Sunday, December 29, 2013

Four Women

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David the king. David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah.       Matthew 1:1-6  NKJV
How many of us at one time or another have read, or possibly skipped over, this first chapter of the book of Matthew and wondered why it was even included?  Although placed first in the New Testament, of the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the book of Matthew is generally agreed to have been written later than Mark, and possibly Luke.  These three books are called synoptic (from two Greek words meaning to see together) because they all tell of the same events of Jesus’ life.

The book of Matthew, however, was written especially to the Jews by Matthew who was himself a Jew, with the intent of convincing them that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.  As such, the very first thing he does is list Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Abraham.  In the Jewish culture, nothing was more important than a persons’ genealogy.  If one desired to be called a Jew, he must be prepared to prove it by his lineage.  Even Josephus, the well known Jewish historian, lists his own genealogy when he wrote his personal biography.
So if Matthew were to begin the task of trying to convince the Jewish people that Jesus of Nazareth was in fact the promised Messiah, the natural beginning would be to list His ancestors.   As you read this list of names, though, you may notice something quite unusual especially if you understand the Jewish culture of that day.  If not, let me give you a hint by telling you there are a number of prayers of blessing in the Talmud which are recited in the mornings by men, one of which thanks God for not creating them a woman.  With that in mind, consider the response by a Jew when he was to read this passage from Matthew and find the names of four different women listed in it!

If that were not enough, it goes without saying that of all the women whose names could have been listed, God instructed Matthew to list four that most Jewish men would have taken great pains to exclude.  These four are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba).  If these women are not familiar to you, let me take a minute and introduce you to them. 
The story of Tamar can be found in Genesis 38 where we find her dressing as a prostitute and having a sexual encounter with her father in law. 

And it was told Tamar, saying, “Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.” So she took off her widow’s garments, covered herself with a veil and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place which was on the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given to him as a wife. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, because she had covered her face. Then he turned to her by the way, and said, “Please let me come in to you”; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. So she said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?”                    Genesis 38:13-16  NKJV
Rahab appears in Joshua 2 where we find she is a prostitute practicing her profession in the city of Jericho. 

Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there.             Joshua 2:1  NKJV
The story of Ruth is detailed in the book of Ruth where we find she is a Moabitiss from the country of Moab, a people hated by Jews because of their origin by incest between Lot and his daughter, and their treatment of the children of Israel on their journey through the wilderness after leaving Egypt as well as hiring Balaam to curse them.

Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father. The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab; he is the father of the Moabites to this day.  Genesis 19:36-37  NKJV
“An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD forever, “because they did not meet you with bread and water on the road when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.  Deuteronomy 23:3-4  NKJV

Bathsheba is probably the most recognizable of these women due to her adulterous relationship with David, the King of Israel.
So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house.     2 Samuel 11:3-4  NKJV

I have no doubt that the first question to cross the mind of any Jew who read these words, and no doubt ours as well is “why include these names when it wasn’t necessary”?  Considering God deliberately chose to do so should be a sign to us that we should consider that question in order to find some of the possible reasons He did.  The very first one that came to mind for me is this;
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  Romans 3:23  NKJV

Because Jesus was born of man, all of His ancestors were sinners.  There is no way around that fact.  By making this clear, He is telling the Jews that no matter how important they might consider their lineage to be, everyone shares the same trait of the stain of sin.  No one's genealogy is any better than anyone else's in God's eyes. I will let you spend this week thinking of other reasons these four women are mentioned, and next week I will share more of my thoughts on why God felt it was so important to include them in His genealogy.
Keep watching.