Here at Logos, we’re all excited to celebrate the Lord Jesus Christ’s coming to dwell among us. In honor of this glorious day, we're doing a Christmas Bible study during the month of December. Today's post is written by my friend and co-worker, Jeffrey Kranz. You can read the rest of our Christmas Bible study posts here.
Christmas is upon us, and many of us find our worlds brimming with reminders of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth:
- Gabriel’s message to Mary
- Joseph’s dream regarding Mary’s pregnancy
- Caesar’s census
- The night in the stable
- Angels appearing to shepherds
- Magi following a star
- The flight to Egypt
All exciting, dramatic events! So with all these lively happenings, it makes you wonder: why did Matthew start this thrilling account with a long list of names, and what can we learn from them?
Matthew begins his gospel with the genealogy of “Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham,” and then goes on to list 42 men in Jesus’ family. These names are tied to the different stages in Israel’s history, and they all culminate with Jesus, the Christ, Immanuel. You can read them all in Matthew 1:1 – 16.
Matthew is very intentional as he lists out 42 men father by father; he even skips over a few men (like Joash and Amaziah).
But Matthew goes out of his way to include five women in this timeline — Mary, plus four other women you might not expect.
- Tamar’s story is recorded in Genesis 38. Long (and rather disturbing) story short: Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute, sleeps with her father-in-law, and has twins. One of these twins, Perez, is the ancestor of Salmon, who married the next woman in this genealogy.
- Rahab is better known by her occupation: Rahab the Harlot. But all that changed when the nation of Israel moved to the Promised Land. Check out what she said to the two spies sent to Jericho: “I know that the Lord has given you the land […]. He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Joshua 2:9, 11). Rahab turns her life around, joins Israel and has a son by an Israelite man. That son grows up and becomes very important to the next lady in this lineup.
- Ruth, the Moabitess. She was an outsider, a wanderer’s widow (Ruth 1:1 – 5). She was not part of God’s covenant people Israel; she was poor; she had loyally followed her mother-in-law back to Bethlehem — a community of people she did not know. But we know how the story ends: Ruth is redeemed into Boaz’s family, and the book that bears her name ends with her as the great-grandmother of King David.
- Which brings us to Bathsheba, the woman with whom David committed adultery in 2 Samuel 11. David tried to cover his sin by tricking Bathsheba’s husband, then having him killed in battle. We don’t know very much about Bathsheba’s spiritual life; but we do know her son Solomon carried on the royal line of David.
(In case you’re looking for an awesome tool for biblical character studies, I recommend Logos 5’s Bible Facts. I used it to access all this information about these women within a few seconds — it rocks!)
Four unlikely women in Jesus’ family tree: what does that mean to us?
When we examine this list in context of Matthew’s gospel and the history of Israel, a few things stand out as worthy of remembrance:
- God’s plan will be carried out. Many of these women represent what might be the genealogical plot twist. But God kept his promises to Abraham and David: Messiah came through their lines.
- God’s plan isn’t contingent on our righteousness. Ruth worshiped other gods, Tamar seduced her father-in-law, and Rahab was a prostitute, but these facts don’t derail God. And this principle extends beyond the women in this list: Judah, David, Solomon, Manasseh, Amon — these men have plenty of biblically documented mistakes, too.
- Right from the get-go, Jesus is identified with us. He’s at the end of a long line of sinful people, and this is our introduction to him in the New Testament. He’s our king, but he’s not ashamed to be counted among us.
Knowing these truths helps me appreciate Jesus’ coming to earth even more. In fact, I’m going to go back and study more of these genealogy names before Christmas arrives.