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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 1

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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Anno Mundi, or year of the World, 4000.

In this chapter we have,

(1,) The genealogy of Christ, in the line of Joseph, showing him to be descended from David and Abraham, in forty-two generations, divided into three fourteens, Matthew 1:1-17 .

(2,) An account of the circumstances of his birth, as far as was necessary to show that he was born of a virgin, according to the prediction of the Prophet Isaiah, (chap. Matthew 7:14 ,) 18-25.

Verse 1

Matthew 1:1. The book That is, This is the book, the verb being elegantly omitted, according to the custom of the Hebrews, and also of the Greeks and Romans; of the generation Or, as the Syriac expresses it, The writing, narrative, or account of the generation, or birth of Jesus, &c. The word γενεσις , indeed, here rendered generation, sometimes signifies the history of a person’s life, yet it is much more frequently used for genealogy, or birth; and it seems to be intended to be taken in this restrained sense here. Dr. Macknight renders the phrase, The table of the genealogy of Jesus: observing that the word Βιβλος , book, is used in this limited sense Mark 10:4, where a bill of divorce is so called: and Jeremiah 32:12, where a deed of conveyance is termed ספר , a book. Indeed, the Jews, and also the Greeks, called all writings books, whether short or long. Of Jesus Christ Jesus is his proper name, given him by God, his true Father, Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31; Luke 2:21. Christ is, as it were, a surname, descriptive of his unction to the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices. To the name Christ, that of Jesus is often superadded in the New Testament, not only that Christ might be pointed out for the Saviour, as the word Jesus signifies, but that Jesus might be shown to be the true Messiah, or Christ, in opposition to the unbelief of the Jews. The son of David, the son of Abraham i.e., a descendant of David and Abraham; the word son, in the language of the Hebrews, being put for any descendant, however remote. Here the evangelist proposes what he is going to prove; viz, that Jesus Christ, whose history he is about to give, was the son of David and Abraham, which it was necessary he should show because the grand prophetical character of the Messiah was, that he was to spring from Abraham and David. The sense of the latter clause, indeed, the son of Abraham, is ambiguous: it may mean either that David was the son of Abraham, or, which seems the more probable sense, that Christ, who was the son of David, was also the son of Abraham. This sense accords better both with the following words, and with the design of the evangelist, which was to show, that Christ was descended from both these renowned patriarchs, and that in him was fulfilled the promises made to both. David is first named, 1. That the catalogue, to begin from Abraham, might proceed regularly, without the repetition of his name; 2. Because the memory of David was more fresh upon the minds of the Jews, and his name in greater repute than that of Abraham, especially when the discourse related to the Messiah, John 7:42; more plain and explicit promises of him being made to David, and the prophets having spoken of Christ under the name of David. Add to this, that David was both a prophet and a king, and therefore a more manifest type of the Messiah, who sustains both of these offices, as well as that of a priest. Hence those who had entertained higher conceptions of Christ than others, termed him the son of David, as appears from many passages in the gospels.

Verse 2

Matthew 1:2. Abraham begat Isaac “The evangelist here opens his history with our Lord’s genealogy by Joseph, his supposed father. Luke gives another genealogy of him, thought by many to be Joseph’s also, but without foundation; for the two genealogies are entirely different, from David and downward. It is true, some have attempted to reconcile them by alleging, that they exhibit Joseph’s pedigree, the one by his natural, the other by his legal father. But, had that been the case, the natural and legal fathers would have been brothers, which it is plain they were not, Jacob, Joseph’s father in Matthew, being the son of Matthan, the son of Eleazar; whereas Eli, the father supposed to be assigned him by Luke, was the son of Matthat, a different person from Matthan, because the son of Levi.” Besides, on this supposition, we should be altogether uncertain whether our Lord’s mother, from whom alone he sprang, was a daughter of David, and consequently could not prove that he had any other relation to David than that his mother was married to one of the descendants of that prince. Let the reader judge whether this would come up to the import of the passages of Scripture, which tell us he was made of the seed of David. See Romans 1:3; Acts 2:30. But this important difficulty is easily removed by supposing that Matthew gives Joseph’s pedigree, and Luke, Mary’s. See Macknight. But, taking it for granted that Luke gives us our Lord’s real pedigree, and Matthew that of Joseph, his supposed father, it may reasonably be inquired why Matthew has done so? To this it may be answered, that he intended to remove the scruples of those who knew that the Messiah was to be the heir of David’s crown; a reason which appears the stronger, if we suppose, with the learned writer last quoted, that Matthew wrote posterior to Luke, who has given the real pedigree. For, “though Joseph was not Christ’s real father, it was directly for the evangelist’s purpose to derive his pedigree from David, and show that he was the eldest surviving branch of the posterity of that prince, because, this point established, it was well enough understood that Joseph, by marrying our Lord’s mother, after he knew that she was with child of him, adopted him for his son, and raised him both to the dignity and privileges of David’s heir. Accordingly, the genealogy is concluded in terms which imply this: Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus. Joseph is not here called the father of Jesus, but the husband of his mother, Mary; and the privileges following this adoption will appear to be more essentially connected with it, if, as is probable, Joseph never had any child. For thus the regal line of David’s descendants by Solomon, failing in Joseph, his rights were properly transferred to Joseph’s adopted son, who, indeed, was of the same family, though by another branch. Matthew, therefore, has deduced our Lord’s political and royal pedigree, with a view to prove his title to the kingdom of Israel, by virtue of the rights which he acquired through his adoption; whereas Luke explains his natural descent, in the several successions of those from whom he derived his human nature. That the genealogy, not only of our Lord’s mother, but of his reputed father, should be given by the sacred historians, was wisely ordered; because the two taken together prove him to be descended of David and Abraham in every respect, and consequently that one of the most remarkable characters of the Messiah was fulfilled in him; the principal promises concerning the great personage, in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed, having been made to those patriarchs, in quality of his progenitors; first to Abraham, Genesis 22:18, then to David, Psalms 132:11-12.” And accordingly Matthew begins this genealogy with a plain allusion to these promises: for he evidently intended it, not so much as an introduction to his history of Christ, as to show that, according to the flesh, he was the son of David and the son of Abraham, as it was often foretold the Messiah should be. If it be inquired whence Matthew had this genealogy, there being nothing of it to be found in Scripture, Dr. Whitby answers, “From the authentic genealogical tables kept by the Jews, of the line of David: for, it appears from the taxation, mentioned Luke 2:0., that they had genealogies of all their families and tribes, since all went to be taxed, every one to his own city, Matthew 1:3, and Joseph went to Bethlehem, the city of David, because he was of the house and lineage of David. And this is certain, touching the tribe of Levi, because their whole temple service, the effect of their sacrifices and expiations, depended on it. And, therefore, Josephus, being a priest, not only confidently depends on these genealogical tables for the proof of his descent, ανωθεν εξ ιερεων , in a long series from priests; but adds, that all their priests were obliged to prove, εκ των αρχαιων την διαδοχην , their succession from an ancient line; and if they could not do it, they were to be excluded from officiating as priests, and that, in whatsoever part of the world they were, they used this diligence. And again, Christ being promised as one who was to proceed out of the loins of David, and therefore called the son of David, it was absolutely necessary that the genealogy of the house and lineage of David should be preserved, that they might know that their Messiah was of the seed of David, according to the promise. Hence the apostle says to Timothy, Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead, 2 Timothy 2:8. And Eusebius, ( Eccl. Hist., lib. 1. cap. 6,) from Africanus, says, according to the version of Ruffinus, ‘That all the successions of the Hebrews were kept in the secret archives of the temple, and thence they were described, εκ της Βιβλου των εμερων , from their ephemerides, by the kinsmen of our Saviour.’ It therefore, doubtless, was from these authentic records that Matthew had his genealogy, for otherwise he would have exposed himself to the cavils of the Jews. And hence the author of the epistle to the Hebrews represents it as a thing evident to the Jews, that our Lord sprang out of Judah, Hebrews 7:14.”

