Recently, my cousin did some research on our family tree. It seems we have some pretty impressive ancestral blood that would make any family proud. On the other hand, he discovered some shady characters that we would rather just forget. Genealogies are important for the reason that they tell us where we have been and fill in the gaps of our life story.
In the ancient (and modern) period of the Middle East, your family lineage gave you your identity. You are known as the son or daughter of your father, grandfather, or great-grandfather. Your self-worth is based on your family lineage.
When we read the opening pages of the Gospel of Matthew we expect to find the ancestral roots of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah to appear spotless. Instead, it reads like a daytime soap opera. In the lineage we discover prostitutes, liars, deceivers, and murderers. Matthew even lists Gentile women in the lineage of a Jewish Messiah.
It is the placement of women in the genealogy that I find most fascinating. One would not expect to find women listed in a genealogy of a patriarchal society. And yet, Matthew list not only four women, but women who happen to be Gentile and of questionable reputation.
Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute to get back at her father-in-law for not fulfilling his commitment to marry her to his youngest son. The father-in-law unknowingly sleeps with Tamar thinking she is a temple prostitute. He gives her his signet ring and staff as an assurance that she will get payment for her services. When she ends up pregnant, her father-in-law is furious, not knowing it was him who got her pregnant. He demands her life. But before she is burned she shows him the signet ring lets him know that it was the owner of the ring who got her pregnant.
Rahab was a prostitute who lived inside the walls of Jericho. When Joshua sent two spies into the land, she hid them in her house. They promised to protect her family when the people of Israel attacked. Once the attack begin they took Rahab’s family to live among the Israelite’s.
Ruth was married to one of the sons of a Hebrew family that settled in Moab. The father and two sons die leaving three widows. Ruth goes with her mother-in-law to Bethlehem. She works in the field of a wealthy relative. One night she goes to where he is sleeping and lays at his feet. She asked for a Levirate marriage (See Deut. 25:5-10). Some argue that the “laying at his feet” is a euphemism for sleeping with him. Boaz commits to marrying Ruth after another relative refuses.
Bathesheba was bathing on the roof of her house when David, the king, spotted her and sent his servant to invite her to his palace. They slept together. She got pregnant. In order to cover up his sin, David sent Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to the front line of a military battle where he was certain to get killed. After her husband’s death, David brings Bathsheba into his palace as one of his wives.
Why taint the genealogy of Jesus, the Messiah, with these women? If you were going to mention women, you could have picked more reputable women than these four. Rachel, Leah, Sarah would have been good choices.
Matthew ends with the Great Commission. It is Jesus command, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (28:19). The emphasis is on Gentiles. Go to all “ethnos,” all ethnic groups. At the birth of Jesus, some of the first visitors that travel to Bethlehem are three Gentiles who come to pay homage to the new-born king (Matthew 2:1-12). In Matthew 21:43 Jesus reminds the disciples that the Kingdom of God is open to all who “produce fruits of the kingdom.” The Gospel of Matthew places the Jewish Messiah as the hope of the world and not just the Jewish people. What better way to demonstrate that than include Gentiles in the genealogy?
The questionable reputation of some included remind us that no life is hopeless. Romans 8:28 encourages us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God demonstrates through the ancestral line of Jesus that there is potential in every person. Jesus heals broken lives and restores hope to all. No one is exempt from the potential of being a part of God’s family. Galatians 4:4-5 reminds us, “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”