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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Matthew 1

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. I.

The genealogy of Christ from Abraham to Joseph: he was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary, when she was espoused to Joseph. The angel satisfieth the anxious thoughts of Joseph, and interpreteth the name of Jesus.

Year of the World 4004.


Verse 1

Matthew 1:1. The book of the generation The lineage of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham. Campbell. Commentators are divided with regard to this phrase; some supposing that it means, and should be rendered, the history of the life of Jesus Christ; and that it is a general preface to St. Matthew's Gospel; while others, and, I think, with greater probability, render it, An account of the lineage or genealogy, and conceive it merely as the introduction to the genealogy following. See the note on Genesis 5:1. As St. Matthew wrote for the Jews, he deduces the genealogy of Christ only from Abraham, and brings it down from him through David, to shew his title to the kingdom of Israel; while St. Luke, who wrote for the use of the Gentile converts, deduces the genealogy from Adam. See Genesis 22:18. Psalms 2 : But concerning these genealogies, and the variations in them, we will speak when we come to St. Luke, Luke 3:23. St. Matthew gives to Jesus the name of Christ, which signifies anointed, and marks out the royal, sacerdotal, and prophetical offices; answering to the name of Messiah, by which the Redeemer was always known and spoken of by the Jews. One right way of estimating things, says Dr. Heylin, (in nearly these words,) is by our want of them. If we look into ourselves, we shall find a want of Christ in all his offices; for, before some considerable proficiency is made in religion through the grace of God, men are at a distance from God, alienated from him, and incapacitated for that free access to the Creator, which, it should seem, an intelligent being might naturally hope for. Hence we want a mediator, an intercessor; in a word, a Christ, in his priestly functions. This regards our situation with respect to God. With respect to ourselves, we find a total darkness, blindness, ignorance of God, and the things of God: here we want a Christ in his prophetic office, to enlighten our minds, and teach us the whole will of God. We also find within us a strong misrule of appetites and passions, and discordant interests, blindly espoused: for these we want a Christ, in his regal office, to govern our hearts, and establish his kingdom within us. Calmet observes, that as the Jewish converts, for whom this Gospel was principally written, had no doubt of the Divinity of the Messiah, St. Matthew did not judge it necessary to dwell here upon that subject. He contents himself with giving an account of his incarnation and birth, of a virgin; not that these truths were disputed by the faithful, but because they had been gain-said by the credulous and hardened Jews. St. John, on the contrary, who wrote among the Gentiles, applied himself to set forth and make known the Divinity of the Saviour; for this was the point to which they made the strongest objections.


Verse 3

Matthew 1:3. Judeas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar It is remarkable, that only four women are mentioned in this genealogy,and all of them branded in the sacred history with a mark of infamy; Thamar for incest, Rachab forfornication, Ruth for heathenism, and Bathsheba for adultery. Perhaps the Holy Spirit designed to obviate the cavils of the Jews, who entertained low thoughts of Christ, because he was born of so mean a mother; for they could not but see the absurdity of such a prejudice, when they considered that their most illustrious heroes sprang from women, whose actions rendered them infinitely meaner than the mother of our Lord: her spotless character, and unaffected piety, were nobler ornaments than all the boasted gifts of fortune. We may just observe, that the Hebrews do not commonly mention women in their genealogies, except as here, when some particular reason obliges. He who came into the world to save sinners, and to call all men, the just and unjust, to partake of his salvation, did not disdain to have sinners numbered among his ancestors; and therefore no sinner should despair of his mercy. See Macknight and Calmet.


Verse 5

Matthew 1:5. Rachab See the note on Joshua 2:1. Dr. Doddridge observes, that though it is not expressly said that this person was Rahab of Jericho, commonly called the harlot; yet there can be no room to doubt, as we know that she was contemporary with Salmon, and may conclude that she, as all the other women mentioned in this list, was a remarkable person. Now there was no other of that name, especially of this age, of whom the Evangelist could, so far as we can judge, suppose his reader to have any knowledge.


Verse 6

Matthew 1:6. Solomon, of her that had been, &c.— In the original it is, by her of Urias; a mode of expression common both among the Greeks and Romans. See the note on 2 Samuel 12:24.


