When I asked my 17-year old daughter to tell me the worst thing her older brother had ever done to her, she declined to answer. It’s not that the two of them have not sparred over the years. I simply think that (overall) they have had a positive relationship. Honestly, I kind of feel the same way about the relationship I had with my older brother. I remember the times he beat me up (as boys do), but I also remember the times he stood strong against others who threatened me.
Families are a fascinating thing. I’ve seen siblings mercilessly tease one another but when an “outsider” joins in, they immediately turn into staunch defenders. Things that are joked about between family members are completely off limits to anyone who does not have the same lineage.
In studying Matthew 1 and the genealogical record of Jesus, there are a few “family” things that jump out to me as the New Year dawns. I have to wonder how the ‘rest of the family’ felt about the names that the Apostle included…
For example, if you were going to list a woman while giving the paternal line, Ruth would be a safe one to sneak in there. As we read her story in the Scriptures, we see a woman who loved and cared for her mother-in-law (Naomi). Ruth was willing to go out and glean in the fields with the other poor. It’s (sort-of) easy to overlook the fact that she was a Moabitess as we consider her true character.
But Tamar? She was chosen by Judah from the women of Canaan. She then disguised herself as a prostitute in order to seduce her father-in-law. While we might try to neglect those facts and focus on the reasons why, it’s still a bit “icky” in our modern culture.
But Rahab? True. She did hide the spies and assist them in sneaking out of Jericho, but come on. She was not temporarily disguising herself as a prostitute. She was one. She was well known in the City as a woman of ill-repute. While listing Salmon was “fine”, sharing his wife’s name in such an important listing was, well, befuddling.
And then, the coup-de-gras – the reference that seems the least desirable to include… Well, let’s get around it by not naming her but simple calling her “the wife of Uriah”. Maybe that will make people forget the great sin of King David. Maybe that will make them forget about his lustful act with Bathsheba and then the subsequent arranged murder of Uriah (one of his very special ‘mighty men’!).
Why, oh why, Matthew, did you have to include three of those women?
Before you give me the “Bible answer” (he was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), I’d like to toss out a couple of possible simple truths…
1. The Bible is extremely pro-women. I know some choose not to read Scriptures this way, but I find God’s love for both men and women to be deep, rich, and powerful. From Miriam, Moses’ sister, who lead the other women in song and praise to Deborah, a Judge, women are key. We see passages like Deborah challenging Barak to step up and lead the army but then the honor went to Jael, who ultimately killed General Sisera after the battle. And consider a woman like Abigail, the wife of Nabal, who stopped David from acting in anger. So even before we arrive at the New Testament and see women like Eunice, Lois, Priscilla, and Lydia, the foundation is well-established.
2. We must also note that three of these women were foreign women. Tamar and Rahab were both Canaanites. Ruth was from Moab. (Bathsheba married Uriah, who was a foreigner, but she was an Israelite.) This matters because Matthew reminds his readers that God’s love and grace extend outside of the Jewish race. He clearly has an open door for those who were NOT biologically Jewish.
3. And lastly, I think we need to recognize a key beautiful and powerful lesson that we can draw from these women being included. God’s grace is more powerful than any sin. We have a human tendency to ‘rank’ sin. (“I may have cheated on my taxes, but at least I never murdered anyone.”) But God, in His great compassion and mercy, chooses to offer love and forgiveness to those who would repent of their sins and receive Christ.
As we read the genealogical record of Jesus, we can see a very diverse listing of both men and women. Even as we see many names that we recognize and possibly some that we don’t, we can be assured that the prophecies concerning the lineage of the Messiah came true. Matthew’s purpose is achieved in offering this proof.
But I do believe it goes beyond a “simple listing”. This is where I believe we get to see the true Power of his writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As we recognize the names and remember the sins (Abraham lied; Jacob was a deceiver; etc.), we should also take that special blessing to pause and recognize the power of the inclusion of four women. It should make us recognize the expansiveness of God’s grace. It should remind us that just as God offered forgiveness to David for his wretched sins, so too was that grace extended to Bathsheba for any of her sins.
So, as you hang a new calendar on the wall for this New Year dawning, I hope you will also stop to recognize the blessings of everyone and everything that brought you to this particular point and time. Recognize how God is at work in your own life as well as those who have come before. And then, as you keep pressing forward, remember to extend a bit of His love and grace to those around you.
Perhaps God might have a plan in place for your life that is going to have an impact a generation or two down the road!
Yours in Christ,