We have all done it — we come to a genealogy list in the Bible and skip right over that section. We think to ourselves, Just get to the good stuff — the story. Why did God have the writer put a list of "who was the father of whom" in the Scripture anyway? Because there is an important message He does not want us to miss.
The New Testament book of Matthew was written to a Jewish audience. As Matthew begins, he opens with a record of the genealogy of Jesus. In the list, however, there is something very different that is very important. Within the Jewish culture and tradition, family line was prominent. For validity and standing within the community, being able to trace your linage was fundamental, especially in proving your right to hold a religious position. So, as Matthew begins the account of telling the story of Jesus, he starts with tracing the line that showed Jesus was the rightful heir to sit on David's Throne.
The Jewish culture at that time was a male-dominated society. Only men were listed in a genealogical listing. Matthew, however, lists five women — undoubtedly a shock to everyone. Each has a story to tell.
Whenever we talk about our family history, we want to share the good points of our past. No one wants to air their "dirty laundry." A woman I heard of once wanted to have a book written about her family. Being a wealthy lady of high society, she hired a writer to research her family line. When he reported back to her, she was shocked to learn that her grandfather, four generations past, was a murderer and had been electrocuted in the penitentiary. The women pleaded with the man not to include this information in the book, but he told her that he had to tell about her grandfather. "Well" she said, "then you must word it in such a way as to hide the truth." In the book, the writer penned this listing, "Her grandfather, four generations past, occupied the seat of applied electricity in one of our best-known institutions. He was very attached to his position and literally died in the harness."
GOD UNDERSTANDS THAT WE ALL HAVE BAGGAGE IN OUR LIVES.
We laugh at that story, but as Matthew lists Jesus' genealogy, he includes scandal. Matthew 1:3 records that Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. The story of Tamar is found in Genesis 38. She was childless when her husband died and so Judah told his second son to have a child with her so that his brother's line could continue. He refused, so the Lord put him to death too. Judah then promised to give his third son to Tamar, but he never really meant to keep his word. Tamar was forsaken and abandoned. After many years, she felt desperate. When Judah's wife died and he was going on a trip, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and he had relations with her. However, she kept his staff and seal cord as a promise of payment. When it was later revealed that Tamar was pregnant, Judah wanted to have her killed until she produced the items that belonged to the child's father. Judah was then ashamed that he had not kept his word and announced that Tamar was more righteous than he.
In verse 5, Matthew records that Salmon was the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, and Boaz was the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. In this verse, two more women are mentioned. Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho and Ruth was a foreigner from Moab. In Joshua 2 we read that those in Jericho felt safe behind the massive wall surrounding the city. Rahab, however, believed that the God of Israel was greater than the gods of Jericho. Rahab was fearful, so she put her faith in the God of Israel and the spies whom she kept safe. Ruth was a foreigner who the Jewish people disdained. As a foreigner, she had no rights or protection. She was vulnerable and helpless, but she trusted in God.
The fourth woman is not mentioned by name, but her story was well known to everyone. Verse 6 states that David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife. We read the sordid tale in 2 Samuel 11. King David and Bathsheba have an affair. David tries to hide his adultery by bringing Uriah home from the battlefield, but as a patriot, Uriah sleeps in the barracks instead of being with his wife while his countrymen are on the front line. With David's plan foiled, he sets the stage to have Uriah killed. His plan succeeds, and David becomes a murderer in order to cover up his sin.
Why did Matthew include such embarrassing parts of ? Because God wants us to know that He understands that we all have baggage in our lives. Despite the failures of the past, He can redeem the past and use us to be a blessing. Each of these women had issues that could have sidelined them, but God changed their lives. Tamar was forsaken and desperate, so she made a decision that included sexual sin. Rahab lived a life of promiscuity that became a job, and she was filled with fear. Ruth was a foreigner with no one to rely upon, and Bathsheba fell into infidelity that cost her both her husband and later her son. Jesus understands and can relate to those who are forsaken, fearful, foreigners, and fallen. The good news is that God took each of these ladies and used them to bring the answer that all of us needed — Jesus.
The fifth woman mentioned in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus is Mary: "Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born" (Matthew 1:16). Notice that it says only that Joseph was the husband of Mary, not the father of Jesus. Joseph had no part in the conception of Jesus, for God Himself was the father of Jesus. As the angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:35, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God." Mary believed the angel and, as the most favored of all women, she gave birth to the Savior of the world.
FROM THE DARKNESS OF FAILURE, GOD CAME AND SHINED A GREAT LIGHT.
What amazing truth and hope is found in Jesus' genealogical family tree. A family filled with those who felt forsaken and fearful. A family that included those who felt alone and who did not belong because they had the label of a foreigner. And those who had fallen and felt like they were the worst of failures. From the darkness of failure, God came and shined a great light. He took what seemed like hopeless situations and turned them into blessings.
The good news is that God is still doing that today. The clients who come through the doors of every pregnancy center can have their lives turned around by God. Every counselor who has a past can be used by God to bring hope and light into other people's lives. We have good news to share!
Pastor Mark Hiehle is the lead pastor of the Claremore Church of the Nazarene. He seeks to help centers grow with fundraising tools at www.highcalling.com.