Have you ever taken the time to explore Jesus’ family tree? To go through the list of his relatives that Matthew puts together for us in the opening chapter of his Gospel? It’s actually a very fascinating study full of several interesting characters and quite a few surprising ones as well. And it reveals for us one of the greatest pictures of God’s grace.
One of the most surprising things for us to see in this genealogy is the mention of the names of five women. Now, we have to realize that it was very unusual for a woman to be named in any genealogy at this time due to the focus always being on the man who would carry on the family name to the next generation. And not only is the fact that these women can be found in this list surprising but the specific women that he chooses to include are even more so. After all, these weren’t ones with the most squeaky clean reputations. Every Jew who first read through this genealogy would have recognized their names but not necessarily for the best of reasons. They have been said to be “among the most notorious women in biblical history.” Four of them were outsiders and could be described as shady ladies with sinister sins and provocative pasts.
The first of these ladies that we discover in this list is Tamar (Matthew 1:3). We read about her back in Genesis 38. She was the one who dressed up as a prostitute in order to sleep with her father-in-law, Judah. He had promised her his third son in marriage but after losing the previous two that he had given her, never followed through on that promise. Her one night with her father-in-law resulted in the conception and birth of twins. One of which became the next chain in the line of the Messiah. Not only was a woman who was involved in a scandal of deceit chosen to become a part of Jesus’ family tree but that scandal itself was used as the means to bring about the succeeding branch of that tree!
The next of these shady ladies that we come to didn’t play a prostitute on one occasion but rather was one by profession. In fact, many of the times that she is referenced in Scripture she is known as the harlot. Even where her faith is commended and held up as an example, we are reminded of her former shameful career (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25) I’m talking here about Rahab (v. 5). The Canaanite woman who hid the Israelite spies in Jericho and whose life was graciously spared on account of it. (See Joshua 2 for more of the story.) Who would have ever thought that a foreign prostitute could be engrafted into the sinless Savior’s family tree?
Immediately following Rahab is Ruth, who married Rahab’s son, Boaz (v. 5). Unlike the previous two shady ladies on this list, Ruth doesn’t have any direct sexual scandals that she was involved in but her people certainly did. Ruth was a Moabitess. Another outsider. The nation of Moab originated from the child produced by the act of incest between Lot and his daughter when the latter got the former drunk so that she could sleep with him and bear children (Genesis 19:30-38). This group of people were not allowed to join the Israelites in worshiping the Lord for a number of years (Deuteronomy 23:3). And before committing to go where her mother-in-law Naomi goes and to worship her God, Ruth would have worshiped the false gods of the Moabites. But even with such a provocative past, God had her marry one of Naomi’s sons and then after his death, to remain loyal to her, and find her kinsman Redeemer, Boaz, who in turn would give her a son named Obed, the grandfather of King David and forefather of the Messiah.
The fourth woman that we come to in this list isn’t even named but is simply referred to as “the wife of Uriah” (v. 6). A subtle reminder of the fact that Bathsheba did not originally belong to King David but to his servant Uriah instead. Yet, after noticing her bathing on her rooftop, the King had her brought to him and following his affair with her resulting in a pregnancy, eventually had Uriah killed (2 Samuel 11). This has gotten Bathsheba forever associated with David’s adultery and murder. Amazingly, God used what began as an unholy union to continue His plan for the Messiah to be a descendant of kings.
Now, what are these shady ladies with such sinister sins and provocative pasts doing in the family history of the King of kings and Lord of lords? Why would God ever choose such to be included in the lineage of His sinless Son and why would Matthew go out of his way to highlight them for us? Would it not be to show us the very kind of people that Christ came to save? Outsiders who originally are not a part of His people. Shady sinners with provocative pasts. All to point out to us that God extends His grace to even the vilest of sinners and to the worst of outcasts. Which is good news since many of us could fit in such categories ourselves. Let’s be sure that this Christmas we celebrate God’s grace. The grace that is shown to those like these four ladies. The grace that has been shown to us.
Love in Christ,