Have you ever read Matthew 1?
One day I was reading Matthew 1 when our baby went down for a midday nap on my chest (because he wouldn’t let me lay him down in his bed).
I grabbed my Bible and managed to sneak a pen in my hand to read Matthew 1. Then I asked the Lord to give me a rich revelation and to do so quickly before the baby woke up. I didn’t want just to read words. I needed revelation. What I found astounded me!
Go ahead. Take a chance to stop and read it real quick.
You know you have the time.
You’re probably already distracted from doing whatever else.
Did you see it? Did you notice that Matthew 1 lists only five women by name in Jesus’ genealogy? Four take particular interest to me. I’ll tell you why.
Within these four listed female names, you might find, what others have labeled, the following: a Fornicator, a gentile, a prostitute, and an adulterer. Before you stop and mentally check out for whatever reason, read until the end. Trust me.
Tamar committed fornication by having sexual relations with her father-in-law.
Rahab was a prostitute.
Ruth was an outsider and pagan by blood. Her very people were birthed out of incest and were enemies of the Israelites (i.e., hired a man named Balaam to curse the Israelites.)
Bathsheba committed adultery against her husband. Then her lover, King David, had her husband killed.
Do you see the descriptions that I listed for each woman? You may still wonder why I take such interest in each of these women. It’s because when you take the opportunity to stop and truly study the stories of these women, you’ll discover that the previous descriptions listed above are either not true or only scratch the surface to the telling of their story. Gasp, I know.
I’ll show you how.
Tamar, the fornicator: Tamar was a young girl who married the eldest son of Judah, Er. Unfortunately, Er was killed by God due to his wicked acts committed against God. Therefore, by law (Deuteronomy 25:5). Tamar married the second eldest son of Judah, Onan. Well, Onan died as well because he refused to bear children with Tamar. Why? Because Onan knew that if Tamar were to become pregnant, their first child would have to be dedicated to his deceased brother (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). Therefore, every time he and Tamar were intimate, Onan would make sure that his seed was wasted. Well, in judgment for this wicked act, the Lord caused him to die too. So then Tamar was left to marry the third and final son of Judah, Shelah. But by this time Judah, and just about everyone else, thought Tamar was cursed. Judah basically told Tamar that he’d give his youngest son to her in marriage under one condition. She needed to wait for him to get older first.
Judah’s youngest son got older and guess what?! Judah didn’t fulfill his promise. Keep in mind, a female widow, with no children, held no income and no future security because of her lack of offspring. So what is a widow, who has no children, and who is seen as cursed to do? Tamar took matters into her own hands.
One day, Tamar dressed as a prostitute and met Judah while he was on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep. Judah saw a woman dressed as a prostitute, but he didn’t know that this woman was Tamar, his daughter-in-law. Judah stopped and paid to sleep with her. Tamar immediately became pregnant with twins. The story gets even more interesting. But before I continue, what do you think? Was Tamar a fornicator, a strategist, a survivalist, or a conniver? It’s worth thinking about. For now, let’s move on.
Rahab, the prostitute: Rahab was a prostitute in the city of Jericho, a city known for worshiping other gods. Despite the fact that the people of Jericho were known for their unbelief and disloyalty to the God of the Hebrews, Rahab became known for her faith in the God of the Hebrews. How? After hearing about God’s wondrous acts done in Egypt, when setting the Israelites free, Rahab believed that the God of the Hebrews was the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords. Therefore, Rahab gladly hid two Israelite spies when these two came to spy out her native land, Jericho.
Ruth, pagan by blood: Ruth was a Moabite whose family lineage was questionable from the start. Do you know how the lineage of the Moabites began? Here’s the story. A man named Lot had two daughters. One night one of his daughters got Lot (her father) drunk and had sexual intercourse with him and became pregnant. Lot’s son/grandson was named Moab. Ruth’s very lineage was birthed out of incest. The Moabites went on to became longtime enemies to the Israelites.
Bathsheba, the mistress and adulterer: Bathsheba was spotted by David while she was bathing naked one day. David immediately ordered to have Bathsheba taken to his bedroom where he laid with her. She then became pregnant. He then conspired to have her husband killed and later married her. In David’s ploy to have Bathsheba’s husband killed, he sent her husband (and others) to the front lines of a battle. Bathsheba’s husband wasn’t the only one intentionally murdered by David that day. Other husbands were consequently murdered too. Bathsheba became known as an adulteress and one responsible for the deaths of other husbands.
Whew. Talk about a history crash course. Now, why did I find it necessary to share these stories? It’s because each of these women is a part of the bloodline of Jesus Christ the Messiah. Yes, Jesus came through each of these women’s lineages.
