The women who were Jesus’ great-great-great-ancestors had issues. Their problems might not necessarily qualify them as bad (as in Liz Curtis Higgs’ Bad Girls of the Bible) or even lost (Lost Women of the Bible by Carolyn Custis James), but they had their shortcomings.
Only five women are mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1:1-16. Since women didn’t exactly have prominent positions in those days, it surprised me that there are even that many.
The first four (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba) had serious flaws. Tamar and Rahab were prostitutes; Rahab and Ruth were foreigners; and Bathsheba was an adulteress. And Mary? If you served on the Mother of Christ Search Committee, you’d probably be hard-pressed to choose her.
Tamar is first up chronologically. She plays the role of a prostitute to trick her father-in-law, Judah, into sleeping with her. She has not one, but two, sons by him (Genesis 38). When Judah finds out her true identity, he calls her righteous. After all, he broke his promise to her. But still. He was her father-in-law. Ick!
Ruth’s only flaw is something she had no control over; she was born in Moab. At that time, God wanted the nation of Israel to keep its bloodlines pure, so being a foreigner was a serious blight. Ruth promises her mother-in-law, “Whither thou goest, I will go” (Ruth 1:16 KJV), thereby giving brides something to quote in their wedding vows ever since.
Bathsheba commits adultery with King David, resulting in David having her husband, Uriah, killed (2 Samuel 11). We don’t know if she was a willing participant, but I’m sure she felt powerless to refuse the almighty king. However, Matthew doesn’t let her get away with anything. In his genealogy, he writes, “David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah.”
Even Mary is perceived as bad by her contemporaries. Since we have the advantage of the written Word, we know that Mary was a virgin, visited by an angel. But the people at that time didn’t know that. Her family might even have questioned what happened. Joseph’s first response is to divorce her quietly so she won’t be disgraced (Matthew 1:19), but he changes his mind after an angel comes and gives him a swift talking-to. Mary bears the humiliating stigma of being an unwed teenage mom.
Of the five women, Rahab is my favorite. Not many verses in the Bible are devoted to her, but the ones we have are significant. We meet Rahab in Joshua 2. The Israelites are still in Egypt. Moses has died. The mantel has been passed to Joshua to lead them over the Jordan River to the promised land.
Joshua sends spies to check out the land. They go to the city of Jericho, where people have little knowledge of God. The spies stay in Rahab the harlot’s home until the King of Jericho orders her to bring them out.
Rahab defies the king. She hides the men and then she lies to the king (Joshua 2:4-6), giving the spies enough time to escape. Why risk her life for strangers?
She tells the spies she believes God gave them the land. She’s heard reports of what God did for them in Egypt, parting the Red Sea to set them free. She states what she believes: “… the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:11 NIV).
Rahab didn’t know much, but she knew enough to believe.
Singlehandedly, Rahab saves the spies and, thus, the nation of Israel, preserving the line of Christ. The spies, in turn, save Rahab and her family by a scarlet cord in the window (what foreshadowing!). After the Israelites blow their trumpets and Jericho’s walls fall down, they take Rahab and her family to live among them (Joshua 6:25).
Rahab’s story doesn’t end there. She goes on to marry Salmon and gives birth to Boaz. Boaz is the Kinsman Redeemer who marries Ruth.
The reason I feel personally connected to Rahab comes from the days I was a covert missionary in Eastern Europe. Rahab was our justification for evading official questions and hiding Bibles that we took behind the Iron Curtain.
Rahab lied about the spies, and God honored her for it. Sometimes we need to follow God’s laws that are higher than man’s laws. He’s the one we obey above all.
God honored her so much that Rahab is one of two women listed by name in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith. (The other woman is Abraham’s wife, Sarah.) “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient” (Hebrews 11:31 NIV).
Rahab, a prostitute and a foreigner, was counted faithful. She believed God without having much to go on, to the point that she willingly risked her life. She became a model of faith for us today.
Rahab, and the other women in Jesus’s genealogy, were imperfect. I love the fact that they are flawed. I am, too; I can relate to them.
If God can use these flawed women, maybe there’s hope for me.