“The Ballad of Matthew’s Begats” is the most important Easter song you’ve never heard
For never having studied at seminary, I know the Bible pretty darn well.
I’m not saying that to brag, or to be all holier-than-thou. In a lot of ways, I can’t help it; I cut my teeth (so to speak) on children’s Bible stories; I loved to read and was told to read the Bible; I’ve been immersed in it in some form or another for all 32 years of my life. And, of course, my mother was a Sunday School teacher, so I had a reputation to uphold. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it through cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation, but it’s at least 5 or 6 times now, and almost certainly more.
So I know my Bible, and the more I read it the more I appreciate it, and the more I learn. And the more I realize I’ve missed.
Enter Andrew Peterson and “The Ballad of Matthew’s Begats.”
It’s actually a Christmas song, based off the genealogy of Jesus listed in Matthew chapter 1. Most people hear “genealogy” and they rightly start yawning. I mean, who really gives a flip that Aaron the brother of Moses married Elisheba the daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon, anyway?
And yet Andrew Peterson decided to set one of the most famous genealogies to music.
Catchy tune, isn’t it?
I’ve known this song for three Christmases now, I think. I don’t have it memorized fully yet. But I know quite a bit of it now…enough to recognize some of the lesser names.
So if you ask the average church attender who Jesus’ ancestors were, you might get some basic answers: he’s descended from David, so that makes him legally an heir to the throne of Israel. Depending on how well you paid attention to the Genesis units in Sunday School, you may also register a few other key names: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. Ruth and Boaz, mostly by their association with David. And obviously Mary and Joseph.
But then you get this earworm in your head, and you start reading your Bible, and you start realizing something: the Bible pretty much traces Jesus’ messed up family tree.
This came to the forefront of my mind when I read in Exodus 6 that Moses’s almost-as-famous brother Aaron, founder of the priestly line, married the daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon…and realized I knew those names. Because “Amminadab had Nahshon who was then the dad of Salman, who with Rahab fathered Boaz…” And realized that this made Moses and Aaron Jesus’ great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-etc. grand uncles by marriage.
The entire Bible is about Jesus’s crazy, messed-up family tree.
Genesis is about the patriarchs who founded the line Jesus would be born from. It was filled with cowards and swindlers. His Greatx36 (numbers are approximate) granddad Judah sold his own little brother (Jesus’ Greatx36 grand-uncle Joseph) into slavery, and then gave birth to Greatx35 granddad Perez because his daughter-in-law Tamar dressed like a prostitute and tricked him into having sex with her. Genesis!
Skip ahead to the kings and you’ve got David (“who we Know. As. King!”), who got the wife of one of his top military officials preggers, then had said dude killed because he wouldn’t have sex with his wife while his buddies were on the battlefield and therefore wouldn’t unwittingly help cover up David’s sin. Solomon (“well, you all know him“), a later child of David and the aforementioned widow-by-murder, was the wisest man on earth, but was idiotic enough to have 900 wives and/or concubines. Pleasant, perhaps, but they quickly bogged Solomon down. His son (still Jesus’ ancestor!) manages to split the nice, pretty kingdom he’s been handed because he thinks overworking his subjects is a good idea. Jesus’ kingly ancestors then continue to lose control over the kingdom until they’re sent into captivity in Babylon (1 and 2nd Kings and 1st and 2nd Chronicles). You even have a couple of books of prophecy (Isaiah, Jeremiah) written specifically to yell at these ancestors.
Eventually you get Jesus’ Great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather Zerubbabel (with the correct number of “greats”), who was a big part of the Temple Rebuilding Project, and the rest of the ancestors on the list who likely only made it for symmetry’s sake (some of them may appear in the Apocrypha), all the way up to Jesus’ adopted father Joseph (the point of Matthew’s genealogy being to illustrate Jesus’ legal claim to the throne, not the biological one).
The thing is, I never really thought about the Bible as a family history book. The history of a nation, sure. But this kind of silly song has really driven home for me that a lot of the “protagonists” of the story are Jesus’ legal ancestors. And as a believer in the inerrancy of scripture, I don’t believe that’s a coincidence. The pastors at my church have often described Jesus as the hero of the Bible, so of course the collective of separate books known jointly as The Holy Bible would trace his bloodline through the generations.
But there’s more. In Ephesians 1:5, believers are described as having been adopted into Jesus’ family. If Christmas is about his birthday, then Easter weekend is in many ways our Adoption Day celebration. Jesus’ death on Good Friday was the fee for the paperwork; his resurrection was the signature on the dotted line, making our adoption official.
And that makes the Bible–Jesus’ crazy, messed up family tree–our crazy, messed up family tree as well.