Verse 8

Matthew 1:8. Joram begat Ozias It is undeniably evident, from 2 Chron. chap. 22: and following, that three princes are here omitted. There are instances of the like omissions in other genealogies. See Ezra 7 where, by comparing that chapter with 1 Chronicles 6 it is found that five generations were left out. We may well suppose that it was by some peculiar divine direction, that the sin of Jehoram is thus animadverted upon even to the fourth generation; his intermediate descendants being thus blotted out of the records of Christ's family, and overlooked as if they had never been. See Doddridge, Beausobre and Lenfant.


Verse 11

Matthew 1:11. Josias begat Jechonias, &c.— Dr. Doddridge renders this verse thus, after the reading of the Bodleian and other manuscripts, notice of which is taken in the margin of our English bibles; And Josiah begat Jehoiachim and his brethren; and about the time of the Bablyonish captivity Jehoiahim begat Jechoniah: a reading, which seems absolutely necessary to keep up the number of fourteen generations. Instead of the time they were carried away, &c. in this and the next verse, we may read, the time of the trans-migration, or carrying away: and so Matthew 1:17.


Verse 13

Matthew 1:13. And Zorobabel begat Abiud Among the sons of Zorobabel (which signifies a stranger in Babylon), reckoned up 1 Chronicles 3 there is no mention of Abiud, or his posterity; but as the Jews were very careful to keep genealogical tables of their families, St. Matthew had, in all likelihood, what he mentions here, out of some authentic genealogies preserved in the family of Joseph, whose ancestors, from Zorobabel, are likewise omitted in the genealogies extant in the Chronicles, because, in all probability, their condition was but mean and obscure.


Verse 16

Matthew 1:16. Jacob begat Joseph It is a maxim among the Jews, that the family of the mother is not called a family; all their pedigrees are reckoned and deduced from the father. This is the reason why St. Matthew has here set down the genealogy of Joseph. It is also very probable, that Mary was an only daughter, and, in some degree, an heiress, and consequently obliged to marry in her own family. See Numbers 7:9. So that by giving the genealogy of Joseph, St. Matthew gives at the same time that of Mary. He is called the husband of Mary; for the names of husband and wife were given bythe Jews to persons who were only betrothed. See Genesis 29:21. Deuteronomy 22:24. Some copies, however, read, Joseph, to whom the virgin Mary was betrothed. It is added at the end of this verse, who is called Christ; that is to say, who is known by that name, and is really the Christ, or the Messiah. Compare Luke 1:32; Luke 1:35. For to be called is a frequent Hebraism, to express that the person spoken of shall really and effectually be what he is there called, and actually fulfil that title. So, Matthew 1:23 it is said, They shall call his name Emmanuel; which is no common appellation of Christ, but indicates his nature and office; the Deity incarnate, who by his Spirit dwells in the hearts of the faithful. See Beausobre and Lenfant, and Heylin.

Who is called Christ What first gave rise to this term was, the ceremony of anointing, bywhich the kings and the high-priests of God's people, and sometimes the prophets, were consecrated and admitted to the exercise of their holy functions: for all these functions were accounted holy among the Israelites. As this consecration was considered as adding a sacredness to their person, it served as a guard against violence, from the respect had to religion. Its efficacy this way was remarkably exemplified in David. By this consideration principally, as he acknowledges, he was restrained from avenging himself on Saul his enemy, who sought his life, when he had it in his power to kill him. The Lord forbid, said he, that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord's anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against, him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord. 1 Samuel 24:6. The word here translated anointed is, as in other places, in Hebrew Messiah, and in the Greek of the Seventy, Christ. It was a term, therefore, in its original use, applicable to all the succession of kings and high-priests, good and bad, of the people of Israel.

