Women with a Past
Each of us has a past. A time before we came to know Jesus, or a time when we didn’t follow Him and His ways even when we knew Him; it could be a time we may still feel ashamed of whenever it comes to mind. But our God is so loving and merciful that He does not dwell on our old lives once we truly follow Jesus. God only sees us as new creations living an eternal life with Him.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17
There are five women named in the genealogy of Jesus. Each of these women also had a past life before knowing God or had a scandal associated with them. Yet, God loved them and even chose them to be included in the family line of Jesus.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham… Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar… Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David the king. David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah… Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. Matthew 1:1, 3, 5-6, 16 (emphasis added)
Tamar had married the oldest of Judah’s three sons, Er. Er did evil in the sight of the Lord so He took his life. Judah then told his second son, Onan, to marry Tamar in accordance with God’s law of Levitical marriage to provide for a childless widow (Deut. 25:5-10). Onan did not like this idea because he knew that the first son he had with Tamar would be considered the heir of Er because of this law. So what did Onan do? He proceeded to have sex with Tamar but “he wasted his seed on the ground so that he would not give a child to his brother” (Gen. 38:9). As you can imagine, God was not pleased with Onan so He took his life as well. Judah was worried for the life of his youngest son, Shelah, so he told Tamar to return to her father’s house as a widow to wait until Shelah was old enough to be married.
Some time passed and even though Shelah was grown, Tamar was not given to him as a wife. Tamar heard that her father-in-law, Judah, was traveling to another town so she made a plan of action. She removed her widow’s garments, put on a veil (worn by prostitutes), and waited near the city's gates for Judah. Judah arrived and was unaware this woman was Tamar. He assumed she was a prostitute due to the veil and propositioned her, offering her a young goat in exchange for sex. Since he did not have this payment with him at the time, Tamar asked to keep his seal, cord, and staff (forms of identification) until he could pay. They both agreed to these terms so Judah had relations with Tamar and she conceived.
A few months later, Judah was informed that Tamar had prostituted herself and was pregnant. Judah, still unaware that Tamar had been the woman he had slept with, demanded that she be killed for this. Tamar sent the cord, seal, and staff to Judah, saying, “I am pregnant by the man to whom these things belong” (Gen. 38:25). Judah recognized the items and realized what had happened. He called her “more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah” (Gen. 38:26).
Tamar gave birth to two more sons of Judah — twin boys, named Perez and Zerah. In the fifth generation of Perez was a man named Salmon who married a Gentile woman named Rahab.
While Tamar had pretended to be a prostitute, Rahab actually was a prostitute. She was a Canaanite who lived in the city of Jericho in the land God had promised to His people, Israel. God had brought the Israelites out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and they were about to enter the Promised Land. Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, had sent two spies into Jericho to scope things out. These two spies ended up at Rahab’s house. The king of Jericho found out about the spies and sent men to Rahab’s house. She hid the two spies, sent the king’s men away on a wild goose chase, and then proceeded to profess her faith in the one true God to the Israelite spies. She helped the spies escape after they promised that “it shall come about when the LORD gives us the land that we will deal kindly and faithfully with you” (Josh. 2:14).
Later, God miraculously brought down the walls of Jericho and commanded the Israelites to destroy the city and everyone in it, except for Rahab. “However, Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all she had, Joshua spared; and she has lived in the midst of Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho” (Josh. 6:25).
Rahab married an Israelite man named Salmon, and they had a son named Boaz. Like his father, Boaz also married a Gentile woman — Ruth.
Ruth was a Moabite woman. The Moabites were descended from Moab, the son of Lot with one of his own daughters (Gen. 19:36-37). The Moabites worshiped a false god called Chemosh or Moloch. While the Bible doesn’t tell us much about Ruth’s life before going to Israel, we do know that Ruth was born in Moab and grew up in this pagan culture.
Ruth married an Israelite man named Mahlon, the son of Elimelech and Naomi. This Israelite family had left the land of Israel during a famine and lived in Moab for 10 years. All the men of the family died in Moab and Naomi made plans to return to Israel since the famine had ended as well. Ruth loved Naomi and chose to give up her past life to go with her. Ruth gave a beautiful declaration: “For where you go, I will go, and where you sleep, I will sleep. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16b).
When Ruth and Naomi arrived in Israel, they were poor widows without any support. Ruth went to glean barley and wheat in the fields according to another of God’s laws which provided for widows (Deut. 24:19). The owner of the fields was Boaz, a relative of Ruth’s father-in-law Elimelech. Boaz saw how Ruth worked to provide and care for Naomi. Ruth eventually approached Boaz, asking him for protection by marriage.
Once again, the law of Levirate marriage played a part as Boaz married Ruth. Interestingly enough, when the marriage was announced, the women of Bethlehem said, “May your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the descendants whom the LORD will give you by this young woman” (Ruth 4:12). Ruth and Boaz had a son named Obed. Obed became the grandfather of David. God even declared, “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will” (Acts 13:22b). Yet, David committed a grave sin in order to marry a woman named Bathsheba.
In Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, he doesn’t exactly name Bathsheba. But we all know who he’s talking about when it states, “her who had been the wife of Uriah” (Matt. 1:6b). Ouch.
