It is of considerable interest to observe that there are the names of five women in the genealogical record of Matthew, and although no historical events are mentioned in connection with a number of the men whose names are there, the Spirit of God has been pleased to give us something of the history of each of these women.
The first of these women is Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah who, it would seem, was a daughter of the Canaanites, like her mother-in-law. Abraham had been most careful regarding the choice of a wife for Isaac, she was not to be a daughter of the Canaanites; but Isaac had evidently not interfered with Esau's choice when he took as wives daughters of the Hittites, though they were a grief of mind to him. Jacob was charged by Isaac not to take a wife from the daughters of Canaan, but Jacob does not appear to have been concerned when Judah was united to the Canaanites by Shuah, or when he took Tamar to be the wife of his eldest son, Er. There is much instruction for Christians in all this: how very careful we should be as to our associations, both for ourselves and for our children. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 is a Scripture on which we should ponder in relation to this important subject.
Tamar's husband "was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him." His brother, Onan, also invoked the Lord's displeasure, in his dealings with Tamar, and he too was slain. Tamar had the natural desire for children and was evidently content to wait till Judah's third son was old enough to be her husband, which seemed to show that she valued her place in the family of Jacob.
But the action of Tamar in waylaying Judah was not one that sprang from faith in God, even if she valued a place in the family where there was the knowledge of the true God. Humanly speaking, the act of Tamar was more righteous than that of Judah as he confessed; but they were alike morally, partners in a grievous sin. Conduct such as this might suit the families of the Canaanites, but it was abhorrent to the holiness of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
It might be difficult for us to rightly assess the true worth of Tamar. Her desire for children was a right one, and we can admire her valuation of a place in the family where God's Name was known, and the righteous and trusting qualities is expressed in her patient waiting in widowhood; but her actions to achieve her ends cannot be condoned, both because of the lack of confidence in God and for the unnatural character of the sin. Her deceit manifested the natural scheming that is only too common among those who have been brought into a place of divine privilege; it savored of the guile that marked Laban, and that came out in Rebekah and Jacob when they deceived Isaac. How apt we are naturally to seek to obtain divine blessing in our own way.
In spite of her birth, her deceit, and her grave sin, Tamar received a place in the most honored genealogical line in human history. It may be that beneath all the activities of the flesh there was a genuine faith in the God of Jacob, and a real, divinely implanted desire to be associated with those who knew the God of Abraham and of Isaac. Whether this was so or not, we do know that in the sovereignty of His grace God marked out Tamar, in spite of all that she was and did, to have her name associated with so many honored names in Scripture, and with the most honored, the Name of Jesus, the blessed Son of God. Divine grace and mercy can rise above all that we are naturally, and all that we have done, to give us part with Christ before the Father's face even now, and to share Christ's place in the coming day of glory, and in the Father's house for evermore.
God has not only given the history of Rahab in the Book of Joshua, but the commentary of the Holy Spirit in Hebrews 11, "By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies in peace." What would be accounted an act of treason by men is viewed in its true light, by the Searcher of hearts, as an act of faith. Rahab believed that the living God was with the armies of Israel, and that Israel were His people, and she risked her life that she might be saved when the vengeance of God overtook the guilty nations of Canaan.
What a change it meant for Rahab! She left behind in the judged and ruined city of Jericho a life of sin to have part with the people of God, and to be chosen of God, not only to live in the royal tribe, but to be in the royal line, the grandmother of Boaz, who was to be the great-grandfather of King David. No provision was made in the law of Moses for bringing a Canaanite, under any circumstances, into the congregation of the Lord; they were to be utterly destroyed (Deut. 20:16-17); but God's sovereign mercy prevailed in Rahab's case to bring her into a place of blessing beyond any-thing she ever could have conceived.
And does not Rahab's case indicate what God has done for us? In Ephesians 2 we are called to remember "that ye, being in time past Gentiles in the flesh … without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world." Such was our state and portion before God's sovereign mercy reached us; "But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ … For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (verses 11-18).
The story of Ruth the Moabitess is well known, the Holy Spirit recording the charming account of how she came to be identified with God's people Israel. Herself a widow, she chose to be the companion of a broken-hearted, dispirited, lonely widowed-mother, whose sons had died, to share her sorrows and her hardships, and to sweeten the bitter cup of "Marah" by sustaining her with what she gleaned in the harvest fields.
Her noble choice is found in the exquisite words, "Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God." She chose a path contrary to nature; one that could only have been taken by the drawing power of God. Her sister-in-law, Orpah, took the natural way, returning to her people and her gods, and we hear of her no more. Ruth, with single-eyed devotion and affection turns to the land of Israel, and to the God of Israel, and her actions are indelibly written in moral and royal glory on the pages of divine inspiration.
