Chances are, you skip every genealogy you come across in Scripture. The average reader is unconcerned with their own ancestry, let alone an ancient people. Yet in Scripture, the genealogies carry much meaning and are crucial to the broader biblical narrative. Jesus’s genealogy is no different. In a recent study of Jesus’s ancestry, I was surprised to find so few explorations of each man in the ancestry of Jesus. Thus below is an introduction to each man limiting their story to Scripture.
One of the main purposes of the genealogy is to connect Jesus with Abraham. Matthew 1:1 makes this abundantly clear. Along with David, Matthew’s genealogical record demonstrates Jesus is the Jewish Messianic King – the son of Abraham, the son of David.
Abraham is the father of the Jewish nation. His story begins in Genesis 11 where his genealogy is given. A descendant of Shem, son of Noah,, Abraham is called out from among the nations to become the father of the Jews.
Abraham is promised by God in Genesis 12:1-3 to have a son, a land, and a nation. He dies only seeing the birth of his son fulfilled, but died in faith believing that his descendants will occupy the Promised Land and the nations would be blessed. He did not believe in vain.
Like his father, Isaac looms large over Jewish identity. Being the promised son of Abraham, ethnic Jews chase their lineage to Isaac, son of Abraham. He, along with his son, joins his fathers in the description of the God of Israel – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Isaac is very much his father’s son. Being the promised son of Abraham (as opposed to Ishmael in the biblical text), we discover Isaac making the same mistakes as his father. In Genesis 26, Isaac commits the same mistake as his father in deceiving a foreign king by claiming his wife is his sister. Abraham did the same on two different occasions.
One other event is worth noting regarding Isaac. First, he fathered twins, Esau the eldest and Jacob the youngest. Sibling rivalry is a common theme throughout Genesis. Beginning with Cain and Abel, brothers are frequently at war with each other. Jacob and Esau are no different. Similarly, there is a theme of the younger triumphing over the older – Abel/Seth over Cain, Joseph over the sons of Leah, Perez over Zerah, and Jacob over Esau. Jacob becomes the promised line of Israel, not Esau and the two lines – Israelites and the Moabites are constantly friendemies.
The grandson of Abraham is the last of the Patriarchs often named by God when he gives his identity. Jacob, like his father and grandfather, was the child of promise who was deeply flawed. His family life was complicated resulting in the birth of twelve sons and a daughter by four different women. Those stories come in the entries to follow.
Two events are worth highlighting. The first is Jacob’s Ladder in Genesis 28. Prior to meeting his two wives – Rachel and Leah – Jacob falls asleep (another common theme of promise in Genesis) and sees a ladder from heaven with the angels ascending and descending. Then the promises made to Abraham and Isaac are given to him: “And behold, the Lord stood above it[c] and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:13-17). In chapter 32, Jacob will experience another bizarre vision where he wrestles with the Angel of the Lord.
By the end of Genesis, Jacob emigrates to Egypt due to the famine affecting the land setting up the Exodus narrative. Prior to his death, he blesses his son. Most notable is what he says to Judah, the next name in Jesus’s ancestry.
“Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
9 Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;[a]
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth whiter than milk. (Genesis 49:8-12)
The King is coming.
The most significant tribe of the twelve was Judah. The largest tribe who (along with little Benjamin) made up the southern Kingdom following the death of Solomon. He, like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him, is deeply flawed. Not only was he involved in the betrayal of his brother, Joseph, his homelife was as complicated as Jacob.s
Judah fathered three sons – Er, Onan, and Shelah. They were wicked men. Er married a woman named Tamar and was executed by God in judgment before he and his wife could conceive. By Levirite Law, Onan must conceive with Tamar, but refused. He, like his older brother, died in judgment.
Judah promises to give her Shelah when he comes of age but fails to do so. In order to conceive, Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute and seduces Judah – her father-in-law. She conceives and gives birth to two sons/grandsons: Zerah and Perez.
Although the father of a great tribe, Judah was imperfect like everyone else in this line.
Perez’s birth is given in the above exploration of Judah. It is striking how many of the men named in Jesus’s genealogy have noticeable births. Perez is conceived by deception and harlotry. Likewise, Boaz is born of a prostitute (Rehab) and a Jewish man. Obed is also born of a Jewish man (Boaz) and a Gentile (Ruth). Solomon is not the firstborn of David, but is born of David and Bathsheba’s union. He is the second child of their marriage. The first died following Uriah’s murder.
Like Jacob and Esau before him, the circumstances of Perez’s birth are unique. Genesis 38 describes it:
When the time of her labor came, there were twins in her womb. 28 And when she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 29 But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore his name was called Perez.[e]30 Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah
Thus Perez is firstborn but not. He inherits the promises but is legally the second born.
The Bible mentions several men by the name Hezron. In fact, the son of Perez and grandson of Judah had a first cousin (son of Reuben) also named Hezron. This makes identification difficult at times. His name means “surrounded by a wall.” Little else is known about him.