Prologue

This Gospel of Matthew has a prologue with five parts that echo the book of Genesis.  First, there was the genealogy of Jesus via Joseph that began with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Then this genealogy went through the twin sons of Judah and the descendants of Perez.  Then it went from Ruth to King David.  Then there was the kings of Judah from Solomon to the gap and up to and including the Babylonian captivity.  Finally, there were the unknown names in this genealogy that led up to Joseph and his father.  Matthew then explained the genealogy of Jesus, since there were differences of this genealogy with that of the Gospel of Luke.

The second part of this prologue was the virgin birth of Jesus.  First of all, there was the conception of Jesus from Joseph’s point of view, not Mary’s.  Joseph wanted to divorce Mary for being pregnant until an angel in a dream told him that Jesus would be a special child that fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah.  After waking up from his dream, there was the virgin birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

The third part of this prologue was the visit of the Magi.  They brought their questions to Herod the Judean Roman king, who was annoyed and frightened.  He found out that Bethlehem was described by the prophet Micah as the place where the Messiah would be born.  Herod summoned the Magi and sent them to Bethlehem.  The Magi followed the star and found Mary with the child at the so-called Epiphany.  However, they went home another route so that they did not go back to King Herod.

The fourth part was the flight into Egypt, as Joseph had another dream.  They went to Egypt to fulfill another prophecy that the Messiah would come out of Egypt.  Meanwhile, King Herod killed all the under two-year old boys in the Bethlehem area as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah.

Finally, the fifth part of the prologue was the return of Jesus to Nazareth when Joseph had a third dream.  He was told to return to Israel, or more specifically to Galilee in a place called Nazareth.  Thus, this prologue gave the unique perspective of Joseph.

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The failure of the sons of Abraham (Mt 8:11-8:12)

“I tell you!

‘Many will come

From the east,

From the west.

They will recline at table

With Abraham,

With Isaac,

With Jacob,

In the kingdom of heaven.

However,

The heirs of the kingdom

Will be thrown

Into the outer darkness.

There will be weeping

As well as gnashing of teeth.’”

 

λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι πολλοὶ ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν καὶ δυσμῶν ἥξουσιν καὶ ἀνακλιθήσονται μετὰ Ἀβραὰμ καὶ Ἰσαὰκ καὶ Ἰακὼβ ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν·

οἱ δὲ υἱοὶ τῆς βασιλείας ἐκβληθήσονται εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον· ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.

 

This saying about the failure of the sons of Abraham is not in the similar account in Luke, chapter 7, since this is unique to Matthew, and thus, showed his anti-Jewish bias.  This little saying began as a solemn pronouncement of Jesus (λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν).  Many people would come from the east and the west (ὅτι πολλοὶ ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν καὶ δυσμῶν ἥξουσιν) to recline at table (καὶ ἀνακλιθήσονται) during the Messianic feast with the 3 great Hebrew Jewish leaders, Abraham (μετὰ Ἀβραὰμ), Isaac (καὶ Ἰσαὰκ), and Jacob (καὶ Ἰακὼβ) in the kingdom of the heavens (ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν).  Only Matthew used this word “ἀνακλιθήσονται,” to recline at table.  However, the sons or the heirs of the kingdom (οἱ δὲ υἱοὶ τῆς βασιλείας) will be thrown out into the outer darkness (ἐκβληθήσονται εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον), where there would be weeping, crying, or lamenting (ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς) with the gnashing of teeth (καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων).  In this reference to the end times damnation, these were the traditional ways or signs to show anger and frustration.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Mt 1:2-1:2)

“Abraham was

The father of Isaac.

Isaac was

The father of Jacob.

Jacob was

The father of Judah

And his brothers.”

 

Ἀβραὰμ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰσαάκ, Ἰσαὰκ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰακώβ, Ἰακὼβ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰούδαν καὶ τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς αὐτοῦ,

 

Throughout the Old Testament writings, especially the Torah, there was a continual reference to the God of Abraham (Ἀβραὰμ), Isaac (Ἰσαάκ), and Jacob (Ἰακώβ).  This Greek text used the term ‘begat’ (ἐγέννησεν) to represent the relationships between these 3 men.  However, it seems perfectly acceptable to simply call them the father instead of saying “fathered them.”  These three generations were key to Hebrew and Jewish history.  Their stories can be found in the book of Genesis, chapters 12-35.  Remember that Abraham had a son with his wife’s maid, Hagar, who was called Ishmael, who were both sent away.  Jacob had a twin brother named Esau, whom he tricked out of his father’s inheritance.  Of even more interest is the fact that instead of the 12 tribes or sons of Jacob, there is only a mention of Judah (Ἰούδαν) and then his brothers (τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς αὐτοῦ).  Clearly, Judah had become the dominant tribe by the time of this writing, during the time of Jesus.  For purposes of this genealogy, Judah would be a pivotal figure.

