I. JESUS A DESCENDANT OF DAVID AND ABRAHAM
THE Gospel of Matthew, the first Book of the New Testament, begins with these words, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, a descendant of David, a descendant of Abraham." This verse definitely points back to II Samuel, chapter 7, in which appears the record of God's covenant with David, regarding the dynasty of which he was the head. It also points definitely to Abraham, the great progenitor of the Jewish race.II. GAPS IN THE GENEALOGY
When King David purposed to build a temple in Jerusalem, he divulged his plans to Nathan the Prophet, who was one of his Spiritual advisers. Replying to the king, Nathan approved of the plan. He made a mistake in not first consulting the Lord about the matter. That night the word of Jehovah came to Nathan and told him that he had made an error, and that he would have to correct it. The prophet, of course, went to David and acknowledged his mistake. He also made known what the Lord had disclosed to him. Since David had been a man of war who had shed much blood, the Lord refused to allow him to build this temple. The Lord was, however, well pleased with David's good intentions. He, therefore, made a definite promise to him, which is recorded in II Samuel 7:8-16.
8 Now therefore thus shalt thou say unto my servant David, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, that thou shouldest be prince over my people, over Israel; 9 and I have been with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thine enemies from before thee; and I will make thee a great name, like unto the name of the great ones that are in the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place, and be moved no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as at the first, 11 and as from the day that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel; and I will cause thee to rest from all thine enemies. Moreover Jehovah telleth thee that Jehovah will make thee a house. 12 When thy days are fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, that shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. 14 I will be his father, and he shall be my son: if he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men; 15 but my lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. 16 And thy house and thy kingdom shall be made sure for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.
In this message the Lord gave assurance that He would build David a house and would appoint a place in which the people of Israel would dwell in perpetual peace. The house which the Lord promised to build was a dynastythe Davidic dynastyto rule over Israel. Solomon, his son and immediate successor to the throne, is mentioned as the one who should build the literal house which the Lord denied David's constructing. The Lord, moreover, promised to perpetuate the Davidic throne, as well as the kingdom, but warned that He would punish any of the regal line who should commit iniquity. He would, however, never cast aside the Davidic house as He had rejected the house of Saul, David's predecessor, who had sinned so grievously that God withdrew His mercies from him. In II Samuel, chapter 7, Nathan the Prophet saw the entire Davidic dynasty. The floodlight of revelation is thrown upon the people, the king, and the kingdom of Israel through the centuries. In this passage one does not clearly see the culmination of the dynasty, but simply a succession of kings ruling and being punished whenever they sinned against Jehovah.
Information supplemental to this passage is found in I Chronicles, chapter 17. In it the floodlight is no longer used; on the contrary, the spotlight is turned on. Here the entire regal line descending from David is dimly seen with the light brilliantly focused on the one in whom the dynasty culminates.
11 And it shall come to pass, when thy days are fulfilled that thou must go to be with thy fathers, that I will set up thy seed after thee, who shall be of thy sons; and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He shall build me a house, and I will establish his throne for ever. 13 I will be his father, and he shall be my son: and I will not take my lovingkindness away from him, as I took it from him that was before thee; 14 but I will settle him in my house and in my kingdom for ever; and his throne shall be established for ever (I Chron. 17:11-14).
Nothing here is said about any of the kings' committing iniquity, as is done in the original passage, II Samuel, chapter 7. The reason for this omission is that the spotlight is used instead of the floodlight. Nothing is said about sin in connection with this One on whom the light is focused, because He is free from sin. Proof that the writer sees such a One is revealed in the following words: "I will set up thy seed after thee, who shall be of thy sons. ..." What is the significance of the words "who shall be of thy sons"? This expression is very peculiar; yet it is to be taken at its face value. A child can have only one father; hence the word sons cannot be used literally in the usual sense of the term. It can have but one meaning: namely, that the sons here referred to are the descendants of David from whom comes this last reigning sovereign, the sinless one.
This One in whom the dynasty culminates is the One who is to build the Temple of God. Solomon is the one who built the First Temple, which was destroyed by the Babylonians, but rebuilt on a much smaller scale by Zerubbabel at the time of the restoration from Babylonian captivity. The Second Temple was destroyed by Titus, the Roman general, in the catastrophe of A.D. 70. It is to be rebuilt in the kingdom age. Who then will build it? The answer to this question appears in Zechariah 6:12,13: "... Behold the man whose name is the Branch: and he shall grow up out of his place; and he shall build the temple of Jehovah; 13 even he shall build the temple of Jehovah; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both." The term branch¹ occurring four times in the prophetic word, has a definite technical meaning. It is one of the names of Messiahas many of the sages of Israel have recognized. That this interpretation is the correct one is confirmed by Jeremiah 23:5, 6:
5 Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name whereby he shall be called: Jehovah our righteousness.
