Reading through the Bible together

Sunday, November 2, 2014

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The first seventeen verses of Matthew’s Gospel are usually passed over quickly because the list of names. But, the well-known reformer Ulrich Zwingli said, "The Genealogy of Jesus, if understood correctly, contains the essential theology or the main message of Reformation." In fact, his first sermon on the first Sunday of January in 1519 at the Cathedral in Zurich, was on the “Genealogy of Jesus.” Till this day, the main door of the Cathedral contains the carved picture of four women mentioned in the lineage of Jesus: Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. The genealogy of Jesus is just as amazing as the Protestant Reformation was.

Why does Matthew deliberately mention these women in the genealogy of Jesus?  He begins list with Tamar who pretended to be a prostitute in order to have a child from her father-in-law Judah. She was a widow and according to Jewish custom her husband’s family was supposed to provide for her. But Judah withheld what was rightfully hers (see Genesis 38:1-30). When Judah discovered he was deceived by his daughter-in-law, he did not get angry. On the contrary, he said: “She has been more righteous than I, because when her husband (my son) died, I refused to give her in marriage to my other son Shelah as I should have” (Genesis 38:26).

Rahab was a gentile and a prostitute. Nevertheless, she hid two Jewish spies and saved their lives (Joshua 2:1-21). She was considered as a righteous woman in the Jewish tradition for what she did to save these men. Most importantly, she was the ancestress of King David himself.

There is entire book in the Bible that is devoted to Ruth who despite being a gentile was considered to be righteous and was the great-grandmother of King David.
Matthew does not name Bathsheba, the other ancestral woman. He simply states that she was the wife of Uriah, the officer who was intentionally sent by David to the front of the battlefield to be killed.  Even though Uriah was a gentile, the Scripture clearly states that he was righteous and faithful to David and God (2 Samuel 11:1-27).  In the genealogy of Jesus, Bathsheba is identified with the gentiles also.

It is not difficult to notice two main characteristics shared by these women: (1) they were gentiles or were married to gentiles and (2) they had scandalous reputations. Nevertheless, they are listed in the genealogy of kings and ultimately, the King of Kings.

Matthew ends the genealogy by telling us that Mary gave birth to Jesus the King, who is so forgiving that gentiles and people with scandalous reputations are listed in His ancestry. 

Oleg Kostyuk
Host of Cross Connection
Hope Channel