What is the most boring chapter in the Bible? To most, I’d think it’s the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew 1.
It’s just name after name after name. Pretty boring, right?
The purpose of Matthew’s genealogy is to mark Jesus’ lineage firmly within the Israelite tradition.
His ancestors are the patriarchs of a grand tradition. These men are the great pillars of the Hebrew and Israelite faith, which stands to reason that Jesus too will become a pillar of faith for future generations.
So, Matthew 1 opens his gospel by listing 39 generations to secure Jesus’ rightful place in history.
Something emerges in this list that’s not boring at all: the names of five women.
Biblical genealogies are most often named through the father’s family. Women were subjugated to a lesser role in history. Rarely do they ever get named, especially in a list of generations.
The readers of Matthew would have picked up on this detail, wondering, “What significance do these women hold propped up next to Abraham, Isaac and David?”
The five women are Tamar, Rehab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah (who we know as Bathsheba) and Mary.
Learning more about these women turns Jesus’ genealogy from boring to amazing, and it offers a glimpse of the power of the gospel.
Tamar is introduced in Genesis 38. It’s not a story for kids.
She was chosen to be the wife of Judah’s oldest son, Er, and was to bear a son. Er died, so Judah told his next oldest, Onan, to perform his brother-in-law’s duties and impregnate Tamar. When he also died, Tamar came to live with her in-laws until the youngest brother, Shelah, was old enough to marry.
Meanwhile, Judah’s wife also dies and Judah heads out of town to a sheep-sheerer. Along the way, he meets a prostitute, and one thing leads to another.
As it turns out, the prostitute was Tamar. She conceived twins from her father-in-law, Judah. He tries to kill her, but she outsmarts him and ends up living and raising her twin boys.
Genesis 38 is a story of incest. It didn’t have to be mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy. So why was it?
The second woman is Rahab from Joshua 2. As the story goes, Joshua sends two spies into Jericho to a prostitute named Rahab and stay the night with her.
The king of Jericho learns of this and sends troops to kill the spies. Rahab lies to the king’s men to protect the spies and offers them safe passage out of the city.
Rahab didn’t have to be included in Jesus’ genealogy either. So why was she?
The third woman is Ruth. There once was a widowed woman, Naomi, who had two sons who married Moabite women. Both sons died. Naomi introduces Ruth, her daughter-in-law, to a distant relative, Boaz.
Ruth seduces Boaz one night while he’s drunk. When he wakes up, he’s confused and tries to find another family member to take her as his wife. When he can’t, he ends up marrying her himself.
We now have incest, prostitution and seduction all playing out in Jesus’ genealogy. Again, this story didn’t have to be told. So why was it?
The fourth woman isn’t named, but we all know who she is: Bathsheba from 2 Samuel 11.
One day King David sees Bathsheba taking a bath on a roof. He then pursues her, commits adultery, feels guilty about it, demands her husband, Uriah, go to the front of the line in the battle to secure his death so then David could marry his friend’s widow.
So now we have incest, prostitution, seduction and adultery all radiating from the pages of Jesus’ genealogy.
Why? Why include these narratives into the lineage of Jesus when it was not customary to do so?
Here’s what I think: The Spirit of God is showing us that Jesus isn’t going to be the kind of king that’s like all the rest. He represents not only the orderly, chosen, privileged kinds of people but also those on the margins.
Jesus isn’t just for the Abrahams, Isaacs and Jacobs who secure their place and headship in history despite their sins and shortcomings. He’s also for the Ruths, Rahabs, Tamars and Bathshebas of the world.
This is really good news because we are prone to declassify and diminish the humanity of others.
In short, Jesus’ kingship is a kinship. He invites all people no matter who they are (or how history remembers their story) into the family of God.
And to prove it, five women of the Hebrew Bible are listed in his genealogy.
The most scandalous of these stories may be the fifth woman, Mary. She is literally a nobody asked to do something for everybody. She conceives and carries within her baby Jesus.
As it turns out, Jesus’ genealogy is not boring at all. It shows us all that when it comes to salvation, Jesus is the Messiah for all. His kingship is a kinship.
Senior pastor of First Baptist Waynesboro in Waynesboro, Virginia. He is a member of the Good Faith Media advisory council.