Are You Sure That’s the Way You Want to Tell the Story?

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Let’s all simply admit it; we may slightly exaggerate the awesomeness of our lives on social media. It is a rare moment when someone posts anything that (they think) truly makes them look like a horrible person.

And that is why Matthew 1 blows my mind! (How did you like that segue?)

I know it might seem a bit dull at first – especially for an advent post – but the genealogy found in Matthew says some pretty amazing things about this God who “though he existed in the form of God, … emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature”.

Let’s start with a little background that will be useful. The genealogy found in Matthew is “creative”. In other words, it is not exact, “scientific” history, as in Carman was father to Brian who is father to Oakley. The genealogy found in Matthew skips at least four people and organizes itself into a nice 14/14/14 arrangement. (This isn’t a problem – for those who may have just had a panic attack – because the word “begat” can mean “grandfather” and skipping “unimportant” generations was not seen as a problem for the writers of Matthew.)

So, taking that into account, the people chosen by the writer to be included in this genealogy are there for a reason. They didn’t simply leave people there because they wanted to be “factual”, they did it because they were important.

And that brings me to a few names that simply blow my mind:

  1. “Judah the father of Perez and Zerah (by Tamar)” v.3
  2. “Salmon the father of Boaz (by Rahab)” v.5
  3. “Boaz the father of Obed (by Ruth)” v.5
  4. “David was the father of Solomon (by the wife of Uriah)” v.6

That is quite the crew of ancestors right there – and someday I’ll give a sermon or something on this because it is actually incredible to spend time thinking about. Not only were these people included, extra information not required by what we would consider to be a standard genealogy is included.

Let’s start with Tamar. For those of you not familiar with the story, Tamar was “acquired” (look it up, that’s what the words say) by Judah to be the wife of his eldest son. Er died without consummating the marriage and Judah told his other son, Onan, to fulfill his duty to his brother and get her pregnant with a son for his brother. He wasn’t thrilled with this arrangement and … well … I’ll spare you the details and just say he didn’t get her pregnant and then he died. So Judah told her to go live with her parents until his youngest son came of age to take on the duty of getting her pregnant – although he really simply wanted her out of his house and had no intention of giving his third son to her as well.

Time passed and Judah’s wife dies and he’s feeling a bit lonely. Tamar hears he is in the town nearby and disguises herself as a prostitute. Let’s skip some 18A details and simply say; Judah gets Tamar pregnant with twins, finds out she is pregnant, and wants to have her burned only to find out he is the man who got her pregnant …

And this little detail, “by Tamar”, is included in the genealogy of Christ!

Second is Rahab. Because this story is a bit more well-known, I’ll skip over many of the details, but two things to note about her. First, she was actually a prostitute and not just disguised as one. And, second, she was from the city of Jericho. She was spared for her faith when all Jericho was “supposed to be destroyed”, but – and correct me if I’m wrong here – Israelites were given very clear instructions about not marrying Canaanite women. And yet here Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, shows up in Jesus’ genealogy.

Third is similar; Ruth. In Deuteronomy (and elsewhere), clear instructions are given about Moabites; “An Ammonite or Moabite may not enter the assembly of the LORD”. Instructions about not marrying foreigners in general was quite clear in the Torah as well. Ruth, was a Moabite woman who seduced (look it up) Boaz and became his wife. And once again, there are those tiny, added, unnecessary words “by Ruth” in the genealogy of Christ.

The final one I find most amazing of all; “by the wife of Uriah”.

I probably don’t need to go much further than that really. Not only is this unneeded piece of information inserted, but the author doesn’t even simply mention her name – Bathsheba. He specifically says “the wife of Uriah”. The author is making a clear point that the fact David slept with another man’s wife and had him killed to cover up the sin is an important enough piece of information to include in a creative genealogy. So important in fact that the man who was killed is specifically named – as if to draw special attention to that fact.

Four women are included – which in itself is pretty rare in ancient genealogies – and all four either highlight some pretty tragic, messed up, dirty, 18A sections of our bibles or show a family line that deviates from the torah-commanded, “Israelite-only” lineage one would expect should be on display.

And yet, here they are announcing the proud lineage of the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, and the God who became incarnate – “into flesh” – and dwelled with us.

This isn’t how we would project an image of ourselves and yet God himself is not too proud to flash a sign throughout history to showcase his messy path to human-ness. To me this says something loud and profound; God isn’t afraid of our mess. He’s not scared by the dirty-ness of our lives, of sin, of desires. His family is open to a lot more people than we might think with our limited views on who is in and out.

He’s big enough for all of it and he willingly chose to dwell in the middle of it when he committed himself to the restoration process we call the gospel.

He wrote that fact in the very genealogical announcement of his birth. It’s like he was yelling, “This is me in human form – warts and all. I’m not embarrassed by any of it and nothing you try to hide in your hearts is going to shock me. See what I did with my mess of a family tree? Come to me as you are and watch what I can do with you.”

O come, o come Emmanuel!

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