Genealogies rarely contain interesting tidbits about our ancestors, especially the more unacceptable ones. But Jesus’ genealogy does. In fact, it even seems to highlight several rather shady characters.
And they are women.
There are five women in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. In a time when genealogies didn’t normally contain even a single female name, why are these women included? And what does their presence imply?
In the book of Matthew, the author gives us the list of Jesus’ ancestors in the first chapter. The list begins prestigiously enough with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But then the genealogy begins to falter. Wait a minute, what is Tamar doing here? Didn’t she solicit sex with her father-in-law (shudder) and wasn’t that how Perez, her son, was conceived? Tamar was a woman of unidentified origin (many scholars think she was a Canaanite) who had been widowed by two of Judah’s sons, and had been promised to the third and youngest son, Shelah. Judah, fearing for the life of his third son since the Lord had struck the other two dead, delayed giving him to Tamar. In fact, he probably didn’t intend to ever allow Shelah to marry Tamar.
Tamar was stuck in a very hard place; because she had been returned to her father’s house to wait for Shelah, she had no status, no inheritance, no Social Security would ever come her way because her only route to the future was through children and she was not a mother. And she was not eligible to remarry since she was ‘waiting’ for Shelah.
So she took matters into her own hands. Much of what follows is difficult for the modern reader to understand. After Judah’s wife died, she posed as a prostitute, though she was not. She wanted a Judah offspring—Shelah was preferable, but denied that, she would have a child through the tribal chief himself (Gen. 38:1-25).
Judah’s role is incriminating. He readily propositions a ‘prostitute,’ little dreaming she is his daughter-in-law. He soundly condemns Tamar when her pregnancy is revealed, and even intends to have her burned to death in a shocking case of a double standard. But Tamar has cleverly protected herself and the identity of her child’s father by holding Judah’s personal belongings—cords and a seal and staff.
Finally, we see some good action from Judah when he acknowledges his paternity and proclaims that she is more righteous than he is (Gen. 38:26). He was seeking an irresponsible sexual encounter; she was seeking to responsibly protect her future and even his, by providing a child who would live and produce offspring. She was indeed more righteous than he. In a culture when women had few rights, Tamar thoughtfully invested in the future (Gen. 38:27-29).
Matthew acknowledges Tamar’s rights by including her in the Messiah’s genealogy. The Lion of the tribe of Judah needed this determined woman to form his earthly genealogy.
A second surprising inclusion is Rahab. Rahab clearly was a prostitute, and a Gentile, living in Jericho (Josh. 2:1). Despite her occupation, she seems to be a woman with kindness in her. She provides financially for her parents and siblings and she is quite willing to hide the Israelite spies who have come to search out a way to attack and defeat Jericho. She has a compassionate heart and hides the spies on her roof.
Rahab wants a way out of the life she is living. She believes that the people of God will take her city because the fear of the Lord and what he is doing has fallen on her and the people in her land. She has heard the stories of how the Israelites came out of Egypt and how the Red Sea dried up to allow them passage across. She has heard of the defeat of her powerful neighbors across the Jordan River, King Sihon and King Og. She realizes that Jericho is the gate to Canaan and she wants to survive the attack she knows is coming. She, like Tamar, has cords that signify belonging. “Hang this scarlet cord in this window where you let us down, and we will spare you and all in your house,” the spies instruct her.
It happened as planned. Rahab and her family were saved during the compete defeat of Jericho by Joshua’s army. Later, Rahab marries Salmon, a Jew whom tradition says was one of the spies she hid. They have a son, Boaz, who grows up to become a righteous and godly man (Ruth 2:1).
The third woman is Ruth, also a Gentile, and like Tamar, a widow, but this woman’s sexual purity has not been compromised. In fact, the highest words of praise are spoken by Boaz in identifying her as a woman of virtue, a woman of noble character (Ruth 3:11). She is a woman who from the time she heard the name ‘Yahweh’ has been an earnest follower, thanks to the instruction of her mother-in-law, Naomi. Following Naomi’s sound advice, Ruth entreats Boaz to marry her and to provide for her and Naomi in their old age, provision which will come in the form of a precious son, Obed. And little did Naomi and Ruth know, but this tiny son of theirs would be grandfather to King David (Ruth 4:16-22) and therefore, in the lineage of Jesus Christ.
