Welcome to the very beginning of the the New Testament: The Book of Matthew.
Biblical scholars believe that the book of Matthew was written by, you guessed it, Matthew. He was a tax collector that left his job to follow Jesus and become one of the twelve disciples. In his book Matthew focuses on Jesus' fulfillment of Old Testament promises, proving that Jesus was the Messiah.
His account of the gospel of Jesus is incredibly personal, passionate and educational. It is in Matthew that we first see how stark Jesus' view of women was compared to the patriarchy of the world around Him. Matthew beautifully captures the heart of Christ.
Matthew 1 begins with a list of the male line that lead to Jesus. Though Jesus was conceived of Mary and the Holy Spirit, He is still considered part of the line of Abraham. This family heritage is significant for two reasons:
1). In the Jewish culture during the time of Christ, genealogy was incredibly important in giving individuals credibility. Land and status was passed down through the generations, so being able to trace back your genealogy was integral. The further back you could trace it, the better. Jesus could trace back his family tree 4000 years! Those who did not have this were considered outsiders.
2). Jesus was the fulfillment of so many Old Testament promises. Most importantly, He was the descendant and redeemer of Adam, the first man who sinned. He was also the descendant of Abraham, who was promised that all the nations would be blessed by his offspring, which Jesus surely did.
Matthews account of Jesus' genealogy traces the line through the male descendants, as was genealogical tradition. However, peppered throughout are the names of women; few and far between, but equally important to the story. Let's learn about them.
Matthew 1:3: "Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar."
Tamer was married to Judah's eldest son, Er, who was killed by God due to his wickedness. The same thing happened when she was bequeathed to Er's brother, Onan. Both mistreated her despite her loyalty. Tradition would have her marry Judah's third son, Shelah, but Judah was like, "you are clearly cursed, I don't think so."
Time passed and so did Judah's wife. One day he was headed into town when Tamar, disguised as a prostitute, offered her sexual services to him. He accepted. Tamar turned up three months later and announced she was pregnant by him, and was able to prove it in court. She had his children and they carried out the line of Abraham.
Tamar is an example of a woman taking her future into her own hands. Jennifer Stasak writes, "Tamar’s circumstances and the presence of immorality in her story would have us all believe that she would not be celebrated by Scripture. And yet, Tamar was given the honor of being the first woman included in Jesus’ genealogy. The pain, loss and sin she was subjected to would ultimately be redeemed by the Messiah in her family tree."
Matthew 1:5: "Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab."
Rahab was a prostitute who ran an Inn that was likely a front for a brothel. Fun fact: I played Rahab in a church musical and did not find out my cute, sanitized 'innkeeper' character was actually a sex worker. At the time I was horrified; now I am proud that I got to represent the marginalized sex workers of biblical times.
You may know Rahab as the woman who hid two Hebrew spies who went into Jericho to check out their military prowess. Rahab told the spies that she fully recognized the power of their God after hearing about how he parted the Red Sea for them. She told them she believed that they had the right to take over Jericho, but begged them to spare her family. When Jericho fell, Rahab was spared.
William L. Lyons wrote, "biblical interpreters have viewed Rahab as a model of hospitality, mercy, faith, patience and repentance. Thus, the harlot of Jericho became a paragon of virtue." Rahab ended up marrying Joshua and is an example of how God can redeem and deliver anyone and any situation for His good.
Matthew 1:5: "Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth."
Ruth was the ultimate daughter-in-law. She married Mahlon, son of Elimelech and Naomi. A woman named Orpah married their other son, Kilion. When all the men in the family died, the two daughter-in-laws accompanied their mother-in-law to Bethlehem. Naomi felt bad knowing the position the young girls were now in, and urged them to turn back and start over. Orpah left to do so, but Ruth stayed.
When the two starving women arrived in Bethlehem, Ruth went out to the fields to collect barley harvest scraps. As it turned out, the field she was gleaning from belonged to a man named Boaz. He was blown away by Ruth's kindness and loyalty to her late husband's mother, so he told her to collect whatever she needed, that she was welcome to fresh water, and he promised she would be safe in his fields.
