We are beginning a study of the book of Matthew, which opens with the genealogy of Jesus Christ. There is much that could be said about each person listed, but I want to note five people in particular—the five women. Women were not typically included in genealogies at that time, and this genealogy would have been sufficient even without them listed. So Matthew, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, must have had good reason to mention these five names.
Tamar – “Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar” (Matt. 1:3 ESV).
Tamar’s story is found in Genesis 38. She was married to Judah’s son Er who died. By Jewish law she was entitled to go to her brother-in-law Onan so that she could bear a son. Onan refused and God put him to death. Judah promised Tamar she would eventually go to his other son Shelah, but Judah reneged on his promise. Tamar had to find another way to carry on the family line, and she managed to trick Judah into being the father by posing as a prostitute, and thus she bore Perez and Zerah.
This is a bizarre story by modern standards, and yet it points out the fact that God will accomplish His purposes even through the sins of people. Judah and Tamar both made questionable choices, but God carried on the family line of Abraham through them.
Rahab – “Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab” (Matt. 1:5).
The story of Rahab from Joshua 2 and 6 is probably more familiar. She was a prostitute who had her home in the wall of Jericho. When the Israelite spies came into town she hid them and helped them to escape the authorities because “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us” (Josh. 2:9). From the stories she had heard about the Exodus (which took place 40 years earlier!), she knew enough about God to believe that He was going to overthrow Jericho. When Israel marched around the city and the walls fell, Rahab and her family were saved. Matthew’s reference to her is actually the first in Scripture that indicates her marriage to Salmon. Matthew evidently drew this from other rabbinic teachings.
So we have here another woman who was not only a prostitute but also a foreigner. Israel had been instructed to completely destroy the cities that didn’t make a peace treaty with them (Deut. 20:10-18), but Rahab’s actions and her acknowledgment of the God of Israel saved her life and earned her a place of note in the genealogy of the Messiah.
Ruth – “Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth” (Matt. 1:5).
We probably all know the basics of Ruth’s story. Naomi was living in Moab when her husband and sons all died. Her daughter-in-law Orpah stayed in Moab, but Ruth accompanied Naomi back to the land of Judah. There was no guarantee of a happy ending for Ruth. She was husbandless, childless, and a foreigner. The passage that is often cited at weddings was actually Ruth’s declaration of her love for her mother-in-law, “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). The rest of the book of Ruth tells how she met Boaz and found favor with him and became his wife. Once again God used an unlikely woman from an unlikely place to carry on the lineage of Jesus.
Bathsheba – “David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah” (Matt. 1:6).
Much has been written about David’s sin with Bathsheba. Fewer authors have contemplated Bathsheba’s point of view. When David summoned her to the palace, she would have had no ability to say no to him. It’s not clear whether she knew what was coming or if she had any desire to be unfaithful to Uriah. Like many women, she may have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time when the king should have been out at the battle instead of walking around his rooftop. Not only does she end up pregnant, but her husband is set up to die in battle, and then her child dies. That’s not exactly a recipe for happiness. However, she then gives birth to Solomon, who bears the royal name, is known for his wisdom, and becomes an ancestor to the coming Messiah. God took a very messy and sinful situation and redeemed it for His own good purposes.
Mary – Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matt. 1:16).
Finally we get to the mother of Jesus. God had arranged the family trees of both Joseph and Mary. He brought them together in Nazareth and through angelic messengers ensured that Jesus would be born of a virgin as prophesied. Mary was evidently a woman of faith, as her song in Luke 1:46-55 brings together many scriptural references. Yet she too had to bear the pain of people thinking she was both a liar and an adulteress.
In each of these five women, we see evidence of God’s sovereignty over the course of history. He used sinful actions, untimely deaths, wars, mourning, pain, and shame to put people where He wanted them in order to bring about the birth of the Savior at just the right time and place. And through it all, He did not let these women be forgotten or overlooked. In a highly patriarchal culture, He made sure their names were included in the canon of Scripture.
From the beginning of time, God has used both men and women to accomplish His purposes, and He continues to do so today. Women are not merely supplemental to the story, but they have key roles to play in family, culture, and church. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:28-29). Every believer will one day see our names included in the Book of Life, not as ancestors, but as children of the living God.
© 2020 Dawn Rutan. Image copyright free from pixabay.com. The opinions stated do not necessarily reflect the views of my church or employer.