As to some difficulties which occur upon comparing this genealogy with that of Luke, the reader is referred to the notes on them both. We must observe, however, that if we could not satisfactorily remove some, or even any of those difficulties, it would not affect the credit of the evangelists, for it would be a sufficient vindication of them to say, that they gave Christ’s pedigree as they found it in the authentic tables, preserved among the Jews in the temple registers. Upon this subject Bishop Burnet observes, that had not this genealogy been taken with exactness out of those registers, the bare showing of them would have served to have confuted the whole. For, if those registers were clear and uncontroverted in any one thing, they were so with respect to the genealogies; since these proved both that the Jews were Abraham’s seed, and likewise ascertained their title to the lands, which, from the days of Joshua, were to pass down either to immediate descendants, or, as they failed, to collateral degrees. Now, this shows plainly, that there was a double office kept of their pedigrees; one natural, which might probably be taken when the rolls of circumcision were made up; and the other, relating to the division of the land; in which, when the collateral line came instead of the natural, then the last was dropped, as extinct, and the other remained. It being thus plain, from their constitution, that they had these two orders of tables, we are not at all concerned in the diversity of the two evangelists on this head; since they both might have copied them out from those two offices at the temple; and if they had not done it faithfully, the Jews could easily have demonstrated their error in endeavouring to prove that Jesus was entitled to that well-known character of the Messiah, that he was to be the son of David, by a false pedigree. Now since no exceptions were made at the time when the sight of the rolls must have ended the inquiry, it is plain they were faithfully copied out; nor are we now bound to answer such difficulties as seem to arise out of them, since they were not questioned at the time in which only an appeal could be made to the public registers themselves. See Burnet’s Four Discourses, p. 16.

Abraham begat Isaac, &c. Matthew, being a Jew, brings Christ’s genealogy down from Abraham, for the comfort of the Jews, who deduced all their genealogies from him, because God had taken him and his seed into a peculiar covenant; Luke, a Gentile, and a companion of the apostle of the Gentiles, carries Christ’s pedigree upward unto Adam, for the comfort of the Gentiles, who were not lineally of the seed of Abraham. Jacob begat Judas and his brethren The words, his brethren, are added, probably, because they were patriarchs and heads of the people from whom the Messiah was to proceed, and to show that he was related to all the tribes as well as to that of Judah, and to comfort those of the dispersion, (many of whom were not returned out of captivity, as Judah was,) in their equal interest in the blessings of the seed of Abraham. Judah is particularly named in preference to any of them, both because it was from him our Lord came, and because to him the extraordinary promise was made, that his brethren should praise and bow down to him, and that his descendants should continue a distinct tribe, with some form of government among them, till Shiloh, who was to spring from his loins, should come.

Verse 3

Matthew 1:3. And Judas begat Phares and Zara Some have observed that these sons of Judah are mentioned together because they were twins born at the same time: but if this had been a reason for assigning Zara the honour of being named in this genealogy, Esau, the twin brother of Jacob, ought to have obtained it likewise. He seems rather to be mentioned to prevent any mistake. For if he had not, considering the infamy of Pharez’s birth, we might have been apt to imagine that not the Pharez whom Judah begat in incest, but another son of Judah, called Pharez, was our Lord’s progenitor, it being no uncommon thing among the Jews to have several children of the same name. Wherefore, to put the matter beyond doubt, Thamar, as well as Zara, is mentioned in the genealogy, if her name be not rather added because she was remarkable in the sacred history. This reason certainly must be assigned why three other women are named in this catalogue, viz., Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. They were all remarkable characters, and their story is particularly related in the Old Testament. This seems much more probable than the opinion of those who think they are mentioned, either because they were great sinners, to teach us that Christ came to save such, or with a view to obviate the cavils of the Jews against the mean condition of the mother of our Lord; their renowned ancestors, such as even David and Solomon, being descended of women whose quality rendered them much meaner than she was. It was, however, one degree of our Saviour’s humiliation, that he would be born of such sinners, and it certainly may encourage the vilest to come unto him, and expect salvation from him. Nor shall they be disappointed, if, in true repentance and lively faith, they turn from their sins to God.