But when I first read Matthew 1 that day, I wondered why the Lord would name these four particular women. I mean, there are several other women that He could’ve named that were a part of His lineage. And I can’t help but wonder why these four names were explicitly mentioned.
Is it to show us how He loved these women, with their messed up lives and all? To show that if a Holy God could choose them that He can also choose us?
This is the narrative I often hear and grew up hearing. But I think there’s more to this passage.
I’ve literally been sitting on these thoughts for the past 6-7 weeks.
And for that reason, I’ve been looking at each of these ladies’ stories a little bit more closely. In doing so, I’m beginning to realize that these women were affected by circumstances in which they had absolutely no control over. While the world defined them by these circumstances (fornicator, prostitute, pagan ancestry, adulteress), Jesus redefined them despite these circumstances. I think this is the message here.
It’s as if the Lord is saying in my head,
“Any person can give you a label after witnessing one act committed by you, without knowing the full story. But I defy labels. I not only can forgive but I also have the power of understanding..understanding how you did what you did, are who you are, and came to be affected by that which was out of your control. I forgive you Jessica, and I understand.
I understand what led you to that particular inner struggle in your life. I understand why you lashed out at that moment. I understand why you just shut down when your husband said that statement. I understand why you are not trusting me right now. I understand why you have that insecurity and are not trusting in the identity that I gave to you. No, my understanding doesn’t excuse nor justify your sin. But I understand and I forgive.”
You could easily look at Tamar and judge her for sleeping with her father-in-law. But once Judah discovered that he slept with his daughter-in-law, Judah is even quoted saying, “She is more righteous than I since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah (Genesis 38:26)." Judah and Tamar married, as odd as that sounds, but Judah did not sleep with her again. Jesus chose to come through the lineage of one of their twin sons.
You could easily look at Rahab with a downcast nose due to her work. But have you ever wondered how Rahab became a prostitute? Was she sold by her family at a young age to become a temple prostitute? Was she plagued with the thought of how to get out of prostitution but couldn’t? Did Rahab have a choice in the matter? Was this prostitution or was this sex trafficking... or is the difference so slight that it really doesn’t matter deciphering the distinction?
And have you ever considered the fact that if it weren’t for Rahab’s faith, we wouldn’t have had the beautiful story of Ruth? Did you know that Ruth went on to marry Rahab’s son, Boaz, and eventually through Boaz’s lineage came King David? Recall, Ruth wasn’t responsible for the birth of her lineage, the Moabites, and yet she was forever associated with it. Despite such, the Lord divinely planned for her to marry a wealthy Israelite and chose to come through her “pagan” blood.
Lastly, you could easily look at Bathsheba and cast her off as a gold digger or adulterer when she was neither. She was raped, forced to endure the death of her husband, forced to marry King David, forced to endure the death of her first son due to David’s sin. And yet, the Lord chose for her to give birth to King Solomon (despite David’s sin), the richest and wisest King to have ever lived.
I believe one of the reasons the Lord explicitly listed these women in Matthew 1 was to demonstrate how He eludes labels, judgments, boxes, and given identities. I don’t think the Lord chose the birth of Jesus to be associated with any of these women because He felt sorry for them. I believe He chose them because He understood their story. He understood their pain. He understood their struggles, as only He is able to do. And in light of all of that--He still chose them.
What I love about each of these women, is that the world placed one title on them, as we still do today, but the Lord hadn’t. Often, the very titles you allow others to pen on you, you inadvertently put on yourself. But the same ones who placed those titles on you don’t even know your full story, whereas God does.
PonderedThought: It’s important to understand and to recognize a person’s full story-even your own. In doing so, you will be less likely to run to labels to define others and yourself. I challenge you to look more closely at certain people in the bible. or even in your own life, and to seek understanding behind certain actions that you witness.
(I’m well aware that this blog post is already long enough, but I need to continue my next line of thought as well.)
I bet if you were to seek understanding, you’ll also find it easier to forgive as well. Next time, you run into a pattern of judging someone or even withholding forgiveness, seek to understand why they did what they did, are who they are, or said what they said. Not in the motivation of justifying inexcusable behavior, but rather, in the hopes of ultimately forgiving.
For instance, it’s easier for me to forgive that student in the classroom, who lashes out, when I discover that she lashes out because she’s desperate for attention; and when she gets home, the taste for love will grow more parched with each passing day. It’s easier for me to forgive that clerk who was rude to me when I come to understand that she does this as a self-defense mechanism when she feels threatened, further exposing a deeper insecurity of being ashamed of not knowing the answer to a simple question asked by a customer. You get the point. Forgiveness is easier (notice the “ier” part) when it is coupled with understanding.
Lately, the Holy Spirit has been leading me to do this, and it has made all the difference. I believe this is what the Lord wanted me to see that day when I read Matthew 1. It’s important to understand and to recognize a person’s story.