One of the messages I gave recently was from Matthew chapter one entitled “Five Women and a Baby.” I remember before becoming a Christian trying on occasion to read the Bible. I wouldn’t get very far before running in to biblical genealogies…so and so begat so and so, who begat so and so, and so on. I found the genealogies boring and irrelevant so after a couple tries decided not to read the Bible anymore.
It was only years later after coming to know Jesus that I realized the importance of the biblical genealogies. They tell the story of God’s plan to send His Son, the Messiah, the Anointed One, into our world to redeem us and connect us back to God.
Two of these genealogies are found in the New Testament. Luke’s gospel takes us back all the way to the beginning of humanity, tracing the genealogical record of Jesus back through David, to Abraham, and to Adam. Matthew’s gospel only goes back as far as Abraham, then traces his lineage through David to Jesus.
WHY ADAM, ABRAHAM AND DAVID?
What is important about tracing Jesus’ lineage all the way back to Adam (and Eve) as Luke’s gospel does? In Genesis 3:15 (after Adam and Eve’s spiritual defection), God promised a deliverer who would be “the offspring of the woman” to rescue humanity from the catastrophe and consequence of sin. Thus, an unfolding redemptive story began, weaving all the way through the Old Testament to the sacrificial death of Jesus who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age (Galatians 1:3) and to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).
Matthew’s record of Jesus’ genealogical record begins with the words, “The record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). Why do both Luke and Matthew trace Jesus family of origin back to Abraham and David? The Old Testament prophets revealed that the coming Messiah, humanity’s deliverer, would not only be the offspring of Adam and Eve but would come through the family of Abraham (Gen. 12), through Jacob and the Hebrew race (Gen 27:29; 28:14; 48:3; Num 24:17), through the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10; Isa 11:10; Zech 10:4), through the family of Jesse (Isa 11:1, 10), and through king David (2 Sam 7:12-16). The genealogies of both Matthew and Luke point out that Jesus was in the necessary lineage to be the long expected Messiah.
SOMETHING ODD; SOMETHING SCANDALOUS
But there is something odd about Matthew’s genealogy: it includes the names of five women. Of course lots of women would be in the lineage from Abraham to Jesus, but why are only five singled out? Why these five? They are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba (referred to as the wife of Uriah the Hittite and mother of Solomon), and Mary. Even odder is that there is something scandalous about all five women.
The story of Tamar is found in Genesis 38. The scandal is that her father-in-law, Judah, was the father of her son Perez. Judah’s first wife bore him three sons, the eldest of which (Er) married Tamar. Er died childless, so according to ancient near east law, his next eldest brother was to produce a son by his brother’s widow in the name of his deceased brother. This was a kind of ancient social security to take care the otherwise childless widow. But Judah’s second son (Onan) refused to sire a child by Tamar. When Onan died, Judah withheld his third son (Shelah) from producing an offspring by Tamar, thus leaving her to face a future of poverty.
When Tamar realized her father-in-law was not going to fulfill his obligation to ensure that she have a child to look after her in her later years, she took things in her own hands. She took off her widow’s clothes, covered her head so she was unrecognizable, dressed up like a prostitute, and sat in a place she knew Judah was going to pass. Judah propositioned her not knowing who she was and, long story short, Tamar became pregnant by her father-in-law. When Judah found out later that his daughter-in-law was expecting, he was outraged. But when he learned that the baby was his he confessed to Tamar, “You were more righteous than I.” The first of the twins she bore was Perez who is in the lineage of Jesus.
Fast forward to the book of Joshua. After four hundred years of exile in Egypt and forty years of wandering in the desert, Israel is about to enter the land of Canaan. Two spies creep into Jericho and make their way to a Canaanite prostitute’s brothel (some say tavern) to hide out. The king of Jericho finds out and sends troops to arrest the spies but the prostitute Rahab hides them. Before she helps them escape she makes them promise that when they conquer the city, they will spare her and her family. Though a Canaanite and prostitute she says, “I know the LORD has given you this land.”
The spies agree that when Israel invades Jericho, they will protect Rahab and her family as long as they remain inside her house, to be marked by a scarlet chord. Israel did invade and defeat Jericho. Rahab was spared and married an Israelite named Salmon who is in the lineage of Jesus.
Fast forward again a generation to a middle-aged man named Boaz, the son of Rahab and Salmon. It is the time of the Judges when Israel is beginning to drift from God and everyone is doing what seems right in their own eyes. Due to a famine, a Jewish family migrated across the Israel border to neighboring Moab. The mother’s name is Naomi and the father is named Elimelech. Their two sons marry Moabite women. As time passes, both sons die, as does their father Elimelech, leaving all three of the wives as widows.