This "righteous branch," who will reign as King in Judah and deal wisely, executing justice and righteousness, will be recognized as "Jehovah our righteousness." Thus He is the sinless One, in whom the dynasty of David culminates. He will build the Temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem of the great Kingdom Age and will reign in righteousness (Ps. 72).
Matthew also points back to Abraham in the opening statement of his Gospel. When God called Abraham to leave the land of his nativity in Chaldea, God entered into a sevenfold covenant with him:
12 Now Jehovah said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee: 2 and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing: 3 and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3).
This passage is a clear indication of the divine purpose of blessing all nations in and through Abraham, to whom and to whose seed God promised that He would give the land of Palestine as a perpetual inheritance (Gen. 12:7; 13:14-16; 15:1-21; 17:1-8; 22:1-18). These passages also make quite evident that God plans to bless all nations in and through Abraham's seedIsrael, the literal seed, and Messiah, the seed par excellence. The statement in Matthew 1:1, therefore, points definitely to the Davidic and Abrahamic covenants into which God entered with those two outstanding men of the Hebrews. This fact shows that the Gospel of Matthew and the rest of the New Testament were cut off the same piece of goods, figuratively speaking, that had been woven by Moses and the Prophets.
When one compares the genealogy given by Matthew (Matt. 1:1-17) with the genealogies found in the Old Testament, he will see some gaps in it. Why did Matthew omit some of the names? Verse 17 points to the answer: "All the generations, therefore, from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David unto the Babylonian captivity fourteen generations; and from the Babylonian captivity unto the Messiah fourteen generations." This genealogy extends from Abraham to Jesus and falls into three divisions, in each of which fourteen names are listed. Verse 17 immediately points in the direction of the answer to the question "Why the gaps?" Doubtless the omissions are to aid the memory, and probably the persons whose names were omitted were of lesser importance in the Davidic line. Gaps appearing in such a long list of names are not surprising. In Ezra 7:1-6, for example, several omissions similar to those in Matthew 1:1-16 appear in the genealogy of Ezra, a descendant of Aaron, the high priest.III. THE VIRGIN BIRTH OF JESUS THE MESSIAH
A reading of Matthew 1:1-16 and a study of the history of the monarchs of Israel show that the genealogy which Matthew gives is that of the regal line of David. Messiah could not come of the line descending from David through Jehoiachin, whom Jeremiah also called Jeconiah or Coniah. The reason is found in Jeremiah 22:24-30:
24 As I live, saith Jehovah, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck thee thence; 25 and I will give thee into the hand of them that seek thy life, and into the hand of them of whom thou art afraid, even into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of the Chaldeans. 26 And I will cast thee out, and thy mother that bare thee, into another country, where ye were not born; and there shall ye die. 27 But to the land whereunto their soul longeth to return, thither shall they not return. 28 Is this man Coniah, a despised broken vessel? is he a vessel wherein none delighteth? wherefore are they cast out, he and his seed, and are cast into the land which they know not? 29 0 earth, earth, earth, hear the word of Jehovah. 30 Thus saith Jehovah, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days; for no more shall a man of his seed prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling in Judah.
According to this prediction, after Jehoiachin, no descendant of David through the regular reigning house could ever sit upon the throne. Thus the royal line was blocked in him. Since Joseph was a direct descendant of Jehoiachin, this genealogy is the royal line, and not the actual genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth.
The real genealogy of Jesus and Mary is found in Luke 3:23-38. This passage is the genealogy of a branch of the house of David different from that of Solomon; yet it was of David. Joseph was of the Solomonic branch of the house of David, whereas Mary, to whom Joseph was engaged, and of whom Jesus of Nazareth was born while she was still a virgin, was of the branch of Nathan.
Being of the branch of the reigning house of David, Joseph was heir to the throne. This fact is the reason Matthew has given the genealogy that he has. Since Mary was married to Joseph of the reigning branch, Joseph was the foster father of Jesus, humanly speaking. On account of this relationship, therefore, Jesus was legally the heir to the throne.
Matthew writes his Record of the life of Jesus on the assumption that, being the foster son of Joseph, He was heir apparent to the throne. When speaking of the actual birth of Jesus, Matthew calls Him the King of the Jews. This assumption runs throughout the entire book of Matthew. It becomes more apparent as one notes the various outstanding statements, facts, and prophecies of this Book.
