Jewish genealogies rarely mentioned women. They certainly did not mention women of questionable character. Yet Matthew reports four women with questionable reputations in the line of Messiah. Why?
Tamar (Matt 1:3). Genesis 38 tells us the story of how she ended up pretending to be a harlot and got pregnant by her father-in-law, Judah. Sordid story.
Tamar was the wife of Judah’s eldest son, Er. But Er was a wicked man so “the Lord killed him” (Gen 38:7). She was a young widow without children.
Judah then gave his second son, Onan, to be Tamar’s husband. He too proved to be an ungodly man, and therefore the Lord “killed him also” (Gen 38:10). More grief for Tamar. She was now twice widowed, young, and childless.
When Tamar realized that Judah was not going to give his youngest son to be her husband, she took things into her own hands. She heard that Judah was going to Timnah to shear his sheep. So, she dressed like a harlot and waited until he came by and then she agreed to have sexual relations with him for a certain price. She became pregnant and then confronted Judah, revealing that he was the father.
When Judah realized what he had done, he said, “She has been more righteous than I, because I did not give her Shelah my son” (Gen 38:26).
However, what she did was still sordid. She was a woman with a mixed past.
Matthew did not need to mention her name. He could have simply written: “Judah begot Perez and Zerah, Perez begot Salmon…” He put her name in intentionally.
The Holy Spirit evidently wanted her name in the list, so He moved Matthew to put her name in the list, not via dictation, simply working with Matthew’s skills and temperament.
Rahab (Matt 1:5a). Next, we come to an actual harlot. Joshua 2 tells us that this woman showed hospitality to the two spies that Joshua sent to Jericho. And she saved the lives of those spies. Joshua 8 tells us that when Joshua destroyed Jericho, God spared Rahab and her family.
Rahab is called a harlot in Joshua 2:1; 6:17, 25. She is also called a harlot in Heb 11:31 and James 2:25.
We are not told in Scripture if and when she stopped practicing harlotry. Most who comment on her suggest that she came to faith and was born again before she married Salmon and that she never played the harlot again. But it is true that she was not a person of high moral character before she came to faith.
Rahab was not a Jew, though she married a Jew. She was a Gentile.
Matthew easily could have left her name out of the line of Christ. He could have written, “Salmon begot Boaz, Boaz begot Obed…”
The Holy Spirit wanted her name in Jesus’ official family tree.
Ruth (Matt 1:5b). The very next woman in the list is only of questionable reputation due to her birth. She was not Jewish, but she did marry a young Jewish man when he and his family were in Moab. She was born and raised in Moab. The Moabites had mistreated Israel when it came into the land, and they were not a blessed people.
Moabites, though closely related to the Jews, were, nonetheless, Gentiles.
Her husband died, as did her brother-in-law. That left her mother-in-law, Naomi, a widow without children or the prospect of children. Naomi decided to go back to Israel, and she said goodbye to her two daughters-in-law. Orpah returned to her family, but Ruth clung to Naomi and went to Israel with her.
Ruth followed Naomi’s instructions and ultimately found a husband in Boaz. They had a son named Obed, bringing great joy to Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz.
The Book of Ruth is one of the most beautiful books in the Bible. She is clearly a woman of great character. Yet an orthodox Jew would likely have questioned both why God allowed her to be the grandmother of King David and why she would be included in a genealogy.
The Wife of Uriah (Matt 1:6). Matthew does not mention her by name. He writes, “David begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah.” Bathsheba committed adultery with King David, as recorded in 2 Samuel 11.
Some think that Bathsheba was an innocent victim. However, there is no indication that David took her by force. The account in 2 Samuel 11 implies that she was a willing participant in the adultery.
A 2013 Biola University blog by Nell Sunukjian suggests, “She had been seduced by Israel’s greatest king, and to some extent, she was complicit, though as the powerful one in the ‘relationship’ David clearly carries the blame.”
David was a man after God’s own heart. But he was not sinless. He committed adultery and had Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed in order to cover up his sin. Only when God confronted him via the prophet Nathan did David repent (2 Samuel 12).
Yet she too is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus.
However, we might wonder why she is not mentioned by name. Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth were all mentioned by name.
God wished to honor Uriah in the family tree. Though he was not one of Jesus’ ancestors, he is mentioned by name. Leaving out her name brought added emphasis to Uriah’s name.
Another reason might be to highlight the fact that she was not David’s lawful wife. She was the wife of another. Of course, she was David’s wife after Uriah died. But in a sense, she remained Uriah’s wife since she was taken by adultery and murder.
David had many wives. Logically the last of David’s wives to be in the line of Messiah would be Bathsheba. Yet she is included.
Why Were These Four Women Mentioned?
Mitch Chase points out in a Dec 2, 2013, blog entitled, “12 Observations and Questions about the Genealogy in Matthew’s Gospel” (see here) concerning all four women; he observes that they cover four major times in Israel’s history: the Patriarchs (Tamar and Judah), the conquest in Joshua (Rahab), the time of the Judges (Ruth), and the time of the undivided kingdom (the wife of Uriah).
He also points out that they cover the three major divisions of the OT: the Law (Tamar/Genesis), the Prophets (Rahab in Joshua and Bathsheba in Samuel), and the Writings (Ruth).
We can safely say the following:
- God forgives and gives the forgiven important roles, though there are consequences (esp. evident with David and Bathsheba; see 2 Samuel 12-24).
- PBPGINFWMY (=Please be patient; God is not finished with me yet). If you have a checkered past, God is not finished with you, either.
- A godly line can come from a person with a bad background.
- Past failure does not exclude future praise, honor, and approval by Christ.
- Women have vital roles to play in God’s program.
- Works salvation is antithetical to the free gift of everlasting life.
What These Four Women Tell Us about Christmas
If we are not caught up in the commercialism of Christmas, we know that He is the reason for the season.
We know that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ.
But Christmas is much more than just a divine birthday celebration.
- Christmas is also about people in God’s program, people in the line of Messiah.
- Christmas underscores that our lives have meaning.
- Christmas reminds us about salvation and discipleship. Everlasting life is given to whoever believes in Jesus (John 3:16) precisely because God gave His only begotten Son to take away the sin barrier at the cross. But fullness of life is found in following the Savior and walking in the light of His Word.