One was a Canaanite woman who disguised herself as a prostitute to seduce her father-in-law. Another Canaanite woman was a prostitute. A Moabite woman crawled under the covers with a man while he was sleeping to hint that she wanted to marry him. The fourth was an Israelite woman who bathed on the roof of her house in full view of her neighbour.
What do these four women have in common? They are all named in the genealogy of Jesus. In fact, they are the only women mentioned in His genealogy.
Tamar, the first, was the widow of both of Judah’s two oldest sons. Judah promised her that she would marry his youngest son when he came of age, but did not keep his promise. Tamar then took matters into her own hands, playing the prostitute to Judah himself. When Judah was informed that his daughter-in-law was pregnant, he decreed that such a sin must be punished by death. However, when she informed him who was the father of the expected child, Judah was humbled and responded “She hath been more righteous than I.”
Rahab was the Canaanite prostitute who hid the Israelite spies who had come to search out the defences of Jericho. Because of this, she and her household were the only survivors of the destruction of Jericho. She married an Israelite – possibly one of the spies?
Ruth the Moabitess may have taken unusual measures to make her wishes known to Boaz, but he appeared to take her intentions kindly. He told her: “Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.”
The Bible tells us nothing of Bathsheba’s thoughts when she bathed on the roof. Some commentators think that she was actually performing the ritual cleansing after the end of her menstrual period. If that be so, it could have appeared as an invitation to King David. He certainly seems to have taken it that way.
None of these women had the Bible we have today. The law had not been given at the time of Tamar, even later no one had access to a personal copy of the Scriptures. There was no weekly worship and instructional service during Old Testament times. None of this excuses their conduct. Yet God had mercy on them and they became known as godly women. When the elders blessed the marriage of Boaz and Ruth, they said “Let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah.”
Three of these women appear in the genealogy of David and the fourth, Bathsheba, was his wife and the mother of Solomon, the son whom God loved best of all the sons of David. Proverbs 31 begins: “The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.” No king by this name appears in any ancient record. The name signifies “for God” and the rabbinical commentators considered it another name for Solomon. We cannot be positive, but the only alternative is that Lemuel is a complete mystery. If Lemuel was indeed Solomon, then Proverbs 31 was written by Bathsheba.
Jesus, during His ministry, had a compassion for scorned and mistreated women that was unheard of in that day. The Pharisees were the true believers of Jesus’ day, in that they believed all the Scriptures taught and scrupulously observed all the commandments of the law. They often scorned Jesus for His friendship with sinners. His response? He told the Pharisees “The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”
Do we have the same compassion toward the fallen and downtrodden that Jesus and the early church had? One of the primary reasons for the rapid growth of the early church was that the gospel offered hope and dignity to the outcasts of society. Have we forgotten this in our day?
It has been a great temptation for us as North American Christians to sit in our comfortable, middle-class pews and rejoice in God’s goodness, all the while averting our eyes from the misery around us. If we do see it, we console ourselves that all these people are going against better knowledge. Really? I am convinced that most people in North America today have no more understanding of God’s mercy and righteousness than Tamar and Rahab had at the beginning.