In Matthew 1:18-25 is an account of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The inspired author states that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was engaged to Joseph. Before the marriage ceremony she was discovered to be with child. This situation was very embarrassing to Joseph, who was a righteous man, and who did not want to make a public example of his intended bride. While he was in a quandary as to what to do, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a vision and gave him the exact facts: namely, that the Holy Spirit had begotten the Christ child in Mary, in fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 7:14. Matthew quotes this prophecy from the Greek version of the Old Testament: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, And they shall call his name Immanuel" (Matt. 1:23). In the main, this translation is a very good one. Some of the Hebrew manuscripts of Isaiah have the article the before virgin, whereas others omit it. Hence in the text of the American Standard Version (1901 edition), the prophecy reads: "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
A great controversy has raged for years concerning the significance of the word 'almah in the original text of Isaiah. Some scholars insist that it means a young married woman, whereas others contend that it means simply what the English word virgin connotesan unmarried, virtuous woman of marriageable age. There is but one way to determine its significance, which is to examine every occurrence of this word in the Hebrew Bible and study it in the light of the facts of each context. By such a method one can find its exact meaning. It occurs seven times in the Hebrew Scriptures. In my book Messiah: His Nature and Person, I examine microscopically the facts of each context in which this word occurs. In the six other places in which it is found, the facts show that the writers, without exception, had a pure, unmarried virgin in mind. The assumption, therefore, is that it has the same signification in Isaiah 7:14 as it does in the other occurrences, unless there are facts in the context which show positively that it has a different meaning.
What are the facts of this context? The occasion of Isaiah's uttering this prophecy was as follows: The kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and of Syria had entered into an alliance to fight against Judah, to overthrow Ahaz, the reigning monarch, and to place their own appointee on the throne. In anticipation of the coming war, Ahaz was inspecting the water supply of the city. The Lord sent Isaiah the Prophet to the young king and offered to perform a miracle either in the heavens above or in the deep beneathwherever Ahaz designatedin order to strengthen his faith. It is clear that the word sign here indicates supernatural activity. Ahaz was simply to tell where he wished the Lord to perform this miracle. Though a descendant of David, Ahaz was an impious hypocrite who was determined to have his own way. When the Lord offered to perform this miracle, he made a pious dodge, saying, "I will not ask, neither will I tempt Jehovah." Suddenly he became very pious and godlyjudged by his words. He had already made his plans to enlist Tiglath-pileser III, ruler of the great Assyrian Empire, in his struggle against his enemies. He, therefore, did not want to change his plans. When he spurned truth and divine help, Isaiah turned from him and addressed the house of David of the future saying: "Hear ye now, 0 House of David, Is it a small thing for you to weary men, that ye will weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." The word sign meant a miracle when it was addressed to Ahaz. It had the same connotation when it was addressed to the house of David of the future. Thus in Isaiah 7:14 it means a miracle; namely, that there is to be an extraordinary birth of a child"behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" [God with us]. Thus verses 13 and 14 of chapter 7 foretell the miraculous conception and virgin birth of a person, who is to be God in human form.
Verses 10-12 are addressed to Ahaz, as proved by the use of the personal pronouns in the singular number. Another important fact to note in this connection is that in verses 13 and 14 the plural pronouns are used in reference to the house of David: "13 ... Hear ye [plural] now, 0 house of David: Is it a small thing for you to weary men, that ye will weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you [plural] a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Thus in verses 13 and 14 Isaiah was speaking to the house of David of the future.
In verses 15-17 the number of the pronoun has been changed againthis time, back to the singular. These verses were spoken directly to Ahaz since the child whose birth is foretold in them was to be born in the very near future. Thus one sees in verses 13 and 14 the birth of the child who is Immanuel; but, in verses 15-17, the birth of the child of the immediate future.
In verses 15-17 Isaiah speaks thus: "15 Butter and honey shall he eat, when he knoweth to refuse the evil, and choose the good. 16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings thou abhorrest shall be forsaken. 17 Jehovah will bring upon thee and upon thy people, and upon thy father's house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judaheven the king of Assyria."
Because of the pronoun he in verse 15, some scholars insist that only one child is mentioned in verses 14-17. Of these, some declare that the reference is to the child born of an 'almah, mentioned in verse 14, and that, therefore, this child is the one referred to throughout the prophecy. In verses 15-17, however, Isaiah states that, before the child to be born "shall know to refuse the evil and to choose the good," the lands whose two kings Ahaz abhorsthe land of Israel and the land of Syriawill be forsaken, and that Jehovah will bring upon Ahaz and Judah days that they have not experienced since "Ephraim departed from Judaheven the king of Assyria." Since this king of Assyria is the one who overran Syria in 734 B.C., and who in 721 B.C. overran Israel, the child mentioned in verses 15-17 was to be born in the very near future. Some scholars who insist that only one child is mentioned in the prophecy declare, therefore, that the child who was to be born in the near future is the one referred to throughout verses 14-17. This method of handling the facts is a superficial way of looking at the situation. One must note carefully all the facts of the context. The number of the pronouns of the second person is singular in verses 11 and 15-17, because they refer to Ahaz, and plural in verses 13 and 14, because they refer to the house of David of the future. In each instance, the birth of a child is foretold: to the house of David of the future is given the prophecy concerning the child to be born of an 'almah, a virgin; to Ahaz, that pertaining to the child to be born in the immediate future.
