Matthew's Genealogy and the End of the Exile

After reading N.T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God, I read Matthew’s genealogy a little differently this morning.

Reflecting on the way I normally read Matthew’s first chapter, I think I have typically read the counts that Matthew offers as simply being about the persons involved—Abraham to David, David to Jechoniah, and Jechoniah to Jesus. I’ve typically thought about that as one of the playful ways that Matthew, like the other gospels, shows that Jesus is in fact the Messiah.  I suppose that reading is fine as far as it goes, but this morning a new layer seemed apparent.

One of the insights from Wright that I found extremely helpful was the perspective that Israel still thought about itself as in exile into the new Testament period—indeed, for many Jews, long after that period. The spirit of the day was one of waiting for the promised day of Israel’s full restoration from exile. (There is so much more to be said about this.)

Reading Matthew with that perspective fresh on my mind, it’s clear that the counted generations are not there simply to highlight certain people, but also the periods between those persons. So you’re looking at the period leading up to the Davidic kingdom, the period of the rule of the Davidic kings, and the period of exile during which those kings lost their throne.

What seems to me to be extremely significant in that reading is that by Matthew’s reckoning, Jesus then represents the true end to the exile, the inauguration of a new period in the Davidic kingship.  This doesn’t deny my normal way of reading the text, but certainly shifts the emphasis towards what is happening with Israel in the coming of Jesus.