Friday, December 25, 2009

Five Jewish Women

The Gospel of Matthew 1:1-6, 18
1 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
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, Obed the father of Jesse,
6 and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife. . . .
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.

Matthew begins his gospel with the Jewish genealogy of Jesus. Unlike Luke’s genealogy, which traces Jesus’ ancestry all the way back to Adam, Matthew stops at Abraham. Also, only Matthew mentions any women in Jesus ancestry. Besides Mary, there are four. They are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

Let’s hear the story of each of these women.

Tamar’s Story

My name is Tamar . My story is told in Genesis, chapter 38. I was widowed at a young age when my husband, Er, died. He was a wicked man, so the Lord shortened his life. Er’s father, Judah, told Er’s brother Onan to lie with me so that I could have a child to inherit Er’s estate. But Onan didn’t want to father a child who wouldn’t be his own, so he didn’t carry through with his duty. Not long afterward, Onan died. We think he died because he did not carry out his responsibilities, which was wrong in the eyes of the Lord.

Judah then said to me, “Live as a widow in my house until my young son Shelah grows up.” So I went to live in Judah’s house. After a long time Judah’s wife died. When Judah had recovered from his grief, he went to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep.

When someone in the household told me Judah was on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep, I took off my widow’s clothes. I covered myself with a veil to disguise myself, and went to the village of Enaim. Enaim is on the road to Timnah.

You see, Judah’s third son, Shelah, had now grown up. But Judah had not given me to him as his wife. Without a husband and children, I would be destitute in my old age. No one would be obligated to care for me. Everyone knew it was a terrible fate for a woman to grow old alone.

When Judah saw me, he didn’t recognize me because of the veil I was wearing. In fact, he thought I was a prostitute. Not realizing that I was his daughter-in-law, he went over to me by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.” “And what will you give me to sleep with you?” I asked.

“I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” he said. I replied, “I want something as collateral for your payment until it arrives.”
Judah said, “What collateral should I give you?”

I answered, “Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand.” That would be something like your modern drivers’s license and house keys. So Judah gave them to me and he slept with me. As the result, I became pregnant by him.

After I left, I took off the veil, put on my widow’s clothes again, and went home. Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by a friend in order to get his collateral back, but of course, he did not find me.

About three months later someone told Judah, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.” Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”

As I was being brought out to be burned, I sent the collateral to Judah with the message, “I am pregnant by the man who owns these. See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”

Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” He never slept with me again.
When the time came for me to give birth, we discovered I would have twins. As I was giving birth, one of the twins put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.”

But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez.
Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out and he was given the name Zerah.

Perez, the firstborn of Tamar, was the father of Hezron. Hezron was the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. . . .

Rahab’s Story
My name is Rahab. You can read my story in the book of Joshua. I was born and raised in the pagan city of Jericho, where harlotry and idolatry were acceptable. I came to recognize God as the one true God. Did you know that by the time of Jesus, the rabbis would say that I was one of the four most beautiful women the world had ever known? I was the ancestor of eight prophets, including Jeremiah.

The Bible says that when the Hebrews were entering the Promised land, Joshua sent two spies ahead. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.

Yes, that was my house. I hid the spies Joshua sent, but not too well, I guess. Someone saw then and told the king of Jericho. So the king sent a message to me: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”

I took the Hebrew men up to the roof and hid them under some stalks of flax I had there. I told the king’s messenger, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know they were spies. They left last night at dusk, right before the city gate was closed. I don’t know which way they went.”

The king’s men left Jericho to catch the spies. As soon as they left, the city gate was shut, so nobody could leave the city that night. After dark, I went up on the roof.

I said to the Israelites, “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.

“Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death.”

“We pledge our very lives!” the men assured me. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the LORD gives us the land.” My house was part of the city wall. I let the men down by a rope through the window. They eluded the king’s men and went to Joshua.
Later, when Joshua was giving orders to his soldiers to attack Jericho, he said, “The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent.”

Then he commanded his trumpets to be sounded. The Israelites shouted and Jericho’s wall collapsed. Every man charged straight in, and they took the city. They destroyed every living thing in Jericho—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

Joshua said to the two men who I had hid in my house, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, like you promised.” So the young men came in and brought me out, along with my entire family. They put us in a place outside the camp of Israel.

Then the Israelites burned the whole city and everything in it. But Joshua spared me, a prostitute, with all my family, because I hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho. I lived among the Israelites for the rest of my life.

Rahab’s son was Boaz, the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. . .

Ruth’s Story

Like Rahab, I was not born a Hebrew. I was from the country of Moab. I married Mahlon, one of the sons of Elimelech. Elimelech was a Hebrew who had migrated to Moab with his wife, Naomi, to escape a famine in Israel. But Elimelech and both of his sons died. That left Naomi and me widows. Things got pretty tough in Moab for us because we had no men to provide for us. All Elimelech’s relatives were back in Israel. We also heard that there was no more famine there.

Naomi decided to go back to Israel where she had come from with Elimelech. She urged me to stay in Moab where I might find another husband. But I couldn’t bear to be apart from Naomi because I loved her like my own mother.

In tears, I told her, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me severely if anything but death separates you and me.”

