Salvation includes saints and sinners

Published 11:13pm Friday, December 10, 2010

A distraught politician discovered an ancestor was convicted of a terrible crime and electrocuted in the state penitentiary. His publicist sanitized this when he wrote and posted the following biography on the politician’s website: “One of my distinguished ancestors sat in the chair of operational electricity in one of the state’s leading institutions. He was attached to this position with the strongest of ties, and his death came as a real shock.”

We get a similar reaction when reading Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, since it includes three women of ill repute.

Tamar’s story is an interlude in the Joseph chronicles, and is based on the Jewish system known as levirate marriage (Matt. 1:3). According to the law, a childless widow was to be given to her husband’s next-of-kin in order to produce an heir. The practical reason was so that the woman might have children to care for her in her senior years. In effect, it was an ancient Social Security system.

Tamar outlived two husbands and pleaded with Judah, her father-in-law to give her a husband. He seemed not to care, so she disguised herself as a harlot and seduced the recently-widowed Judah. When her pregnancy was known, her family wished to stone her, including Judah, but she wisely had kept Judah’s bracelets and staff to prove he was the father.

What a double standard!

Next, Matthew writes about Rahab, the harlot of Jericho (v.5). She hid the Hebrew spies and saved their lives, believing the Jews were about to destroy the city and reclaim the land of Canaan. The symbol of safety for her in the siege was a scarlet thread hung from her window.

She and her family were saved. Rahab cast her lot with God of the Hebrews and married a man named Salmon. They had a son named Boaz, who had a son named Jesse who had a son named David—the greatest of all kings.

The third woman is a woman of virtue named Ruth (v. 5). The levirate marriage story plays a role here, too, since Boaz of Bethlehem wanted to marry her, but he had to edge out the next-of-kin!

Ruth wasn’t a Jew—she was from Moab. How interesting that a non-Jew was included in the lineage of David and Jesus.

Finally Matthew writes of Bathsheba (v. 6). She was either an innocent victim of David’s lust, or a temptress, since the story doesn’t fill in all details. But she and David gave birth to Solomon—the wisest man of all time.

Matthew’s genealogy demonstrates that salvation history includes both saints and sinners, and includes both Jews and Gentiles. Everyone is welcomed at Bethlehem’s manger. Everyone is welcomed to God’s family.

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