joseph, and Eli the proper father of Mary; consequently, by the marriage, both Jacob and Eli were the fathers of Joseph. Saurin, a prince among divines, in his sermon on the Family of Christ, which I have translated in the seventh volume of his sermons, reprobates the many unwise attempts of critics to solve this difficulty, and he removes every scruple by a simple recital of the text. “Jesus began to be about thirty years of age, being as was supposed, the son of Joseph, who was the son in law of Eli, having married Mary his daughter.” We find no objection against the improved genealogy of St. Luke till the times of Celsus, of Porphyry, and of Julian.
Matthew 1:6 . David the king. His dignity is here named twice, to distinguish him from every other David. It is done to show the fidelity of God in raising up the Messiah of his line, as he had promised when Nathan the prophet was sent to console him, at the time his purposes to build the temple were not accepted. The Lord then promised him, that the Messiah should descend in his line to sit upon his throne for ever. This promise was afterwards the first source of comfort to the church, saying, “I will give you the sure mercies of David.” Isaiah 55:4. It is therefore with the justest propriety that this evangelist commenced his gospel with the genealogy of Christ, as the son of David.
Matthew 1:8 . Joram begat Ozias. Here three names are omitted, Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. Joram had many brethren, but he slew them all on coming to the throne. 2 Chronicles 21:4. The Ethiopians, for providence has a revenge against murder and adultery, slew all his children in return, as in Matthew 1:17, excepting Jehoahaz. Also the forty two grandchildren of Joram were slain by Jehu. 2 Chronicles 22:8. Ahaziah had many children, whom Athaliah slew on their father’s death; but Joash an infant escaped, and was the father of Ozias. Perhaps these three names are omitted because of their wickedness, as God has said, Psalms 37:28, the seed of the wicked shall be cut off. It must be observed that for any discrepancies, or apparent discrepancies, in these genealogies the evangelists are not responsible. They faithfully quoted the public records, which were admitted to be correct, and never disputed, so long as the jews remained a nation; and which consequently, no modern critic can have a right to dispute.
Matthew 1:16 . Jacob begat Joseph. St. Luke says that Joseph was the son of Heli. This is accounted for by the law, which says, “If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall take her, and the firstborn shall succeed in the name of his brother that is dead.” Deuteronomy 25:5-6. By consequence, Jacob and Heli were brothers. See on Matthew 1:1.
Matthew 1:18 . Mary was espoused to Joseph. The manner of betrothing a virgin among the jews was, to make her a promise of marriage before credible witnesses; then, after a convenient time, he took her home to his house with all the honours of a public marriage.
Matthew 1:19 . Joseph being a just man. A man of probity, benignity, and clemency, of a meek and quiet spirit.
Matthew 1:21 . Thou shalt call his name Jesus, from the Hebrew Joshua, a Saviour, as explained in the next words, for he shall save his people from their sins. Those therefore who would derive the name from Jehovah, err. Jesus was a common name in Israel; but the great and high name of JEHOVAH belongs exclusively to the Eternal. Exodus 3:6. For Joshua, a Saviour, the LXX have Ιησους , thence Jesus, who saves us from sin by his atoning sacrifice, from death by the power of his resurrection, and from the domination of Satan by the efficacy of his grace, and the power of his gospel.
Matthew 1:23 . Behold, a virgin shall be with child, as explained in Isaiah 7:14.
The object of the Hebrew genealogies was to preserve a holy seed; and the tracing of the genealogy here is to prove, that Jesus Christ was indeed the son of David, and of the seed of Abraham. May we be solicitous to preserve ourselves from all carnal impurities, and to be a noble people wholly devoted to the Lord.
From the genealogy of Jesus Christ we see farther, that providence kept its eye on the promise made to Abraham, and successively renewed to Judah, and to David, through all the calamitous vicissitudes of David’s house, and of the Hebrew nation. Carnage, massacres, wars, captivity, and long oppressions of foreign yokes, could not disannul the sure promises of the almighty and everlasting God. Let us learn from the divine faithfulness, to keep our eye constantly on the great and precious promises of the covenant, and never to abandon them in the hour of temptation, or in the dark and cloudy day. God shall realize his word in greater sweetness than mortals can conceive. From this genealogy we learn farther, the vicissitudes of human life. We find David, a lovely youth, keeping his father’s sheep; we find his children princes in the land, and filling the throne for twenty one generations. We find them, after the return from Babylon, great in the Sanhedrim, and highly honoured under the name of the Asmonæan family.
Lastly, we find Joseph honestly working for his bread; for the Messiah was not to be born in a palace, but to spring up as a root out of a dry ground. Isaiah 53:2. Providence had provided Joseph with a trade, that he might earn his bread in a strange land when forced to flee into Egypt. How vain then is it for men to tempt providence in the acquisition of wealth. They may distinguish their name, raise their mansions, and roll in their carriages; but as the succeeding tide levels the sand-heaps which children have raised in play, so providence shall reduce the proud and send them back to the common mass.
Christ preferred poverty to riches, and the honour of the Father more than the honour of the world. He came not when the house of David was upon the throne, but when the sceptre was departed, and when the industry of private life was the guardian of family virtue. How different was his choice from that of the world.
We see the care of providence to honour marriage, and to guard the reputation of the Holy One of God from the foulest of slanders. Mary was betrothed to Joseph; and Joseph being righteous, would neither marry, nor openly put to shame a faithless woman, as he for a moment supposed. So the Son of God will ever suitably bless and honour those young people who with pure and simple hearts marry in the Lord. Those only are marriages pleasing to God, and honourable to the church, which are contracted in prudence, in purity, and with a single eye to the glory of God.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 1". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany