The Genealogy of Matthew 1
Although the idea of Mary’s immaculate conception had been held by some within the church for centuries, the doctrine was not formally embraced by the Roman Catholic Church until Pope Pius IX declared in 1854 that it was official dogma.
The idea behind the doctrine is that it just seems like the Messiah, who would be the perfect and sinless lamb of God, could not be born of a woman who had been stained by sin. And so Mary must have been kept completely pure for Jesus’ sake. But if we pay close attention to the Genealogy of Matthew 1, we will see that Matthew is highlighting something very different. Bathsheba, Rahab, Tamar, Ruth, and Mary – these five women are the only women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. If we wanted to talk about the purity of Jesus’ line, the author clearly picked a lot of the wrong women here.
In Genesis 38 we read the story of Tamar.
First Tamar loses her husband. Then she is rejected, in the most humiliating way, by Onan. In doing this, Onan was saying that it would be better for his seed to rot on the ground than to be in Tamar’s womb. Then Onan dies and Judah himself, in a very dishonest way, rejects her again and she is sent away to live with her father.
But Tamar refuses to take this. She sees what Judah is doing and she hatches a plan. Just as Judah’s father, Jacob, got what had been rightfully his by deceiving Isaac, so too Tamar tricks Judah into giving her what was rightfully hers.
When the whole story is over, Tamar is the one who is declared righteous. And she is the one who is included in Jesus’ genealogy. We have to remember that throughout this whole story, this Tamar fighting for the line of the Messiah.
And then there is Ruth, the Moabitess. Although it might not jump right out at you at first, Ruth is clearly being described to us as being another Tamar. It might seem strange because Ruth is not nearly as scandalous in her behavior as Tamar, but the author had Tamar in mind when he told the story of Ruth.
They are in very similar situations. Both are foreign wives, taken by young Israelite men as they wandered with their fathers away from Israel. The husbands of both women died childless, leaving their widowed wives with the choice of returning to the home and gods of their fathers or of clinging to the hope that they might still find a place within the family of Israel, the people of the one true God.
Unlike her sister-in-law, Orpah, Ruth refuses to leave Naomi, “Your people will be my people, and your God, will be my God.” And then again, when she understands who Boaz is, she insists on being with him.
Ruth’s rejection is less obvious, but when Boaz agreed to be her kinsman-redeemer he tells her that there is another man who is closer to her, who is really the first in line. However, when Boaz puts the matter before this man, Palony Almony, he rejects Ruth because he is concerned that she will ruin his inheritance.
Boaz declares that Ruth is blessed (3:10), because her covenant faithfulness has steadily increased. And he proclaims her to be a “virtuous woman” (3:11).
Ruth as Tamar
As the story of Ruth ends, the author of Ruth gives us several more obvious hints that we should be thinking of Ruth as another Tamar. First, the elders in the gates of Bethlehem give a blessing that explicitly compares the two women (4:12). Second, the chapter concludes with a brief genealogy, beginning with Tamar’s son Perez and going to Ruth’s great grandson David (4:18-22).
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba as the Church
The last bit of genealogy in Ruth places the coming of King David in the context of the lives of these women. As David is the picture of the king to come, King Jesus, these women picture the bride that Jesus would take, sinful and rejected by men. These women, despite their rejection, cling to the covenant family with all that they have. What would it look like for someone to be in that position in our midst?