I recently re-read the first chapter of the gospel of Matthew — the chapter that lays out Jesus’ genealogy, establishing his bloodline to King David and Abraham. The chapter is better read silently, unless you want to try to pronounce such interesting names as “Rehoboam” and “Zerubbabel.”
However, five names on the list are definitely pronounceable — and female. Yes, there are five women listed in Jesus’ genealogy, and their inclusion in this list reveals something important about sexual history and God’s plan. Let’s take a look at each woman from Jesus’ family tree.
Tamar (Matthew 1:3). The story of Tamar is told in Genesis 38, and it’s a doozy — the sort of tale that is incredibly honest about the personal failings of God’s people. Summarizing the story: Judah, son of Jacob and brother of Joseph, marries and produces three sons. The firstborn marries Tamar, but he dies without her bearing children. By Hebrew law, Judah’s next son was required to marry Tamar, give her a child, and the child would take her first husband’s name — to keep his bloodline. Instead, Judah’s next son (Onan) deliberately fails in his duty and then dies, and Judah doesn’t give his next son to Tamar.
So Tamar takes to take matters into her own hands, poses as a shrine prostitute, and Judah sleeps with her, not realizing until later that he impregnated his former daughter-in-law. Awful, right? Like soap-opera or bad-reality-TV-show awful. And then God takes all this mess and produces a Messiah from this bloodline. Say what?!
Judah’s sons had an obligation — sexually. In that era, Tamar was expected to conceive and raise children, and when she married the first son, the whole family committed to her that duty. When they didn’t fulfill their duty, Tamar found a different way to satisfy her needs.
We don’t have the same obligations today to marry the siblings of dead husbands, but people behave in similar ways. When sexual needs aren’t met according to God’s design, people tend to start looking elsewhere. What Tamar did was absolutely wrong, but the denial of sexual duty to her was wrong as well. Sexual sin goes both ways.
Rahab (Matthew 1:5). Rahab’s on my Top 10 Bible Women list. I relate to her story and love how she turned her life around.
Rahab is a prostitute in Jericho when it’s conquered and leveled by Joshua, his army, and God shattering the city walls on their behalf. Beforehand, she hid two Israelite spies from Jericho authorities looking for them, allied herself with the coming army, and asked for protection in the siege. Joshua honors the spies’ commitment, and Rahab moves into the Israelite community.
Think about that: Rehab left behind her former home, former occupation, former life, and became part of God’s people. Since she appears in Jesus’ bloodline, I suspect she found a husband, settled down, had kids, and lived a far better life. (Yeah, I relate.) She could have been so easily defined by her previous choices, her bad sexual history, but God didn’t see her that way. When she left her old life behind, she got a fresh start — a second chance.
God gives second chances every day, to those who have sexually sinned in all kinds of ways. If a former pagan prostitute can be welcomed into God’s community, those with sinful sexual pasts can be forgiven and blessed as well. Whatever our sexual history, we can start fresh today. We can leave behind the bad choices and make different ones. We can find forgiveness and healing. We can come into the fold of God’s people and become part of Jesus’ family. You aren’t defined by your past or how others see you, but rather your present choices and your future of hope.
Ruth (Matthew 1:5). We know nothing about Ruth’s first husband, only that he was named Kilion. When he dies, Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, return to Judah. To feed themselves, Ruth begins gleaning the fields of a wealthy landowner and relative, Boaz. And let’s be honest, ladies: Both Ruth’s beautiful spirit and her savvy flirting catch her a husband.
Is anyone else bothered that Ruth basically sneaked into Boaz’s bed? I certainly wouldn’t recommend that course of action to any young woman. But like I said — the Bible is brutally honest and tells it like it happened. Knowing his reputation, Naomi certainly believed her daughter-in-law was safe in his company. And Ruth’s approach got Boaz’s attention.
What’s the takeaway? The Bible doesn’t say that Boaz took advantage of the situation. Perhaps he understood his role was to honor this woman by holding her sexuality sacred. Whatever a woman’s opportunity or current situation with boyfriend or fiancé, the goal is sex in marriage. Husbands are commanded to present their wives holy and blameless, and that attitude can begin before marriage. Once married, God blessed the sexual union of Boaz and Ruth with a baby boy, who was the grandfather of King David.
Bathsheba (Matthew 1:6). There are two takes I’ve heard on Bathsheba — either she was the wife of a soldier who was taken and presented to King David without asking for it, or she was a flirtatious woman bathing on her roof for the king to see and a willing participant in adultery. Either way, she conceived a son outside of the bonds of matrimony, and her second husband was her former adulterous lover. Not the way to start a marriage.
But the sexual story of Bathsheba that grabbed me most is not her adulterous affair with King David, but how sex played a part in her marriage after the death of her child. 2 Samuel 12:24a says: “Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her.” I’ve written about this event before, and the amazing ability of sexual intimacy in marriage to comfort a spouse. However, it’s clear that — although her entry into this marriage was not God-approved — God forgave and blessed David and Bathsheba with restorative intimacy and another child, the future King Solomon.
Some marriages have rocky, or even sinful, beginnings, but when we turn our hearts toward God, He can bless our marriage and our sexual intimacy. We start where we are right now.
Mary (Matthew 1:16). We Christians see Mary as young, innocent, a willing servant, and a thoughtful and loving mother. At the time she lived, however, people saw her as a knocked-up teenage mom. She was betrothed to Joseph, but they hadn’t officially married or consummated their union. So when she turns up “with child,” how does that look? Surely, Mary faced others looking askance at her for an ill-timed pregnancy. But it doesn’t matter how others saw her in that moment. What mattered is that God was working in her life, bringing out His divine plan, and blessing her marriage to Joseph.
What ultimately matters in your life is not what others think about your sexuality, but if you’re following God’s plan. The world and some Christians may not understand or approve of your choices to hold out for marriage and then experience frequent and intimate sex in marriage, but God smiles upon you when you follow His design.
None of these women — Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary — became part of Jesus’ bloodline through the usual means we might expect. Their sexual histories were unusual, but God acted in their lives and planted the Messiah into their family tree.
While I believe we should seek God’s best with all our heart and efforts, it’s pretty clear from Jesus’ family tree that God’s grace is alive and well when it comes to sexual intimacy. He can work powerfully in our lives and create something beautiful from whatever we bring Him.
Are you bringing God your sexual story? Asking Him to bring forth something beautiful and lasting from your life?
[This post was edited here and there after thoughtful comments from readers.]