Verse 4

Matthew 1:4. And Aram begat Aminadab Of these, to Jesse, little is said in Scripture, for either they lived in slavery in Egypt, or in trouble in the wilderness, or in obscurity in Canaan before the kingdom was settled. Naasson, as we learn Numbers 1:7, was head of the house of Judah, not, as some through mistake have affirmed, when the Israelites entered Canaan, but when they were numbered and marshalled in the wilderness of Sinai, in the second year after they were come out of Egypt. Accordingly, in the catalogue given 1 Chronicles 2:10, he is termed prince of the children of Judah, where Salmon his son is called Salma.

Verse 5

Matthew 1:5 . Salmon begat Booz of Rachab Viz., after their settlement in Canaan. It is not exact said that this woman was Rahab of Jericho, commonly called the harlot, but it is highly probable she was; for that Rahab was contemporary with Salmon, and a remarkable person, and there was no other of that name, especially of that age, of whom the compiler of the table could possibly suppose his reader to have any knowledge. It is true she was of one of those idolatrous nations with which the Israelites were forbidden to marry. But as the reason of that prohibition was only lest they should be tempted to idolatry, it could have no force in the case of Rahab, who, before her marriage with Salmon, undoubtedly acknowledged the God of Israel for the true God, and became a proselyte of righteousness. And Booz begat Obed of Ruth Although the son of a Moabite by an Israelitish woman was forbidden to enter into the congregation of the Lord; that is, at least was rendered incapable of being a prince in Israel, and perhaps even of being naturalized by circumcision; yet it evidently appears from this celebrated instance, Ruth being a Moabitess, that this precept was not understood as excluding the descendants of an Israelite by a Moabitish woman from any hereditary honours and privileges, otherwise the kinsman of Booz would not have wanted a much better reason than any he assigned, (Ruth 4:6,) for refusing to marry Ruth, when she became a widow. And Obed begat Jesse Inasmuch as there were at least 300 years between Salmon and David, and only three persons are here named as intervening to fill up that space of time, viz., Booz, Obed, and Jesse, they must each of them have been about 100 years old at the birth of his son, here named, which is not to be wondered at, considering the age in which they lived. Moses, a little before their time, had lived 120 years, when his natural strength was not abated. And Caleb, at 85, was strong and fit for war. Add to this, that they were persons of eminent piety, and therefore, probably, God vouchsafed to each of them a longer life than ordinary, and continued their strength to a late period thereof.

Verse 6

Matthew 1:6. And Jesse begat David the king David has the title of king given him in this genealogy, because he was the first king of his family, and because he had the kingdom entailed upon his children; in which respect he had greatly the advantage of Saul, from whose family the kingdom was taken away almost as soon as it was conferred. It is true, ten of the twelve tribes revolted from David’s grandson. Nevertheless, the promise of God remained sure, for whereas an end was soon put to the kingdom of the ten tribes, the empire of the two which adhered to David’s family was of much longer duration, not to mention that the tribe of Judah, out of which the Messiah was to spring, was one of those two that continued in their allegiance to his house. This kingdom also was a type of the kingdom of Christ, which indeed might be said to be begun by him. For to him the promise of the Messiah was made, and of his seed the Messiah was to be raised up, to possess his throne, and establish it for ever. Ezekiel 37:25. And David begat Solomon of her that had been the wife, &c. In the original it is, of her of Urias; εκ της του Ουριου . Though David, in this unhappy affair, acted in a way most unworthy of his character, yet God, on his deep repentance, not only graciously forgave him, but entailed the promise on his seed by this very woman. An amazing instance this of his boundless mercy!

Verse 7

Matthew 1:7. And Solomon begat Roboam From whose government ten of the tribes revolting, chose Jeroboam for their king, who, to prevent them from returning to their subjection to the house of David, introduced the worship of the golden calves, and led the whole nation into the dreadful crime of gross idolatry; a crime from which they were never totally reclaimed, and which was the chief source of their misery and ruin, bringing down the divine vengeance upon them in repeated punishments, till they were so reduced as to become an easy prey to the Assyrian monarchy.

Verse 8

Matthew 1:8. And Joram begat Ozias By Ozias, Uzziah is intended, and it is certain from the history of the Kings and Chronicles that he was the son of Amaziah, 2 Chronicles 26:1; Amaziah, of Joash, ch. Matthew 24:27; Joash, of Ahaziah, ch. Matthew 22:11; and Ahaziah, of Jehoram. But, according to the language of the Hebrews, the children of children are reputed the sons or daughters, not only of their immediate parents, but of their ancestors, and these ancestors are said to beget those who are removed some generations from them. Thus Isaiah says to Hezekiah, Of thy sons which thou shalt beget shall they take away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon: which prediction was not fulfilled until the days of Jeconiah, long after the days of Hezekiah. But it will be asked, why these three in particular are left out of the catalogue? The best answer to this question seems to be, that the evangelist followed the Jewish tables in writing this list, and that he found them left out in these. But if he himself, though he found them in the tables, omitted their names, it must, as Dr. Doddridge observes, have been “by some peculiar divine direction, that the sin of Jehoram is thus animadverted upon, even to the fourth generation, his intermediate descendants being thus blotted out of the records of Christ’s family, and overlooked as if they had never been.”

