Yesterday we began looking at the genealogy (list of ancestors) in Matthew 1:1-17, and read the story of Tamar, who features in it. We saw that far from airbrushing the skeletons in Jesus’ family tree out of his presentation, Matthew draws attention to them. Yesterday, it was a sex-scandal. Today, we see two Gentiles (non-Israelites), one of whom has a less-than-stellar occupation.
If we turn the page of this unusual family album, we encounter two more women:3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4 Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Now I won’t spend any time on the Ruth story, because we just looked at the book of Ruth earlier this month. You can check it out in the archives if you missed it. Let me just summarise what her story tells us about Jesus:
Firstly, the fact that Ruth was a Moabite, not an Israelite, gives us a hint that Jesus has come not just for those who are in Israel. But we’ll see more of that theme in Rahab’s story.
Secondly, it points to God’s concern for the poor and the marginalised. Boaz displays God’s kindness and protection to a poor foreign woman. And when we look at Jesus, most of his ministry of teaching and healing was to the working class poor in Israel. His first words on the sermon on the mount were ‘Blessed are the poor’. His first sermon in a synagogue was to read a promise from the book of Isaiah about good news for the poor – and then to say that he’s the answer to that promise!
This world is unfair. This world has billions of people who don’t have enough even to survive. And a significant part of God’s plan to restore his creation is to turn the power structures of this world upside down. Not just the structures that treat women badly, like we saw in Tamar’s story. But those that deny a voice to the marginalised and deny a living to the poor.
And thirdly, this story may even point towards the way in which God’s plan would unfold in the life of Jesus (although exactly how is still the subject of a complex scholarly debate). Boaz was a kinsman-redeemer, paying the redemption price so that Ruth and Naomi could get their inheritance back. In Jesus, we have a kinsman-redeemer, who also paid a redemption price for our inheritance. The inheritance we lost was not just a piece of land, but intimacy with God. A secure future of eternity with him. We lost that inheritance when we chose to rebel against him. But Jesus, by his death and resurrection, paid the ransom price – the death penalty our sin deserved. He bought back our inheritance. Made it possible for us to know God once more.
But back to the family album. Why did Boaz act in such a kind way toward Ruth, a foreigner? What made Boaz the man he was? To help us answer this question, let’s take a look at his mother. Cause she also gets a mention.5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Now Rahab is probably the woman you’d least want to mention in Jesus’ family tree. A prostitute in the city of Jericho. From the Canaanite nation: one of the most perverted societies ever to exist. Ritual prostitution and child sacrifice just to name a couple of their favourite pastimes.
But because of this, God is about to give Israel this land, and to drive out the Canaanites. Under the leadership of a guy called Joshua, they were about to cross the Jordan river and take the city of Jericho. But Joshua sends some spies to check things out first.
The spies decide to cunningly hide themselves in the house of Rahab, a prostitute. But they get noticed by the king’s guards. The king sends a message to Rahab to give the men up. So what does Rahab do? Putting her own life in danger, she hides the men, and sends the guards off in another direction.
Why? Why would she do this? The reason she gives is the whole point of this story. Listen closely:Josh 2:10-12 “We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you.”
Do you get what was happening? Rahab saw what it was like when God was on your side. She realised that Israel’s God, is the true ‘God in heaven above and on the earth below’. And so she changed sides, and joined God’s people. In fact, the Bible records that she was spared when Israel took Jericho, and it says, ‘she lives among the Israelites to this day.’
This was God’s plan to restore his world. He began by choosing a guy called Abraham, and blessing him. He chose a nation to be his special people- to be on their side and look after them. Not because God was into playing favourites, but because that was the best way to get the world’s attention. To set up a living advertisement of what life was like the way God intended. And to make everyone who saw them jealous. So that they, too, would want to join and become part of God’s people. Just like Rahab did.
The story of Rahab (and Ruth) shows that Jesus’ family tree isn’t that of a purebred Jew. In fact, all the great kings of Israel had non-Jews in their heritage. But these are the sorts of things you’d gloss over – the skeletons in the closet that you’d hide. Particularly since Rahab was a woman, no-one would expect you to mention her, so why put her in? And yet here Matthew draws attention to her.
‘Cause right from the beginning, this was the plan. The plan was for everyone, for people of all nations. To become a friend of God, you don’t have to be a certain kind of person. Look a certain way. Do certain things. You can come from all backgrounds. Asian, African, European – it doesn’t matter. Male, female. Rich, poor. Important in the eyes of this world, or not. God’s plan is for everyone.
And right from the beginning, this was how the plan should work. Where people saw how life was lived the way God intended, and said, “I’ve gotta get me some of that.” Just like Rahab did.
To think about
Would others see God’s work in your life, and say (like Rahab) “I’ve gotta get me some of that”?
Would others see God’s concern for the poor and marginalised in your life, and say (like Ruth) “I’d like to come under God’s ‘wings’ of protection”?