Women’s History Month: March
“I will go before you and make the crooked places straight” (Isaiah 45:2).
Generally speaking, “that which is crooked cannot be made straight” (Ecclesiastes 1:15), but under the mighty hand of God nothing is impossible: “the crooked shall be made straight” (Isaiah 40:4; 45:2 Luke 3:5). God can take any situation and turn it around for good. What a consolation to lives that have been bent out of shape! that have erred and gotten off-track! “God can draw straight with crooked lines.”
Consider the lineage of Christ (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38).
One of Jesus’ forebears was Tamar (Matthew 1:3). Given that Tamar had married the eldest son of Judah, the tribe associated with a Lion, a sceptre, and a throne (Genesis 49:9, 10; Numbers 24:9, 17; Revelation 5:5), one would imagine that she would be on Jesus’ family tree; but how this came about was unimaginable.
Like us, Jesus descended from Adam (Genesis 3:20) and from Noah (7:13; 8:16; 9:1; 10:1-32). Like many Middle Easterners, He came through Noah’s son Shem (11:10-32). There were ten generations between Shem and Abraham. Abraham was followed by Isaac, Jacob (Israel), and Judah.
Judah married a Canaanite, Shuah, who bore him three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah (Genesis 38:1-30). Er married a Canaanite girl named Tamar; but “Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him” (38:7). According to the custom of the day, Tamar was then married to the next surviving son, Onan, who was expected to sire a son in the name of his late brother Er, which Onan refused to do. “And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore He slew him also” (38:10). There was yet one boy at home, Shelah, who, according to the custom of “Levirate marriage,” should have next married Tamar. But he was young, and under the circumstances—only one boy remaining—Judah was loathe to release the lad into the custody of this “black widow.” Judah told her to go back home, and they’d settle this later when Shelah was older.
When “later” never came, her biological clock ticking, Tamar took matters into her own hands. Veiled, and playing the part of a prostitute, Tamar lured the widower Judah into her bed. When he couldn’t pay, she took his signet, his bracelets, and his staff as collateral, then, like a thief, went underground. A few months later Judah heard that his widowed, unmarried daughter-in-law Tamar was expecting a child—a condition she’d never known with either of his boys, Er or Onan.
Angry, Judah was ready to stone her. When they brought her to him for execution, she defended herself. “By the man, whose these are, am I with child … Discern, I pray thee, whose are these: the signet, and bracelets, and staff” (38:25). Judah acknowledged them, saying, “She has been more righteous than I because I gave her not to Shelah my son” (38:26).
And so, Judah, like his grandfather Isaac, had twin boys. Is this where they get the idea that twins skip a generation? And like Isaac’s twins, Esau and Jacob (25:22-26), there was a bit of drama with the birth of Judah’s twins, Pharez and Zerah (38:27-30). When Zerah’s hand appeared first, the midwife put on it a “scarlet thread” (38:28) to differentiate him from his brother; but the infant withdrew the hand, and his brother Pharez was firstborn instead. This Pharez, born of incest, of a Canaanite mother, became a forefather in the royal line (Ruth 4:18-22; Matthew 1:3-6; Luke 3:31-33).
Another of Jesus’ forebears was Rahab (Matthew 1:5), whom we met back at Jericho when she hid the spies (Joshua 2:1-22). Tamar had pretended to be a prostitute; Rahab was a prostitute. There was a “scarlet thread” (2:18) in her story too. And more deception. Though some would see Rahab’s ruse as an act of faith. “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace” (Hebrews 11:31).
Not only did she hide the spies, but to protect them Rahab lied about their whereabouts to the king, who chased them all the way to the Jordan River, while they were still safe in her house.
Aren’t lying and deceit among the seven abominations God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19)? Is it ever okay to lie or to deceive someone? Aside from perjury, in practice it might be called “using discretion” or “civil disobedience.” Jochebed was deceiving the authorities when she hid Baby Moses in the bulrushes (Exodus 2:1-10; cf 6:20; Numbers 26:59). King David was lying when he feigned madness in Gath (the home of Goliath) to escape King Saul (1 Samuel 21:10-15). Later, David raided and massacred whole villages and towns, enemies of Israel, making sure no one lived to tell the tale, all the while being evasive about where he had been and what he had done (27:1-12). In the antebellum days of the Underground Railroad, good Quakers found creative ways of evading the law, secreting away runaway slaves, and helping them on their journey north. Corrie ten Boom, working with the underground in World War II Holland, lied about harboring Jews. She had a special “hiding place” to protect them from prying eyes. What choice did a person involved in intrigue have?