Verse 11

Matthew 1:11. Josias begat Jechonias According to the Bodleian and other MSS., (of which notice is taken in the margin of our Bibles,) we must read Josiah begat Jehoiakim, and Jehoiakim begat Jechoniah. And this indeed seems absolutely necessary to keep up the number of fourteen generations; unless we suppose, with Dr. Whitby, that the Jechoniah here is a different person from that Jechoniah mentioned in the next verse, which seems a very unreasonable supposition, since it is certain that throughout this whole table each person is mentioned twice, first as the son of the preceding, and then as the father of the following. And his brethren Jehoahaz and Zedekiah, who were both kings of Judah, the former the predecessor to Jehoiakim, and the latter the successor of his son Jehoiachin. Of the history of these persons see the notes on 2 Kings 23:30-31; and 2 Kings 24:1-20; and 2 Kings 25:1-7. About the time they were carried away to Babylon There were two transportations to Babylon of the tribes which composed the kingdom of Judah. The first happened in the eighth year of the reign of Jehoiachin the son of Jehoiakim. For Jehoiachin delivered up the city to Nebuchadnezzar, and, by treaty, agreed to go with the Chaldeans to Babylon, at which time the princes and the mighty men, even 10,000 captives, with all the craftsmen and smiths, were carried away to Babylon. 2 Kings 24:12-16. The second transportation happened in the 11th year of the reign of Zedekiah, when the city was taken by storm, and all the people made prisoners of war and carried off. The seventy years of the captivity were dated from the first transportation, here properly called μετοικεσια , a removal or migration: and it is of this that the evangelist speaks in this genealogy: the other is more properly termed αιχμαλωσια , a being taken and carried away captive.

Verse 12

Matthew 1:12. And after they were brought to Babylon After the Babylonish captivity commenced, Jechonias begat Salathiel It is here objected, that God said concerning this Jeconiah, called also Coniah, Jeremiah 22:30, Write ye this man childless: How then did he beget Salathiel? This objection is easily answered, for that verse, (where see the note,) expounds itself: it being added, a man that shall not prosper in his days; for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah. The expression, therefore, manifestly means, without a child that shall actually succeed in the kingdom: for the text itself supposes that he should have seed, but none that should prosper, sitting on the throne of David and ruling in Judah: which is according to the sacred history, (2 Chronicles 36:0.,) for the king of Babylon set up Zedekiah, his uncle, in his stead, who was the last king of Judah, in the 11th year of whose reign the Jews were carried away captive. Salathiel begat Zorobabel Here is another difficulty: for, 1 Chronicles 3:19, we read, The sons of Pedaiah were Zerubbabel and Shimei: now if Zerubbabel was the son of Pedaiah, how could he be the son of Salathiel? In answer to this, let it be observed, 1st, that Salathiel might die without issue, and Pedaiah, his brother, might marry his widow, (according to the law of God, Deuteronomy 25:5,) to raise up seed to his brother. Zerubbabel, being the fruit of this marriage, would of course be called the son of Salathiel and the son of Pedaiah. Or, 2dly, there might be two persons of the name of Zerubbabel; one the son of Salathiel, and the other the son of his brother Pedaiah. This seems very likely, considering that the word Zerubbabel signifies a stranger in Babylon, a name which very probably would be given to several children born in the captivity. Be this as it may, the Zerubbabel here mentioned was that illustrious person who was the chief instrument of restoring and settling the Jewish commonwealth, on their return from captivity.

Verse 16

Matthew 1:16. Jacob begat Joseph It is evident that Joseph was properly the son of Jacob, and only the son-in-law of Eli: Luke 3:23. See note on Matthew 1:2. Though Joseph was not the true father of Christ, yet Christ’s pedigree was reckoned by him, because he had no other father as man, and Joseph was his supposed father, being the husband of Mary, his mother; and the mother being transplanted into her husband’s family, the child must go for one of that family. And therefore Joseph’s family was to be set down, lest, if it had not been known, the Jews should have taken occasion to reject Christ on that account, for it was generally received among them that Jesus was the son of the carpenter, Matthew 13:55; the son of Joseph, John 6:42. If, therefore, Joseph had not been acknowledged to have been of the tribe of Judah, and of the family of David, they would undoubtedly have considered this as a strong objection to Christ’s pretences of being the Messiah. Hence the Divine Wisdom was pleased to direct this apostle to remove that stumbling-block. Let it be observed, further, that “it was a received rule among the Jews, that the family of the mother is not called a family; all their pedigrees being reckoned and deduced from the father. This is the reason why Matthew has here set down the genealogy of Joseph; and thus Jesus Christ is the son of David, because Joseph’s marriage with Mary gave to Jesus a right to all the privileges which a child, that is born of strange parents, was entitled to by adoption, and which were granted by law to the posterity of a man who had married his brother’s widow. It is, moreover, very probable, that Mary was an only daughter, and an heiress, and consequently obliged to marry in her own family. See Numbers 36:7-9. So that by giving the genealogy of Joseph, Matthew gives at the same time that of Mary. He is called the husband of Mary; for the names of husband and wife were given by the Jews to persons who were only betrothed. See Genesis 29:21; Deuteronomy 22:24. Some copies, however, read, Joseph, to whom the virgin Mary was betrothed.” Of whom was born Jesus This is elegantly said, for he was the seed of the woman, not of the man. Who is called Christ i. e., Who is known by that name, and is really the Christ, or, the anointed one. Matthew adds this that he may distinguish the Saviour from others, who, either then or before, might have been called Jesus. Among the Hebrews, those who were raised, by the singular providence of God, to eminent dignities, were termed משׂיהים , Messiahs, or, anointed persons, even though, strictly speaking, they had not been anointed with oil, as Abraham and Isaac, Psalms 105:15; Cyrus, Isaiah 45:1; and the king of Tyre, Ezekiel 28:14. Much more those who, by an unction, were consecrated to any particular office, as their prophets, high priests, and kings, had that appellation given them. In particular their kings, as long as royalty remained in the family of David, were called Christs, or, anointed ones. But after the destruction of the kingdom, this name, as appears from Daniel 9:25-26, began to be referred to one Redeemer, whom the Jews, encouraged by the predictions of the prophets, and especially of the last named, Daniel, looked for from God, to be their chief ruler and teacher, John 4:25; and by whom a perfect reparation of the breach was expected to be made. That super-eminent and singular Christ, Jesus professed himself to be, and both he and his disciples assigned, as a reason of the appellation, that he was furnished with power manifestly extraordinary and unparalleled, as well for the declaring and confirming his heavenly doctrine, as for the executing of all his other offices. See Luke 4:18; John 3:34; Acts 4:27; and Acts 10:36; Acts 10:38.

