In the genealogy of Jesus found in the book of Matthew, we meet four women with quite scandalous and shameful stories.
You have probably heard that Matthew included Gentile women as a way to communicate that Messiah was for Jews and Gentiles, but there’s something else that these women represent.
Before we take a deep dive into these four stories, there’s one thing you have to know: Jewish genealogies had no place for women. While women were important in Jewish culture and family, as was the norm in ancient eastern culture, they carried no significance in a genealogical record. One’s ancestry was passed down through the father, and as we see over and over again in Jewish genealogies found in both the Biblical record and other Jewish writings, women were simply not a part of an official genealogical record.
So the fact that Matthew includes four women at all, well that’s pretty radical all by itself. But these women specifically? It’s practically shameful that they’re included.
TAMAR - a widow twice over (read: zero social or political standing) who played the part of a prostitute and purposefully committed incest with her father-in-law.
In a culture built on shame and honor, it’s easy to see that she brought profound shame on her family, and likewise, any heirs of hers would be marked as outcasts due to the shame she brought on her family. She should be the dirty little secret that the family doesn’t talk about.
RAHAB - a Canaanite prostitute who may have engaged in cultic prostitution well into her forties, Rahab’s inclusion in the genealogy of Jesus was literally cause for scandal and confusion. Early Jewish converts to Christianity questioned whether Matthew’s Rahab was “the Rahab” because it was so scandalous to include a prostitute in a genealogy. Her harlotry was too defiling, too shameful, and too disgraceful!
RUTH - a pagan who most of Israel believed to be forbidden by law to enter the place of worship in Israel. Prior to her marriage to an Israelite, she most likely participated in human sacrifice to the Moabite god Chemosh. She was as wicked and shameful as any enemy of Israel could be. And like Tamar, she was a widow. Completely without any form of security or social standing.
In Ruth’s story, we’ve been taught to see a beautiful redemption love story between Ruth and Boaz, the son of Rahab. And indeed, their story is remarkable! But their story is one that defies social norms: a wealthy landowner of influence and high regard, married to a former pagan? Questionable at best. Scandalous at worst.
BATHSHEBA - A God-fearing, law-keeping Israelite woman who is victimized by the most powerful man in her world. According to the Biblical narrative, Bathsheba was a woman of virtue and honor and was keeping the Law when David saw her bathing for spiritual cleansing. Unlike modern spins on this story, Bathsheba was almost certainly fully dressed when David saw her, performing a purification ritual as prescribed by Law after her monthly cycle. She is violated by the king of Israel, and from that moment on her life spirals into a cycle of victimization, loss, and grief. Ultimately she joins David’s other wives and concubines as a permanent member of his household, and will later birth the future king of Israel: Solomon.
That Matthew includes these scandalous shameful women in the genealogy of Christ is no accident. Think about it. He’s about to share the story of an unwed woman who becomes pregnant. He’s documenting an absolute scandal of a story and claiming that this bastard child is the Messiah Israel has long prayed for.
In this genealogy, Matthew isn’t merely documenting ancestral facts. He’s writing an introduction to the greatest story ever told. He’s reminding us that God takes shame and turns it into glory. That He gives victory to victims. That He gives a place of belonging to the outcasts. And that He redefines who is worthy of honor.
Four women whose scandalous stories remind us that our God, the one born out of wedlock from the backwoods of Nazareth, He turns shame into glory.
June 6, 2014
My little world is quiet, hushed, and still, and waiting for a new day to dawn with the sunrise. Somewhere in the distance, I hear a cricket, or maybe a cicada, singing its middle-of-a-summer-night lullaby. And I hear my little one breathe and coo and sigh contentedly as he suckles at my breast. A lullaby and a balm to my soul.
The world around me sleeps as the cool night air refreshes the earth. In a few hours, dew drops will sparkle like shimmering glass as the sun casts its first light on this new day, but for now, all is dark and nearly silent, unaware of that moment when the late hours of the night give way to the early hours of the morning.
My son cuddles close to me, sleepy eyes fight wakefulness and he sighs heavily. The two of us, just the two of us are awake at this late, yet early hour. These moments in the dark of night, they are tiring, draining on my body and mind. But they are precious to me. I treasure these moments, hold them dear to my heart.
He smells of subtle sweetness, a scent unique to him, but I know it so well. He sounds like newborn hallelujahs, his coos and noises are as glorious to me as a symphony of praise.
My body and mind are tired, sleeplessness and the pursuit of motherhood has worn me down. I am tempted to wish him to hurry along: “Eat up so Mommy can go back to bed!” I think silently to myself – my body needs to rest. But my heart soars with joy and thankfulness, knowing full well that these days are precious, and these nights are priceless. And really, I don’t want to hurry them by.
And I remind myself that this is kingdom work. Being faithful to this holy calling of motherhood honors God, even in the late-night feedings.
