SEAM – What’s up with the genealogies?


I was ready for this one. Sort of.

Ezra’s been asking a lot of questions about the various genealogies lately, in both the Old and New Testament. Some of them are pretty standard – for example, why the differences between Matthew’s record and Luke’s… and such like. I’m certainly no expert, but I’ve thought about those ones enough to give a competent answer.

Recently, though, he asked a question that I was sort of ready for, but not really. One reason I was ready for it was because I had “asked” it myself years ago, when I first became a Christian. I say “asked” because really I figured it out (so I thought) and shared my profound wisdom with a preacher friend of mine. The frozen expression on his face suggested to me that maybe I had some more thinking to do. I’ll tell you just a little bit about what my answer was then, but only so that I can tell you what I just told Ezra. After I tell you the question.

“Dad, why did God choose Judah in Jesus’ genealogy?”

Not a particularly difficult question, but it threw me for a second. See back when I knew it all, I had asked and answered this very question (side note: **AMAZING** how much that little boy is like me, even to this day) with detailed explanations about the sins of the brothers and the relative righteousness of Judah in comparison.

No. No, no, no.

The answer to the question, at least in principle, is found in a passage that mentions neither Jesus nor Judah directly.  But it does touch on genealogies… in a way.

In Romans 9:6-13, Paul is just getting warmed up on an extended (and, to be honest, difficult) argument to the Jews to help them understand that the blessings they enjoyed under the law were intended to bring them to the point of faith in the Messiah, and in no way exempted them from believing in Jesus or elevated them above believing Gentiles. In this specific section, the apostle argues that the Jews owe their blessings not to any merit on their own part, but to the sovereignty of God.  Specifically:

  1. The Jews derive their blessings from the promises made by God to Abraham.  But everyone descended from Abraham is not intended as the recipient (and more importantly, the vehicle) of blessing.  Thus Paul notes that the Jews are descended from Abraham’s son Isaac, (not Ishmael, it’s implied) – as a result of God’s sovereign choice (9:6-7).
  2. The point is hammered even harder by the example of Jacob.  The physical lineage and spiritual blessing of Abraham continues through Isaac and then his son Jacob – as opposed to Esau.  This is especially important because, as Paul himself states, the promise was made concerning Jacob “before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand” (9:10-13).

So what does this have to do with Judah?

Well, in explaining this fairly important section of Jesus’ genealogy to the Jews, Paul has given us a solid principle on which to understand other parts of it.  Quite simply, God used whomever he wanted to in order to bring Jesus into the world, because it was his right to do so.  Just as he made the choice between Isaac and Ishmael, and between Jacob and Esau… indeed just as he chose Abraham himself, for no discernible reason… he chose Judah in the midst of 11 other brothers that he could have selected.  We may think we know why this or that person was selected at a particular juncture – but ultimately, the only real answer anybody can give is that God. Is. Sovereign.

Now, saying God is sovereign doesn’t mean that he is arbitrary.  He knows what his reasons are, and if he chooses to reveal them – great.  But if not, then the knowledge of his sovereignty needs to be enough to satisfy our curiosity.

And, saying that God is sovereign doesn’t mean that he is capricious.  The choices under consideration are not, as some people think, to save and condemn people before they have done (or not done) anything to deserve it.  No, the choice is to use certain people and nations as a vehicle to bless others, specifically by bringing Jesus into the world.

So, in a nutshell, that’s what I told Ezra:  God chose Judah for the genealogy because that’s what he wanted to do.  Not because Judah deserved it, or was better than his brothers, or anything like that.  But simply because God made a choice.

I think that answer has come a ways from how I approached it 10 years ago, and in another 10, who knows if I’d still say the same thing. How would you have answered the same question?

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One Comment on “SEAM – What’s up with the genealogies?”

  1. Jim Kotter says:

    That’s a brilliant answer, Donnie, and very accurate according to how I see the Scriptures too. The way I boil it down to its simplest form is to state that there is a difference between election to service and election to salvation. God elects people to salvation based upon their own personal choice to submit to His will. Because He foreknows even our freewill decisions, He was able to plan and act accordingly. Romans 8:28-30 reveal this clearly but it’s important to remember that “those whom He foreknew” in verse 29 are “those who love Him” in verse 28. The subject is the same in both verses, namely those who love God or those who live by faith in Him. He does not elect to salvation unconditionally or against anyone’s personal will.

    When it comes to election to service, the criteria are totally bound up in the mind of God and not based upon a person’s relative righteousness or unrighteousness. After all, He did use Mary who had found favor with God (Luke 1:28, 30) to fulfill the prophecies of Messiah coming into the world but He also used Caesar Augustus’ actions (Luke 2:1) to fulfill the Messianic prophecy of Micah 5:2. No one would argue that Caesar was used by God because He had found favor in God’s eyes. The God who can use a donkey to communicate a message (Numbers 22:28) and a wicked ruler (Pharaoh) to bring redemption to His people and arrogant, self-righteous religious leaders like the Pharisees to complete His plan of salvation (Acts 2:23) is free to choose Jacob over Esau and Judah over his brothers.

    The tragic irony of those who miss these truths and thus believe that they have been unconditionally elected to salvation is that they often point to the story of Pharaoh from Exodus as their “proof text.” However, Pharaoh was not chosen for anything that we would consider desirable as he endured great hardship and suffering, even including the loss of his eldest son, as a result of his election. Furthermore, it would hardly be reassuring to base one’s confidence of salvation upon the example of one whom is described as hard-hearted and stubborn.

    One additional point – because God is sovereign and free to act as He chooses without explaining the reasons, what may seem as arbitrary to some actually provides great assurance to the believer. After all, there is nothing good that we have in ourselves to be commended before God, yet He sent His Son to provide atonement for us anyway. Had He been waiting for mankind to demonstrate worthiness first, the Word would still be in Heaven waiting to become flesh. The fact that He decided to act first and give us great and precious promises alongside fills us with an unshakeable hope that our salvation will always be based upon what He has done and not upon our own merit.


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