As all the offices mentioned above, the prophetic, the priestly, the kingly, were to meet in him, and to be sustained by him in an infinitely higher degree than they were by any persons under the Jewish dispensation, who were no more than types of him, so he is represented as anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows, Hebrews 1:9. He is immeasurably filled with the Holy Ghost, even as to his human nature, and most completely qualified for sustaining every office and character in which we need him. Are we ignorant of God and of divine things? He is a teacher come from God, a prophet like, nay, superior to Moses, and him we are to hear on pain of eternal destruction. He is the truth, and wisdom, and word of God: yea, the light of the world, and they that believe in him shall not abide in darkness, but shall have the light of life. Have we sinned and come short of the glory of God? Are we guilty before God, and subject to his just judgment? He is the high priest of our profession, a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek, a priest possessed of an unchangeable priesthood, and who, by one offering of himself, once made, hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified; having put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, and ever living to make intercession for us. Are we the servants of sin, and therefore the subjects of Satan, captivated by his power, and held under his dominion? Does this present world tyrannise over us, and the law in our members war against the law of our mind and lead us captive to the law of sin that is in our members? And are we subject also to the law of death, and in bondage to the fear of it? He is exalted a prince and a saviour; is a king set upon the holy hill of Zion; and as to this office, also, the Spirit of the Lord God is upon him, because the Lord hath anointed him to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound: to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord; to deliver us from this present evil world; to make us free from the law of sin and death; to destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and to deliver them, who, through fear of death, were all their life long subject to bondage.

Verse 17

Matthew 1:17. So all the generations, &c. “Matthew, designing to show that Jesus was the Messiah, began his genealogy at Abraham, to whom the promise was originally made, that in his seed all the families of the earth should be blessed. But the succession of Christ’s ancestors, from Abraham downward, naturally resolved itself into three classes; viz., first of private persons from Abraham to David; next of kings from David to Jehoiakim; and then of private persons from the Babylonish captivity, when an end was put to the royal dignity of our Lord’s progenitors.” For Jehoiachin, the son of Jehoiakim, was reduced to the condition of a private person, being made a captive; “and as for Salathiel and Zerubbabel, notwithstanding they had the supreme command, after their return from the captivity, they were not vested either with the titles or powers of princes, being only lieutenants of the kings of Persia. Wherefore the evangelist, thus invited by his subject, fitly distributes Christ’s ancestors into three classes, the first and last of which consisting exactly of fourteen successions, he mentions only fourteen in the middle class, though in reality it contained three more, viz. Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. But omissions of this kind are not uncommon in the Jewish genealogies. For example, Ezra 7:3, Azariah is called the son of Meraioth, although it is evident, from 1 Chronicles 6:7-9, that there were six descendants between them.” Macknight. We may observe also, that God’s chosen people, in each of these several intervals, were under a different kind of government, and the end of each interval produced a great alteration in their state. In the first, they were under patriarchs, prophets, and judges; in the second, under kings; and in the third, under the Asmonæan priests and generals. The first fourteen generations brought their state to dignity and glory in the kingdom of David; the second, to disgrace and misery in the captivity of Babylon; and the third, to honour and glory again in the kingdom of Christ. The first begins with Abraham, who received the promise, and ends in David, to whom it was renewed and revealed more fully; the second begins with the building of the temple, and ends with its destruction; the third begins with their temporal captivity in Babylon, and ends with their spiritual deliverance by Christ. “When we survey such a series of generations,” says Dr. Doddridge, “it is obvious to reflect, how, like the leaves of a tree, one passeth away, and another cometh; yet the earth still abideth. And with it, the goodness of the Lord, which runs on from generation to generation, the common hope of parents and children. Of those who formerly lived upon earth, and perhaps made the most conspicuous figure among the children of men, how many are there whose names are perished with them! and how many of whom only the names are remaining! Thus are we likewise passing away! And thus shall we shortly be forgotten! Happy, if, while we are forgotten by men, we are remembered by God, and our names are found written in the book of life! There will they make a much brighter appearance than in the records of fame, or than they would do even in such a catalogue as this of those who were related to Christ according to the flesh; whose memory is here preserved, when that of many, who were once the wonder and terror of the mighty in the land of the living, is lost in perpetual oblivion.”

