Jesus’ Scandalous Family Tree

The heritage of Jesus is complicated.  The first chapter of Matthew brings this to our attention by mentioning four women:

1. Tamar in Matt 1:3 (her story is found in Genesis 38)

Tamar was the widowed daughter-in-law of Judah (one of the twelve sons of Jacob). She was then married to Judah’s second son. He died as well so Judah’s got to be thinking – “There is no way I’m going to married her to my youngest son!”

A widow with no children in ancient times is in a hard place as she had no one to care for her in her old age. Finally, after many years, Tamar came up with a plan. She dressed up as a prostitute, hid her face, and slept with her father-in-law. Judah was angry when he found out she was pregnant – how could his daughter-in-law do such a shameful thing?

What he didn’t know was that she had taken some personal items from Judah on the night they were together – his ring, his staff and his belt. When Judah publicly confronts her for sleeping around – she said “The man I slept with owns these.” Caught red handed! Slept with your daughter-in-law. No more needs to be said.

2. Rahab in Matthew 1:5 (her story is found in Joshua 2)

Rahab was a real prostitute. She didn’t even pretend. And she wasn’t Jewish. In Joshua 2 we read that she hid the Israelite spies as they were scouting out the land. She wasn’t a reputable character but she recognized that God was with the people of Israel and she made a choice – a choice that could have cost her her life. Here we read that she married a Jewish man, Salmon, and she is even commended in Hebrews 11:31 for her faith and in James 2:25 for her good works.

3. Ruth in Matthew 1:5 (her story is found in the book of Ruth)

Ruth wasn’t Jewish either – Jesus really does have mixed blood –  as we learn in the book of Ruth that she was from the country of Moab. She married a Jewish man, was widowed and then decided to stay with her widowed mother-in-law to return to the nation of Israel – a country she had never been to before. She married Boaz and become the great grandmother of King David.

4. Bathsheba (wife of Uriah) in Matthew 1:6 (her story is found in 2 Sam 11)

Finally, Bathsheba – who is not named but is called “the wife of Uriah” in verse 6. Why would you identify someone by their first husband who died? Because Matthew wants us to remember the scandal. She became the wife of King David after he slept with her while her husband was leading the king’s army in war.

David was laying around the palace instead of leading his men. The king had a lot of power, but he was not allowed to take other men’s wives. And because Uriah was an honourable man, David had to have him killed. That’s the kind of story which would make it onto the pages of OK magazine today.

But Matthew is not just giving us titillating gossip. He’s making a few points:

Jesus has come for all people. Even though he came through the biological line of the Jews – Jesus’ blood line was a mix of peoples. Matthew is reminding us that Jesus came from the nations for the nations.

Secondly, even though God normally works out his covenant promises through the generations, He does call those outside the covenant family to himself. Rahab, Ruth and probably Bathsheba were not part of the covenant community of faith. And here they are – now as heroes of the faith. It doesn’t matter what your biological or spiritual heritage is – God can call you to himself and start a new family line of faith.

Through the heritage of Abraham the nations have been blessed. And through the heritage of David, there is now a king who does reign forever. But the heritage of Jesus is flawed.

Let the stories of those before Jesus encourage you, that even flawed, guilty people can be made right with God. Jesus has made a way for his future heritage – you and me – to stand with him as brothers and sisters on this day.

For that we should be eternally grateful.

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Chris Hatch

Seeking to love God and neighbor