The fourth woman is not named, but she is identified as Uriah’s wife. She married David, but she did not properly belong to him. 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. He instigated the adultery with the beautiful wife of one of his finest generals. Later, to protect himself, David has General Uriah placed in battle where he is sure to be killed. The story is full of death, for the child from the adulterous union dies, too.
Eventually, by God’s mercy, David repents. And God grants a son, Solomon, to him and his now legitimate wife, Bathsheba. And through Solomon, the line to the Messiah flowed.
The fifth and final woman in the genealogy is Mary, officially married to Joseph, and mother of Jesus who is called the Christ (Matt. 1:16). Mary is Jewish; Mary is a virgin to whom no taint of sexual scandal had come. Mary is a devout believer in Yahweh. To him she entrusts herself: her reputation, her future, and her entire hope. When the angel tells her she will be pregnant by the Holy Spirit, she believes (Luke 1:35-38) and accepts what has never happened before. Where did this slip of a girl, just recently come into womanhood, get this kind of faith and trust? “I am the Lord’s servant,” were her amazing words. She comprehended in an instant, what generations of Jewish women had never understood: the Messiah would be born of a virgin. She wasn’t sinless, but she was a godly, virtuous, and young Jewish girl.
And so the genealogy concludes. Five women are included, mostly poor, mostly misfits, widows, unimportant, unknown, sinful women who changed the course of history by their simple, obedient lives. One might suppose that the women in Jesus the Messiah’s genealogy should have all been the finest Jewish women, but they weren’t. Most weren’t even Jewish at all. And except for Ruth and Mary, they had tarnished sexual histories. They were ordinary women, trying to get life right, but missing the goal.
In other words, they were women just like us: ordinary, tarnished by sin, unlikely to shape the course of history. They are in the Savior’s genealogy to give us hope, and to foreshadow the kind of people Jesus the Messiah came to save.
He came from a lineage of sinners to save sinners.
But He remained sinless.
And we will be like the women from Jesus’ genealogy as we put our whole future into the hands of our God, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He offers to give our simple lives great significance as we follow him. Like the women of the genealogy who put their hope in the coming Messiah, following him is worth far more than we will know until eternity.
The colors and smells of fall have arrived, even here in southern California. Red, yellow, gold, and peach-colored roses, fresh from my garden, are tucked into a round pumpkin. Homemade pumpkin bread, smelling of cinnamon and ginger is fresh from the oven and ready to be tucked into our mouths.
Thanksgiving is almost here.
Sometimes, though, we have trouble entering into the full spirit of Thanksgiving. Perhaps we’ve experienced a loss recently, as my friend, Jan, did when her mother died. Or, someone we love may have inoperable cancer. Maybe one of our children is not following the Lord. And we feel sad, and even a bit ungrateful as Thanksgiving approaches.
At times we may even feel God has forgotten us.
Where is God?
Why can’t I sense God’s presence?
Have you forgotten me, O Lord?
How long will my enemies triumph?
King David felt this way once. He felt despair and desolation and it seemed like it would last forever! In Psalm 13, he kept saying, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?”
Some scholars think that David was physically sick when he wrote this psalm, and that he was deeply discouraged because he hadn’t heard from God. Clearly some situation which was unchanged was causing him sorrow.
He admitted to God that he was wrestling with his thoughts, and feeling great sorrow every day. And he wanted it to end!
We get to these places, too. We may have prayed for healing from a sickness and are no better. We prayed earnestly for a sister to recover from cancer, but she continues to get worse. Our son or daughter is not seeking God as we have asked and we find that God is distant—where is He? How long will it be until He answers my prayer?
What did David do to solve the dilemma of waiting for God? He continued to pray to God and to put his hope in Him. David knew that he himself couldn’t solve the problem. If he was physically ill, he knew he would die without God’s help. He knew that the answer lay with continuing to seek God in prayer. So he called out to God in verse 3, “Look on me and answer me, O Lord, my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death.”