Verse 18

Matthew 1:18 . Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise, ουτως ην , was thus It was not in the ordinary course of nature, or manner in which children are conceived and born, but in the wonderful manner following. Not only the birth, but the conception of Christ, and what preceded it, are here included in the word γεννησις , which some critics have unwarily confounded with the word γενεσις , used in the first verse of this chapter. When his mother was espoused to Joseph According to the custom of the Jews, who did not usually marry without previous espousals. This was nothing but a solemn promise of marriage, made by the parties to each other, before witnesses, to be accomplished at such a distance of time as they agreed upon, which, it seems, was sometimes longer and sometimes shorter, according as the age of the persons, or other circumstances, might demand or advise. It was a custom, if not ordained, at least approved of by God, as appears from Deuteronomy 20:7, and had many advantages attending it. The parties had hereby time to think seriously of the great change they were soon to make in their lives, and to seek unto God for his blessing upon them. And they might converse together more freely about their household affairs, and the management of their family, than they could well have done consistently with modesty, without such a previous betrothing. God would have Mary to be espoused, for the safety and honour of Christ in his infancy, and the credit, and comfort of his mother. Before they came together Viz., to cohabit as man and wife; she was found with child Very unexpectedly, doubtless; perhaps by Joseph, who, with the care of a husband, observed his intended wife, and from whose sight she did not conceal herself, being conscious she had not dishonoured him. Of, or rather, by the Holy Ghost Mary knew it was by the Holy Ghost she had conceived with child; both because she was sure she had not known man, as she told the angel, and because the angel had assured her, the Holy Ghost should come upon her, and the power of the Highest overshadow her. This, no doubt, she would reveal to some of her friends, who, considering her great piety, and the testimony borne by her cousin Elizabeth, probably, fully believed her. But certainly she had not mentioned it to Joseph, as despairing, perhaps, of his giving credit to what was so improbable, or judging it better to commit the matter to God, by whom, as she had learned, it had already been revealed to her cousin Elizabeth, and by whom she might hope it would be revealed to Joseph also. Indeed, it is not easy to conceive how he should know or believe it, otherwise than in consequence of some supernatural revelation made to himself. This, therefore, in tenderness to her reputation, and out of regard to their mutual peace when they should come together, as well as to prepare the way for Joseph’s acknowledging Jesus for the true Messiah and his Saviour, God was graciously pleased to grant him. We may observe here, it became Christ to be born thus by the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit forming his human nature of the body of a virgin, as he formed Adam out of the dust of the earth, 1, that he might have no other father but God: 2, that the womb of the virgin being sanctified by the Spirit of holiness, there might be no traduction of original sin, which would have been contrary both to the majesty of his person, and the execution of his office: 3, that his nativity might be perfectly free from every defilement of lust and impurity. And as it was necessary that he should be born of a virgin that he might be born without sin, and that the ancient promise might be fulfilled, (see Isaiah 7:14,) so it was wisely ordered that he should be born of a betrothed virgin. For hereby he was preserved from coming under the reproach of illegitimacy, and his mother from being subjected to the punishment of the judicial law. And at the same time, by this means she was not destitute of one to take care of her during her confinement, nor Jesus of a guard during his infancy. “Never was a daughter of Eve so dignified as the virgin Mary, yet she was in danger of falling under the imputation of one of the worst of crimes. We find not, however, that she tormented herself about it; but, conscious of her own innocency, she kept her mind calm and easy, and committed her cause to him who judgeth righteously; and, like her, those who are careful to keep a good conscience, may cheerfully trust God with the keeping of their good name.”

Verse 19

Matthew 1:19. Joseph her husband, being a just [or righteous ] man That is, as many understand it, a strict observer of the law, and of the customs of his ancestors, and therefore not judging it right to retain her under these circumstances. But the following words, and not willing to make her a public example, seem manifestly to lead to another and even an opposite sense of the word here rendered just, or righteous. Hence some interpret the clause thus: Joseph, being a good-natured, merciful, and tender- hearted man, was unwilling to go to the utmost rigour of the law, but chose rather to treat her with as much lenity as the case allowed. But, Dr. Doddridge very well observes, it is without any good reason that δικαιος should be here rendered merciful or good-natured, because, “if we consider the information which Joseph might have received from persons of such an extraordinary character as Zachariah and Elizabeth, who would certainly think themselves obliged to interpose on such an occasion, and whose story so remarkably carried its own evidence along with it; besides the intimation the prophecy of Isaiah gave, and the satisfaction he undoubtedly had in the virtuous character of Mary herself; we must conclude that he would have acted a very severe and unrighteous part, had he proceeded to extremities without serious deliberation; and that putting her away privately would, in these circumstances, have been the hardest measure which justice would have suffered him to take. It seems the expression, παραδειγματισαι , here rendered to make her a public example, “may perhaps refer to that exemplary punishment which the law inflicted on those who had violated the faith of their espousals before the marriage was completed. See Deuteronomy 22:23-24, where it is expressly ordered that a betrothed virgin, if she lay with another man, should be stoned. We may suppose, however, that the infamy of a public divorce, though she had not been stoned, may also be expressed by the same word. But then there was besides a private kind of divorce, in which no reason was assigned, and the dowry was not forfeited as in the former case, and by this she would not have been so much defamed.” But it must be observed, that as their being betrothed to each other was a thing publicly known, he could not have put her away so privately, but there must have been witnesses of it, two at least, her parents, suppose, or some of her nearest relations.

Verse 20

Matthew 1:20. But while he thought on these things While he was revolving them in his mind, in the night season, ignorant as he then was of the divine conception in Mary; while he was inclined to divorce her in this private way, but had not absolutely determined upon it; and while there was a conflict in his breast from opposite considerations; justice showing, on the one hand, what was due to himself; and on the other, what was due to one of Mary’s character; while he was thus deliberating with himself, and in danger of innocently doing wrong, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him Here we have a remarkable instance of the care which God takes of good men, both in keeping them from sin, and in affording them direction in time of need. Joseph had formed that determination which every prudent and wise man would have formed in similar circumstances; and yet, if he had executed his design, he would have greatly injured the holy virgin, in deserting her, and exposing her to censure and reproach. He kept the matter in his own breast, and discovered it to no living creature. But it was not concealed from God, who is privy to the most secret things, and who cannot suffer any that fear him, and look for his direction, to take any step that will be to the injury or loss of the innocent. So constantly does the divine providence superintend the affairs of men, and watch for the salvation of the righteous, even while they sleep. An angel foretold to Mary, that she should be the mother of Christ; and an angel appointed Joseph to be the foster-father of the child, when born; angels ministered to Christ after his temptation; angels strengthened him in his agony; angels bore testimony, as to his nativity, so also to his resurrection, for it was proper that they should pay a peculiar respect to him by whom they had been created, and to whom they were, and were to be, subject.

