The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judah and his brethren; and Judah begat Perez and Zerah of Tamar; and Perez begat Hezron; and Hezron begat Ram; and Ram begat Amminadab; and Amminadab begat Nahshon; and Nahshon begat Salmon; and Salmon begat Boaz of Rahab; and Boaz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; and Jesse begat David the king. And David begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Uriah (Matthew 1:1-6).
When we come to the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, it is easy to fall into the temptation of “skipping over” the first few verses that describe the genealogy of Jesus Christ. After all, the Old Testament is full of such lists, and they are perceived as being quite “boring.” What is one doing in the New Testament– beginning the New Testament, no less?
Yes, the genealogy does set forth how Jesus is the descendant of David and Abraham, which is significant for His claim of being the Messiah. But there are also many surprises in Jesus’ genealogy.
First we come to Tamar (Matthew 1:3). Her story is described in Genesis 38: she is married to Judah’s oldest son Er, who dies, and then is married to Onan, who dies, and is held in waiting for Judah’s youngest son Shelah. When Judah does not marry her to Shelah, she takes on the garb of a cult prostitute and Judah hires her service. When the whole situation is revealed, he confesses that she is more righteous than he (Genesis 38:26)! And not only is she an ancestor of Jesus, she is explicitly named in the genealogy!
Next is Rahab (Matthew 1:5). Her story is in Joshua 2. She is the prostitute who maintains an inn in Jericho, and she hides the Israelite spies. She recognizes that the God of Israel is the true God and does not want to share in the fate of her fellow countrymen. Thus, we have a prostitute who deceives civic authorities who is an ancestor of Jesus the Christ, and she also is listed explicitly in His genealogy!
We also have Ruth (Matthew 1:5), and her wonderful story of faith in the book bearing her name. She is a Moabitess who clings to the God of her mother-in-law Naomi despite all the adversity they were experiencing. Yet another foreigner who is an ancestor of Jesus of Nazareth!
It is also interesting to note that Bathsheba is alluded to but not explicitly named in Matthew 1:6. She is remembered as being the wife of Uriah the Hittite!
What are we to gain from this? A woman willing to sell herself to her father-in-law to bring forth descendants, a lying Canaanite prostitute, and a Moabitess widow are explicitly named as ancestors of the Messiah, the Son of God. Despite their flaws, and despite their methodology, they are women of faith. Tamar ends up being “more righteous” and perpetuates the line of Judah. Rahab acts as she does by faith. All Ruth has is faith.
And Bathsheba? She acted according to the dictates of King David, engaging in acts of faithlessness. And she is left unnamed.
People of faith are not always pretty, and some of their actions may be hard to understand. And yet Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth have the ultimate testimony: they can claim Jesus Himself as their descendant.
Let us consider the “surprises” in Jesus’ genealogy, and recognize that even when faith is found in the strangest of places, it honors and glorifies God. Let us be found as people of faith!
Ethan R. Longhenry