Road trip or airplane? Slow cooker or microwave? Coffee shop or drive-thru? Live TV or DVR? Send a card in the mail or send a text? Mall shopping or Amazon?
Our world has become fueled by fast and spurred by instant gratification. We are continually trying to figure out how to cut out unnecessary steps or detours. I myself love some of these conveniences and find they can provide more time for important things. However, even with some of these streamlined processes I still enjoy the slowness of a road trip, lingering over a cup of coffee with a friend, or writing a letter. The choice between slowing down and efficiency is a constant battle I face every day.
This week’s reading in Matthew chapter 1 gives you a choice to linger or to just skim over the many names listed in the first 17 verses. Who has time or the need to loiter over genealogies when Christmas is coming?
But I encourage you not to skip Matthew’s genealogy and journey deeper into the five women mentioned in his list. I believe this genealogy sets the stage for the Christmas story and can even offer hope that God is still working in the seemingly mundane and broken world we live in as He has done since the time of Abraham, David, 5 unlikely heroines, and Jesus.
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” ~Matthew 1:1 (ESV)
Matthew launches into his text with exactly who this book will be about – Jesus. Matthew was writing to Jews, and they were known to keep extensive genealogies to establish a person’s heritage, inheritance, legitimacy, and rights so this type of list would not have been insignificant. Matthew highlights the legal descent from Abraham to David and Jesus’ legal claim to the throne of David. Luke is the other gospel writer who includes a genealogy and his list emphasizes Jesus’ biological descent from David and Adam as he was writing to a Gentile audience.
Matthew wanted to inform people that Jesus was no ordinary man, but the awaited Christ, the Messiah who came from a royal lineage, that of king David. The Jewish audience would have been familiar with the names: Jesus meaning “Yahweh saves;” Christ signifying “anointed,” which points back to David as the anointed king of Israel; and son of David which evoked images of the Messiah who would reestablish the throne in Jerusalem and the kingdom of Israel. (ESV Study Bible)
“So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation of Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.” ~Matthew 1:17 (ESV)
Matthew does not include every generation as some are left out. This was not out of the ordinary for genealogies and may have been done for symmetry or ease of memorization. Fourteen is an interesting number. If you are a numbers person, there are some interesting observations here: three 14-generation periods; 14 = 2 x 7 (often the number of perfection); David is the 14th name mentioned; and David’s name has a numeric value of 14 according to the Jewish practice of gematria (D+V+D = 4+6+4). (ESV Study Bible, p. 1821). I don’t claim to know the reason for all of the fourteens, but I have to believe this is not an accident. I know God was at work throughout all of it and showed up at His perfect time.
If you are still with me, did you notice what happened? I skipped right over all those crazy “son of” names. It is easy isn’t it? It is all about Jesus anyway, right? Indeed it is, but I think Matthew intentionally mentioned some of the names to highlight that Jesus descended from the “good, the bad, and the ugly.” Jesus’ family tree is laced with sinful men, wicked kings, women, adulterers, prostitutes, heroes, and Gentiles.
It was uncharacteristic for a woman to be named in a genealogy during this time in Jewish history. Matthew names five of them. The women that made the list are not who I would highlight if I wanted to convince a group of religious men why this man Jesus is the rightful son of David and the coming Messiah. Rahab and Ruth were Gentiles. Tamar, Rahab, and the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba – notice her name is not given in the text) were women of questionable character. And then, beloved Mary, who found herself as an unwed (but betrothed) pregnant teenager is named.
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Five names included in Jesus’ family tree. Stories of brokenness, sin, and mistakes in their everyday living. Their seemingly inconsequential and sometimes questionable decisions had significant ramifications in the biggest story God had planned to redeem His people through the birth of a baby, His Only Son.
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” ~Matthew 1:22-23 (ESV)
Immanuel. God is with us. He is with you. He is with you on Thursday as you are feeding, cleaning, or schooling children, working at the office, caring for a loved one, offering silence, holding the hand of a loved one as they are sick or dying. He is with us when we are hurting, when we are broken, when we feel invisible. And God is also with us when we sin.
He sees you my friend. Just as he saw Rahab the prostitute, or Tamar and Bathsheba in their adultery. He sees you and wants you to know you are never outside of His love and His grace. He can redeem your past, your present, and your future. Your life may seem small and inconsequential, but God sees you and He is with you always. Your Thursday has meaning as part of God’s bigger picture even though we can’t see it.
So take the detour through the genealogy of our Savior, the stories of these five women. Be reminded that Christmas is not about having the perfectly decorated home or cookies, or about how to pack the most activities into the remaining days of the season. Christmas is about Immanuel. About a God who chose to come low, to come to earth as a baby through a family line full of heroes and sinners to save His people – to rescue us and to be with us.
Some of the decisions/actions these five women made include:
- To make a father-in-law fulfill his promise (Tamar – Gen. 38)
- To hide Jewish spies on her roof (Rahab – Joshua 2 & 6)
- To follow a mother-in-law into a foreign country and propose to a man in the middle of the night (Ruth)
- To go to the king when her husband was out on the battlefield (Bathsheba – 2 Sam. 11)
- To say yes to God when the angel of the Lord spoke to her of her virgin pregnancy (Mary – Matthew 1:18-25)
Reference: ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version. (2008). Crossway Bibles: Wheaton, Illinois.