In a dream The angel appeared to Mary while awake, because faith and consent were required in her that she might conceive by the Holy Ghost; but he appeared to Joseph while sleeping, because that was sufficient in his case, and he was about to believe easily. For we more easily believe those things possible to have been done, which are done already by the divine power, and contrary to the law of nature, than the things which are yet to be done. Hence it was, that the matter was not signified to Joseph before the virgin had conceived, which, indeed, if it had been, might have left room for suspicion. In proportion as Joseph was the more and the longer perplexed with doubt, so much the stronger and more weighty is his testimony, after he is informed of the truth. Saying, Joseph, thou son of David The angel reminds Joseph of the nobility of the stock from whence he sprung, that he might not think of any thing mean, but might raise his mind to the expectation of great things. He who made David, who was the son of a shepherd, a king, why should he not also give a carpenter a son that should be a king? Who promised David that the Messiah should arise from his posterity, He will certainly make his promise good, and will sooner change the whole order of nature than suffer what he hath foretold to fail of accomplishment. Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife i.e, Who is betrothed to thee to be thy wife. For it is a mistake to interpret these words, as some have done, as if she had been already married to Joseph, and he had abstained from all conjugal intercourse with her, in consequence of some vow he had made. Dr. Waterland reads this clause, Scruple not the taking of Mary thy wife. It seems that Joseph had been induced, by a fear of offending God, to think of divorcing his wife, either because he thought she belonged to another man, or because he knew it was by no means lawful or honourable for him to cherish an adulteress. The angel’s words imply, Fear not to take her home to thee, and treat her kindly as a wife ought to be treated, according to the espousals that have passed between you, though there may seem to be some danger of bringing a reflection on thyself and family; for that which is conceived in her is of no human original, but produced by the miraculous and unexampled operation of the Holy Ghost. Thus, after Matthew has related how Christ was of royal descent, he now shows that he was also of much higher birth, and had a divine original. Now, although no example be extant of such a wonderful nativity, it nevertheless ought not to be rashly called in question by any especially by the Jews, since they believe that Abraham, the father of the nation, had a son by Sarah after she was past child-bearing; since they believe that Adam, the first man, was produced without father or mother; and that all the dead will be restored to life. That Joseph’s scruples about taking Mary did not proceed, as some of the fathers supposed, from veneration, appears from the reason here given by the angel why he should take her, which, in that case, would have been the only reason against taking her. And we may observe, too, that the angel’s terming her his wife, and encouraging him to take her, shows on what a flimsy foundation the belief of her perpetual virginity, entertained by the papists and others, is built.

Verse 21

Matthew 1:21. She shall bring forth a son Hers, not thine, for he does not say to thee, Christ being απατωρ , without father, as man. And thou shalt call his name Jesus It belonged to Joseph, as being reputed his father, and the person under whose protection Christ was placed during his infancy, to give him his name. “Six men,” says Rabbi Eliezer, “have been named before they were born; viz., Isaac, Ishmael, Moses our lawgiver, Solomon, Josiah, and King Messiah.” To these we may add, Cyrus and John the Baptist: and observe, that those persons to whom a name has been given by God before their birth, have always been remarkable persons. The name Jesus, in Greek, answers to Joshua, or rather, Jehoshuah, in Hebrew, which signifies Jehovah shall save; for Jah, or Jehovah, enters into the composition of the name, as Bishop Pearson has largely and clearly shown in his most learned and instructive Exposition of the Creed, pp. 69-71. So that Christ’s being called Jesus, was in effect an accomplishment of the prophecy that he should be called Emmanuel. It was not without reason that the successor of Moses was called by this name; for, by subduing the Canaanites, and putting the tribes of Israel in possession of the promised land, he showed himself to be, under God, the Saviour of his people. But this name agrees much better to our Jesus, who both delivers his followers from much more dangerous enemies, and divides unto them a much more glorious inheritance. Thus, in the next clause, he shall save his people from their sins Joseph, by his people, could not understand any other than the Jewish nation, which is generally signified by that name in the Scriptures; and to them he was peculiarly sent, and them he will at length fully gather, save, and restore. We know, however, that all the true Israel of God, including even the Gentiles that should believe in him, are included. All these, it is here said, he should save from their sins, i.e, from the guilt, power, and pollution of them, by procuring, through his death, and receiving, in consequence of his ascension into heaven, an ample pardon for them, and the Holy Spirit to write that pardon on their hearts, and renew them after the divine image, that, in consequence of a life of holiness on earth, they might be raised to a state of complete perfection and felicity in heaven. How plain it is from hence that, although the gospel offers us salvation by faith, and not by works, yet it effectually secures the practice of holiness, since holiness is a part of that salvation wherewith Christ came to save sinners; for he came to save them from their sins. It is worth observing, on this occasion, what an excellent example of gentleness and prudence is here set us by Joseph! In an affair which appeared dubious, he chose, as we should always do, rather to err on the favourable than on the severe extreme. He is careful to avoid any precipitate steps; and, in the moment of deliberation, God interposes to guide and determine his resolves. Let us reflect, with what wonder and pleasure he would receive the important message from the angel, which not only assured him of the unstained virtue and eminent piety of her he loved, and confirmed his choice of her, as the partner of his future life, but brought him tidings of a divine Saviour, a Jesus, an Emmanuel, who should be God with men, and should save his people from their sins; and assured him, moreover, that the object of his affections, his beloved, espoused Mary, should, by a miraculous conception, be the happy mother of this heavenly offspring, and should therefore through all generations be entitled blessed. Let us also receive these glad tidings of great joy, designed for the consolation of all people, with suitable humility and gratitude, and seek unto this Jesus that he may answer his divine name in us, and save us, his people, from our sins. Let our souls bow to this Emmanuel, our incarnate God, and, while with holy wonder we survey the various scenes of his humiliation, let us remember, too, his native dignity and divine glory, and pay him the worship and service which are his undoubted due.