Naomi decides to return to Israel and urges her two Moabite daughter-in-laws to remain in their home country where they have a greater prospect of remarrying. One daughter-in-law stays behind but Ruth goes back with Naomi. By now, Naomi is old and the prospects of marriage in Israel for the foreign, previously married, Moabite Ruth are dim. Though facing extreme poverty, Ruth says to Naomi, “Where you go I will go and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16).
The scandal with Ruth had to do both with the fact that she was a Moabitess, and the way she perfumed herself up and crept in to Boaz’ bed, where he found her in the middle of the night. Ruth and Boaz end up marrying, and together they have a son named Obed, who has a son named Jesse, who has a son named David, king of Israel and forefather of Jesus.
Fast forward another few generations to the great-grandson of Ruth and Boaz, David. David is king of a united Israel but is slipping spiritually. Rather than leading his troops in battle, David remains in Jerusalem and while lounging around spots a woman named Bathsheba bathing. David seduces Bathsheba although she was married to Uriah the Hittite. She became pregnant by David and to cover his tracks, David has Uriah killed and takes Bathsheba to be his wife. David’s adultery, murder, and deceit are exposed. Although David repents, the damage is done. The baby dies after birth but Bathsheba eventually has another son, Solomon, who is also in the lineage of Jesus in Matthew’s genealogy.
Fast forward once more another 25 plus generations (Matthew 1:6-16) to a young woman named Mary. Her fiancé Joseph discovers that she is pregnant although they have never had sex. From a human perspective, it is another scandal as rumors spread about who the real father of Jesus was. From a Divine perspective it is the incredible story of the miraculous conception and birth of Messiah-Jesus.
THE BABY…AND WHAT THESE WOMEN HAVE IN COMMON
There is a scandal involved in all five of these women’s lives. One has an offspring by her father-in-law (Tamar), one is a Canaanite prostitute (Rahab), one is a Moabite foreigner who slips into her future husbands bed, one marries the man who had her husband murdered, and one is pregnant before marriage.
Yet, there is a touch of God’s grace in each of their lives. Each is in the genealogy of Jesus. Each is in the lineage of the One who would be the Savior of the World, the “seed of the woman” promised from the beginning of mankind. Each of these five women is an example of God’s grace that works through flawed and sinful people.
But there is not only a touch of God’s grace, there is also a spark of faith in each woman’s story. Each woman held on to what they knew about God and His promise to send a redeemer, a Messiah, an Anointed One, a Savior…their Savior. Jesus is the Savior of Tamar. Jesus is the Savior of Rahab. Jesus is the Savior of Ruth. Jesus is the Savior of Bathsheba. Jesus is the Savior of Mary. And Jesus is the Savior of you and me.
It only takes a touch of God’s grace and a spark of our faith for God to work through flawed and broken people like us. That’s the story of Sharon and me. Our story is a story of scandal…but also a story of the touch of God’s grace. I wasn’t a Christian when Sharon and I met. She was a discouraged Christian, not feeling she could measure up to the “holiness” emphasis of a small Christian college she attended. Immersing herself in nursing training and without transportation to attend church, she let down her guard when she met me. Soon we were expecting a baby, Sharon had to drop out of nursing training (pregnant student nurses were not permitted at that time), and we married.
The first three and a half years of our marriage were a time of great unhappiness. I was immature, insecure, jealous, argumentative and controlling (or at least I tried to be). Then I came to know Jesus as Savior and Lord. Because of the changes that began to happen within me, the trajectory of our marriage and life together changed. What was headed for divorce has flourished for almost 50 years (this October). The baby we had became a Christian the same time that I did (she was three-and-a-half; I was twenty three) and now serves Christ along with her family, as do Sharon and I.
Our story is a story of a touch…no a cargo ship full…of God’s grace. But it too is a story of a spark of faith…Sharon’s faith. In the midst of her unhappy first years of our marriage, some of Sharon’s family and friends encouraged Sharon to leave me. Sharon knew she made a mistake in marrying me but she didn’t want to compound that mistake with another (leaving me), so in faith and obedience to Christ she stayed in the marriage. She prayed for me, not really expecting me to become a Christian or to change in the way Jesus has changed me. But in faith and obedience she stayed…and prayed…and God answered.
Our story like that of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary is a story of a touch of grace and a spark of faith. We are praying for the redemptive story of the grace of Christ and power of faith in Him to be passed on to our children, and to their children, and to their children, and to many, many others.