Bathsheba was an Israelite woman who was married to Uriah the Hittite. The Hittites were one of the pagan nations that God had instructed the Israelites to destroy lest they influence God’s people to worship false gods instead (Deut. 20:17-18). However, it seems that Uriah the Hittite left his people in order to serve God and even became a soldier in the Israelite army, possibly fighting against his own people. In Hebrew (Strong’s H223), the name Uriah means “flame of Yahweh” or “Yahweh is my light”.
One night, while Uriah was away at battle, David went to the roof of his palace and saw Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop of her house. He knew she was Uriah’s wife but he lusted after her and sent servants to bring her to the palace. They slept together and Bathsheba became pregnant.
David attempted to cover his tracks by calling for Uriah, then sending him home in the hopes that he’d sleep with Bathsheba and then assume the child was his. But Uriah was a loyal soldier and would not enjoy the comforts of home while his fellow soldiers were at a battle. David tried again by getting Uriah drunk but his plan still didn’t work.
Then David wrote a letter to the commander of his army stating, “Station Uriah on the front line of the fiercest battle and pull back from him, so that he may be struck and killed” (2 Sam. 11:15b). Guess who David used to deliver this letter. Uriah, of course. He made Uriah carry the message that would lead to his death. This time, David’s plan worked. Uriah was killed in battle and David took Bathsheba to be his wife. God was not pleased.
God sent the prophet Nathan to tell David that he would be punished, for even though it had been done in secret, God knew. David repented but his child with Bathsheba was born, became ill, and he died.
Later, they had another son, Solomon who became king after David. David and Bathsheba had other children as well including Nathan (1 Chron. 3:5). This is important because the line of Jesus doesn’t biologically come through Solomon but through Nathan. Matthew’s genealogy tracks the royal line through Solomon, the legal line all the way down to Joseph, the man who married Mary while she was already pregnant with Jesus by the Holy Spirit. But Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus.
Another genealogy of Jesus is found in the book of Luke which states, “Jesus Himself… being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli” (Luke 3:23). The word “supposed” is the Greek word nomizo (Strong’s G3543) meaning: deemed by law or by custom. Legally, Jesus was Joseph’s son as far as the world was concerned. But biologically, His human nature was descended from Mary. In Matthew’s genealogy, it states Joseph was the son of Jacob but in Luke’s genealogy, it states that Joseph was the son of Eli. It is believed that Eli was Mary’s father and that Joseph was listed as the son upon his marriage to Mary. Luke’s genealogy tracks the biological line through David and Bathsheba’s other son, Nathan (Luke 3:31) all the way to Joseph, son-in-law of Eli (father of Mary).
The previous 4 women found in Matthew’s genealogy—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba—are all ancestors of Jesus, both legally and biologically, since the two genealogies differ beginning with different sons of David and Bathsheba.
Back to Mary. The Bible does not provide many details of her life prior to the visit of the angel Gabriel telling her that she was to give birth to the Messiah. We do know that Joseph and Mary were legally bound to be married. Joseph found out Mary was pregnant and must have assumed she had been unfaithful to him. I mean, even if Mary told him the truth, her story would’ve been very hard to believe. In an attempt to avoid scandal, Joseph tried to quietly call off their engagement (Matt. 1:18-19). An angel then appeared to Joseph in a dream to explain the real situation. “And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he named Him Jesus” (Matt. 1:24-25).
Just because Joseph tried to avoid scandal for Mary doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a scandal. We can only imagine what the family, friends, and neighbors of this young couple thought and talked about after they did the math.
God is Not Ashamed of Us
Let’s review. We have five women listed in the genealogy of Jesus:
Tamar — a woman who had been married twice and then acted as a prostitute in order to become pregnant by her father-in-law.
Rahab — a Canaanite woman who was a prostitute and most likely had worshiped false gods before learning about the God of Israel.
Ruth — a Moabite woman who had grown up in a pagan culture, married a man from an entirely different culture and, after he died, left everything she knew behind to move to a new land.
Bathsheba — an Israelite woman who had married a man from a pagan nation (although this man seems to have served God), then proceeded to cheat on her husband with the king of Israel and became pregnant, which eventually led to her husband’s death.
Mary — a woman who was to become the mother of the Messiah, yet had to endure the scandal associated with her becoming pregnant before her marriage to Joseph.
These women all had a past. They all most likely felt shame whether from their own choices or simply because of the situations they found themselves in.
Enter Jesus. The holy descendant of these women would be the One to save them.
The Bible tells us that the people of the Old Testament who lived before the time when Jesus walked the earth, had faith in God’s promise of the coming Messiah.
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen and welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country which they left, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:13-16
God is not ashamed to be called their God because of their faith in Jesus who was still to come. And God is not ashamed to be our God either, as long as we have faith in His Son, Jesus.
One of the women in the genealogy was even singled out later in the chapter of Hebrews 11:
By faith the prostitute Rahab did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. Hebrews 11:31
Let us not dwell on our past lives or anyone else’s life before they came to truly know and follow Jesus. Faith in Jesus means that our past life is dead, we’ve been born again, and this life we are now living is eternal with Him.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5
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