There’s a somewhat unusual cast of characters in St. Matthew’s genealogy that is read on the Sunday before Nativity (Matt. 1:1-25). Ancient genealogies, Jewish ones in particular, focused on men. However, this genealogy includes the women Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba.
Tamar seduced her own father-in-law through trickery, committing incest to bear children. You would think St. Matthew would be tempted to leave this one out!
Ruth was a Moabitess. It was not lawful for Israelites to marry a Moabite. Yet she abandoned her pagan gods and embraced the true God.
The third woman is not even mentioned by name. Instead we read “the wife of Uriah,” to emphasize just how evil it was for King David to steal Uriah’s wife and then murder the poor man. Some Church Fathers held the opinion that Bathsheba went along with the adultery and murder willingly, being enamored with the thought of becoming a queen.
All three of these women were specifically included in the genealogy of the Son of God. When God became man, St. Matthew felt it was important that we know of both the virtuous and scandalous forebearers of our Lord. In this genealogy, we see God embracing every messy part of our humanity. At His Incarnation, He took upon Himself every aspect of our humanity so that it could be healed. And at His death on the Cross, He took our sin upon Himself so that it might be destroyed.
A little later in the pre-Nativity passage (1:21,23), our Lord Jesus is given two names: Emmanuel (God with us) and Jesus (Savior).
We all have a journey that we have been – and that we continue to be on – in this life. Through our highs and lows, joys and sorrows, virtues and sins, God has continued to be Emmanuel. He has been with us, never leaving or forsaking us.
The three women mentioned above can be seen as three phases in our life. Tamar represents our impetuous youth in which we chase after fleshly desires, doing what is inappropriate, unlawful, and even scandalous.
Ruth is a coming to our senses, beginning a life of repentance. As she was a Moabitess coming from a pagan background, we too have a past that may be shameful. But that can be reconciled to God.
Bathsheba is leaving the reconciled, covenant relationship with God. Our soul returns to its former spiritually adulteress desires, seeking a life outside of God’s will. The holy matrimony between our soul and the Lord is broken.
All through these phases of life, God continues to be Emmanuel, the God who is with us. Through the highs and lows, God has stayed near us. But why? Because He loves us and is faithful, even when we are unfaithful (cf. 2 Tim. 2:13).
Last of all, we have Jesus, which is Hebrew for Savior. It is the same Hebrew name as Joshua, the man who led the children of Israel into the Promised Land shortly after Moses’ death.
This Jesus is our Savior, rescuing us from the sinful desires that enslave us, control us, and make us miserable. He heals us, loves us, and brings us into the Promised Land of His eternal Kingdom.
So, we ready ourselves for the remainder of this Nativity Fast so that we can make ourselves ready to meet God-With-Us, the Savior, and the Bridegroom of our souls.
5 thoughts on “Three Women in Our Lord’s Genealogy”
Nice article, with great points – but I’m puzzled about why you omitted Rahab (verse 5)?
That’s a great question. I noticed her name but feel her story parallels Ruth’s close enough that it wouldn’t make a significant contribution to the point I was trying to make of a soul dwelling in sin, moving to repentance, and then falling back into sin. I’ve updated the title of the blog to make it less confusing (removing the definite article at the beginning).
The genealogy mentions a fifth woman: the Virgin Mary. I probably should have included her as well as the ultimate goal that we are moving toward: Christ dwelling within us.
If the Tamar you mention is the one in Genesis 38:6 “Then Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar.”
As we read, she tricked her father-in-law, not her father, in order to bear Judah’s twins Perez and Zerah. So I’m not sure where there is any incest in that? Thank you for any clarification on this.
Hello FH, you are correct. Judah was not her father, but her father-in-law. I have updated the text to reflect that correction.
However, relations with a relative who is not strictly related by blood is still improper. As an example, consider 1 Cor. 5, in which St. Paul is livid that a man is having relations with his “father’s wife.” Paul would have said “with his own mother,” except it was probably his stepmom. The woman, like a mother-in-law or father-in-law, did not participate in the conception of the man Paul was reprimanding. Yet even the ancient pagans found such incest intolerable.
I think Tamar’s actions would fall under a similar condemnation. Additionally, she did it through deception. She pretended to be a harlot and seduced Judah. I’m not defending Judah. There are no admirable people in that passage in Genesis. The whole story is one unsightly account.
Thank you for your correction. This article was a summary of a homily that I did in which I put much more thought into the moral lesson and today’s application than I did in historical study. The comments and emails I’ve received on this article are good reminders for me to do a little more research on something before I post it to the world.
Thank you Fr..Jeremy for the quick response!
I think we can both agree there is much wisdom to be gained from Judah and Tamar’s story, and like so much of the Bible, so many gems of truth to be discovered. I do believe it’s still a beautiful story, in addition to showing God’s intentional super-transparency, with unsightliness and all, it screams of Tamar’s patience and tenacity, and God’s goodness and mercy towards her. God truly works in mysterious ways that may seem unsightly to the world, but He wasn’t going to allow Judahs aloofness ruin His plan. It almost seems Tamar knew God’s plan better that Judah did.
In the end God beautifully rewards Tamar with not one but two sons, and humbles Judah! What an awesome God!
Christ be with you!