These moments of just the two of us – my son and me – He is here with us. His Spirit sustains me and His presence surrounds me. I offer my own quiet, feeble hallelujah for this is holy ground, for these are sacred moments. And I don’t want to wish these moments away just for the sake of a few more minutes of sleep.
I breathe a silent prayer of thankfulness and ask for strength and wisdom for the day that awaits. And I realize this is the very best kind of weariness. Because when I am weak He is strong.
Quiet breaths escape his lips as he rests in my arms. I rock him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. the motion soothes us both as our bodies move in tandem to the sway of the rocker. There is familiar comfort in our bodies moving together, just as they did when he was still tucked away inside me, snug and warm in the hidden safety of my womb.
Last week was long and hard, with restless nights and tiring days. After the first couple of days his daddy and I were sure it was a growth spurt. The biggest clue was that he woke up one morning and all of the clothes in his drawer were too small. The proverbial “grew overnight” was our reality last week.
Growth spurts are hard on a baby and hard on a mama. The fussiness and achiness and constant need for comfort and familiarity exist just as strongly for the mama as they do for the little growing one.
A little perspective and a lot of grace are my biggest allies during a growth spurt, but they require intentionality and perseverance.
GRACE FOR CLINGINESS
My sweet son wanted nothing but to be held and rocked last week. Over and over again he nuzzled his face into my neck, my arm, or my breast as if to say “Don’t ever put me down, Mommy.” His tiny hands grasped my fingers while he slept, clung to my clothes while we rocked, and stroked my skin while he nursed.
He needed my closeness. He was comforted by my touch, soothed by my smell, and found safety in the rhythm of my heartbeat.
Your body is powerful! For nine months your babe lived inside you, hearing every sigh, every song, every laugh, and every heartbeat. And then through sheer willpower, you birthed a brand new life into the world through your body.
It’s no wonder our little loves draw so much comfort, find so much peace in our bodies. They want us near, they want to touch our skin and smell our breath and hear our sighs. Let them.
Let them find all the comfort and peace they can in being close to their mama. If your little one will nap only in your arms, cherish those long days of rocking and loving, and take heart! Your wee one will not always nap in your arms, the day will come when he won’t need mama quite so fiercely, and your heart will hurt as that precious soul takes one tiny step towards independence.
GRACE FOR FUSSINESS
As a breastfeeding mama fussiness during a growth spurt is a two-fold trial.
First, my sweet boy was achy and tired from growing so much so quickly. His bones and muscles were stretching and lengthening at an astounding rate, and he seemed to be keenly aware of the soreness that quick growth leaves in its wake.
But he was also fussy from being hungry, and he cannot yet understand why my body must catch up to his needs. When the growth spurt first started he wanted more milk than my body was accustomed to making, and he has yet to learn patience and perseverance. So he whined and threw his head back in utter frustration.
It hurts our hearts to see our sweet babies uncomfortable and cranky. It is perplexing to wonder if your milk supply will indeed catch up to your baby’s needs. Remember, mama, that breastfeeding is a delicate dance, and our babies always take the lead. And sometimes we are slow to follow.
I encouraged Ezra to nurse as frequently and as long as he wanted to. I spoke softly to him, reminding him that his body and my body work together just as God designed them, to give him just what he needs. When he threw his head back because he wanted more and it wasn’t there, I encouraged him to keep trying. “You have to tell mama’s body to make more milk, you can do it, darling,” I whispered softly in his ear.
Remember, mama, your baby’s fussiness doesn’t have to lead to your own fussiness. Stay calm and reassure your little one of your unconditional love and care.
GRACE FOR THE NEEDINESS
I spent most of last week calming a fussy baby, wrapping him up in my love, and offering all the comfort I could. Little else was accomplished around my house, although I did manage to get supper on the table every night.
You need to take care of yourself. I encourage you to take time every day to refocus, refresh, and relax.
Refocus your heart and mind on the One Who is Higher than You.
Refresh your mind by dwelling on something other than your baby’s needs. Mediation, worship music, a favorite book, or mindfulness can help keep your mind settled.
Relax your body through deep, intentional breaths, a refreshing drink, or a peaceful walk.
Somedays refocusing, refreshing, and relaxing will look like a few moments outside in the sunshine to soak up its warmth and healing benefits. But sometimes it will look like a quiet walk alone or taking a much-needed nap. Whatever those moments look like for you, embrace them.
Ask your husband for a few extra moments in bed on Saturday morning.
Ask your mama to clean your bathroom, and then rock the baby while you take a shower.
Ask a dear friend to pray for you, right now, while you’re on the phone.
Ask your neighbor to bring you a meal, in disposable pans so you don’t have to wash and return them.
Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. As Christians, we are admonished to serve one another, so when we allow someone to serve us we are being obedient to Christ while allowing them to be obedient to Christ as well.
Oh mama, if your little one is in a growth spurt, take heart! You will make it. With a lot of grace and a lot of perseverance, you and your sweet babe are going to be just fine.