But the most eminent use and application of the word is, when it is employed as the title of that Divine Personage typified and predicted from the beginning, who was to prove, in the most exalted sense, the Redeemer and Lord of God's people. He is spoken of by the prophets under several characters, and, amongst others, under this of God's anointed, the Messiah or the Christ. Those of the prophets, who seem more especiallyto have appropriated this title, formerly more common, to the Mediator of the New Covenant, were the royal prophet David, Isaiah, and Daniel. The first represents him as anointed of God King of God's heritage, the second as set apart and consecrated to be the Messenger of good tidings to the inhabitants of the earth, the third as appointed to make expiation for the sins of the people. See Psalms 2:2; Psalms 105:15. 1 Chronicles 16:22. Isaiah 61:1; Isaiah 61:11. Daniel 9:25-26.


Verse 17

Matthew 1:17. So all the generations, &c.— St. Matthew, designing to shew that Jesus was the Messiah, begun his genealogy at Abraham, to whom the promise was originally made that in his seed all the families of the earth should be blessed: but the succession of Christ's ancestors downward naturally resolves itself into three classes; namely, first, of private persons, from Abraham to David; next of kings, from David to Jehoiachim; and then of private persons again, from the Babylonish captivity, when an end was put to the royal dignity of our Lord's progenitors in the person of Jehoiachim; who, though he was born twenty-six years before the captivity, and really swayed the sceptre, is properly enough reckoned among the private persons, from the captivity to Christ; because the Babylonians stripped him of his dignity, and reduced him to the condition of a private man. It is observable, that in the second clause the sacred writer does not say, all the generations, as knowing that for good reasons he had omitted three belonging to that interval; but only that the whole number of those which he had named was fourteen, as they really were. See Macknight, and Whitby.


Verse 18

Matthew 1:18. Now the birth of Jesus Christ, &c.— Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this manner; literally, was thus; not only the birth, but the conception of Christ, and what preceded it, are here included, in the word γεννησις, which we translate birth, and which some critics have unwarily confused with the word γενεσις, generation, used in the first verse of this chapter. Among the Jews there was a considerable space of time (generally a year, or six months) between the betrothing or wedding; and during this space of time it was that Mary was found with child by the power of the Holy Ghost. See Luke 1:26. The last clause of the verse is better rendered by some, She was found to be pregnant, or with child, by the Holy Ghost.


Verse 19

Matthew 1:19. Being a just man Dr. Doddridge observes very well, that it is without any good reason that this text is often assigned as an instance, that the word is used to signify merciful or good-natured. If we consider the information which Joseph might have received from persons of such an extraordinary character as Zecharias and Elizabeth, who would certainly think themselves obliged to interpose on such an occasion, and whose account so remarkably carried its own evidence with it; besides the intimationgivenbytheprophesyof Isaiah, and the satisfaction he undoubtedly had in the virtuous character of Mary herself;—we must conclude, that he would have acted a very severe and unrighteous part, had he proceeded to extremities without serious deliberation; and that putting her away privately would, in these circumstances, have been the hardest measure which justice would have suffered him to take. He was therefore determined not to make her a public example; παραδειγματισαι, which possibly refers to that exemplary punishment inflicted by the lawon those who had violated the faith of their espousals, before the marriage was completed. See Deuteronomy 22:23-24 where it is expressly ordered, that a betrothed virgin, if she polluted herself with another man, should be stoned. We may suppose, however, that the infamy of a public divorce, though she had not been stoned, may also be expressed by this same word. But then there was a private kind of divorce, in the bill for which, delivered before two witnesses only, no reason for the divorce was assigned; the dowry was not forfeited as in the former case, and the woman consequently was not so much defamed. Joseph thought upon this last method of proceeding: ignorant as he then was of the divine conception in Mary, there was doubtless a conflict in his breast from opposite considerations. Justice shewed, on the one hand, what was due to himself; on the other, what was due to one of Mary's character. In justice to himself, he would not cohabit with one whom he ignorantly thought to be defiled; in justice to Mary, he would not give up to the rigour of the law a person hitherto so blameless. His purity must not consort with supposed pollution; therefore he would put her away: her character was in all other respects such, that she ought not to be exposed to public infamy; therefore he would put her away privately. While he was thus deliberating within himself, and innocently in danger of doing wrong, to give us a remarkable instance of the care which God takes of good men, both in affording them direction, and keeping them from sin, God graciously interposed for the direction of Joseph, and associated him with Mary in the most glorious charge that ever creature was dignified with; even the tuition and care of the Saviour. See Heylin and Wetstein.


