Jesus’ Genealogy in Matthew

A lineage is a personal story. As a child, I wanted to learn everything about my heritage. What does my last name mean? Who are the people that share my DNA? As an adult, I started filling out my family tree and connecting with distant relatives online. It is a human desire to know where you come from. None of us have a perfect family history, but we can look at a tree and see the detailed weaving of human life that eventually resulted in our existence, and we’re amazed. 

Jesus’ lineage was more interesting than most. It is a complex weaving of dirty sinner’s lives that eventually resulted in a Holy Messiah. When you stop to consider all the suffering, rebellion, and ungodly behavior that produced God in flesh, you might have a few questions. Some of the most surprising grandparents listed in Matthew 1 are four women. In your average 1st-century genealogy, you would be hard-pressed to find a woman named. But then, in the 1st-century archives, we find the genealogy for the most important person to ever live. In it, Matthew adds the names of a few women to tell Jesus’ heritage story.[1] Why?

Matthew followed a common practice of the day and broke Jesus’ genealogy down into 14 generations between Abraham and David, and between David and Joseph, the husband of Mary. To arrive at an even 14 generations, Matthew had to make some cuts (which was common as well). Why, then, would Matthew remove significant generations, but place Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba on the list of Jesus’ Top 42 Family Members? It was not common to list women in genealogies at all – especially not these women. All of them have a shameful story.

Was Matthew simply ahead of his time, making sure to include “token” women along the way to show how “inclusive” and “woke” he is? 

These were not token women. They were essential participants in the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and David. They were key players in the Kingdom.

To understand Matthew 1, we need to rewind to some earlier promises. First, God promised Abraham that many nations would be blessed through his lineage (Genesis 12). Second, God promised David that he would raise up a permanent King through his lineage (2 Samuel 7:12-16). Matthew shows us at the beginning of his gospel that these lineage promises have been fulfilled. Jesus is born, and he is both a blessing to the nations and the eternal King. 

Matthew is telling us something unique through his recounting of the lineage. He’s showing us who brought forth this King and how God used both men and women to do so. 

Tamar was supposed to give birth to a son who would continue the line of Judah. She lost her husband, and then her relatives were called to fulfill this end. Yet they were selfish, evil, and did not do their part to continue this lineage. So she took matters into her own hands. Her method was unconventional and risky. But she valued the continuation of the line of Judah more than her relatives. Because of this, she contributed to the line of the future King of Israel and ensured that Judah bore a son (Genesis 38).

Rahab did not belong to the people of Israel. Her land was under siege by the Israelites and she knew their God was with them. So she stood against the king of Jericho, recognized God as Yahweh, and became part of the line that brought forth the true King of Israel. Rahab was grafted into God’s kingdom by faith. Though she did not belong, God continued the story that brought forth his Son through this prostitute-turned-faithful-member of God’s kingdom (Joshua 2, 6, Hebrews 11:31).

Ruth was not an Israelite by blood either. She was part of an enemy nation but married into the Israelite nation. Ruth takes Israel’s God for herself after her husband’s death, and along with her mother-in-law, she seeks to marry again. She does this so a kinsman-redeemer could give her family protection and status once again. Ruth finds this man in Boaz, but the true redemption comes not at the altar, but when she gives birth to her son. It is this child that points to the promise of a child yet to come – a true Redeemer who will come from Ruth’s line (Ruth 4).

Bathsheba was the victim of a greedy king. King David coerced her to please him, murdered her husband, and as a result of his sin, her baby died. The king took advantage of Bathsheba, shaming her and taking away her purity and her protection. Bathsheba’s sorrow in the loss of her firstborn is a tragic result of sin. But God redeems her circumstances by giving her another son, and this son will continue the line of David that leads to the True King. (2 Samuel 11-12)

This King does not take advantage of women but elevates them in his life and ministry. This King does not murder for his own gain but is murdered for ours. This King dies, but unlike Bathsheba’s firstborn, he is raised and redeems all the injustices done to women and men alike.

And how did he do this? He started by being born to a woman. Mary, a virgin pregnant with God’s Son, at risk of divorce from her husband, and lowly in status gives birth to Jesus. He is the one who saw the sorrows of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, and redeems their sin-covered lives. 

The genealogy of Jesus should be a place of correction for all who believe (or are tempted to believe) that women should sit on the sidelines for God’s redemptive work. It was God’s plan from the beginning that women would be key players in his family tree. He was not afraid of what their messy stories would do to His. Rather, God made his promise to bring the Savior through the lines of Abraham and David. He used these women to contribute to the fulfillment of his promise. 

Jesus came to earth by each of these women, for each of these women. If you are a woman who feels unloved, dismissed, or less-valuable than men, look to the Savior. Think much on his heritage and much on how he loved you. Remember that Jesus is for you – he died so that you might live.