Matthew’s Genealogy of Christ – a Possible Inter-textual Connection between Jesus’ Birth and the Events Leading to the Exile

Matthew’s genealogy divides Jesus’ family tree into three groups of 14 generations. I am currently attempting to understand the allocation of the generations to these three groups in two ways. The first is that Matthew’s generations are “births” – of which there are 40 between Abraham and Jesus Christ (hence there will be two “overlaps” since 14×3=42) and the second, which I hope to describe more fully in later posts, is that Matthew intends us to (mentally) include King Jehoiakim in the list of 41 names in verses 2-16. This will make 42 names in all – so the allocation can take place without any overlaps.)  In the first of these explanations,  have been suggesting that Matthew is actually describing the begettings/births of individuals, rather than the individuals themselves, within the three time periods. In this post I wish to suggest that some structural patterns that can be recognised in the events associated with the time divisions in Matthew’s time scheme as outlined in Matt. 1:17.

Matthew’s overall scheme is chiastic, so we would expect, for example, David’s accession to the throne to correspond, chiastically – that is, in reverse – to the events around the time of the exile (these are Matthew’s two break-points). In broad terms we do see this: David goes from exile in Philistine territory to the throne in Jerusalem. Conversely, Jehoiachin(called Jechonias in Matthew) goes from the throne in Jerusalem into exile. There are many other aspects to this (e.g. the collecting of materials for the temple by David, and the dispersing of them at the time of Jehoiachin etc.), but I would like to mention just one in particular for now: the time from David’s birth to his accession to the throne (as the first Davidic king) in Jerusalem was thirty seven and a half years (2 Sam. 5:4-5); the time from Jehoiachin’s departure from the throne at Jerusalem (he was the last king in the Messianic line before Christ to reign in Jerusalem) to his “ascension” from prison to sit with the new king of Babylon (a sort of re-birth or resurrection) was a full 37 years (2 Kings 25:27-30). These time periods occupy corresponding locations in the “time-line” diagram used in some earlier posts. (q.v.). (I’m a bit troubled by the 6 month discrepancy however – especially as the time of Jehoiachin’s release is given so precisely both in Kings and Chronicles. If this “37 years” idea really is significant, could this 6 month discrepancy perhaps be “balanced” in some (more complicated!) way with the two reigns, each of 3 months, of Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin? Help appreciated!!)

However, in this post, I would like to make a suggestion that, on the face of it, seems quite unlikely, and that is that there may be a parallelism between the events involving the successive kings around the time of the Exile, and the details of the birth of Jesus which Matthew goes on to describe after his account of all the births from Abraham to Christ.

There is a large scale parallelism: Jehoiachin, and his family – including his mother – as well as some workmen including carpenters(!) escape to safety in Babylon from destruction and death in Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:15-16) in accordance with the word from God announced by Jeremiah (e.g. Jer. 1:3). Likewise, Jesus, threatened with death goes to safety in Egypt with his mother and a righteous carpenter (Joseph), and this happens in accordance with God’s word through the angel (Matt. Ch. 2). The accession of a new king in Babylon led to the improvement in Jehoiachin’s fortunes, to the birth of Shealtiel (Salathiel), and then Zerubbabel, who returned to Judah in the first year of another new king, Cyrus, and who became the prince or governor there after the Exile. Likewise, the holy family’s sojourn in Egypt continued until there was a new king (Archelaus – Matt. 2:22), and then they returned.

