As we leave the Book of Joshua, it is time to enter the New Testament again. We begin the book of Matthew. It was written to the Hebrews, and the author introduces Jesus through the lens of Hebrew history. He begins by calling Jesus Christ the son of David, and the son of Abraham. This is huge for a Hebrew to hear as their nation is firmly rooted in their ancient heritage.
Most people who begin reading this chapter in Matthew gloss over the wealth of history that is contained in the first chapter, but when they do they miss out on what Matthew is saying. If it was important enough to be included than it must be important enough to study. We must ask why the author included this information. The author begins with Abraham as the father of Isaac, and the birth of Abraham is dated to about 2166 BC. This is quite a long time ago even to the Book of Matthew which is commonly dated before 70 AD. In thinking about these numbers we see that this genealogy spans well over 2,000 years of recorded history. That is huge. Matthew opens his gospel firmly rooted in the Old Testament, and more importantly places Jesus Christ within the framework of the Jewish history.
When we look at Jesus we sometimes forget that he was Jewish. We don’t fully understand the gravity of some of His statements that were well rooted in the Old Testament. This speaks to the relevance of the Old Testament to us a Christians. It is not possible to understand who Jesus is, nor what He said unless we understand the framework in which He existed and spoke. In this light, let us examine a bit of the tremendous list that Matthew records for us.
There are 41 generations listed in Matthew’s account, including women. It was unheard of for a writer to include women in genealogies, but here we have five. This breaking from the normal may be because of Jesus breaking from the normal when he interacted with women. He treated women with respect as human beings and not second class citizens or property. He was gentle and kind. When caught in sin, Jesus addressed it, but He did not let their sin alone define them as human beings.
As we look through the list we find Tamar first. A woman who married into Judah’s family. She married his oldest son, and he died. She then expected to get pregnant from the second son, but he , how shall we say, did not consummate the union in a way that would allow her to conceive. Then he died as well. She waited for the third son to grow up so he could do his duties in accordance with their tradition and give her a child; however, it appears that Judah wasn’t in a hurry to give his youngest and now only son to this duty. Tamar took matters into her own hands, and disguised herself as a prostitute and set up shop where her father-in-law Judah was going to be passing by. Judah hasn’t had a good time recently as two of his three sons are now dead, and his wife died as well. Maybe Tamar thought this would play into her plan to have a child in his tribe. He takes the bait, and she becomes pregnant with twins. One of the twins, Perez, continues the bloodline to Christ. All of this is recorded in Genesis 38.
The next one we have is Rahab. Her story should be fresh in our minds, as she was the Canaanite woman who hid the two Israeli spies that set out to Jericho before Joshua’s invasion. She committed treason against her king in Jericho in Joshua 2 by aligning with The LORD. She became a pivotal person in the conquest of Jericho, and was saved from destruction by the invading Hebrew army. She lived with them from then on and became the mother of Boaz who married Ruth. This is the same Ruth that is the figure in the Book of Ruth.
This same Ruth, a Moabite, is then listed as the third woman to be included. She had quite a difficult time, and she is noted for her faithfulness. Her husband died, but she remained, against their custom, with her mother-in-law. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, was widowed as well, illustrating Ruth’s compassion and dedication. While they were traveling away from a famine in the land, we hear Ruth’s famous words as contained in Ruth 1:16-17. She says: “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
The next woman to be listed was not listed by name. We all probably recall the story of King David and Bathsheba that is recorded in 2 Samuel 11. She is the only one of the five women that isn’t recorded by name. She is called “the wife of Uriah” in verse six. I think this is huge. Middle eastern scholars argue that Bathsheba knew just what she was doing. She knew her husband was away in battle, she knew that King David could see her rooftop bath, and she took a bath at a time when he would be able to notice her. I think that is why Matthew lists her this way instead of the other four by name. In any case they had a child which later died, Uriah is killed, and Solomon the next King of Israel comes from their union.
The last woman listed is Mary, the mother of Jesus.
In the lives of these five historical women we have a great many things to observe in answering why Matthew went against the grain in including them. We have a woman pretending to be a prostitute so she could become pregnant by father-in-law. A Canaanite woman who glorifies the God of Israel, and assists in saving two spies sent by Joshua before he sacks the city. A Moabite woman who lost her husband, and loved her mother-in-law so dearly that she would move with her instead of going back to her father’s house and surely get married and start her life all over again. We have a woman who seemingly enticed the king while her warrior husband was off at war, and we have the mother of Jesus.
In the lives of these women we have drama, glory to God, sin, sadness, dedication, purity, and many other things. I would say in a short synopsis: We have life. We have human beings that did good things and bad things, and all the while Matthew chose to list them. Maybe it is because he wanted his readers to see that these women were important, after all their lives contributed to bringing salvation to the nations. Maybe it is simply because he wanted us to see the mess of life, and how God can still use us all for His Kingdom. I think there is beauty in the lives of these names that are recorded.
There are some who think that they must be good before they go to church. Some are held back in studying Scripture by thinking it is a collection a great people who did wonderful things for The LORD over time, and they, as people, are not worthy to be included in God’s big plan. I say this text is one of many that teaches against that idea. It teaches that God works in the mess of humanity. He works within the drama of the human existence. He is not only present in our lives when good things happen, but he is present in the mess.
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Matthew 1:1 – The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.