Having cast in her lot with Naomi, Ruth was content to leave herself in her hands, first requesting to be allowed to glean in the corn fields, then obeying her mother-in-law in all that she asked her to do. Her happening to light in the fields of Boaz was no doubt directed, though she knew it not, by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings she had come to trust. Little did Ruth realize what blessings were involved in the words of Boaz, when he said to her, "The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel." There was no evidence at that time of the blessings that were so soon to be hers in relation to Boaz, or in the distant prospect of her relationship with Jehovah Messiah, Himself.
A Moabite, saith the law of Moses, "shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord forever" (Deut. 23:3); yet Ruth chose to be identified with Israel and was accepted by Jehovah. Truly, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God."
Ruth had a very different character naturally from Rahab, for, said Boaz to Ruth, "All the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman." But it needed the same sovereign grace to bring into the families of Israel, and into the royal line, the dissolute Canaanite, and the virtuous Moabite. Neither had a claim naturally to divine blessing; both were excluded by the law. It was divine grace that blessed them, and faith that enabled them to seek to be associated with God's people. With them, we have proved that God "is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us … For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." Like Ruth, we have the present blessings of grace, and in the ages to come "the exceeding riches of His grace."
What happened to Bathsheba's children reminds us of the Scripture, "Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God" (Rom. 11:22). The child that was born of David's sin was smitten by the Lord, and he died; but her second child, Solomon, was chosen of God to succeed David as King of Israel. When this child was born, "he called his name Solomon, and the Lord loved him; and he sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet; and he called his name Jedidiah (Beloved of Jehovah), because of the Lord" (2 Sam. 12:24-25). It was Jehovah's love for Solomon, sovereign love, that put him on the throne.
According to the law, as the wife of a Hittite, Bathsheba would have no place in the congregation of the Lord; and we might have thought that her guilty relationship with David would have forever excluded her from the privileges conferred by a holy God. She is not presented to us with the faith of a Rahab, or with the beautiful traits of a Ruth; but as one that in spite of the dishonor that stained her name, was taken up by God in the sovereignty of His grace to bring forth a child to sit upon David's throne, herself through sovereign grace a progenitor of Israel's Messiah.
We might have thought that some other wife of David should have provided the heir to the throne, one without a blemish on her character; but we are taught here, as in many another portion of God's word, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord; for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8-9).
God often chooses the most unlikely to carry out His will. Who would have thought that God would have chosen unlearned fishermen to be the companions of His Son on earth, and to sit on thrones judging the tribes of Israel? Who would have thought that God would choose a railing, dying thief, to confess the worth and Name of the Lord while He was on the cross, and to speak of His coming kingdom? Who would have thought that God would call the man at whose feet the clothes of the murderers of Stephen were laid to carry what Stephen had seen, "the glory of God and Jesus," in testimony to the Gentiles, and to lay down his life in fidelity to the One he formerly persecuted? And who would have thought that God, in His sovereignty, would have chosen such worthless creatures as you and me to live for Christ in this world, and to share His glory in the coming day, and His place of joy and affection in the Father's House for all eternity?
Although Mary, the mother of Jesus, had none of the natural disqualifications of the other women in Matthew's genealogy, the sovereignty of God's grace was manifest in choosing her as it had been in bringing the others into the royal line. She was not a Canaanite, like Tamar and Rahab, nor a Moabitess, like Ruth, nor had she been united to a Hittite, like Bathsheba: she was of the royal house of David in a descent that the Spirit of God has traced in Luke's Gospel, and she was espoused to one who could show his title to David's throne.
Moreover, there were the attractive moral features of Mary. Her ready acceptance of the angelic message evinces her quiet and simple confidence in Jehovah and in His word, and her meek and gentle spirit pours out its praise in the delightful words, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior."
While rejoicing in her blessing, saying, "From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed"; there is no attempt to magnify herself; all her praise is to God who had so "highly favored" her, the God who acts in sovereign mercy towards the poor in filling "the hungry with good things," and sending the rich empty away. He is a God who helps His servant Israel, "in remembrance of His mercy."
The counsels of eternity, and many Old Testament Scriptures were to be fulfilled in Mary's child; and God, in sovereign goodness had chosen a vessel, and a suited vessel, for the conception of "the holy thing." Even the time of Messiah's coming into the world had been accurately foretold in Daniel's prophecy, and Isaiah had written, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His Name Immanuel."
When Leah had borne her fourth son, "she said, Now will I praise the Lord: therefore she called his name Judah," which means "Praise." And how much more suitable were the praises that hailed the coming and birth of Mary's child! Praises from Mary, praises from Elizabeth, praises from Zacharias, praises from the heavenly host, praises from the aged Simeon and from Anna, and the adoration of the Magi that God had brought from afar. Very soon there shall be a universe of bliss, filled with the praises of God and the Lamb, and all resulting from the coming into the world of Mary's child, the blessed Son of God. While awaiting our part in the praises of that happy day, for us the eternal day, it is our privilege, as knowing the sovereign grace of God that has blessed us in association with Christ to "offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually," and, in the assembly, to join in the praises that the Son leads to the Father.