Another Look by David Faust
The New Testament ends with a bang in Revelation, but it starts with a stutter in Matthew chapter one. Readers with short attention spans struggle through the “begats” in the genealogy of Jesus.
Like every part of the Bible, though, Matthew’s opening chapter has a purpose. The list of Jesus’ earthly ancestors demonstrates the human lineage and historical reality of the incarnate Word. It ties the New Testament to the thread of messianic prophecy woven through the Hebrew Scriptures. It shows Jesus was a Jew with the blood of Father Abraham and King David flowing in his veins. It prepares us to appreciate the child of promise born in Bethlehem whose name means “the Lord saves.”
Forty-two men are mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy—a cast of characters ranging from heroes to villains. Only five females appear in the list, but each name has a story to tell.
First there’s Tamar, whose
R-rated story raises eyebrows in Genesis chapter 38. Tamar’s unseemly liaison with her father-in-law Judah led to the birth of twin sons named Perez and Zerah, who are mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy as well (Matthew 1:3).
Next is Rahab (v. 5), a prostitute who lived among the pagan people the Hebrews displaced when they conquered Canaan. As Frederick Buechner puts it, Rahab “ran an unpretentious little establishment in the red-light district of Jericho and was known for, among other things, her warm and generous heart.” She protected Joshua’s spies and in turn received protection when the walls fell and the Israelites plundered her city (Joshua 2:1-24, 6:24, 25). The New Testament mentions Rahab as an example of trusting faith (Hebrews 11:31) and righteous action (James 2:25).
Then there’s Ruth (v. 5), the young Moabite widow who told her mother-in-law Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried” (Ruth 1:16, 17). In the providence of God, Ruth’s marriage to the noble Boaz positioned her to become the great-grandmother of King David.
The next woman in Jesus’ genealogy is Bathsheba (v. 6). Actually Matthew doesn’t mention her by name. He refers to her as “Uriah’s wife,” and we know the rest of the story—how David sent Uriah to die on the battlefield and took her to be his wife.
Finally there is Mary (v. 16). When she heard the news that she would bear the Christ-child while still a virgin, she overcame whatever hesitation arose in her heart and responded bravely, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).
So there they are: the five women listed in Jesus’ genealogy. A woman whose past included a sordid sexual encounter with a relative; a gutsy Canaanite prostitute who believed in the true God of Israel; a poor but trusting widow from the land of Moab; the beautiful wife of a soldier unjustly killed in battle whose relationship with her second husband began with a scandalous affair and pregnancy; and a young virgin engaged to a small-town carpenter.
Quite a list, don’t you think? The Lord brought his Son to earth through unlikely characters—the humble, the troubled, the flawed. Men and women with tainted reputations and broken hearts played key roles in the unfolding drama of divine redemption. Their stories are a tribute to the wisdom and grace of God.
Our stories are, too.
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