The Law

The Law, the Torah, or the Pentateuch, consisted of first five books that were developed over a number of years, but firmly established around 400 BCE.  The five books of the Pentateuch include Genesis, a 10th-5th century BCE writing about the pre-existence of the Israelites, and the particular stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  The Exodus, finished around 450 BCE, recalls the story of Moses and how he led the Israelites out of Egypt for years in the desert.  Leviticus and Numbers, worked on between 550-400 BCE, lay out the particular codes, rules and regulations for the Israelites, as well the numbers of people that were involved in the exodus from Egypt.  Deuteronomy, developed in the 7th-6th century BCE, told the story of Moses in the wilderness with emphasis on the laws of the heart.  This Law or Torah explained the early or pre-history of the Israelites before they entered the promised land.  These books also contained all the commands, statutes, or rules for the Israelites after they entered the promised land.  All further Jewish developments were based on the Torah or the Law.

The call for mercy (Dan 3:10-3:13)

“Now your servants!

We cannot

Open our mouths!

We cannot

Worship you!

We have become

A shame!

We have become

A reproach!

For your name’s sake,

Do not give us up forever!

Do not annul your covenant!

Do not withdraw

Your mercy

From us!

For the sake of Abraham,

Your beloved,

For the sake of Isaac,

Your servant,

For the sake of Israel,

Your holy one,

Do not withdraw

Your mercy!

You promised

To multiply their descendants

Like the stars of heaven,

Like the sand on the shore

Of the sea.”

Azariah made a plea to God to have mercy on him and his friends. They were not able to open their mouths to worship God. They had become a shame and a reproach for the sake of God’s name. He wanted God not to give up on them or annul the covenant that he had made with Israel. He did not want God to withdraw his mercy from them. He reminded God about Abraham, the beloved one, Isaac, his servant, and Israel, the holy one. God had promised to multiply their descendants, like the stars in heaven or like the sand on the sea shore.

 

The symbolic history of Jerusalem (Ezek 16:1-16:3)

“The word of Yahweh

Came to me.

‘Son of man!

Make known

To Jerusalem

Her abominations!

Say!

Thus says Yahweh God

To Jerusalem.

Your origin,

Your birth

Were in the land

Of the Canaanites.

Your father was

An Amorite.

Your mother was

A Hittite.’”

Once again, Yahweh came to Ezekiel, the son of man. This time, it was about the origins and symbolic history of Jerusalem. The context was a berating of Jerusalem and her abominations. Unlike most stories of Israel that talk about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob or the Egyptian experience under Moses, this history of Jerusalem starts with the Canaanites. This has led many to believe that there may be some validity to this history. Of course, this is specifically aimed at the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They were Canaanites whose mother was a Hittite with their father an Amorite. The Amorites were an ancient Syrian tribe with a Semitic language that also lived in Canaan from about 1700 BCE. From a biblical perspective based on Genesis, chapter 10, they were the descendants of Canaan and Ham. Amorite and Canaanite were interchangeable. They were definitely there before the Moses-Joshua experience. The Hittites were another Canaanite group that seemed to be friendly in many of the Genesis stories.

The repentance in the exile (Bar 2:32-2:35)

“‘The Israelites

Will praise me

In the land

Of their exile.

They will remember

My name.

They will turn

From their stubbornness.

They will turn

From their wicked deeds.

They will remember

The ways of their ancestors,

Who sinned

Before the Lord.

I will bring them again

Into the land

That I swore

To give to their ancestors,

To Abraham,

To Isaac,

To Jacob.

They will rule

Over it.

I will increase them.

They will not be diminished.

I will make

An everlasting covenant

With them

To be their God.

They shall be my people.

I will never again

Remove

My people Israel

From the land

That I have given them.’”

Baruch recounts what Yahweh via Moses said to the people about their repentance during the exile. The Israelites would praise him in their exile country as they would remember the name of Yahweh. They would turn from their stubbornness and wicked deeds. They would remember how their ancestors had sinned. Yahweh was going to again bring them into the land that he promised to their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There they would rule in this land as they increased, not diminished, with an everlasting covenant. He would be their God. They would be his people.  He would never again remove them from the land that he had given them. We will see how that works out.