We returned to Israel and settled in Bethlehem. There was a well-to-do kinsman of Elimelech there named Boaz. He let me glean in his fields after the crops were taken in. He was very kind to me because he had heard that I had left my people behind in Moab to come to Israel with Naomi. He even instructed his hired men to give me some of the harvest.

When the harvest was gathered in, Naomi told me, “Tonight Boaz will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, go and uncover him and lie down with him.”

So I went down to the threshing floor and did everything my mother-in-law told me to do.

After Boaz had finished eating and drinking he lay down at the far end of the grain pile. I sneaked over and uncovered him and lay down with him. In the middle of the night something startled Boaz. He discovered me lying with him.

“Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” I said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.”

“The LORD bless you,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. I will do for you all you ask.”

Boaz married me very soon. We had a son whom we named Obed.

Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife. . . .

The story of the wife of Uriah the Hittite

I was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba. Both Uriah and I were Gentiles. Uriah was a valiant officer in David’s army. In the springtime, when kings go out to war, David sent General Joab with many troops, including my husband, to besiege an enemy town. But David stayed in Jerusalem.

My house was near the palace. One evening I was bathing on the roof of my house. David saw me and thought I was very beautiful. He sent messengers to bring me to him. I didn’t have any choice in the matter. When the king sends for you, you have to go. Besides, I didn’t know what he wanted until I got to the palace. He took me to bed with him and the next morning let me go home.

Awhile later I sent word to David that I was pregnant with his child. So David called Uriah home from the battlefield and pretended to ask about the war, but what he really wanted was to get Uriah to come to my house and sleep with me so that everyone would think the baby was Uriah’s. That way, David would be off the hook.

But Uriah was an honorable man and wouldn’t visit his house with his men dying in battle. He spent the night at the palace's gate. Even the next night, when David got him drunk, he would not come to our house. So David sent him back to General Joab with a sealed message that was Uriah’s own death warrant. David ordered Joab to make sure my husband was put in the fiercest fighting. Then Joab was to withdraw the soldiers from Uriah’s side so he would be killed. So Joab drew the enemy into a fierce battle in which many Israelites were killed in order to set my husband up. But David’s orders were carried out.

Joab sent a messenger back to David to tell him that Uriah was dead. When I heard that my husband was dead, I was stricken and I mourned for him.
After the time of my mourning was over, David had me brought to his house. I became his wife. The baby was born, a son. But the things David had done displeased the Lord. David, who was rich a powerful, had ordered a contract murder in order to possess me. He never asked me what I wanted to do. I had no voice in the matter. Nathan, the prophet, pronounced that my child would die because of David’s sin.

My son did die. Once again someone I loved died because of what David did. Within about a year I lost my husband and a son to death.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.

We know little about Mary. She was a young woman, still in her teens, when the Spirit of God came over her. Her position as an unmarried pregnant woman must have been very precarious. Her pregnancy would have been taken as self-evident proof that she had broken the law of Moses. Joseph could have chosen to have Mary stoned to death. Instead, Joseph simply decided to break off their engagement. But the Scriptures record that Joseph was convinced by an angel in a dream to take Mary as his wife. From the beginning, Mary had something irregular about her.

Mary is a woman under oppression. A Roman census requires her to make a difficult journey to Bethlehem very late in her pregnancy. The Romans make no exceptions for expectant mothers.

Mary is a homeless woman. She and Joseph wind up huddling in a Bethlehem barn where she goes into labor and gives birth to Jesus.
Mary is a refugee and an immigrant. When Herod hears of Jesus’ birth he sends his troops to kill all the infants in Bethlehem. But Mary and Joseph escape with Jesus to Egypt. There they live as aliens.

Mary is a mother who mourns the untimely death of her child. She sees her son arrested, stand trial and get sentenced to death. She watches him die at the machinery hands of the state.

All four women named in Jesus’ lineage before Mary had some irregularity in their lives. They were victims or seductresses or schemers, but they all found themselves in a bad situation and got out of it the best way they could. In the end, they become heroines of Jewish history. If Mary’s pregnancy seems a bit irregular, Matthew seems to say, just look at the women who went before her. If Jesus himself seems out of the mainstream, just look at the record of his ancestors. During Jesus’ ministry the Pharisees were scandalized that Jesus broke bread with women of questionable character and reputation and openly conversed with them. Perhaps Jesus saw in them his own family.

If Jesus were to visit the earth during this Advent season, I don't think he would come around to my house. We might find him over at Miriam’s Promise, ministering to unmarried pregnant women. He might be found at My Friend’s House, healing women who were victimized by the oppression of the powerful men in their lives. Jesus might stop by Graceworks and share his lunch with women who don’t have a place to stay. He’d stop by the state prison’s death row and pray with mothers awaiting their son’s execution. He would spend time with women who mourn the death of a child.

God honors women in the lineage of Jesus. God honors women precisely because God chose a weak, oppressed, homeless, refugee immigrant woman to bear an untimely pregnancy to be the mother of the savior of the world.

God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly and the despised things of this world to abolish the things that we exalt. It is because of this fact that we are in Christ Jesus, who is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (Re. 1 Cor 1:26-31)

1 comment:

AW said...

Great reading! Much more entertaining than anything that was on tv tonight. TV writers could get some great ideas . . These stories took "Desperate Housewives" to a new level :)