However, I want to look at the events preceding these events – I suggest that the account of Jesus’ birth parallels events in the reign of King Josiah, and, in particular, that, unlikely as it seems, Mary actually corresponds to the temple in Jerusalem. Let’s see:

First of all, I would like to suggest that, in some sense, the tabernacle/temple in the OT represented the “body politic” of Israel. (see for example, James B. Jordans’ book on biblical typology, Through New Eyes.)This is a big theme – and is related to the OT theme of Israel as the wife of Yahweh. which has a NT typological fulfilment in Christ and his bride, the Church (e.g. Paul speaks of himself as a “spiritual matchmaker” – betrothing the Corinthians to Christ), and he also speaks of the Corinthians as the body of Christ and as the temple of the Holy Spirit. Another aspect to his is that Paul, for example, uses “pregnancy and birth imagery” and speaks of himself being in travail until Christ is formed in the Galatians (Gal. 4:19), and when discussing women’s head coverings, he tells the Corinthians that ” . . just as woman is from man, so also is man by woman” – which I would suggest takes us back to Adam and Eve, and also the “Protoevangelium” of Gen 3:15), and is fulfilled in Christ being formed within the womb of the Old Testament Church viewed as a woman. Revelation Ch. 12 can also be interpreted in this way.

In the OT, Jerusalem is frequently represented as the Bride (e.g. Is. 4:5 – where the canopy is a “bridal” term), and this clearly corresponds to the New Jerusalem – the Bride of Christ in Revelation. Writers like James Jordan and Peter Leithart frequently make the point that the holiness of the tabernacle/temple in the pre-exilic era is extended to the whole of Jerusalem (subsequently referred to as the Holy City), and indeed the “Holy Land” in the Exilic period. (e.g. Peter Leithart: The Holy City. Biblical Horizons No. 55).

The suggestion here then is that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, in some way represents the believing moiety in Israel – the Old Testament Church, (just as the other Mary – Mary Magdalene – can be seen as representing the NT Church (e.g. the Adam/Eve/Eden symbolism of the account of the resurrection of Jesus in John’s Gospel, and the many references made there to the Song of Songs also, together with Paul’s teaching e.g. in Eph. 5:31-32). If all this is, at least partly, correct, then it would be reasonable to link Mary with the Temple, and this then would be a “theological” basis for the pattern that may exist between the birth of Jesus as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel and the events from Josiah’s restoration to the temple to the Exile. It has already been pointed out that “righteous carpenters”(!) have a significant role in both accounts, through I’m not sure how this interesting feature might be incorporated “structurally” into our inter-textual reading. Any help greatly appreciated!

Good King Josiah started his reforms (2 Chr 34:3-7) and then turned his attention to repairing and preparing the temple (2 Chr. 34:8-13) It was while preparations for this were being made, but before the (re-)establishment of the Nation’s Covenant with Yahweh at Josiah’s Passover feast in the re-consecrated temple, that the Book of the Torah or the Book of the Covenant was found within the Temple.

Likewise it was between the betrothal and wedding stage that Joseph’s betrothed, Mary, was found to be with child. The language in Matthew is quite specific: Mary is said in Matthew’s Gospel (1:18) to have been “found with child”. Literally, the expression used in the Greek is “. . found in womb holding . .” – “heurethe en gastri echousa“. I suggest that this corresponds quite closely to the words in the LXX of 2 Ki. 23:8 and 2 Chron 34:15 regarding the Book of the Law: ” . . I have found in the house of the Lord . .” – “heuron en oiko Kuriou“. If this is so, then Mary’s womb, or Mary herself corresponds to the Temple, and Jesus to the Book of the Law. Typologically, the theme of Jesus as the “New Torah” is well established – for example, in Rom 10:6-7, Paul simply assumes that Moses’ words regarding the Law in Deuteronomy, when read with New Covenant faith, are actually about Christ and in Isaiah’s prophecy in Is. 49:8, “I have kept you given you as a covenant to the people”. Christ is our (New) Covenant, in which God’s laws are written on our hearts (e.g. Jer. 31:31-34).

However, I want here to point to some of the parallels between Mary being found with child and the finding of the Book of the Law.

In the first place, Joseph, on hearing the news, assumed that the terms of his betrothal to Mary had been irretrievably broken – just as Josiah, on hearing the words of the book assumed that God’s covenant with Israel had been irretrievably broken.

