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“ The Boo of the Genealogy." S. Matthew wrote for Jews. So at the beginning of his narrative he establishes, by a regular gerealogy, that Jesus Christ was the son of David and Abraham, in accord with what had been predicted by the Prophets. S. Luke, on the other hand, writing for the heathen converted to Christianity goes back, as will be seen, to Adam, the original father of humanity.
“ By Tamar." It is out of the ordinary for Jews to reckon their genealogy by the use of the names of women.
In this list of the genealogy of Jesus we find the names of three women besides that of Mary. There are several extraordinary facts connected with these names from a Jewish standpoint as well as in reference to the subject in itself.
In the first place it is here seen that foreign or Gentile blood becomes mingled with the Jewish blood as this line of genealogy goes down. Rahab the mother of Boaz was a Canaanite. Ruth, the wife of Boaz, was likewise such a foreigner. But not only so. This Tamar played the harlot and had children by her father-in-law. Jesus' descent comes through one of these children.
Rahab, at an earlier date, did not assume the appearance of a harlot for the avenging of a wrong as Tamar did, but she was known of universally as a common prostitute of the Canaanitish Jericho. Then when we come to David we find the descent coming through Bathsheba, the woman whom he had most cruelly snatched away from her lawful husband, having the husband killed to cover up his crime.
What is to be said to these facts ? Answer for yourself. Must we have a great and pure ancestry to be great ourselves ? Are our lives necessarily and irretrievably vitiated by the sins of our forefathers ? Must we be able to count a pure lineage either in character or in country to become the greatest man that ever lived ?
1:17. “So all the generations from Abraham to David."
In counting the three periods of fourteen generations each, according to Jewish custom we must count the first and the last of each group, that is Abraham to David inclusive make fourteen generations, David to Jeconiah, inclusive make fourteen generations, Jeconiah to Jesus make fourteen generations.
“ Behold! the virgin.” 1:23. Nearly all the quotations from the Old Testament are characterized by Hebrew Parallelism and are printed in smaller type to distinguish them from the rest of the Gospel.
“ Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.” According to a popular legend, these Magi were three kings, each representing one of the three races sprung from Noah. Gaspar, a descendant of Shem, Melchor
from Ham, and Balthasar from Japhet, are said to have been their names.
Christendom has rightly seen in this visit of the Magi the earnest of the future ingathering of the whole heathen world. Among all the festivals entering into the Christmas cycle, none has made so deep an impression on Christian life and feeling, poetry and art, as this “ Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.”
3:4. “John had his clothes of camel's hair,” etc.
These were the food and the clothes of the poor. To this day locusts, the fruit of the locust tree, are carried to market in Arabian villages. They are very thick and sometimes attain to the length of five inches.
3:7 “ He saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” There are, on the one hand, ungodly learned men,
the Sadducees; there are, on the other hand, men of religious arrogance, the Pharisees. They are offering themselves to a formality to become popular, that the multitude may not be shocked. But they are careful not to confess their their sins and to recognize their real misery; hence John's remonstrances.
The Pharisees, men of empty religion and formality, have the letter of the law written on their habits as in their memories, and they think themselves holy because of the variety and the subtlety of their observances. Men of law, but not of justice, they tread eternal justice under foot by their legal iniquities. They smother the simple and real life of God within them by the multiplicity of their practices and the antiquity of their traditions. How would they understand the necessity of conversion ? What sins have they to confess? Do they not regard
themselves, both altogether and in every particular as being the very pattern of perfection?
As for the Sadducees, they do not believe in another life. How then would they understand the necessity of leaving this life, and leaving it voluntarily? They do not believe in another order, supernatural, higher than the present order of things. They deny this new kingdom which the Good News proclaims. How can they understand the new birth of the heavenly life? They deny there is good and evil, vice and virtue. What sins would they then have to confess ?
These are the men of mutilated thought, of base hope, and of sophistic negation. These are the men of empty religion. These are the two detestable moral races-races,. alas ! of all times and of all places—who are the obstacle to the life of God in the soul of individuals and of peoples. They employ their perverse spirit to poison the one against the other of the two forces, equally given of God : Reason and Religion.
The Forerunner calls them “ Brood of Vipers.” To break their haughty spirits and hard hearts, which will not be converted, and are lost if they do not consent, he threatens them, as serpents, with ax and fire.
3:11. “I, indeed, am baptizing you with water of repentance," etc.
Here John falls into Hebrew Parallelism.
But few people are aware of the fact that a considerable portion of the Bible, perhaps a third of it, is of the nature of Poetry
The oriental mind is naturally more poetic than the western and has a strong tendency to the figurative style, which is one of the ordinary characteristics of poetry.
We find the Hebrew Poetic spirit cropping out the
New Testament from time to time, now in the utterance of the greatest hymn the world has yet heard, again in words of wisdom such as the world has never before nor since listened to.
I refer to the hymn of Mary, S. Luke 1:46–55, and our Lord's Sermon on the Mount, S. Matthew 5:1–7:27.
Besides Mary's Hymn, see that of Zachariah, S. Luke 1:68–89, and that of Simeon, S. Luke 2:29–32.
Our Lord's address to the twelve when he sent them out to preach, and other instances of Hebrew poetic structure will be noticed as the reader proceeds.
For fuller treatment of Hebrew Verse Structure see the note on this subject among the General Notes in S. Mark.
“ His fan is in his hand,” etc. For a correct understanding of this image, it is necessary to recall how the Jews gathered their harvest. When the mowers had cut the wheat, the sheaves were spread upon an oval shaped threshing floor. Cattle yoked abreast trampled it with a double effect, causing on the one hand the grains of wheat to become separated from the stem and each grain to become separated from its enveloping husk. Towards evening, when in the east a strong breeze springs up, this mixture of grain and broken chaff is thrown into the air with the aid of a fan, a wide shovel with a very short handle; the grain, the heavier of the two, falls back upon the earth, while the chaff and the light fragments are carried to a distance. This is what is called cleaning the floor. It only remains for the harvester to store the harvest in the caves which served as granaries in those countries. The straw and the remains of the wheat were burnt to make manure.
See also notes on S. Mark 9:43, 44, 47, 49, 50.