Do you ever feel used, abused, mistreated? Have you ever been the outcast, the loner, the foreigner? Have you ever gotten carried away with your own scheming, ever dug a hole of trouble so deep you didn’t know how you’d climb out? Have you been gossiped about even though you haven’t done anything wrong? Or maybe you have. Maybe you’ve broken promises, broken commandments, broken hearts.
If that’s you, if that’s me, then I have good news for us.
This morning, as I read Matthew chapter 1, the genealogy of Jesus, I noticed something I had never noticed before. In that long list of men’s names I cannot pronounce, five women are mentioned. Five women significant enough to be mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.
That alone is pretty remarkable, considering the culture of the time. I remember learning in Bible class in college that the attitude during Biblical times was something like, “it’s more profitable to educate a dog than it is to educate a woman.” So it’s pretty important that five women are mentioned in this long list of human ancestors of Jesus.
But even more noteworthy than that — look at the five women Matthew names. I can’t believe I never noticed it before. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah’s wife, and Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Tamar‘s story is in Genesis 38. For the record, this is not the same Tamar that was raped by her brother, one of David’s sons. This is a different Tamar. After Judah sold his brother Joseph into slavery, he got married and had children. When his son, Er, was grown, Judah got him a wife. Her name was Tamar. But that son died, because he was so wicked.
So, according to custom, Er’s brother, Onan, was supposed to take her as a wife and have a son with her to carry on Er’s name and family line. This also would ensure Tamar had someone to care for her. But Onan was selfish and didn’t want to have a child with Tamar, so he practiced a very early form of birth control every time he slept with Tamar. So because of his wicked selfishness, Onan died too.
Judah sent Tamar home to her own family. Tamar felt neglected, abused, mistreated. And when she heard Judah was coming to town, she tricked him into sleeping with her. Finally, she was pregnant! And Judah, the surprised father, had to take her in and provide for her. She gave birth to twins, Perez and Zerah.
Tamar was mistreated. None of the men in her life valued her, respected her, treasured her. She responded to this by finally scheming to get what she wanted. I’m sure Tamar felt she had no other options. She was a victim of her culture, of selfish men, of impending poverty.
Tamar is listed in the genealogy of Jesus.
Rahab‘s story is a little more familiar. You can read about her in the book of Joshua. Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. She had heard about Israel’s God and the miraculous things He did for His people. In an amazing, desperate act of faith, Rahab harbored the Jewish spies who came into Jericho and sneaked them safely down the city walls after making them promise to show kindness to her and all her family when they overtook Jericho. When the walls of Jericho fell, the Israelites burned the whole city and destroyed everything; but Rahab, the prostitute, and her family were spared.
From then on, Rahab lived with the Israelites. At some point — maybe soon after they moved on from Jericho, maybe after they settled in Canaan -we don’t know for sure, but at some time- an Israelite man named Salmon married Rahab.
Rahab was a prostitute. Who knows what drove her to prostitution. Was she abused? Was she desperately poor? Had she come from a long line of prostitutes? Was it all she’d ever known? We don’t know. We do know she had heard about the God of Israel, and she knew He was the Real Deal. Maybe she wanted to be part of whatever the God of Israel was doing, maybe she was scared and just wanted to save her own life. Whatever her initial motive, she believed and she acted on that belief.
Rahab the prostitute is listed in the genealogy of Jesus.
Ruth lost everything. Her husband, her father-in-law, and her brother-in-law died. Nothing in her own hometown was precious enough to draw her back home. She loved her mother-in-law Naomi, and -more importantly- she loved Naomi’s God. So she returned back to Bethlehem with Naomi.
In the first chapter of Ruth we can read that Naomi was bitter. As all her old friends excitedly greeted her in Bethlehem, Naomi even told them to stop calling her “Naomi” and to start calling her “Mara,” which means bitter. So Ruth chose to go to a foreign land with her bitter mother-in-law rather than return home to her own family. That tells us a little something about Ruth’s upbringing.
In Bethlehem, Ruth was a foreigner, probably an outcast -at least to begin with. She was poor and living hand-to-mouth, day-to-day. She was grieving her husband and probably grieving the children she was never able to have. Because of the Jewish custom of the kinsman-redeemer, Ruth was at the mercy of men she had never met.
As it turned out, Ruth worked hard and made a good reputation for herself. She won the approval and love of Boaz, who was able and willing to be her kinsman-redeemer. Ruth’s story is a beautiful one of complete loss and redemption greater than she could have imagined.
Ruth the Moabitess is listed in the genealogy of Jesus.
Uriah’s wife. Bathsheba. Her story begins in 2 Samuel chapter 11. Bathsheba bathed on her roof. King David watched her and wanted her. Her husband, Uriah, was off fighting in a war. King David sent messengers to get Bathsheba and bring her to him. We don’t know how willing Bathsheba was. The Bible doesn’t say. It does not say David raped her. It doesn’t say she wanted King David as much as he wanted her. It also doesn’t say she didn’t. We do know she got pregnant. And we know that King David strategically placed Uriah on the front lines of the battle so he would be killed. And then David married Bathsheba.
Bathsheba was used by David. She was a victim of the King’s desires. She may also have willingly broken promises she made to Uriah, her husband. She was a woman immersed in scandal and grief — adultery, murder, the loss of her child, a highly dysfunctional blended family.
Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, is listed in the genealogy of Jesus.
Mary the mother of Jesus. Young, engaged, and pregnant with a most unbelievable story. Undoubtedly, Mary was the subject of much gossip. Rejected, hated, humiliated, Mary had done nothing wrong. Mary suffered loss — loss of reputation, loss of pride, and eventually loss of her husband and, finally, loss of her Son.
Mary, of course, is listed in the genealogy of Jesus.
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah’s wife, and Mary. Five women. Lonely, outcast, scandalous. Yet, these are the five God chooses to mention in the story of Jesus’ incarnation. Five women. Mistreated, rejected, humbled. Yes, I think it’s fitting that these women are mentioned in the genealogy of Redemption.
I think this gives us a glimpse into the heart of God. I think God is tenderhearted toward the lonely, the oppressed, the outcast. I think God has a special compassion on people who are used and mistreated.
I think God is merciful and gracious toward our desperate scheming and planning when we’re on our way to realizing He is the solution to our impossible situation. When we break promises, and when we break commandments, and when we break hearts, I think God is expectantly waiting to re-make it all into something better.
I think God delights in re-making broken people. He is all about Redemption. He loved Tamar and Rahab and Ruth and Bathsheba and Mary. And He loves you. And He loves me.
What beautiful story is your name in?