Despite the fact that communication then was not what it is today, Rahab knew who the Israelites were. Everyone had heard of them. She knew of the Egyptian bondage, the Red Sea crossing, and more. She rehearsed their own story, confessing to the spies, “The Lord your God, He is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath” (Joshua 2:11). She knew Jericho would fall, as every other nation had fallen in Israel’s path, and she wanted to be on the winning side. She wanted their pledge that when they destroyed Jericho, they would spare her and her family. That pledge was the “scarlet thread” (2:18, 21) displayed out her window.
When Jericho fell, the only persons saved alive were Rahab and her family (6:17-25). And she became one of them: a Jew, of the tribe of Judah. She married an Israelite named Salmon and gave birth to a son, Boaz. Who would have thought that a lying prostitute from Jericho would find her place in the royal line?
From Pharez came Salmon, who married Rahab, who gave birth to a son, Boaz, who married Ruth. So another of Jesus’ forebears was Ruth (Matthew 1:5), a Moabitess. Who was the father of the Moabites? Lot, the nephew and foster son of Abraham, who escaped Sodom and Gomorrah.
If you remember, Lot had grown children who did not make it out of Sodom (Genesis 19:1-38). Even Lot’s wife didn’t make it out: she turned back and became a pillar of salt (19:26). The only family members who escaped with Lot were two nubile daughters. Therefore, as far as sons, Lot’s line was effectively cut off.
Lot and his unnamed daughters made it to a little town called Zoar. From there they went high into the mountains, to a cave, where they lived out a shadowy existence. The girls were so ignorant that they thought the three of them were the only persons left alive after the destruction of Sodom—like Noah and his small family after the Flood—and that if they didn’t do something while they were still able, the whole human race would die out.
And so, they got their father, Lot, drunk and lay with him. “Both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father” (19:36). The first bore a son called Moab, the father of the Moabites; the second bore a son called Ammon, the father of the Ammonites. Inexplicably, Lot now had sons—two male lines—who would father great nations.
Who would think that something good could come of that sordid incident? But something did. Ruth, the Moabitess. And how did she come to be in the family of God? An Israelite named Naomi, and her husband, Elimelech, of Bethlehem, Judah, with their two boys, emigrated to Moab during a time of famine (the Book of Ruth). The older son, Mahlon, married Ruth; the younger son, Chilion, married Orpah. All three males died; all three females lived.
When the famine was over, and the men were gone, Naomi decided to return to her homeland; there was bread again in Bethlehem, which name, ironically, means “house of bread.” Naomi told her two daughters-in-law to go back to their mother’s house because there was no hope of Levirate marriage in this family. “I am too old to have an husband. If I should have an husband tonight, and bear sons, would you tarry for them till they were grown?” (Ruth 1:12, 13).
Orpah went back to her people, and her gods. But Ruth stayed with Naomi, telling her: “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (1:16, 17).
Through Providence, there in Bethlehem, Judah, Ruth met and married Boaz, “a mighty man of wealth” (2:1), a kinsman-redeemer of her father-in-law, Elimelech, and of her husband, Mahlon (4:10). Ruth and Boaz had a son, Obed; a grandson, Jesse; and a great-grandson, David, “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1). Who would have thought that a descendant of an illegitimate son, born of incest, would find her place in the royal line?
Bathsheba was another of Jesus’ forebears (Matthew 1:6). If you have heard that Bathsheba was a bad woman, a femme fatale (like Samson’s Delilah), you have heard wrong. The Bible never called Bathsheba a fallen woman: (to excuse David) man did that. God (who did not excuse David) called her a “ewe lamb” (2 Samuel 12:3).
Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam (2 Samuel 11:3)—or Ammiel (1 Chronicles 3:5)—one of David’s “mighty men“ (2 Samuel 23:34), and the wife of Uriah the Hittite (11:3), another of David’s “mighty men” (25:39). Special forces. She knew military life. At the time of the incident she would not have expected the king to be in residence, for it was “the time when kings go forth to battle” (11:1). Her dad was at the front, her husband was at the front, she naturally assumed King David was also deployed.
It was “eveningtide” (11:2): sunset or early evening. David, who was not with his men, had been resting in his palace. He got up, strolled across the rooftop, looked out, and “saw a woman washing herself” (11:2). The young woman had never been in the king’s house, had no personal knowledge of its view, was not calling attention to herself, and had no idea she was under surveillance. She was simply washing her hands, from a basin—the same Hebrew word רֹחֶ֖צֶת used for feet-washing (11:8)—as one would after a day’s work, freshening up for dinner. Not a tub bath, as people didn’t bathe that way in those days: full bathing meant going to the river (cf Exodus 2:5; 2 Kings 5:10). Even in the river, modest persons wore their undergarments. The activity caught his eye, but what enticed David was simply her features.