Secondly, Joseph considered or reflected on this (v.19). The usual translation “considered” disguises the fact that the Greek word, “enthymethentos“, has a root, thymos, meaning strong passion. (In fact, the word ethymothe is used in 2:16 for Herod’s furious rage.) Here is what the biblehub website says concerning enthymethentos: “enthyméomai (from /en, “in a state or condition,” intensifying /thymós, “passionate response”) – properly, in a passionate frame of mind, easily agitated or quickly moved by strong, provoking impulses.” Thus, Joseph’s response corresponds to Josiah’s weeping and tearing his clothes on hearing the contents of the book.

Thirdly, this is followed by a message from God (v.20). This is delivered through an angel in a dream in Joseph’s case, and through Huldah the prophetess in Josiah’s case (2 Ki. 22:14). As a result of the message, Joseph goes ahead and takes Mary, his betrothed, as his wife. He, as it were, renews his covenant with Mary. Likewise, as a result of Huldah’s message to Josiah, (perhaps reinforced by Jeremiah’s contemporaneous prophecies which speak of Israel and Judah’s covenant relationship with Yahweh in marriage terms), Josiah continues with the religious reforms he had started and one of the culminating aspects of this was the Passover ceremony in which the covenant with Yahweh was renewed. Now Josiah had been told that Exile was inevitable, but he went ahead nevertheless and did everything in his power to secure Yahweh’s favour for the nation. The passage in Deuteronomy which is generally thought to be included in the “Book of the Law” explained that even when the nation was unfaithful and went into exile, Yahweh had already planned for a return – and Jeremiah’s prophecies include the same promise. Thus Joseph and Josiah showed a corresponding correct and faithful response to God’s message to them.

Fourthly, the next corresponding events are the birth of Jesus and the birth of Jehoiachin – the king who would go into exile.

Let us now continue to explore possible parallels:

After the death of Josiah, and the short reign of Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim comes to the throne. He is a sort of negative or inverse of all that a good king should be: he rebels against Nebuchadnezzar, and marauders come from the East (2 Ki. 24:2) and the vessels of the house of the Lord were taken to the east by Nebuchadnezzar to his palace in Babylon 2 Chr. 36:7. (These were, or were included amongst, I presume, the gold and silver vessels that Belshazzar so wickedly used during his banquet in Daniel (Dan. 5:1-4). Other vessels were taken later at the destruction of Jerusalem during the reign of Zedekiah, but these vessels were either cut up (2 Ki. 24:13), or taken to an (unspecified) location in Babylon – though this may also of course may have been the king’s palace 2 Chr. 36:18)). Conversely, at the time of Jesus birth, important people (the magi) came from the east bringing gold to Jesus. Interestingly, this word magi (magoi) is the same as that used in Daniel (in the Septuagint (the LXX) translation) for the wise men of Babylon).

Finally, as we have seen, Joseph escapes the wrath of the king by fleeing with Jesus and Mary to safety in Egypt, eventually, in accordance with the word of the angel in a dream, to return after the death of Herod and likewise, Jehoiachin, the one who carries the Messianic line, goes, paradoxically, to safety in Babylon where, following the death of the king and the accession of a new king, he prospers, and some time later, one of his descendants (Zerubabbel) is amongst the first of the returning Exiles – an which occurred under another new king, Cyrus, to whom it is revealed by God that he is to encourage the exiles to return (2 Chr. 36:23).

I hope I have shown that this inter-textual connection is at least plausible, and, as ever, welcome help, comments and feedback!

 



Categories: Matthew's Genealogy of Christ

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2 replies

  1. From memory, I’m away from my LXX, the Greek word for David leaping before the Ark is the same as the word Elizabeth uses when John leaps in her womb; another link. I enjoyed your article.

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  2. Hello!
    Many thanks for your kind and helpful comments! I’m sorry for the delay in replying – I’m hoping to get back to working on my website “properly” again soon. The additional connection you have pointed out between the ark of the temple/tabernacle and godly women and wombs is brilliant – I suspect there is a lot more here to think about!
    With very many thanks once again, Stewart

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