Our church is involved in a “read through the Bible” program we started back in January. We have just navigated our way through the Old Testament and a few weeks ago we were happy to see the book of Matthew coming up on our reading assignment. It was good to be moving into more familiar territory, although reading through the entire Old Testament was an amazing blessing. As refreshing as it was to open the Bible to Matthew, the first chapter is not exactly a page-turner. The first seventeen verses of Matthew are a retelling of the lineage of Jesus in excruciating detail using a monotonous cadence. It’s tempting to skim it quickly, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, so-and-so begat so-and-so, and so-and-so begat so-and-so. Let’s move on.” However, in reading through it with the lens of our current cultural moral decay, there was one gem in the middle of it that astonished me.
The whole purpose of this list was to establish Jesus as coming from the lineage of David. David is the key figure in this history. Verse 17 tells us that this lineage marks “fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.” These were the markers in the history of the children of Israel. This is how God’s chosen people bore witness to their chosen-ness. This was the authentication that they were the people through whom the Messiah would come. This made them credible, honorable and, well, kosher.
Like all family genealogies, this list includes a number of less than admirable representatives of the Israelites. But that didn’t matter, because the centerpiece of this lineage was Israel’s golden boy, David. David made everything OK. It’s like when someone makes reference to the weird people in your family and you point to the one superstar in your clan. Just having that person on the family tree makes all the other fallen leaves more palatable.
There is no mistake, this is “David’s line.” David is the star, the hero of Israel’s history, a man after God’s own heart:
- 1 Chronicles 14:17, “And the fame of David went out into all lands, and the Lord brought the fear of him upon all nations.”
- 1 Chronicles 18:14, “So David reigned over all Israel, and he administered justice and equity to all his people.”
- Acts 13:22, “And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’”
He was God’s chosen:
- 2 Chronicles 21:7, “Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.”
- Ezekiel 37:25, “They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever.”
- I Kings 8:16, “Since the day I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city in any tribe of Israel to have a temple built so that my Name might be there, but I have chosen David to rule my people Israel.”
His throne was to be the throne of the Messiah:
- Matthew 22:42, “Saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, ‘The son of David.’”
- Luke 1:42, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David.”
- Isaiah 9:7, “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
Given this rich history and the exalted place of David in the history of Israel and the line of Jesus, we would expect that when he is mentioned in Matthew’s accounting his name would be in all caps, bolded and underlined. And that’s where the surprise comes.
The mention of David follows the same pattern of the rest of the 16 verses of lineage, with one amazing, shocking exception. Here’s how Matthew records David’s place in verse 6, “and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife (italics mine).”
Did you see it? In all of David’s greatness, courage, faithfulness and zeal for God, he had a major failing. He committed adultery and then committed murder to cover it up. Yet because of his contrition (read Psalm 51 to understand his anguish) and the amazing grace of God, he continues as king, and through Bathsheba comes Solomon, and the line of David continues.
If I were writing the lineage of Jesus and wanting to show David as the star of the history of Israel, I certainly would not mention this sin. After all, no one else’s sin was added to their name in this list, and there were plenty to name. For the golden boy of Israel, all we want to remember is his glory, right?
And yet here we have it, almost thrown in our face. Attached to the mention of the royal King David in this most important retracing of the lineage of Jesus, we have this line about David’s offspring, “whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.”
Why? Bathsheba isn’t even named, and Uriah, the murdered husband gets his name in the same line as King David. Why would Matthew, who is so fixated on tying Jesus’ ministry and work to the promises of the Messiah, find it necessary to remind everyone not of David’s grandeur but of his sin?
The lesson for us in our day of “Cancel Culture” is that history is a way for us to remember that all of us are sinners saved by grace. If all we want to remember are the victories of those who came before us, we distort their story, and in a sad way, we dehumanize them in the process.
When we only want happy memories that inspire us, we ignore the richness of the human experience that always includes both victory and defeat, triumph and tragedy, success and failure. No one person in human history apart from Christ can rightly be venerated without acknowledging this humanness, this fallenness. It should not be ignored in them or in us. It’s part of our story, threads that weave the fabric of our lives whether we like to remember them or not.
It was David himself who said, “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3) Who indeed?
We live in a time when there is no tolerance for past sins because there is no capacity for current grace. When we cease to believe we need grace, we cannot and will not grant it to others, including those who came before us. Believing we are above the need for forgiveness, we will not forgive others. And so, we tear down statues and obliterate the names of everyone whose life story includes sin that might offend us. We stand in judgment of those in our past from a position of self-righteousness fueled by a rejection of grace.
I am thankful Matthew had the wisdom and courage (through the Holy Spirit) to make us acknowledge that the great King David was just as human as the rest of us, that his reign required repentance and grace, just like the rest of us. I’m glad Matthew didn’t cancel David. May we find ourselves so named with those who have received grace that we can look back through history and extend the same to those who have come before us.