So all the generations from Abraham unto David are fourteen generations; and from David unto the carrying away to Babylon fourteen generations; and from the carrying away to Babylon unto Christ fourteen generations. Matthew 1:17 (ARV)
“All roads lead to Rome”…everybody knew that in Matthew’s day. Everybody, except Matthew! Well, after all, he is a stubborn, proud, tradition-loving Jew, and so you can expect him to say: “All roads lead to Jerusalem.” But Matthew the Jew doesn’t say that! Embarrassing as it is, he claims that “All roads lead to Bethlehem”—the city of the David long dead.
Even more embarrassing for many of today’s “Bible-believers” is the manner in which Matthew makes his “absurd” claim. For he can’t count well, and so he finds that fourteen is the number of the generations from Abraham to David, from David to Babylon, from Babylon to Christ. How can we make credible our claim of an infallible and inerrant Bible when such apparently contradictory, inaccurate statements appear in it?
Right you are; scientifically precise analysis of the Biblical data will reveal that fourteen is not the number of the generations in anyone of the three epochs here sketched by the inspired writer. But truth has more than one set of rules for accuracy, and here Matthew employs those which are governed by prophecy, not by mathematics.
That is what he said from the very outset when he announced the theme for the “sermon” which is the Gospel according to Matthew. My subject, he said, is this: “The Genesis of Jesus Christ.” Realizing that both Old and New Testaments must begin with a genesis (the story of the wonderful origin of Adam the First and Adam the Second), the ancient church placed Matthew in a position parallel to the Bible’s first book.
Along what lines did God work to bring about the genesis of Jesus Christ? Matthew’s answer is: in the way of the generations between Abraham and David, between David and the captivity in Babylon, between Babylon and Bethlehem.
But creation (genesis) is one thing, and historical development in the way of the generations is another. If Matthew is going to stay with his announced theme he will have to show that the Christ whom we see at Bethlehem was not made of things which do appear (Heb. 11:3b).
And that he does!
That is the significance of the repetition of the number fourteen and of the name David. The great but dead David—in fulfilled, incorruptible glory—is (re)created, as it were, in the virgin and re-born in Bethlehem’s manger. Still more; this amazing act of divine and sovereign power takes place not in spite of David’s disappearance in Babylon, but most properly through and by means of David’s disastrous failure.
“David”—messianic symbol of everything that is glory for Israel—comes to view on that first Christmas. No wonder the Magi felt compelled to bring their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh! No wonder the angels had to sing! And no wonder that King Herod had to take quick steps to stifle the possibility of opposition from this new David!
Herod’s opposition may seem to indicate political astuteness, but is actually very stupid, says Matthew. For who will fight against the God who arranges the generations in his own patterns of prophetic significance? Who will thwart the Creator of Genesis 1:1? Who will prevent him whose Word framed the worlds from keeping his word to Abraham, the word fulfilled ill David, apparently nullified by Babylon but actually kept and nurtured over the centuries by the Cod who cannot lie, until “the fulness of the time” should come (Gal. 4:4),
“All roads lead to Bethlehem!”
The outcome for Abraham was David. The outcome for David was the terrible captivity in Babylon (which brings us right back to Abraham’s beginnings at Babel, Gen. 11). But the outcome of Babylon is David re-created, the Restorer, the invincible King of kings!
In Matthew’s day this Gospel was comfort to them who lived under the arbitrary rule of Caesar Augustus, Rome’s “lord and god,” who repeats David’s sin of counting the people, only on a world-wide scale! Who will be able to stand when the beast speaks his great things and blasphemies (Rev. 13)?
In our day Christmas requires its celebration in the face of blasphemers in Havana and Moscow, men who say that history’s pattern inevitably means the rise and the victory of their cause. “Your children will live under Communism…”
They will not!
For life is possible only in him who is the tender plant, the root out of the dry ground, the ever-living David, the Man after God’s own heart.
For He was born in the embarrassment of the Davidic tradition in order that we might live freely and confidently forever. He felt the hard wood of the Cross already in the crude manger. He laid the everlasting foundations of the Kingdom of God upon the solid rock of a perfect sacrifice, for he knew that God was busy throughout the ages to fashion a renewed world out of the impossible materials of David’s shame.
And so we may add to the text these words:
“From the Christ to the Great Day of victory, fourteen generations.”