Even though David couldn’t sense God and didn’t know where God was, David didn’t turn his back on God. He turned toward God and put his full confidence in Him. He said, “I have this enemy, this sickness and sadness, and You are distant, O God, but I will put my trust in you anyway! I’m not going to give in to my enemies! They are not going to win! I’m going to put my trust in You; You are my Lord and my God. Look on me and answer me. I have no one else to turn to and I’m going to choose You and not listen to the taunts of my enemies.”
And so he prayed. He poured out his heart to God. He told God that if he was ever going to see light in his desolation, God would have to shine that light. And he wanted God to shine that light so that David’s enemies would not think they had triumphed over him! He wanted God to answer him so he could triumph over his enemies (verses 3 & 4)!
When we are ill or have a continuing problem that God doesn’t seem to hear and we think He has forgotten us, we can choose to give in to that. We can say, “I’m just not going to pray anymore, because how long has it been since God answered me? I give up.”
We can choose to do that.
And then our enemies win.
we can choose to follow David’s example and say, “I’m not going to give in to my enemies! I’m going to put my trust in God and not let my enemies win. I’m going to keep on praying!”
We can keep on praying for healing, for ourselves or for others. We can keep on praying that our son or daughter will follow the Lord. If God doesn’t answer and it seems so long, we can choose to keep on! And not give up! And not let our enemies win!
As David continued to pray, his spirit did an about-face. He said, “As for me, I’m putting my trust in God’s unfailing love! (verse 5) I’m leaving these enemies, these doubts, this uncertainty about why You don’t answer, God, and I’m just putting my trust in You. I’m putting my confidence in Your unfailing covenant love! You made a covenant with Israel—You promised Your love to them, to me, and You, not my enemies, are the truth and the way and I’m going to follow You! I’m going to rejoice in the salvation You are bringing me!”
And so, we must, as King David did, turn toward God—even if we think He has forgotten us—and we must continue to trust in God’s unfailing love.
That’s what trust is, that’s what faith is. It’s walking toward God when there is no evidence. Otherwise, why would we need to trust Him?
And then we come to this marvelous verse that ends the psalm, verse 6. David, looking toward a future that has not yet changed, but speaking as though it has, says, “I’m going to sing a song of praise to God for He has dealt bountifully with me.”
David chooses to praise God, even this God who seemed to have forgotten him, because David focuses on the truth—GOD HAS NOT FORGOTTEN HIM. No, indeed, looking ahead as though it has happened, David says that not only has God not only not forgotten him, God has dealt bountifully with him! God has been better to him than he could have ever hoped. God has been more generous with him than he even asked for. God has been lavish with him.
And so with us.
When I am tempted to stop praying for my son or daughter who doesn’t follow the Lord, I can follow the example in this psalm. I can by faith say, “Wait a minute. This is God we are talking about. He can’t forget me! He has me engraved on the palms of His hands! He sent His precious Son, Jesus, to die for my sins so I could be forgiven! He’s preparing a place for me in heaven. He can’t have forgotten me. It’s not possible! He has promised to love me. He loves the whole world! “
So, by faith I can choose the truth. God has not forgotten me. Instead of forgetting, He is dealing bountifully with me. He is dealing lavishly with me. He is treating me with deep love and provision, far more than I deserve or could ever expect.
I can choose to look to the future, and I can say, “Oh, how good God has been to me. He’s been even better than I imagined. He’s been not just good, He’s been bountiful.”
And for you, God does the same. You pray for healing from the cancer, but if He doesn’t heal in this life, you can still say that God has dealt bountifully with you. After all, we have salvation! We have eternity! We have so much to rejoice in with those things.
“Lord, You are good. We turn from our own way, and our complaining, and our wrong thinking that you don’t hear us, and we look at You. We gaze at who You are—Your unfailing love for us, Your salvation. We know that You will be good to us. We say, by faith, O Lord, that we give You praise, for You have dealt bountifully with us and You will continue to do so.”
God’s role as a divine warrior is most likely one of his more neglected characteristics. Some today have gone so far as to reject any talk today about God being a divine warrior, viewing it as tired metaphor that should be retired. But most Christians have simply stopped thinking of God as one who fights. Not only does it not seem to mesh well with the picture of the peaceful Jesus but it is also out of step with most of contemporary culture. In spite of these concerns, looking at the martial actions of YHWH in the Old Testament (YHWH is a transliteration of God’s name in Hebrew) can help us understand better the God that we serve.