Verse 22

Matthew 1:22 . Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled That is, by the doing of all this was fulfilled the following prophecy. For we are not to suppose that the bare accomplishment of an ancient prediction was the end God had in view in sending his Son into the world; which would imply that, if no such prediction had been given, God would not have sent his Son. No: God’s design was the salvation of mankind, and the prophecy was fulfilled, as it were, by the way, without being primarily intended. For the events foretold by the prophets came to pass, not because of the prophecies which predicted them, but the prophecies predicted them because they would come to pass. Thus, in other places, what was merely a consequence of things being done, is represented as the chief end of doing them, as Romans 5:20, The law came in (viz., between Adam and Christ,) that the offence might abound. Certainly God did not give the law with a design to make men’s sins abound; but this was the consequence of its being given. For, like a dam placed in the way of a stream, it made the corruption of mankind rise the higher and spread the wider. To this may be added, however, that he who had foretold these things because he had determined to do them, in due time actually did them, that he might show himself true to his word and promise.

Verse 23

Matthew 1:23. Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth, &c. Some have unhappily supposed that this famous prophecy immediately related to the birth of a child of Isaiah’s in a natural way, and that it only referred to Christ in a secondary sense. But surely a son’s being born of one then a virgin, when she was married, was no such extraordinary event as to answer such a pompous introduction as we meet with in the viith of Isaiah. Had this been all, what need was there of these words, The Lord himself shall give you a sign? What need of that solemn notice, Behold! there being nothing new or strange in all this. Besides, the promise, A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, is made as a sign or miracle, to confirm the house of David in God’s promise made to him, respecting the perpetuity of his kingdom. But what sign or miracle could it be, that a woman should be with child after the ordinary manner? what wonder was there in this? As to Isaiah 7:16, Before the child (or, as it is in the Hebrew, this child,) shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings, it seems most reasonable to interpret it as referring to Shear-jashub, whom Isaiah was ordered to take in his hand for no other imaginable reason but that something remarkable was to be said of him. So that their deliverance from the two kings of Syria and Israel, before Isaiah’s son, (whom he had taken in his hand,) should be able to distinguish between good and evil, was to be considered by them as typical of a much greater deliverance by the Messiah, in due time to be born of a future virgin. See notes on Isaiah 7:11-16. Thus, according to the usual manner of the prophets, the people of God, in their present distress, are comforted with the promise of the Messiah hereafter to appear. They shall call his name That is, his name shall be called; a personal verb being put for an impersonal, as is frequently the case; or, as some copies read it, Thou shalt call, or, he shall be owned and accounted; Emmanuel, God with us God in our nature, by whose incarnation, God is united to our nature; and by whose mediation, God is reconciled to us and is present with us. The names of Christ, it must be observed, are of two kinds: 1st, proper and distinguishing, pointing out his person; 2dly, descriptive, either of his person or offices, such as there are many in Scripture, as David, the Branch, Wonderful, Counsellor. It is to be observed, that in the Scripture language, to be called, and to be, are the same thing. It is, therefore, no objection against the application of these words to Christ, that he did not bear the name Emmanuel, if he really was God with us, which is the import of it. And that he was, is sufficiently proved from his being entitled the mighty God by Isaiah, ch. Matthew 9:6. Now, he who is properly called El, God, and is also emmanu, with us, must infallibly be that Emmanuel, who is God with us.

Verses 24-25

Matthew 1:24-25. Joseph did as the angel had bidden him This sudden change of his resolution, shows his great faith and ready obedience to God. When God speaks to our hearts, we speedily and cheerfully do what before we not only scrupled, but thought, perhaps, most inconvenient and unpleasing, and even contrary to the dictates of reason. And took unto him his wife That is, he took her home to his house. Nevertheless, in expectation of this wonderful event, and out of reverence to this sacred birth, he knew her not as his wife, though she dwelt under his roof; but she continued a pure virgin till at least Jesus was born. “On what terms they afterward lived,” says an eminent divine, “is of so little importance to us, that one cannot but wonder it should have been the subject of so much debate. It is sufficient for us to know that she was a virgin, not only at the time of Christ’s conception, but at his birth, as the prophecy foretold she should be. The evangelist, therefore, wisely contented himself with recording this, without affirming any thing further, either way, on this delicate subject.” We must observe, however, that the expression, Till she had brought forth her firstborn son, does not necessarily imply that he knew her afterward, any more than the Lord’s words to Jacob, Genesis 28:15, I will not leave thee till I have done all that which I have spoken to thee of, imply that the Lord left Jacob after he had fulfilled his promises to him; or what is said, 2 Samuel 6:23, of Michal, Saul’s daughter, that she had no child till the day of her death, that she bore a child or children afterward; nor will the expression, her firstborn son, prove that she had afterward any more children, being in Scripture applied continually to the person that first opened the womb, as the phrase, is, whether there were any more children or not. Indeed, the Greek here, τον υιον αυτης , τον πρωτοτοκον , is literally, her son, the firstborn, or that firstborn, viz., that person eminent and dear to God above others that were the firstborn, whom all the firstborn in the Old Testament prefigured, whom the angels adore, Hebrews 1:6, and in whom those that believe become the firstborn, and the first fruits of God’s creatures. Nevertheless, when it is considered what is the great end of marriage, that Joseph took Mary to wife by the command of God himself, and that his law not only permits, but even enjoins husbands to perform the marriage duty, it is, as Dr. Whitby observes, “not easy to be conceived, that he should live twelve years with her he loved so well, and all that time deny that duty which was not to be diminished when the wife was less beloved:” especially as no just reason whatever can be assigned for such conduct. Be this as it may, we may safely conclude with St. Basil, an ancient father of the Church, that till she had brought forth her firstborn her virginity was necessary: “but what she was afterward let us leave undiscussed, as being of small concern to the mystery.”

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 1". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/matthew-1.html. 1857.
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