Easily the most unique song on the album, Peterson follows the somber tone of the previous two songs with a lively bluegrass rendition of one of the unlikeliest biblical texts ever set to music: The genealogy of Jesus Christ!
Abraham had Isaac
Isaac, he had Jacob
Jacob, he had Judah and his kin
Then Perez and Zerah
Came from Judah’s woman, Tamar
Perez, he brought Hezron up
And then came
Aram, then Amminadab
Then Nahshon, who was then the dad of Salmon
Who with Rahab fathered Boaz
Ruth, she married Boaz who had Obed
Who had Jesse
Jesse, he had David who we know as king
David, he had Solomon by dead Uriah’s wife
Solomon, well you all know him
He had good old Rehoboam
Followed by Abijah who had Asa
Asa had Jehoshaphat had Joram had Uzziah
Who had Jotham then Ahaz then Hezekiah
Followed by Manasseh who had Amon
Who was a man
Who was father of a good boy named Josiah
Who grandfathered Jehoiachin
Who caused the Babylonian captivity
Because he was a liar
Then he had Shealtiel, who begat Zerubbabel
Who had Abiud who had Eliakim
Eliakim had Azor who had Zadok who had Akim
Akim was the father of Eliud then
He had Eleazar who had Matthan who had Jacob
Now, listen very closely
I don’t want to sing this twice
Jacob was the father of Joseph
The husband of Mary
The mother of Christ
Peterson chooses the genealogy from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 1:1-16), rather than that of Luke’s (Luke 3:23-37). This was probably done for a couple of reasons (which are pure speculation… I haven’t heard AP talk about this so don’t quote me on these reasons!). The first is practical. The task of setting a genealogy to music is daunting enough… if it were me I’d choose the list with fewer names, too! Matthew’s genealogy also provides a musically friendly symmetry, as it includes three sections of 14 names: From Abraham to David was 14 generations, from David to the Babylonian deportation was 14 generations, and from the Babylonian deportation to Jesus was 14 generations (Matthew 1:17).
The second reason is symbolic. This genealogy is the very first thing we read in our New Testament. It marks a major division in the Bible. And it sets us up for the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah, the account of which begins in the very next verse (Matthew 1:18-24).
Genealogies are typically considered some of the most “boring” passages in the Bible to today’s readers, but to ancient readers, this was really exciting stuff! Genealogy was almost its own literary genre. There were different types of genealogies, written with different purposes to different audiences. The two genealogies of Christ in the New Testament are a prime example. There are many differences in individual names, as well as different numbers of generations. This is often a point of contention brought up by skeptics, but it was not uncommon for genealogies to emphasize or leave out generations for a variety of reasons.
It makes a fascinating study for those who really do want to dig in to the differences between the genealogies written by Matthew and Luke, but for now, suffice it to say that they agree on the most important thing: Jesus Christ was from the lineage of David, and was the rightful heir to the covenant promises given to the seed of Abraham.
There are a couple unique and interesting things about Matthew’s genealogy that are worth pointing out. First is its inclusion of some very unlikely characters. Though this genealogy emphasizes the royal succession of kings, it includes several women (who were almost never mentioned in Jewish genealogies), two of whom were Gentiles (Rahab and Ruth) and some of whom were of ill repute (Rahab was a prostitute, Tamar pretended to be a prostitute in order to seduce her father-in-law and conceive his child, and Bathsheba was an adultress). This is an odd assortment of characters in a genealogy intended to prove the kingly right of Jesus, particularly when one considers that, with some generations left out, these were among those that made the cut! But Jesus is the Savior of all. My sins, your sins, and the sins of everyone who has ever lived are just as ugly as the sins of those mentioned in this list.
A second thing of interest is really more a piece of trivia concerning the number 14. The Jewish practice of gematria was a system of assigning numerical values to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Doing this with the name “David” results in the number 14, thus listing King David as the 14th name in the genealogy, and dividing the genealogy into sections of 14. The astute Jewish reader of Matthew’s gospel would recognize this and immediately associate Jesus with the promises made to David and his line.
One last thing to note from this song is evident in the video above, when Peterson adds a clarification after the line saying that Jehoiachin “caused the Babylonian captivity because he was a liar“. In most live performances, Peterson adds: “which isn’t true but it rhymes“! Jehoiachin, also known in the Bible as Jeconiah and Coniah, was king of Judah for a short time, ending when he was taken captive by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. He didn’t cause the Babylonian captivity, but he was the man on the throne when it happened. And though the Bible doesn’t say anything about him being a liar, it does say that he was wicked (2 Chronicles 36:9), and God pronounced a curse on him through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 22:28-30).
So, while Peterson’s original lyrics aren’t quite factual, it wasn’t that much of a stretch, and I’m willing to give him a pass. Few who attempt to rhyme all those long Jewish names would fare so well!