Verse 20

Matthew 1:20. The angel of the Lord Probably Gabriel, who had been sent to Zecharias and Mary. That Joseph's scruple did not proceed, as some of the fathers suppose, merely from veneration, appears from the reason given why he should take Mary, which in that case would have been the only reason against it. Some read the next clause, Scruple not the taking of Mary thy wife. The last phrase, is of the Holy Ghost, means, "Hath been formed by the Holy Ghost." See Psalms 118:23. It is observable, that the angel reminds Joseph of his descent from David, as it were to awaken his hopes, and to raise his thoughts to the great event which was now about to open to his view.


Verse 21

Matthew 1:21. Thou shalt call his name Jesus That is, He shall be God the Saviour; for he shall prove that glorious and divine Person, the long-expected Messiah, intended by God to save his people, even all that truly and perseveringly believe in him; by procuring an ample pardon for them, and raising them, after a life of holiness on earth, to a state of consummate perfection and eternal happiness. Bishop Pearson seems to have set the etymology of the name Jesus in the clearest light in his large discourse upon it, where he endeavours to prove that Jah, one of the names of God, enters into the composition of the Hebrew name Joshua, to which Jesus answers; a derivation, which plainly shews how Christ's being called Jesus, that is to say, God our Saviour, was in effect an accomplishment of the prophesy, that he should be called Emmanuel; for what else, says the bishop, is God with us, than God our Saviour? Well, therefore, has the Evangelist conjoined the prophet and the angel, asserting that Christ was therefore named Jesus, because it was foretold he should be called Emmanuel. See Pearson on the Creed, p. 69-71 and Doddridge.


Verse 22

Matthew 1:22. Now all this was done, &c.— In all this, what was spoken by the prophet was verified. Campbell. The original words found as if the prophesy was the cause of the event predicted; but, generally speaking, things do not come to pass because they are foretold, but are foretold because they certainly will come to pass. The difficulty here lies in the particle that, put for the Greek ινα, which does not always signify the cause, but sometimes the event or consequence. The Evangelists so often use it in this latter sense, that there will be frequent occasion to have recourse to it; and therefore the reader will do well to bear this remark in mind. It may be proper just to observe, that the phrase, it might be fulfilled, and the like, were frequentlydesigned and understood to mean no more than that something answered alike in both cases. There was an aptness or suitableness in the cause, the parts, or circumstances, of one event to the other. Even to this day the Jews in their comments say, That is it which was spoken; and use the term to fulfil, upon relating a similar fact, and not the same referred to in the prophet which they cite; so that we must not always understand this phrase as applicable to immediate prophesies only. See Wetstein, Hammond, and Heylin.


Verse 23

Matthew 1:23. Behold, a virgin, &c.— To what we have said on this prophesy in its proper place, Isaiah 7:14 may now be added, that it is not possible to understand it of any other persons than of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin, in whom alone it is completely and literally fulfilled: but Bishop Chandler has, with so much learning and ability, explained this text to the satisfaction of all rational persons, that I have nothing more to do than to refer my readers to the 237th and following pages of his Defence of Christianity. See also Green's fourth letter to Mr. Collins, and Usher's Annals, A.M. 3262. The last clause of this verse seems to supply us with a full proof that St. Matthew wrote his Gospel in Greek, and not in Hebrew or Syriac, as many writers have supposed.


Verse 24

Matthew 1:24. Being raised from sleep—bidden him Awaked out of sleep—directed him.


Verse 25

Matthew 1:25. And knew her not till, &c.— Some may infer from this passage, that Mary had other children afterwards; but the original here only excludes the time preceding the birth, without any consequence as to the future. Thus Michal had no child until the day of her death; 2 Samuel 6:23 where the LXX has the Greek word εως, as in the text. Nor do the words which follow in the Evangelist alter the case; her first-born son; for there may be a firstborn without a second; and the commentators abound with instances where the term first-born is used, though there are no subsequent children. On what terms Joseph and Mary afterwards lived, is of so little consequence to us, that I cannot but wonder, says Dr. Doddridge, it should have been the subject of so much debate among Christians. The present passage surely is clear enough, wherein the Evangelist, in the plainest manner, asserts that Joseph cohabited not with Mary till she was delivered of her wonderful Son, who is truly the first-born among his brethren, and which alone was of consequence for Christians to kn

Inferences.—As all our hopes depend upon the salvation purchased by the Lord Jesus Christ, it is most satisfactory to observe how convincing the evidence is, that he is the true Messiah, the Son of God, and the son of man, in whom the prophesies of the Old Testament and the promises made to the fathers were fulfilled.

