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Matthew’s Gospel commences with a genealogy of Jesus, “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1). Jesus is introduced as heir of God’s promises to Abraham and of the royal heritage of David. The genealogy is arranged in 3 groups of 14 generations:
- Group one begins with Abraham (who was promised the Land) and ends with David (who ruled over a united Land);
- Group two take us from David to the Babylonian captivity (during which the Land was lost);
- Group three spans the Babylonian Exile to Jesus (who, for Matthew, climaxes and epitomizes Israel’s story)
The genealogy includes five women, which is very unusual. Matthew must have chosen to mention these five individuals for a specific reason.
- Tamar was Judah’s widowed daughter-in-law. Judah had neglected to marry her to his youngest son when he came of age. Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and shamed Judah into fulfilling his duties toward her. One of the twin sons from their union was an ancestor of David.
- Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute who lived in Jericho. She assisted Joshua’s spies in scouting out the city’s defenses.
- Ruth was a Moabite widow of an Israelite man. She threw herself at the feet of his kinsman, Boaz, to induce him to marry her to produce a son to the memory of her deceased husband. This son was to be the grandfather of King David.
- Bathsheba was the wife of David’s loyal soldier, Uriah, the Hittite. Her adultery with David prompted him to arrange Uriah’s death. Her second son by David, Solomon, became king after him.
- Mary, a virgin of Bethlehem is found to be pregnant before her marriage to Joseph is consummated.
All five women have out-of-the-ordinary experiences that serve to advance God’s designs: the rise of an important clan of Judah, the conquest of Jericho, the birth of David’s grandfather, the birth of Solomon, and the birth of Jesus.
As a secondary theme, the four women from Israel’s past may be Gentiles. Rahab is a Canaanite and Tamar is likely one, too. Ruth is a Moabite, and Bathsheba may be a Hittite like her husband Uriah. If so, these women may reflect Matthew’s belief that the birth of Jesus is also important for the Gentile nations.
Since the genealogy recalls that several of Jesus’ male ancestors had atypical or questionable origins, Matthew is likely asserting that the birth of Jesus is part of a pattern. God’s uses human foibles to advance divine intentions. For Matthew, Jesus is the culmination of God’s plans.