One of the most important aspects of YHWH as a divine warrior is why he fights: to combat injustice and bring order to the world. The first major battle YHWH fights in the Old Testament is against the Egyptians in the exodus (the topic of my dissertation). YHWH does not fight them because he hates the Egyptians, but to rescue Israel from Egyptian oppression. Many other examples could be given from the Old Testament of God rescuing his people when they called out for help in the midst of oppression.
While the idea of a divine warrior might seem quaint to many today, I think that we have retained the concept but changed its form. The basic idea of a divine warrior is calling on someone outside the “system” to come and fix a problem inside the system. The Israelites saw no way within the system of ancient Egypt that they would be rescued (for example, the law courts would rule on their behalf to stop their oppression), so they appealed to their God, a divine warrior who was greater than the system. Today, action movies provide a way to dream about various solutions to the problems of our contemporary world from “outside the system.”
The 2012 movie Jack Reacher, starring Tom Cruise, portrays the adventures of a former military policeman who brings justice to an innocent man convicted of murder by finding the true criminal through legally suspicious means. The tagline illustrates the desire for a divine warrior: “The law has limits. He does not.” When the system (in this case, the legal system) does not work, we desire someone or something outside of it to fix the problem. The scene in Iron Man in which Tony Stark rescues the civilians from the terrorist attack is a similar dream about solving a contemporary problem from outside the system. We may not call on divine warriors today, but many of our solutions for injustice sound suspiciously like divine warriors, such as American military strength, the UN, or technology in general (watch the original Star Trek TV series from the 1960’s for the belief that science can solve most of the world’s problems).
Even though our systems often work quite well, we still see a world that is badly broken. We can partially heal this broken world, and I am excited to hear stories about Christians doing just that (including many Biola graduates!). However, ultimately we need a divine warrior to come and permanently end injustice and bring order to our broken world. The end of our Bibles portrays just such a picture: Jesus the divine warrior returning to earth in glory (Rev 19). As we are surrounded by injustice and cruelty, we look forward to that day when the divine warrior will come to set everything right.
This is the season for giving thanks. This year, I have turned to a few guides as I have attempted to think theologically about the importance of thanksgiving. Both have given me tremendous insight in how I should think about gratitude in response to God and his good gifts. Here are two very quick blessings I have received from these guides that I would like to share with you.
1. The God-Centeredness of Thanksgiving
David Pao, while presenting a biblical theology of thanksgiving, reminds us that giving thanks is an act of worship and the appropriate response to God and his gifts.
“When giving thanks, God the creator of all is acknowledged to be the source of all goodness. Thanksgiving thus understood belongs properly to theological affirmation as well as ethical concern. It centres on who God is and what he has done and is doing for us; but is also concerned with ways in which we can align our lives to such creedal affirmations. It is a spontaneous response in the presence of the awesome God, but it can also be ‘practised.’ In the words of Clement of Alexandria, “if thou shalt love the Lord thy God... let its first manifestation be towards God in thanksgiving and psalmody” (Pedagogus 2.4).
David W. Pao, Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline Theme (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 33.
2. The Danger of Lack of Thankfulness
Not only is giving thanks the appropriate response to God for all that He has done and is doing for us, but not giving thanks is at the very heart of sin. Tom Schreiner (one of my old pastors, seminary professors, and an important influence on my life in general) writes the following in his New Testament Theology:
“When we open to Paul’s letter to the Romans, which almost all would agree is his greatest, the God-entranced vision of the writing is apparent. Most conceive of sin in terms of failing to do what is mandated, and Paul certainly agrees. Fundamentally, however, sin exists when people fail to thank and glorify God (Rom. 1:21). The root sin consists in worshiping and serving the creature rather than the creator (Rom. 1:25). People sin when they fail to acknowledge God (Rom. 1:28). All the discrete acts of sin, therefore, are a consequence of failing to honor and give thanks to God (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).”
Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), 145.
Lord, grant me a heart of sincere thankfulness for You and Your many overwhelming gifts. Protect me from a heart that fails to thank You and give You glory in all things. Amen.
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