When we survey such a series of generations as this before us, it is obvious to reflect, how, like the leaves of a tree, one passeth away, and another cometh; yet the earth still abideth, and with it the goodness of the Lord; which runs on from generation to generation, the common hope of parents and children. Of those who formerly lived upon the earth, and perhaps made the most conspicuous figure, how many are there whose names have perished with them; how many, of whom only the name is remaining! Thus are we passing away, and thus shall we shortly be forgotten: happy if, while we are forgotten of men, we are remembered by God: happy, if our names, lost on earth, are at length found written in the book of life.

Never was any daughter of Eve so dignified as the Virgin Mary; yet was she in danger of falling under the imputation of one of the worst of crimes. We find not, however, that she tormented herself about it; but, conscious of her own innocency, she kept her mind calm and easy, and committed her cause to him who judgeth righteously; and, like her, those who are careful to keep a good conscience, may cheerfully trust God with the keeping of their good name.

We have in Joseph an excellent pattern of gentleness and prudence (Matthew 1:19.). In an affair which appeared dubious, he chose, as we should always do, rather to err on the favourable than on the severe extreme; he was careful to avoid any precipitate steps; and in the moments of deliberation God interposed, to guide and determine his resolves. It is good for us to think, to reflect on things, as Joseph did. Were there more of deliberation in our censures and judgments, there would be more of mercy and moderation in them.

The angel appeared to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:20). When we are most quiet and composed, we are in the best frame to receive the notices of the divine will. Extraordinary direction, like the present, is not to be expected by us; but God has still methods of making known his mind in doubtful cases, by hints of Providence, debates of conscience, advice of faithful friends, and by the study of, and light thrown upon, his sacred word. We should therefore from each of these (still applying the general rules of the written word) take direction from God in all the steps of our life, and more particularly in the great concerns of it.

With what wonder and pleasure must Joseph have received the glad tidings, so honourable to Mary, so satisfactory to himself! With what pleasure should we also receive them! For we too are informed of Jesus, who came to save his people from their sins. How important and glorious a salvation! Blessed JESUS! answer thy character, in delivering us not only from sin's condemning, but from its reigning and existing power. May our souls bow to EMMANUEL, our incarnate God, and gratefully adore that wonderful condescension,—God and man united in one Christ, that God and man may be for ever reconciled!

REFLECTIONS.—1st, As the Old Testament opened with the generation of the heaven and the earth, the New begins with the generation of Him who, in the fulness of time, became incarnate for man's redemption from the curse he had brought upon himself, and under which the whole creation groaned. We have here his genealogy from authentic records, to prove the accomplishment of the prophesies which went before concerning him, as sprung, according to the flesh, from David and Abraham, Genesis 12:3. 2 Samuel 7:12 for which purpose these genealogical tables are produced, abundantly sufficient for the conviction of those in that day, that Jesus was descended from these patriarchs, whatever cavils have since been raised, or difficulties started against them.