David, an absolute monarch (he could command and no one could say no), sent for the woman, took her—this was not consensual sex—lay with her, impregnated her, and then, because the husband, Uriah, would not cover for him, committed murder to hide what he had done. The punishment for adultery was death. Better to spare Bathsheba and the infant than a righteous man, eh? So David ordered his nephew Joab, captain of the army, to kill Uriah (2 Samuel 11:14-25) with the sword of Ammon (12:9). In an ironic twist, David—the ethical one—consoled Joab—the unethical one—with “Let not this thing displease you, for the sword devours one as well as another” (11:25).
“But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (11:27).
The Prophet Nathan came to rebuke him (12:1-14) over this young girl. Though married, she was innocent (cf Hebrews 13:4) until David defiled her. She didn’t cause David to fall: David did that on his own. He “took [stole] the poor man’s lamb” (2 Samuel 12:4). God punished not Bathsheba, but David, for David was to be faulted (12:7-14). David “did it secretly” (12:12); it was David’s “sin” (12:13). What else was Nathan’s parable (12:1-6) and David’s heavy chastisement (12:7-14) all about?
David repented. His prayer is recorded in the penitential Psalm 51, known as “Miserere” (“Have mercy on me, O God”). God forgave him (2 Samuel 12:13), but it did not change the penalty. The sword never departed from David’s house. And the newborn infant of David and Bathsheba died.
But David and Bathsheba had more sons: Shammah, Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon (1 Chronicles 3:5). The lineage of the Virgin Mary (Luke 3:23-38), Jesus’ biological line, came through Nathan. The lineage of Joseph (Matthew 1:1-14), Jesus’ legal line, came through Solomon. Both Nathan and Solomon were sons of David and Bathsheba. And a strange thing is said of this last son Solomon: “And the Lord loved him” (2 Samuel 12:24).
Earlier, before he even knew Bathsheba, David had wanted to build a house for the Lord, but the Lord had stopped him (2 Samuel 7:1-29; 2 Chronicles 22:7-11). God had told him, back then, “A son shall be born to you, who shall be a man of rest … for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quietness to Israel in his days” (22:9). When Bathsheba gave birth to Solomon, “the Lord loved him” (2 Samuel 12:24, 25). The Prophet Nathan called him Jedidiah (“beloved of the Lord”): something of a play on David’s own name (“beloved”); and as far as birth order, he too, like David, was the youngest son or one of the youngest sons.
Who would have thought that the son of a woman taken in adultery would find his place in the royal line? But he did.
Another of Jesus’ forebears was Athaliah (Matthew 1:8), the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, granddaughter of Omri, king of Israel (2 Kings 8:26), and wife of Jehoram, king of Judah (2 Kings 8:18). A “wicked woman” (2 Chronicles 24:7), she “walked in the ways of the house of Ahab” (21:6) and worshiped Baal. On the death of her husband, Jehoram (or Joram), and of her son, Ahaziah, Athaliah killed “all the seed royal”—including her own grandchildren—except, unknown to her, the infant Joash (2 Kings 11:1, 2; 2 Chronicles 22:10), and put herself on the vacant throne. A renegade murderer, she reigned six years (2 Kings 11:3; 2 Chronicles 22:12) before she was put to death in an insurrection (2 Kings 11:13-20; 2 Chronicles 21:6; 22:10-12; 23:15).
Joash, or Jehoash, the last-surviving son of King Ahaziah, had been saved by his aunt Jehosheba, and reared by his uncle, the high priest Jehoiada. The only surviving descendant of the royal line (2 Chronicles 21:4, 17), Joash, at age eight, was crowned king of Judah. Under his mentor Jehoiada, Joash, like his paternal forebear King David, worshiped God and observed the Law; but after the death of Jehoiada, like his maternal forebears Ahab, Jezebel, and Athaliah, Joash became wicked. His evil deeds brought down the judgement of God, and for that reason he was one of three kings (Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah) omitted by Matthew (1:8) in his genealogy of Christ.
The next king Matthew mentions is Ozias (1:8), a man we know as Uzziah (Isaiah 6:1), who succeeded his father Amaziah (2 Kings 14:21; 2 Chronicles 26:1). He was the great-great-grandson of Athaliah and the great-great-great-grandson of Ahab and Jezebel. Who knew that such a wicked couple were even in the royal line?
The Bible does not give us the names of all the women on Jesus’ family tree, only some. Perhaps if we had them all, we could draw even more interesting word pictures. What we do know is that some persons, and some relationships, in the royal lineage were seriously flawed. Yet despite their failings, their waywardness, God drew a straight line from Adam to Noah, from Noah to Abraham, from Abraham to Judah … to David, and from David to the Son of David, our Savior.
“Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with Child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:22, 23; cf Isaiah 7:14).
Copyright © 2016 Alexandra Lee