18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. – Matthew 1:18-25 ESV
One of the unique attributes of the genealogical record provided by Matthew is the inclusion of the names of several significant women. Included are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba.
3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar).
5 Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
6 Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah). – Matthew 1:3, 5-6 NET
Each of these women play an important role in the history of the nation of Israel. And because Matthew began his list with the name of Abraham instead of Adam, as Luke did, it is clear that Abraham was only interested in establishing the Jewish heritage of Jesus. It is quite significant that these four women are included because the Jewish people usually traced their lineage through their male ancestors. And yet, the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to include these four particular women for their role in the birth of the Messiah. The first mentioned is Tamar, who had been married to Perez. This woman adds an interesting story line to the lineage of Jesus. According to the book of Genesis, Tamar had been by Judah to one of his sons as a wife.
6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. 10 And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also. – Genesis 38:6-10 ESV
At this point, Judah promised to make Tamar the wife of his next son, Shelah, but he was too young. So, he asked Tamar to remain in his house as a widow until his son was of age. But he had no intention of making her his wife because he feared he might lose a third son. So, he left her as a widow in his home. Tamar, frustrated by her status as damaged goods, twice a widow and therefore an unattractive prospect for marriage, was desperate. She had no husband, and no recourse for pleading her case. In that culture, as a woman, she was little more than property. But God had plans for her. Judah, after having mourned the death of his wife, had sexual relations with Tamar, mistaking her for a temple prostitute. She became pregnant as a result. And when her pregnancy became known and she was accused of immorality and condemned to die, she revealed that the father was none other than her own father-in-law, Judah. Sensing his own sin in the affair, Judah responded:
“She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” – Genesis 38:26 ESV
This twice-widowed and all-but-forgotten woman would become the mother of Perez, whose name would show up in the lineage of the Messiah. And her name is included again in another Old Testament book that bears the name of the second woman in our list.
11 Then the elders and all the people standing in the gate replied, “We are witnesses! May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” – Ruth 4:11-12 NLT
Boaz was taking a young Moabite woman to be his wife. She too, was a widow and was living in the land of Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Boaz, acting in the role of the kinsman-redeemer, was rescuing this young woman from a life of destitution and degradation. She, like Tamar, was a helpless widow who had no one to stand up for her and no hope for the future. She was childless and an unattractive prospect as a wife. But Boaz redeemed her, married her and she bore to him a son named Obed. And Boaz himself had been born to a woman named Rahab. She is the same woman listed in the book of Joshua and described as a prostitute. She was a pagan, a non-Jew who hid the two men whom Joshua had sent to spy out the city of Jericho. Because of her willingness to risk her own life by protecting the two spies, Rahab and her family were spared when the city of Jericho was destroyed. And she, a pagan and a prostitute, became the mother of Boaz.
The final woman mentioned in the list is Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah. Her story is a particularly sordid one, involving the great king, David, who had an affair with her. She was a married woman and, when she became pregnant, David had her husband murdered, in an attempt to cover his sin and legally take her as his wife. But their sin resulted in the death of their infant son. But God would replace the son He had taken with another son, Solomon, who would go on to become David’s heir to the throne of Israel.
Of these four women, two were Canaanites, one was a Moabite, and Bathsheba was likely a Hittite. So, they were all non-Jews. And three of the four were marred by sin. And yet, God chose to include these women, not only in the list, but in the actual lineage of the Messiah. The line of Jesus the Messiah is not filled with perfect people who lived sinless lives, but with men and women who were flawed by sin and in desperate need of a Savior. Out of the mar and mess of their lives, God brought a sinless Savior who would redeem them, not because they deserved it, but because God, in His grace, had decreed it.
And it’s interesting to note that even Mary, the mother of Jesus, was accused of immorality because she became pregnant while still betrothed to Joseph.
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. – Matthew 1:18-19 ESV
This young, unknown Jewish girl, had her life rocked. She was chosen by God to bear the Son of God. And her unexpected and unwanted pregnancy made her a target for abuse and the cause of Joseph’s plan to call off the marriage. She would have become a social outcast and undesirable as a wife. And yet, God was at work in her life, calling her to be the one woman who would bear His Son and make possible the salvation of the world.
God intervened, assuring Joseph of Mary’s innocence and the divine nature of His plan.
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21 ESV
God’s plan was far bigger than anything Joseph had ever imagined. Mary’s pregnancy was far from a mistake or the result of sin. It was the work of God Almighty. And the Son she was to bear was to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He would be Immanuel, which means “God with us.” God was going to take on human flesh and live among men. Through the lives of sinful women like Rahab and Bathsheba, God would bring a Savior who would take away the sins of the world. Through the lives of hopeless, helpless women like Ruth and Tamar, God would bring the hope of the world. And they would call Him Jesus, which means “Yahweh saves.” Through the most unlikely of people and the most unbelievable circumstances – a virgin birth – the Savior of the world came to dwell among men and women. God came to earth and salvation came to mankind.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.