In this genealogy we may observe, (1.) That the line of descent is not always through the first-born, but in many, as Abraham, Jacob, Judah, David, &c. from the younger sons. (2.) That of the four women mentioned, we have two Gentiles and two adulteresses, who would seem to add no honour to their descendants; but herein we have an intimation, that Christ's salvation was not designed to be confined to the Jewish people, but to be extended to the Gentiles also; and that the most guilty need not despair, when they see that our Lord, in taking the likeness of sinful flesh, humbles himself to derive his descent from such as these. (3.) In the genealogy there are several persons passed over; for what reason, it is difficult, and of little import, to resolve; and the lineal descendant, though at the distance of three generations, is said to be the son of his remote ancestor, as in the case of Ozias. (4.) The generations are divided into three fourteens, not that there were no more persons really in the descent, but that the Evangelist thought fit to mention no more. In the first, we see the family of David rising to the throne; in the second, a race of kings descend from him; in the last, the royal family declines even to a poor carpenter; so fading is this world's greatness. Yet then, when to human view all prospect of the kingdom's being restored to David's house seemed desperate, Jesus arose to sit on his father's throne, Luke 1:32.: when God promises, we never need despair. (5.) Jesus is called Christ, or Messiah, the Anointed One, uniting in his person the threefold offices, to which men were anointed under the law, of prophet, priest, and king; and all his followers are called Christians, an honourable title, and most applicable to those who have indeed received an unction from the holy One, and are consecrated to God as kings and priests through their exalted Head.

2nd, The account of the birth of Jesus follows his genealogy. And we have,

1. His miraculous conception. His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph; but before the marriage was consummated she was found with child, through the wondrous operation of the Holy Ghost, who formed Christ's human nature, that it might be pure from every spot of that corruption which naturally descends to every son of Adam with his being; and that he might thus be a Lamb without blemish, fit for God's altar.

2. Joseph's prudent resolve. Probably Mary herself communicated to him the circumstances of her case; and though a thousand suggestions might rise up to question her veracity; (and to take her to his bed in such a situation he could not think of, being a just man;) yet was he unwilling withal to make her a public example, and have her punished with death as an adulteress: her artless relation and unaffected simplicity, though wonderful, might well have caused him to hesitate; and where the shadow of a doubt remains, a just man will ever lean to the side of mercy and charity: therefore he resolved to put her away privily, as little as possible to wound her character, while duty bade him preserve his own. Note; (1.) Though apparently the greatest injuries may be done us, it is wise to suppress rash anger, and deliberate before we punish. (2.) In very dark cases, where any circumstances appear which will admit of a favourable interpretation, love, which thinketh no evil, will gladly entertain them.

3. The Lord relieves Joseph from his perplexity: while he deliberates what was fit to be done for God's glory and his own peace in Mary's case, the angel of the Lord in a dream directs him how to act. For, when we are in doubt, yet in simplicity desire to know and follow the will of God, we shall be directed, if not by an angel or a dream, yet by some word of God, or intimation of Providence. Joseph is now diverted from his purpose, and bidden, without hesitation, to take to him his wife, since her conception is not the fruit of adultery, but of the Holy Ghost; and the angel calls him Joseph, thou son of David, to lead his thoughts from this extraordinary circumstance to the Messiah who should descend from him; assuring him, that this child now conceived is designed to be the very person, as the name given him imports; he shall be called Jesus, or the Saviour; this being the great end of his appearing, to save his people from their sins, from the punishment, the power, and the nature of them. Note; They to whom Jesus is become a Saviour, are distinguished from others by their holiness; every one who nameth the name of Christ must depart from iniquity, or they are none of his; yet it is by his grace that they are enabled so to do.

4. The accomplishment of the Scriptures herein is observed by the Evangelist. The prophesy of Isaiah, Isaiah 7:14 had foretold, a virgin should conceive, and bring forth a son, and his name be called Immanuel, that is, God with us; which was now fulfilled; Mary being that virgin, and God himself by the incarnation uniting the human nature to the divine. Jesus Christ was thus enabled to execute the office of a Saviour, having the humanity thus united to his godhead, to offer for the sins of men: infinite worth was therefore annexed to this sacrifice, arising from the dignity of his person; by which means God became reconciled to us, and we who were far off were brought nigh unto God. How mysterious this union! Let us wonder, love, and adore!

5. Joseph no sooner awaked, than he obeyed the heavenly vision, which carried undoubted evidence to his mind of its original; and in obedience to the angel's command, he called the child's name Jesus. Note; (1.) When God commands, we must obey without hesitation. (2.) Since Jesus is now come into the world, we are called upon to accept of his salvation: for, if we neglect or despise it, how shall we escape?

 


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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 1:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/matthew-1.html. 1801-1803.

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