Local News: On Thursday, March 28, Fondren Presbyterian Church in Jackson will be holding a Maundy Thursday service at 7 p.m. For more information about this or any of Fondren's other scheduled Holy Week events, go to www.fondrenpcusa.org.
In commemoration of March being Women’s History Month, Jackson Presbyterian Examiner would like to highlight some of the women who played key roles in Biblical history. In the opening chapter of Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ, usually only the fathers and sons are listed, with five exceptions which we will explore: 1) Tamar, who was the mother of Perez 2) Rahab, who was the great-great-grandmother of King David 3) Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, 4) Bathsheba, who was the mother of King Solomon, and 5) the Virgin Mary, the mother of the Lord. What so distinguished these women that Matthew would make a point to mention them in a list that otherwise contains the names of fathers and sons? Let’s explore them.
1. Tamar’s sordid story can be found in Genesis 38. Judah, the patriarch for whom the tribe of Judah was named, arranged a marriage between his first born son and Tamar. The text tells us that Judah’s son was wicked, so the Lord put him to death. If a man died without leaving any children, it was the custom of the Hebrews for the dead man’s brother to take his widow as his own wife, and raise children in his brother’s stead. Judah’s second son took Tamar as his wife, but refused to have children for his brother. For his failure, the text said the Lord also put him to death. Judah promised Tamar that he would give her his third son as soon as he came to marrying age.
Time went on, but Judah didn’t keep his word to Tamar and she remained a widow. Much later, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute, wooed Judah to sleep with her, and as a pledge of how he later intended her, Judah gave her his staff and his chord. Soon after Tamar became pregnant, and Judah was leading the cry that she should be stoned. Tamar sent the chord and staff to Judah, saying, “These belong to the man by whom I am pregnant.” Judah was cut to the heart, recognizing how he’d lied to Tamar when he’d promised her his third son. “She is more righteous than I,” he said. Tamar gave birth to twins, Perez and Zerah. Perez was the line through whom David, and later Christ himself, would be born.
2. Rahab’s story is in some ways even more sordid than Tamar’s. Tamar posed as a prostitute on one occasion, but when the book of Joshua introduces Rahab, she is described as being a prostitute by vocation. When Israel comes to invade the land of Jericho and subdue it, Rahab realizes God has handed the land over to them.
She helps the Israelite spies and in return, when the land is destroyed Rahab and all of her family are spared. The text indicates that, seeing God’s mighty power to conquer Israel’s enemies, Rahab becomes a believer in the true God. She marries a Hebrew and goes on to become David’s great-great grandmother.
3. Ruth, a young woman from the land of Moab, marries a Hebrew husband, but he dies. When Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi decides to leave Moab and return to Israel, which had been experiencing famine but was finally recovering, Ruth decides to leave her homeland and go to Israel with Naomi. While there, she works tirelessly to provide for herself and for Naomi. Boaz, a “kinsman redeemer” agrees to marry Ruth, thus providing security for both Ruth and her mother-in-law. Incidentally, Boaz was the son of Rahab the prostitute. Boaz and Ruth’s son was Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David.
4. Bathsheba’s story is one of the most sordid because in it we see David himself, a “man after God’s own heart” doing something treacherous. He commits adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, and when she becomes pregnant, David has Uriah murdered to cover up his misdeed. David marries Bathsheba. God sends the prophets Nathan to rebuke him for his sin (this is what produced Psalm 51), and though God forgives David, the child Bathsheba was carrying died. Later, Bathsheba conceives again, and does give birth to a son, Solomon.
5. Of course the Virgin Mary can’t be left out in any account of the birth of Christ. This young woman from Nazareth was appointed by God to be the mother of the Messiah. When given this vocation, she embraced it, though she was warned that a “sword would pierce her soul” as she watched her Son suffer. Interestingly, Mary is not the woman anyone would’ve pegged to be the mother of the Messiah, a King. She was a poverty stricken peasant girl.
How do we know she was so poor? At Jesus’ circumcision in the Temple, Mary and Joseph provided a turtledove or two young pigeons as a sacrifice, instead of a lamb, which was customary. In Leviticus 12:8, God specified that people who were too destitute to buy a lamb could bring these instead.
What do we learn from the stories of these women? The main lesson is that God’s ways are unpredictable and that no one, no matter what his or her story, is passed the point of being used by God. Two of the women in this list practiced prostitution. Two were foreigners, non-Jews, which would’ve meant they, at least at one point in their lives, had been idolaters. One was the center of adulterous scandal. One was so poor she couldn’t even afford to buy a lamb to sacrifice at the Temple.
These are not the kind of women that one would automatically peg for being ancestors of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God. We learn from these women that God can redeem brokenness and turn it into beauty, that he can use those the world would deem unusable, and do great things through them. We learn just how big the heart of God is, and we learn that men and women alike are used by God to spread his reconciling grace around the world.