SEAM – What’s up with the genealogies?Posted: June 20, 2011
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:
- 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).
- 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?