Eventually Ruth and Boaz were married, and they had sons. Jennifer Stasak writes, "Ruth couldn’t have known that by following Naomi she would someday be blessed by being a part of the Messiah’s family." Ruth is an example of steadfast loyalty and integrity.
Matthew 1:6: "David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife."
Bathsheba was married to Uriah, who was fighting in the war. One day King David saw her bathing at home and immediately began lusting after her. He had someone bring her to him, and "he slept with her" (2 Samuel 11:4). This wording is important here because there is no indication she gave consent.
She became pregnant by the encounter and sent word to David, who did not want to accept responsibility. When his attempts to make Uriah look responsible for the conception failed, David sent him to the front lines where he was swiftly killed. David then took Bathsheba as his wife. Though their first son died quickly (some attributing the cause being the wrath of God), their second, Solomon, lived.
Once Bathsheba had power as the Queen, she used it to be an intercessor for the kingdoms subjects, relaying their cries to David. Solomon deeply respected his Mother, rising to greet her, bowing to her and keeping her at his right hand. Bathsheba is a survivor and an example of a woman who used her newfound privilege to help others.
What do these three women have in common?
These four women were all determined, loyal, intelligent and kind. They were marginalized: Tamar was rejected from the family she devoted her whole life to, Rahab was a sex worker, Ruth was living in poverty, and Bathsheba was a widow. Despite this, they made the most of their circumstances. They are all examples of God's faithfulness. In all of their lives, he restored what was broken and blessed their tenacity.
Pastor Zach Van Dyke says, “These stories are all about grace. In reading about them, there’s an invitation to say our story matters — that those parts of us we want to hide maybe should be remembered and told. Shame stories can stay shame stories if they’re in the dark; but when they’re brought into the light, they can be grace stories.”
The next woman to be introduced to us in Matthew 1 is Mary. She was an incredible, faithful woman. When she became pregnant before her marriage to Joseph via the Holy Spirit, the punishment should have been a public stoning. She could have tried to terminate the pregnancy to avoid certain death; instead she carried the Son of God with bravery and pride.
Joseph, much like the aforementioned women in his family, acted with integrity. He planned to divorce Mary quietly, but when an angel of the Lord filled him in on what was happening--that Mary was carrying the Son of God--he stayed with her, protecting her and honoring God's plan for them.
Mary and Joseph named the baby Jesus, and Jesus went on to make his female ancestors proud. He extended kindness and grace to marginalized women, his belief in their worth unwavering. He was a huge champion of women's rights.
What Can We Learn From The Women in Matthew One?
The women who are listed in Matthew 1 all appear in the Old Testament. They are stories most of us are familiar with. However, you may notice that many of wives and daughters of the men listed in Chapter 1 are missing. Their names do not appear. Some of them have stories written about their works in the Old Testament, but many are never mentioned.
What could we have learned through their example? What incredible things did they contribute to the world around them? The first thing I am going to do when I get to heaven is meet all of the women throughout history whose stories we did not validate, share, pass along or protect. Thank goodness we will have forever to sit in a circle and listen, because I imagine an entire eternity could be filled with those stories.
When I first read through Matthew 1, I completely missed the women we listed above. They are mentioned so briefly they are easy to miss. They appear to play an unimportant role in the message, which is that Jesus comes from a long line of strong men.
But don't be fooled: the women were always there.
Questions for Discussion:
1). How far back can you trace your genealogy? Look at the people on your family tree: what can you learn from them? In what ways are you a fulfillment of their dreams and prayers?
2). What can we learn from each of the four women mentioned in Matthew's account of Christ's ancestry?
3). Joseph was an incredible ally to one of the most vulnerable women in his life: his betrothed, Mary. Who in your own life is in a vulnerable position or identifies with a marginalized group? What is one tangible thing you can do to be a good ally for them?
A Prayer for This Week:
Hey, God. Thank you for your unending grace. Thank you for the example set by the women of your Son's genealogy, that we may learn to be more like you through their stories. I pray that you would give me the strength to be tenacious like Tamar, brave like Rahab, loyal like Ruth, dignified like Bathsheba and faithful like Mary. Amen."