Finding the Unexpected in Jesus’ Ancestry (Matthew 1:3-6)

“Judah [was] the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.” — Matthew 1:3-6 (NIV)

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I generally find genealogies boring. I don’t like reading long lists of anything, actually. But in this genealogy of Jesus, and in particular focusing on these four verses, I see things that just grab my attention. I see memories of scandal, ethnic diversity mixed in with the Jewish identity, and women being highlighted in what is typically a male-oriented affair of bloodlines, with the mention of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (Solomon’s mother).

Why did Matthew, who was writing primarily to Jewish people, include these? It’s not clear. Maybe he wanted to remind them that in the midst of all the promises of the Messiah coming to the Jewish people as a descendant of David, there were reasons to both be humble and to extend this gift from God beyond the confines of the people of Israel.

The scandals include Tamar, who was Judah’s daughter-in-law, who dressed as a prostitute to trick Judah into having sex with her so she, a widow, could have a child (the social security system in years gone by). She was almost executed for such a maneuver, until Judah recognized how he was at fault for not taking care of her in the first place.

Then there is Rahab, who was a prostitute before getting married. And finally, we are reminded of the scandal of David impregnating Bathsheba while she was married to one of his most loyal friends — and David having her husband murdered when David’s schemes to cover up his sin failed. But despite such awful sin, David was still loved by God, and after his first son from Bathsheba died, they were given a second son, who became a great king, and was also part of Jesus’ ancestry.

As for non-Jewish blood, we read in this passage about Ruth who was from Moab, which is a people descended from a son of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and one of Lot’s daughters. The story of Lot and his daughter is another scandal, but we’re just focusing on foreigners in Jesus’ ancestry. Moab is part of present-day Jordan, bordering the Dead Sea.

And Rahab, whom we have already heard about, was from the city of Jericho, and not a Jew. In fact, she was from one of the seven nations that Israel was instructed to totally wipe out. They were to destroy every living thing in the land that they were to possess, because the people were so evil. But Rahab honored God and God’s people by choosing to help the spies that Joshua sent into the city. As a result, they promised to spare her and her family. She really changed at that point, and was more than simply spared, but became the great great grandmother of King David, Israel’s king beloved by God, and therefore one of the women in Jesus’ blood line.

These women in Jesus’ genealogy remind us that even in male-dominated cultures, Jesus seeks to honor women. They remind us that people even very far from Jesus can be adopted in. And they remind us that despite scandals in our lives, redemption can be found.

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