Downton Abbey on ITV3 is a must-watch for many in Jersey. Its focus is on descendants. No longer does Lord Crawley, Earl of Grantham, have any male descendants – only daughters. But Downton Abbey, in all its stately glory, must pass to a male family member....a nephew, maybe...
Similarly, a very wealthy man named Abraham lived in Mesopotamia around 4,000 years ago. He left his cosmopolitan city of Ur and was then given a promise by Almighty God about his descendants. That promise was recorded on several separate occasions and is now part of what has become the National Archive of today’s State of Israel.
The promise to this (real-life) forerunner of the (not-real) Lord Crawley went like this: “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore and .... in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
Quite a promise. Fortunately we are looking back to around BC 2000 so we can now see if the promise actually came about....
According to those same Archives, Abraham’s wife, Sarah, gave birth to Isaac and Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, gave birth to Jacob. Jacob was given the name Israel and fathered twelve sons. (Downton Abbey would have been well-secured in the male-line.)
When Israel, Abraham’s grandson, died around BC 1700 his death-bed perception of the future did not centre on his favourite son – Joseph – or on his other ten sons but only on his son named Judah.
Had Lord Crawley been Jacob he couldn’t have been more pleased that to be able to say confidently on that day about this son: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; and to him shall be the obedience of peoples.”
But would this turn out to be true? To whom did this “sceptre” ultimately belong? Fast forward then to BC 1010.
Israel (Jacob) is now a nation of several million. Its first king, Saul, has been a failure and the search is on for a new King. God’s faithful prophet, Samuel, is sent to Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse of the tribe of Judah.
Jesse had twelve sons. Samuel asked Jesse to bring those sons, each in turn, to him so that he would know which one must be anointed future King of Israel. He anointed the youngest – David – and David became King, reigned in Jerusalem for 40 years and handed the kingdom over to his son, Solomon who reigned for a further 40 years until BC 930. But Solomon’s son began the downfall of the house of David..... God’s promises to Judah (and to Abraham) seemed to fall with it - until Jesus came.
Born in Bethlehem AD 0, Jesus’ mother and father were both descendants of David, of Judah, of Jacob, and of Abraham......
Abraham had been told “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed...” And – see bold above – the daughter of a non-descendant of Abraham was healed. She called on Jesus. She called him, “Son of David.”
In AD 70 the genealogical records in Jerusalem were destroyed, along with Jerusalem, by the Romans. From that date, no one is able to prove descent as a “Son of David” or even as an “Offspring of Abraham”. God’s promises could have no fulfilment other than in Jesus.
No wonder that two of the four biographers of Jesus detail his genealogy so carefully. More than Downton Abbey was (and is) at stake. The blessing of the whole human race in fact.