In Matthew 1, is listed the genealogy of Jesus – through Joseph’s and all the father’s names – all the way back to Abraham. In the list, five women are named – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheeba (named as “who had been Uriah’s wife”), and Mary.
These women have their stories written elsewhere in the Bible and none of them (save Mary) would be considered righteous or pure by today’s standards. So why are they noted?
Tamar was married to a man, but he died before giving her children. In Jewish law, the widow was then given to the dead man’s brother, and hopefully he would give her some babies to carry on her dead husband’s name and care for her in her old age. But the second brother used the old “pull out method” so he didn’t have to give her any babies. And then he died too. Her father-in-law was seeing a pattern here and told her his third son wasn’t old enough to marry yet so she’d have to wait until he got older – she’d have to live back at home with her parents as a widow (mind you, she could have been only in her 20s at this time). Well, third brother was getting older and there was no sign of marriage in the works, and Tamar being left with nothing.
So she disguised herself like a prostitute and tricked her father-in-law into sleeping with her. (I also noticed that the Bible points out that father-in-law’s wife had died, so it apparently was okay that he was seeing the prostitute and not cheating on his wife.) Word got back to father-in-law that Tamar was pregnant and it was obviously not in any legal way and he demanded her death. She revealed then that it was her that tricked him and it was his baby. He admitted that he was at fault for denying her protection (in the form of his third son) and left her alone for the rest of her life. She went on to have twin boys and get herself in the genealogy.
Rahab was also a prostitute, but not just pretending – it was her job. She worked in Jericho, one of the first enemy cities that the Israelites had to conquer. So Israel sent two spies in to scope out the place. They chose Rahab’s place to hide out. Maybe it was a place where foreigners often went, maybe it was a place to get good gossip about the city, maybe there was another reason, but Rahab gave them info and hid them from the city officials. In return for services, she asked that she be spared from the coming attack. So the spies promised her that she and her household would be spared. She escaped Jericho in safety and allegedly went on to marry one of the spies that she had helped. It said that she had heard about the Lord and rumors about the Israelites and was obviously convinced of His power, even though she was an enemy. And her son was named Boaz, the husband of the next woman in the genealogy.
Ruth was another foreigner. Her in-laws had fled Israel because of a famine, and while they were abroad, their sons grew up and married local women. An essay I once read about Ruth pointed out that this probably wasn’t a boy meets girl they fall in love story, but more like – boy sees girl, kidnaps her and sleeps with her – bam – they’re married. But that wasn’t uncommon back then. Ruth’s husband dies without giving her children, and as there were no other men, Ruth’s mother-in-law decides to go back to her hometown. Ruth could have lived as a widow in her own country, but she also recognized the power and nature of God and decides to move with her mother-in-law back to Israel. There they live as poor widows and survive by picking up scraps left by the grain harvesters. Ruth chooses Boaz’s field and word gets around that Ruth is a godly woman, even though she is a foreigner. Ruth’s mother-in-law tells her to make sure she gets noticed by this guy and even to crawl into bed with him in a public men’s sleeping area. He wakes up, she tells him they are distantly related (he could marry her and provide for her like in the story of Tamar) and he goes on to do right by her. She becomes the grandmother of King David.
Bathsheba (who used to be Uriah’s wife) was not a prostitute, or a foreigner, but she was taking a bath on her roof so y’know, being a stumbling block (/sarcasm). King David saw her, wanted her, and took her. The Bible doesn’t say if or it wasn’t consensual, but I’m guessing if the king calls for you, you go anyway. She was damned if she did (adultery punishable by death) and damned if she didn’t (not obey the king – probably also punishable by death). She ended up pregnant. Which was also punishable by death because her husband was off fighting in a war and the baby was obviously not his. So she sent word to the king about her predicament, and instead of trying to keep her quiet, he decides to fix the situation by getting her husband leave from battle to have some “family time” at home. Her husband is so loyal that he won’t leave his unit, that the king does the only other logical thing – he has him murdered. Now Bathsheba is a free woman and the king can take her as one of his wives. And everyone lives happily ever after. Just kidding. Because of the king’s sin, Bathsheba’s baby dies. Bathsheba does go on to become the mother of Solomon, who succeeded David as king.
Mary, mother of Jesus, would be the only one who would be considered “pure” by modern evangelical standards. She was the only one who had not been previously married (a virgin) and the only one who really had any say in the matter. But even being visited by an angel doesn’t do anything to protect you from certain death, as a 14yo “virgin” finding herself pregnant would ensure a stoning. The angel also had to go to her fiancee/protector to let him know that this baby was from God and his wife was still of marriage quality. But even then, Mary had to leave her hometown for the end of her pregnancy and for years after, possibly also to escape the stigma of getting pregnant before her official marriage.
So why were these women’s stories told? Why were these women focused on in the genealogy of Jesus? Women in ancient times didn’t have much say in their lives – they didn’t have much of a choice of who they would marry and if he was abusive or impotent, she would be stuck in a world where no one would provide for her.
But there is a different thing about these stories. All of these women recognized their helpless situation, went to find justice for themselves, and trusted that God would not fail them. The methods they used were questionable, but the bravery and trust they had in God was unmatched. Their faith was their actions. Tamar played the prostitute, Rahab was one, Ruth snuggled up to a man not her husband, Bathsheba called out the king of the land to protect her, and Mary didn’t fear, but sang instead.
Women – God has your back. Trust him and do what He asks. He will protect you! It may be a man’s world, but God doesn’t differentiate between men and women – those who trust Him and take action find His favor.