Biblical Theology for Wednesday, December 17 (’14)
“This is a record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah…whose mother was Tamar.” — Matthew 1:1a, 3b
We are continuing our ongoing series into Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew 1:1-17. To read the other short entries in this series, go here:
Part 2, Genealogy Part Dos
Part 3, Genealogy Part Dos and a Half
So far, we have seen the significance of Jesus being included in the lineage of both Abraham and David. Matthew wants his readers to immediately think of the covenants that Yahweh initiated with these two Old Testament saints.
In the case of Abraham, we are to remember that Jesus is the long-awaited promised seed by which all the nations are to be blessed (cf. Gen 3:15, there “offspring”). It is through faith in Jesus that every race, nationality, etc. will be accounted as part of God’s family (cf. