The Women of the Genealogy

Matthew 1:3, 5, 6.

1916 54 The introduction of four women's names, and of four only, into the genealogy of our Lord, as given by Matthew, has furnished material for enquiry to many students of the inspired word. That there was a special purpose in it no one who had any right claim to be such could ever doubt. Moreover, a slight glance only at the names so chosen to a place in connection with the human descent of the Lord of glory would show something of the significance of their being found there. They are precisely such names as a chronicler, left to mere human wisdom in the matter, and especially a Jew, however right thinking, would have kept out of sight; and especially so as there was no apparent necessity for bringing them forward. They were not needed at all as establishing the connection of our Lord with David or with Abraham.

No other names of women are thus introduced. Neither Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, nor any other, while yet there was perhaps not another who might not seem to have better title to be remembered. These women were, of all others, though in different ways, just the blots apparently upon the genealogy. And then, so far from any attempt at concealment of what was discreditable in connection with them, circumstances which needed not (one might have thought) to be referred to, are brought in, as if to draw our attention to what otherwise might have been less noticed. Thus, Zarah's twin-birth with Pharez, though himself not in the line of the genealogy, is mentioned as if to recall the circumstances of that sin which brought them into being; while Bathsheba, instead of being mentioned by name, is associated, as it were, with all the horror of the crimes which her name alone one would think sufficient to bring to mind — "her that had been the wife of Urias."

But there is something very beautiful as well as characteristic in this fearlessness of one who, here, as in other places — in a mere record of names, as it might seem, as well as in the most solemn passages of our Lord's life — spake as he was moved by the Holy Ghost. If there be a blot upon the life of one of His people, the God of truth will never hesitate to bring it out, though it might seem to be furnishing an occasion to those who seek occasion against the truth; and if there be a dark spot that presumptuous man would dare to lay a finger on, on but one of the links (each divinely constituted) of the chain of ancestry of the Man Christ Jesus, the Spirit of God puts His finger upon it first, to invite our attention to it as something worthy of being noted, and calculated only in the mind of faith, to beget reverential thoughts and lowly admiration of a wisdom that never fails, and that is most itself when it confounds all other.

Now to a faith that (as is characteristic of it) "believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly," the introduction of the names of Tamar and of Bathsheba into the inspired record of the Lord's human ancestry, is pregnant with suggestions fitted to awaken the liveliest emotion. Each of these women of dishonoured names and shameful memories had title, then, in a peculiar way, to appropriate those words which recorded Israel's most real boast: "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given." The human feeling for there is that in it whatever there may be more — which has given an "immaculate conception" to the mother of our Lord; would have at least provided for the unblemished character of the line of His natural descent; and that feeling would have said, Let Him have connection with the purest and noblest only that can be found; and thus it is that human thought has been shown fully in the wisdom of One who, from the beginning, took the "seed of the woman" — first as she had been in the transgression — to bruise the serpent's head, and heal those that are oppressed of the devil. Fixed, in divine wisdom, in that part of our Saviour's genealogy which no Jew could dispute — for none could dispute that the Christ was to come of David — these names (all perhaps Gentile, and some undoubtedly so) stood there to vindicate the Gentile's part in the "child born." And just so in the face of pretension to human righteousness they stood to vindicate the claims of sinners to Him whose "body was prepared Him" that He might die for sinners.

Thus far, then, the meaning of these names in the connection in which we find them is plain enough, and their place in the genealogy not only needs no vin dication, but is another note of harmony in that song of praise which His word, as well as all other of His works, is perpetually singing — seed to sow music in the hearts of the sorrowful, in the assurance of how the sighing of the prisoners has come up before the Lord.

But what if we are able to go further and to show that not only is this so, but that each of the four names here given furnishes its own peculiar feature to what, taken as a whole, is really a full and blessed declaration of the story of grace and of salvation — each in its order adding what the former had left out, till the whole is told? Would it not be worthy of God to speak so — to make not only types and parables, but the very names of a genealogy repeat a story He is never weary of telling, however slow man may be to hear?

Let us take up, then, the history of these four names, so far as it connects them with this inspired genealogy, and try to read the lesson which is given us by their connection with it.

The history of Tamar you will find in Genesis 38. It is one of those dark chapters of human depravity which the Word lays open with its accustomed plainness and outspokenness. Infidels would speak of it as a blot upon the book that contains it, and few perhaps care to read it, least of all aloud. And yet it is a story that will one day again find utterance before the most magnificent assembly that the earth or the heavens ever saw or shall see. And how many such like stories shall come out then — mine, reader, and yours, not perhaps, after all, so far removed from Tamar's — and the pure eternal day will not withdraw its beams, and the night not cover it up with its darkness.

What must be told then, may well bear to be told now. The light that shines upon evil deeds is all undefiled by them. If Tamar's history were a mere thing of the past and had no voice for succeeding generations, no doubt it had been vain to bring it up; but now let us rather thank Him for doing it, who has given us a page of human history so dark that we have to shudder, so filthy that we have to blush at it. Reader, I ask again, is there no page of your life that if it were written by the faithful hand of God, you would have to blush at in like manner?

Now in all this history of Tamar's the thing that strikes me in this connection is, that there is no redeeming feature about it. If I take the record attached to the other names which have place with hers in this genealogy, I may find perhaps in each case something that breaks the darkness a little. But I find nothing similar recorded about Tamar. She comes before me in this picture as a sinner and nothing else. The wife successively of two men, each cut off for his wickedness by divine judgment, she dares yet in her own person, by crime equal to theirs, provoke divine judgment. But the wonder above all this is, that it is this very sin that brings her name into the Lord's genealogy — for this sin it was that made her the mother of Pharez, one of the direct line in Christ's ancestry.

Is there no voice in this? And is it the voice of the God of judgment, or is it the voice of the God of grace, the God and Father, indeed, of our Lord Jesus Christ? True, if I look alone at the Old Testament record, it may call up before me, as it has called up, the time of account and manifestation; but the moment I turn to the New Testament and find Tamar first of women's names in the genealogy of the Lord — Tamar, brought in by her sin into that connection — I find what fixes my mind upon a scene of judgment, indeed, and that of the most solemn sort, but where the Holy One of God stands for the unholy,where Barabbas's cross — place of the chief of sinners — bears the burden of One who alone bare all our burdens, and "with whose stripes we are healed."

Oh, blessed lesson, and worthy of God to give! Tamar's sin her connection with the Lord of life and glory? and O beloved, look! was not our sin our connection? Did not He die for sinners? Was it not when we confessed our sins, and, with our mouths stopped, took our places before God, ungodly and without strength, that we found out the wondrous fact that for the ungodly and without strength Christ had died; and that because we were sinners, and Christ had died for such, He was "faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness"?

Thus Tamar's name, first in this genealogy, is first also in the simple gospel truth that it reveals; and the fact that Tamar is a sinner, of whom I can read nothing but her sin, and whose sin gives her connection in a peculiar way with the Christ who came for sinners, is light and joy and gladness in my soul.

But we must turn to Rahab.

And here again we are not in very creditable company. Rahab is a Canaanite, one of a cursed race, and Rahab is a harlot, sinner among sinners. We seem destined to move in this track. The one thing recorded to her advantage is her faith. That it had fruit too, none can question. She is one whom the apostle James takes up, to ask us, "Was not Rahab, the harlot, justified by works, when she received the messengers, and sent them out another way"? But even here, you will observe, the thing he appeals to is not what would, in men's eyes, make a saint of her. There was no brilliance of devotedness, no wonderful self-sacrifice, no great goodness, as one might say. Even in the very thing in which she shows her faith she tells a lie; as if to isolate faith from any kind of merit whatever, and to give us expressly the picture of one that "worketh not," but whose only hope is in a God who "justifieth the ungodly." (Rom. 4:5.)

And who can doubt it was Rahab's faith that brought her into the genealogy, as sin had brought Tamar? Without faith, she had died with those shut up in Jericho, a cursed woman of a cursed race. Faith removed that curse from her faith brought her in among the people of God, if it did not attract to her the heart of Salmon, so as in the most direct way to account for those words being in the genealogy, "Salmon begat Booz of Rachab."

Thus the second of these women's names teaches us a lesson as sweet and as needful as the former. "To him that worketh not, but believeth" is what we instinctively think of when we think of Rahab, faith that, while it has that which demonstrates its reality, leaves one still to be justified as ungodly, nay, believes on One who only does so justify, — faith which looks not at itself, therefore, and pleads not its own performances, but brings the soul to accept the place of ungodliness only, because for the ungodly only there is justification.

This is very sweet and very wonderful. It is wonderful to find how in the mere introduction of a name into a catalogue, the God of grace can speak out the thoughts of His own heart. And it is very sweet to see how constantly before Him is the thought of our need and of His mercy, and how He would by the very wonder, as it were, surprise men's slow, cold hearts into the belief of it.

And now we have got to Ruth: "Booz begat Obed of Ruth."

But what shall we say of Ruth? Here at first sight our text might seem to fail us, and we might seem to have parted company with sinners. Why, you might say, the Spirit of God Himself takes a whole book to tell us about Ruth. And true, indeed though it be that she was a Gentile, as Rahab and as Tamar, you might repeat of her what the Lord Himself says of another Gentile: "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." With no sword of judgment hanging over her head as over Rahab's, with no tie to connect her with Israel, but the memory of a dead husband who had himself abandoned it, with the memory of famine in that land which had forced her husband out, and with the company only of an aged woman, with whom bitter providences, as she deems them, have changed the name of Naomi into Mara, Ruth comes into the land and to the God of Israel, in whose fields she is content to be a gleaner. No, do not think, reader, that I would disparage the worth, or blot the fair fame of Ruth the Moabitess. That she was a Gentile only adds to it the more honour, in that among the godless grew her godliness, and that she was faithful where Israel's own children had set her the example of unfaithfulness.

But is there nothing in this very fact that, in company with the names of sinners among sinners, we find one who shines, as it were, saint among saints? What does it mean, this putting down of Ruth in company with such names as Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba? Is it not a truth of the same kind as when the Word tells us of one who "gave much alms" and "prayed to God alway," that he was to send to Joppa for a man who should tell him words whereby he should be saved? Or, as when Zaccheus, standing forth and saying to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor," meets the significant and gentle word you can scarcely call it reproof "This day is SALVATION come to this house, for as much as he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was LOST."

So that without the smallest word of detraction from Ruth's goodness, but rather allowing in its very fullest all that can be claimed for it, we may fairly draw a lesson from the company in which we find her name, which is itself full of instruction and of beauty; and Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, side by side in the genealogy, give us but the announcement of Isaiah's vision, which the Baptist's mission went to fulfil: "Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." Yes, God's salvation as much needed, and in the same way, by one as another as much of grace to one as to another, to Ruth the Moabitess, as to Rahab or Tamar.

But we have not yet got at that which gives fullest significance to this name in the genealogy. Against this Ruth, with all her loveliness and with all her goodness, there was lying a ban which did not lie in the same way against the others. She was a Moabitess, and against these there had been levelled an express statute of the law. "An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord, even unto their tenth generation they shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever" (Deut. 23:3). Thus Ruth lay under the interdict of the law. It is striking that it was to this devoted, to this lovely woman that the law applied, not to Rahab nor even to Tamar; God having thus proclaimed in an unmistakable way the law's character; not bringing it in to condemn the sinner and the harlot (where men's minds would have done so), but introducing it as that which would have excluded a Ruth, even with her piety. Emphatically was it thus taught that it was man as man that was shut out from God; not in his sins merely, but in his righteousness; and that if we stand on that ground all "our righteousnesses are as filthy rags."

But the law does not keep Ruth out. Moabitess as she is, she does enter into the congregation of the Lord. The law is set aside in her behalf, and instead of her descendants being excluded to the tenth generation, her child of the third generation sits upon Israel's throne, and hears the promise which confirms that throne to his heirs for succeeding generations.

Thus another principle comes out in bright relief. If God takes up the sinner and the harlot on the principle of faith, law is set aside by the very fact. "The law is not of faith." "The righteousness of God without the law is manifested," "even the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe." This is what Ruth is witness to. The Moabitess comes into the congregation of the Lord, spite of the law expressly levelled against her to keep her out "and in this we find but another utterance of this self-same story of grace which, in so many languages, our God so joys to tell.

One name alone remains; one truth has yet to be uttered. God takes up sinners, then, by faith, and law is set aside. "Faith is reckoned for righteousness." Not as if faith were righteousness, or its equivalent that would be quite another thing: but God, who had been looking (to speak humanly) for righteousness by law, had ceased to do so. The law had returned Him answer, "there is none righteous; no, not one." Thenceforth the principle was changed, "Faith" was "reckoned for righteousness:" faith that did not pretend to righteousness at all, for it was in One who "justifieth the ungodly."

But if God receives sinners, to what does He receive them? Is it a complete salvation they obtain, or are there conditions still to be met before the final goal is reached, and there is complete security? On what, in short, does the ultimate salvation of the believer rest? This is a question which evidently needs answering before the soul can be completely satisfied and at peace. It is one thing to be now in the favour of God, and it is another thing to know that I can never lose it. And the more I look at myself, if it depend upon myself, the more I must be in dread of losing it.

Moreover, there are those who will allow of a free present salvation, who will not allow of one that gives security absolutely for the future. With them the sinner may be saved without works; but the saint may not! The legalism shut out at one entrance gains admittance at another, and the result in either case is the same. Self-sufficiency is built up; self-distrust taught to despair; the work of Christ is practically displaced from its office of satisfying the soul, and the grace of God effectually denied.

The Scripture speaks as decidedly on this point as on any other. On justification by the blood of Christ it builds the most confident assurance as to the future. It tells us that inasmuch as "when we were yet sinners Christ died for us, MUCH MORE then, being now justified by His blood, WE SHALL BE SAVED from wrath through Him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Rom. 5:8-10).

And when I turn to this last name of the four, and find "her that had been the wife of Urias" taking her place with Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth in the genealogy of the Lord, it seems as if the text just quoted were repeated in my ears. For, the moment I think of Bathsheba, a greater name than hers (linked strangely with hers in the crime which it recalls), comes in to efface her almost from my mind. David it is I think of David, child of God, Israel's sweet psalmist! in whose breathings the souls of saints in every age have poured out their aspirations after "the living God," David fallen, and fallen so low that we cannot marvel if his name be side by side with Tamar's. David, man after God's heart! Oh, how many of the Lord's enemies hast thou made to blaspheme! how many of the Lord's people hast thou made to mourn for thee! Was that thy witness to what God's heart approved? Was that thy soul's panting after Him? What! murder a man in the midst of faithful service to thee zealously rendered, that thou mightest hide thine own adultery? Was that the man who, when flying from the face of his enemy, and when Providence had put that enemy within his power, cut off but his skirt, and his heart smote him for it? Ah! sadder than thy heart could be for Saul, we take up thine own lament over thee, "How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished."

And surely, O Lord our God, in Thy presence shall no flesh glory! If David could not, could we? Alas! if I know myself, what can I do but put my mouth in the dust, and be dumb for ever before the Lord! "All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass." And "let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." The voice that comes to me from David's sin is infinitely more than David's condemnation. It is my own. Can I pretend to be better? Can I take my hand from his blood-stained one? Ah, no! I accept with him my own condemnation; and not as a sinner merely, but as a saint. From first to last, from beginning to end, the voice of David's fall brings to me the assurance that the justification of the ungodly must be my justification still. It is like that voice of God, strange, and contradictory in its utterance, men may call it, which, having pronounced man's sentence before the flood, and destroyed every living thing because "every imagination of the thought of man's heart was only evil continually," after the flood declares, "I will not again curse the ground for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living as I have done."

Blessed be His name! He does not trust His salvation to my hand. My "life" depends but upon the life of Him who has taken His place in heaven, after He had by Himself purged my sins; as much "for me" there in the glory as "for me" upon the cross He is the accepted One; I but "in Him." Because He lives, I shall live also.

If David could have taken his salvation out of God's hand, he surely would have done it in the case before us. That he could not I read in this woman's name, partner in his sin, recorded in the genealogy. Once again, as in Tamar's case before, I find sin connecting with the Saviour of sinners. It was not that God did not mark, and in a special way, His abhorrence of the evil. It was only grace, really to do that. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," and no wonder, therefore, if adultery and murder sprung up again and again in David's path. No marvel that the sword never departs from his house, and that his wives are dishonoured in the face of the sun. But in the midst of all this growth of thorn and thistle, sure fruit and consequence of sin, one floweret springs up from this cursed ground, type and witness that, where sin had abounded, grace over-abounds. From this David and this Bathsheba, whom sin has united together, a child springs whose name stands next in the line of the ancestry of the Lord; and who receives, as if to confirm, this, a special name "Jedidiah," "beloved of the Lord."

And is it an imagination or is it more, that there is something in the name — the other name of this child born — which harmonizes with all this? I will not say; but if Solomon, "peaceful," be a strange name in so near connection with so sad a history, it is not an unsuited one to follow in this genealogical list — not an unsuited one to be in company with Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba. And it is a blessed one with which to end the history of four names, which when God utters them can be made to speak of what He must love well to utter, or He would scarcely take such strange occasion to remind us of it.

And if to any there seems after all in this, something that seems too much like a mere wonder to be God's utterance, I would beseech such an one to remember how once a burning bush was made just such a wonder to attract a passer-by, and how, when he turned aside to see, a voice out of that bush proclaimed that God was really there. Even so may it not be strange that He should attract now by a kind of wonder, to listen to a story which He loves to tell; and for those who turn aside to see, may the same voice, now, as then, be heard. — F.W.G.