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A strange thread runs through the most prominent women associated with Jesus: They are all women of, shall we say, ill repute. Most of their notorious reputations spring from sexual scandals. What does this say about Christ? An awful lot.
If your habit is to skip over the genealogies in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, you may have missed a treasure buried in this list of 40 fathers who comprise Jesus’ ancestry (if we count Joseph), stretching as far back as Abraham. The hidden treasure is the five women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Jesus’s mother, Mary. Why are they listed? And what makes them as valuable as any man mentioned? That’s precisely what Matthew wants us to ask.
Tamar - Matthew - Tamar - Sort - Ancestor
First, Tamar (Matthew 1:3). Tamar is the sort of ancestor most of us wouldn’t mention when recounting our family history. Do you remember her story (Genesis 38)? She entered the messianic bloodline by disguising herself as a prostitute and seducing her father-in-law, Judah. The scene and story are complicated. Given the cultural mores of the time, she acted more righteously than he did, since he had treated her unjustly and she had little recourse. Still, there’s no denying how horrible a mess it was.
Ruth, the third woman in our list (Matthew 1:5). She wasn’t personally embroiled in sexual scandal, but she came from a people that was. Ruth was a Moabite, a nation which had sprung from the incest between Lot and his oldest daughter (Genesis 19:30–38). Ruth’s people were polytheistic pagans, occasionally offering human sacrifices to idol-gods like Chemosh. Through personal tragedy and great loyalty, she wound up at Bethlehem and in the (lawful) arms of Boaz and also joined Jesus’ family tree. How did that happen, given that Jews were forbidden to marry Moabites (Ezra 9:10–12)? You have to read...
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