How can this situation be explained? All thorough students of the Bible know that there is a principle which obtains throughout the prophetic word, and which may be illustrated thus: A picture is thrown upon the screen. Then as it begins to dim, the faint outline of another appears. By the time the first one has faded from the screen, the second is in full view. This illustration adequately sets forth the principle of the law of double reference. An excellent example of this law is found in Ezekiel, chapter 26. In verses 7-11, one finds a definite oracle concerning Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, who fought against Tyre for thirteen years, as history shows; but he did not capture the city. The pronouns he, him and the possessive adjective his, referring to Nebuchadnezzar, occur a number of times in this block of Scripture; but in verse 12 these terms cease. Instead, the pronoun they is used. In verses 7-11, which are devoted to the oracle regarding Nebuchadnezzar, there is no word that can be the antecedent of the pronoun they of verse 12. To what word does this pronoun refer? The answer is to be found in the content of this prophecy and in a knowledge of Greek history which one gets from profane records. As suggested above, after a hard war of thirteen years, Nebuchadnezzar gave up the seige of Tyre as a failure and abandoned the conflict. The Tyrians did not want to undergo another such siege. They, therefore, built a new city on the island, which was about a half mile from the mainland. They strongly fortified this new position. Approximately three hundred years after Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great came upon the scene, sweeping everything before him. In order to capture this island fortress, he made a causeway from the mainland to it. The material which he used for this purpose was the ruins of continental Tyre, that had been forsaken. Over this causeway he sent his battering rams to the city and soon captured it. Thus Alexander fulfilled the prophecy in Ezekiel 26:12.
This prophecy of Ezekiel then is a case of double reference. Figuratively speaking, continental Tyre is thrown upon the screen in verses 7-11. Then it begins to fade, and at the same time the dim outlines of another siege, that of insular Tyre 500 years later, by Alexander the Great is thrown upon the screen. No other way of interpreting the passage can be found if one is willing to let the words stand as they appear in the text. The passage in Isaiah 7:10-17 is fashioned after the same pattern of the law of double reference. Thus in verses 13 and 14 is the prediction of the miraculous conception and virgin birth of Him who is called Immanuel, God in human form, the Messiah of Israel; but in verses 15-17 there is another prophecy of an altogether different child. The birth of this child was in the very near future from Isaiah's day, but centuries intervened between the fulfillment of these two predictions.
According to this same pattern, the prophets frequently spoke of the first coming of the Messiah and blended their predictions with oracles concerning His second advent. In such predictions the entire Christian Dispensation is passed over in silence, the two pictures blending one into the other. Isaiah 11:1,2, for example, foretells the first coming of the Messiah; verses 3-5, the second. Another illustration of the same law of double reference is found in Zechariah 9:9,10. Verse 9 undoubtedly is speaking of the first coming of the Messiah; verse 10 is devoted entirely to the second advent; but the entire Christian Dispensation separating the two advents is passed over in silence. Thus the prophecy presenting the first coming and blending with the prediction concerning the Second Coming is in a way analogous to that foretelling the births of the two boys in Isaiah, chapter 7.
For further study of the matter of the virgin birth of the Messiah, the reader is asked to study carefully the birth narrative of John the Baptist and of Jesus as presented in the scholarly writing of Luke, the author of the third Record of the Gospel. For a thorough, exhaustive, and scholarly work on the virgin birth of the Messiah, one should read Dr. Gresham Machen's The Virgin Birth of Christ.
¹ The passage upon which the predictions regarding "the branch" are based is the last clause of II Samuel 23:5. In this statement appears the verbal form from which the noun "branch" is derived. This term, a generally recognized Messianic title, appears in Isaiah 4:2; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12. The two passages in Jeremiah are one in import. A different word translated branch occurs in Isaiah 11:1,2. Thus, in reality, there are only four famous branch passages.
To many scholars the two passages in Jeremiah furnish the theme of the Gospel of Matthew. Zechariah 3:8, which speaks of "my servant the Branch," seems to be the theme of Mark, who wrote the second record of the Gospel. Zechariah 6:12, which speaks of "the man ... the Branch," furnished the theme for the writer of the third Gospel, who presented Jesus of Nazareth as the ideal man. Isaiah 4:2, which speaks of "the branch of Jehovah," may well be considered as the theme of the fourth writer of the Gospel.
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