The purpose of Matthew’s genealogy is further brought out by its symmetrical arrangement into three groups of fourteen generations each – an arrangement not arrived at without some free manipulating of the links. The sacred number is doubled in each case, which implies eminent completeness.
Each of the three groups makes a whole in which a tendency runs out to its goal and becomes, as it were, the starting point for a new epoch. So, the first group is pre-monarchical and culminates in David, the king. Israel’s history is regarded as all tending towards that consummation. He is thought of as the first king, for Saul was a Benjaminite and had been deposed by divine authority.
The second group is monarchical, and it, too, has a drift, as it were, which is tragically marked by the way in which its last stage is described: “Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren about the time that they were carried away to Babylon.” Josiah had four successors, all of them phantom kings – (1) Jehoahaz, who reigned for three months and was taken captive to Egypt; (2) his brother, Jehoiakim, a puppet set up by Egypt and knocked down by Babylon; (3) his son, Jehoiachin, who reigned eleven years and was carried captive to Babylon; and last (4) Zedekiah, Josiah’s son, under whom the ruin of the kingdom was completed. The genealogy does not mention the names of these ill-starred brethren partly because it traces the line of descent through Jeconias or Jehoiachin, and partly because it despises them too much. A line that begins with David and ends with such a quartet! This was what the monarchy had run out to: David at the one end and Zedekiah at the other, a bright fountain pouring out a stream that darkened as it flowed through the ages and crept, at last, into a stagnant pond, foul and evil-smelling.
Then comes the third group, and it, too, has a drift. Unknown as the names in it are, it is the epoch of restoration, and its bright consummate flower is Jesus, who is called the Christ. He will be a better David, will burnish again the tarnished luster of the monarchy, will be all that earlier kings were meant to be and failed of being, and will more than bring the day which Abraham desired to see and realize the ideal to which prophets and righteous men unconsciously were tending when, as yet, there was no king in Israel. – Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), from a meditation on Matthew 1.1-16.
The passage has been lightly edited for clarity.