In the genealogy Matthew names 5 female ancestors of Jesus, the first 3 were Gentiles and the fourth was married to a Gentile. Why would this have been important for Matthew’s community?


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Matthew's book portrays Jesus Christ with regard to a particular aspect. The book has a purpose and its content reflects that purpose. The kingdom of heaven features particularly strongly in the pages of Matthew as do the several parables describing the kingdom of heaven being 'like' or 'likened to' something that is less than what is outwardly apparent.

The book is a matter of contrasts, as are the parables of the kingdom which contrast that which is inherently spiritual against that which is outwardly more (apparently) glorious.

The genealogy which Matthew records is the royal line of succession and features the omissions that are a result of God's judgements on the kings of Judah.

But among the ancestors recorded, there stands out Tamar the Canaanite, Rahab the harlot of Jericho, Ruth the Moabitess, and Urijah the Hittite.

Gentiles ?

Yes, gentiles, in the providence and wisdom of God who is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to a knowledge of the truth.

Right from his opening page, Matthew is declaring that God's purposes never were restricted to one nation - albeit he, himself, favoured that nation in order to proclaim something on earth to all the nations.

The remarkable stories of Tamar, Rahab and Ruth stand out in the genealogy, along with the reminders - in the kings - of the terrible failures of Israel to live up to their inestimable privilege.

Then, increasingly, Matthew - by specifically recording certain items, chosen parables, distinct events - weaves a narrative that displays the purpose of God to be heavenly, not earthly, to be for an entire world (to come) not just one nation, to be for ever (not just the duration of a natural kingdom on earth).

The climax, after the events of the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead, is the sending forth of the eleven to the whole earth, to every creature under heaven - to teach all nations :

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Matthew 28:19 KJV.

The significance of the women mentioned is their origin and it is not Bathsheba that is mentioned but Urijah and his Hittite origin that is drawn attention to.

They are specifically mentioned because of their individual (and remarkable) stories as they were brought in within the skirts of Israel, despite being of gentile origin - as would be gathered multitudes from the nations to join - as one - with those of Jewish origin to form one church.

  1. In the first verse, the words Abraham and David are close, this, for a Jew, brings to mind Mount Moriah, the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the Sacrifice of the Lamb.

  2. Jewish genealogies were always male and the social behaviors that allowed the enslavement of relatives and it was extremely insulting to Jewish culture to quote women... In this part the Jews are "nervous on edge"...

  3. Contextualized, all atypical plot of the first verses was to justify the 18th verse of the first chapter, if the Jews do not believe in the story or story of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, respect his birth in a natural way, because the Jewish matriarchs according to the Hebrew scriptures had moral problems of a sexual nature. . The genealogies of the Jews rarely mentioned women, especially not women of questionable character. Nevertheless, Matthew reports four women with a dubious reputation in the lineage of the Messiah. Why?

Tamar (Mt 1:3): Genesis 38 tells the story of how she ended up pretending to be a prostitute and became pregnant by her father-in-law, Judah. A sordid tale indeed. Tamar was the wife of Judah's eldest son, Er, a wicked man whom "the Lord put to death" (Gen 38:7). This left Tamar a young widow with no children. At Judah's request, Tamar then married Onan, Judah's second son. He also proved to be wicked, and thus, the Lord "put him to death" (Gen 38:10). More sorrow for Tamar. She was now twice widowed, young, and childless.

When Tamar realized that Judah would not send Shelah, the youngest son, to be her husband, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Tamar knew that Judah was going to Timnah to shear his sheep. So, Tamar dressed as a prostitute and waited until he appeared, agreeing to have intercourse with him for a certain price. She became pregnant and then confronted Judah, revealing that he was the father. When Judah realized what he had done, he said, "Tamar is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah" (Gen 38:26). Nevertheless, what she did was still questionable. She was a woman with a complicated past. Matthew did not need to mention her name; he could have simply written, "Judah fathered Perez and Zerah, Perez fathered Hezron..." He intentionally included her name.

Rahab (Mt 1:5a): Next, we encounter a genuine prostitute. Joshua 2 tells us that she showed hospitality to the two spies Joshua sent to Jericho, saving their lives. Joshua 8 informs us that when Joshua destroyed Jericho, God spared Rahab and her family. Rahab is called a prostitute in Joshua 2:1; 6:17, 25. She is also called a prostitute in Heb 11:31 and James 2:25. Scripture does not tell us if and when she stopped practicing prostitution. Many who comment on her suggest that she came to faith and was born again before marrying Salmon, and that she never practiced prostitution again. But it is true that she was not a person of high moral character before embracing faith. Rahab was not Jewish, although she married a Jew. Matthew could easily have left her name out of Christ's lineage. He could have written, "Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed..." The Holy Spirit wanted her name in Jesus' official genealogy.

Ruth (Mt 1:5b): The next woman on the list has a questionable reputation only because of her birth. She was not Jewish but married a young Jewish man when he and his family were in Moab. She was born and raised in Moab. The Moabites had mistreated Israel when they entered the land and were not a blessed people. The Moabites, though close relatives to the Jews, were nevertheless Gentiles. Her husband died, as did her brother-in-law. This left her mother-in-law, Naomi, a childless widow with no prospect of having children. Naomi decided to return to Israel and bid farewell to her two daughters-in-law. Orpah returned to her family, but Ruth clung to Naomi and went to Israel with her. Ruth followed Naomi's instructions and ended up finding a husband in Boaz. They had a son named Obed, bringing great joy to Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. The Book of Ruth is one of the most beautiful books in the Bible. She is clearly a woman of great character. However, an orthodox Jew might have questioned why God allowed her to be the grandmother of King David and why she would be included in a genealogy.

The wife of Uriah (Mt 1:6): Matthew does not mention her by name. He writes, "David fathered Solomon from her who had been the wife of Uriah." Bathsheba committed adultery with King David, as recorded in 2 Samuel 11. Some think Bathsheba was an innocent victim. However, there is no indication that David took her by force. The account in 2 Samuel 11 indicates that she was a willing participant in the adultery. David was a man after God's own heart, but he was not without sin. David committed adultery and had Uriah killed to cover up his sin with Bathsheba. Only when God confronted him through the prophet Nathan did David repent (2 Samuel 12). Nevertheless, she is also mentioned in Jesus' genealogy. However, we may wonder why she is not mentioned by name. Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth were all mentioned by name.

Why were these four women mentioned?

The teaching is that orthodox Jews, when reading the Genealogy of Jesus and not believing in the virgin birth by the Holy Spirit, might at least respect Mary as a common mother when looking at the preceding women.

  • 1
    I have learned a lot through your insightful answer. Just want to share with you this perspective that may add to the narrative of non-Israelites in the royal blood line of Judea and Jesus hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/85984/44739
    – grammaplow
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 14:54

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