Jesus and the Women

Matthew opens his gospel with a genealogy. We talked about that fact this past Sunday. If you are anything like me, you likely skim or completely skip the genealogies that are in the Bible. They tend to be long and rambling. More often than not, they are about people who are completely unknown to us and to whom we have no connection. I suggested this past Sunday that Matthew’s genealogy is different from the ones we find in the Old Testament. There are several reasons for this. First, it is intentionally crafted to have 14 generations in each of its three sections. Matthew left generations out in order to achieve this. Second, this genealogy is tracing the line of the Messiah but it includes a host of notorious figures from Israel’s past. Evil kings, murderers, adulterers, and morally loose women are all included. The most interesting difference about Matthew's genealogy is its inclusion of 4 women (5 if we include Mary). This was unheard of in ancient genealogies.

There are a large number of theories about why these women are included. The most interesting and cohesive theory is that Matthew is using the women as proxies for periods of Israel’s history. In other words, each woman is pointing back to a specific moment in the history of the nation when they lacked faith. Matthew is contrasting the faith of these gentile women with the faithlessness of Israel. 

The first woman to be mentioned parallels the Patriarch period. Her name is Tamar. She was the (probably) gentile daughter-in-law of Judah. Judah was the one through whom the Israelite royal line (and therefore Messianic line) would come. Yet when Tamar married his two sons and they died without heirs, he refused her his third son. She deceived him into conceiving twins with her and thus preserved his line. Her desire to preserve his line showed a level of faith that Judah lacked. Pastor Dan did a great job looking at this story this past summer.
Rahab is the second woman who is mentioned. She was a prostitute living in Jericho when Israel arrived and her story parallels the Wandering generation. When Israel arrived at the promised land after the exodus, they sent in spies and decided that the people in Canaan were too powerful. God told them they would wander in the desert for 40 years until the entire generation died. Israel has now returned to Canaan under Joshua’s leadership and again sends in spies. The spies are found out and being chased. Rahab hides them. She showed great faith in the God of Israel by risking her own life to hide the Israelite spies. This is another example of a gentile woman displaying faith in comparison with the faithlessness of the Israelites.

After Rahab comes Ruth. Ruth was from the nation of Moab. Moab was a result of the events that transpired between Lot and his daughters in Genesis 19:30-38. Ruth lived during the time of the judges. This was an incredibly dark period in Israel’s history. They were led by men and women who were at best morally compromised. And amid this darkness and horror, we find a Moabite woman acting with great faith. She leaves her people and moves to Israel with her mother-in-law to live in poverty. She goes out to glean barley so they can eat. She displays great faith in the God of Israel to care for and provide for her and her family. While she is doing so, Israel is “doing what was right in their own eyes” and displaying a horrifying level of faithlessness.

The final woman to be mentioned (other than Mary) is Bathsheba. She is the only one who is not mentioned by name. In the genealogy, she is called Uriah’s wife. It is possible that her inclusion is to highlight Uriah’s faith in comparison to the faithlessness of David. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had Uriah murdered in battle. Through that story, Uriah (who was a gentile) was as faithful as a person can be to both God and to David. Uriah’s story is Bathsheba’s story and it is one of faith contrasted with faithlessness.

These stories and the faith they represent can teach us a great deal. They show us How God providentially preserved the Messianic line in times that were filled with apostasy. They show us that God cares deeply for Jews and Gentiles alike. They call us to repentance and humility as we see gentiles welcomed into the family of God through the life and work of Jesus. Across history, there have been many stories of faith in the midst of faithlessness. Allow the stories of these faithful women to encourage you today.

Josh Cervone