Question: The first 17 verses of Matthew, Chapter 1, provide us with a genealogical account of Jesus’ ancestors back to Abraham, but Verse 17 contains a very interesting, yet puzzling perspective. Verse 17 states “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.”
- Is there any special significance to a 14-generation cycle?
- What is the significance of the “deportation to Babylon” in the ancestral tracing, rather than identifying an individual person in the lineage?
Answer: The genealogy of Matthew has birthed a thousand questions! Some of these questions have easy answers; a few have only vague possibilities. Your question, unfortunately, is in the latter category.
My feeling is that there is doubtless some significance to the 14-generation cycle. Matthew has gone out of his way to mention this cycle, and God has proven Himself to be intricately detailed in numerical symmetry and significance. However, understanding the significance does not come easily, and several possibilities have been given.
The majority consider the groupings of 14 to be simply a memory-device. Based on Hebrew numerology, the name David has a numerical value of 14. Matthew then, conceivably, used this as a framework for the genealogy. Others point out that the 14 generations contain six sets of seven, the numbers for God (seven) and for man (six), perhaps pointing to Jesus’ nature as the God-man.
Others have tried to construct connections between the three sets of 14 with the 70 weeks of Daniel’s prophecy. My heart personally lies here, but I am unable to build an airtight case. If, for example, one considers a generation to be 35 years, then the 14 generations from the exile to Christ would be 490 years. Or, if one prefers to consider the generation to be 40 years, there is 560 years between the exile and the captivity, and removing the 70 years of captivity you have Daniel’s 490 years. While it is fascinating in its implications, thus far any real connection has not been established and numbers chosen are somewhat gratuitous rather than built on solid interpretive principles. Further complicated is the fact that Hebrew genealogies, Matthew’s included, had glaring omissions that make the western mind, known for its attention to chronological detail, uncomfortable. This can best be satisfied by realizing that Biblical writers were rarely writing for the purpose of recording a families’ historical information, but rather were “connecting the dots” from one era or family to the next.
While I am sure there is significance, I join with those who do not claim to know the details of the significance!
The genealogical groups are divided “broad-brush” by the three most significant eras of Jewish history to Matthew’s day. The period of beginnings lasted from Abraham to King David. The throne of David lasted from David through the Babylonian exile. After 70 years of exile, the Jews were able to return to the Promised Land, but were under the sovereign reign of another ruler (for all but the short period of the Macabees). This final period of return was the beginning of “the times of the gentiles” which continues to this day. Since there was no one King or individual who characterized the loss of the Kingdom and the entrance to exile, Matthew chooses simply to designate this period by its characteristic event (deportation to Babylon) rather than its chief character.
What is the point of the genealogy? It is to show that Jesus was the legal heir to the throne of David. Since the Jews had issue with the sign which Pilate placed over the head of Jesus (“The King of the Jews”), Matthew started from the beginning to present the Jews her Jewish King!