The Genealogy of Jesus
“Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminidab, and Amminidab the father of Nashon, and Nashon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.”
As we saw last time, Matthew wants to emphasize Jesus’ connection to David and Abraham. He wants to prove that Jesus is the Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. God said specific promises would come through David and Abraham. And Matthew believed that these promises were fulfilled in Jesus.
Now as we move on to the first section of names, we will begin to see Jesus’ lineage take shape. And as I said in a recent post we can learn a lot through the names Matthew chose for his genealogy. And we want to ask ourselves what Matthew is trying to teach us about Jesus.
One thing I have found helpful in studying the genealogy in Matthew is to write down the different names I come across and go find them in the Old Testament. When I find each name I read their story and write a summary about that person. Again, always thinking, what is this telling me about Jesus? I can’t go into every single name here, but encourage you to try it on your own. Share anything interesting you see in the comments.
There is one thing in this part of the genealogy that I do want to focus on. Matthew’s genealogy, as I’ve said before, is very deep. And it is also very unique. Generally, genealogies traced a person’s lineage through the males. And for the most part, Matthew does exactly that. But he also goes a bit out of his way to mention several women. In fact, there are five women in the genealogy. Three of these women are in this first paragraph.
3 Gentile Women
I want to take some time here to look at each of their stories. It was very radical for Matthew to include women in general in his genealogy. And his inclusion of these specific women can help us learn what he was trying to teach his readers about Jesus. We can find the story of each of these women in the Old Testament. I’ll give you guys the part of the Old Testament where you can find them, give a brief summary of their story, and then share some of my thoughts. As always, of course, I do encourage you to read their stories on your own and share anything that stands out to you.
Tamar: Genesis 38
We find the story of Tamar in Genesis 38. Judah, one of Jacob’s sons, took a Canaanite woman named Shua to be his wife. She gave birth to 3 sons, Er, Onan, and Shela. Er married Tamar. But God put Er to death because of his wickedness. it was custom back then for the brother to marry the dead man’s wife. He would be responsible for taking care of her and raising up an heir for his brother.
So, Judah told Onan, Er’s younger brother, to fulfill that responsibility for Tamar. He was expected to “perform the duty of a brother-in-law- to her, and raise up offspring” for his brother. But Onan knew these children would not be his. So “whenever he went into his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother.” God saw his wickedness and Onan died as well.
Judah told Tamar to go back to her father’s house and remain a widow until his youngest son grew up. But Judah was afraid Shelah would die as well. So even after Shelah grew up, he was not given to Tamar.
So, Tamar pretended to be a prostitute and seduced Judah himself. Later, Tamar reveals that she is pregnant with Judah’s child.
Rahab: Joshua 2 and 6
We find out more about Rahab in Joshua 2 and 6. Rahab was a prostitute who lived in Jericho. As the Israelites were approaching Jericho, Joshua sent spies into Jericho. These spies stayed at Rahab’s house, where she hid them from the king. The spies promised her that they would make sure she and her family were safe in return for her help. Later when the Israelites conquered Jericho the spies kept their word. They made sure Rahab and her family made it out of the city.
Ruth is the only one of the women mentioned in Matthew 1 that has her own book in the Old Testament. The story of Ruth happened during the time of the judges in Israel. For anyone who may be unfamiliar with that period of Israel’s history, I’ll give some background information for you.
During the time of the judges, the people of Israel found themselves in a constant spiral. They would have a period of time where they were obedient to God and worshipped only Him. They would prosper and things generally went well. But then, they would drift away. They started worshipping idols and falling into deeper and deeper sin. God would discipline them by giving them over to other nations. “He sold them into the hands of their surrounding enemies so that they could no longer withstand their enemies” (Judges 1:14). Then, God would raise up judges who would save the people from their enemies. Unfortunately, the Israelites continued to turn away from God. The whole book of Judges details their downward spiral into sin and idolatry.
So, this is the setting where we find the story of Ruth. During this time a man named Elimelech moved from Bethlehem to Moab with his wife, Naomi, and their two sons. His sons married two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Elimelech and his sons all die, leaving Ruth, Naomi, and Orpah as widows. Naomi moved back to Bethlehem and Ruth joined her. Ruth met a man named Boaz and they got married.
Through Boaz, Ruth became the great-grandmother to King David.
What Can We Learn About Jesus?
There is a lot we can learn about Jesus from the inclusion of not just women in general, but these women specifically. Matthew had other women he could have chosen. He could have included Sarah. He could have chosen Leah. If the Messiah was supposed to be this great king from the line of David, you would expect a more noble family tree. But it’s possible that’s exactly why Matthew included Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth.
These women were Gentile women. They were all outside of the covenant people of Israel. Ruth even had a special curse on her because she was a Moabite (see Deuteronomy 23:3-5). But God wove her into His plan.
All three women have stories of sin and brokenness. Tamar and Ruth have especially similar stories. Their husbands both died. They were left without children. But God in His mercy and compassion cared for them. He not only gave them what they needed, but He also brought them into His larger story.
And these two points are a huge reason why they are in Jesus’ genealogy. Matthew was writing to a very Jewish audience. And his fellow Jews had a very specific idea of what the Messiah was going to be like. They were looking for a great king who would come, conquer Rome, and set God’s people free. They had very specific expectations for their Messiah.
Matthew, here in the genealogy and throughout the rest of the Gospel is making the point that Jesus is their Messiah. He is who the Jews were looking for. But He is also very different from what they were expecting.
This Messiah hadn’t come to conquer Rome. He wasn’t just here for the Jews. There was a greater plan at work. There was something more to Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. He came to redeem broken, sinful people. He came for Jews and for Gentiles.
Yes, Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is the son of David. Jesus is the son of Abraham. Jesus is who we’ve been waiting for. But Jesus is also so much more than anything we could have dreamed.
Feel free to share in the comments here or on Facebook if there was something about this week’s section that stuck out to you. I truly want to see what God is showing other people, so it’s not just me telling you what I think. Engage with these names for yourself and see what God reveals to you!
If you want to read ahead, next week we will be looking at the next paragraph in Matthew’s genealogy, Matthew 1:6b-11.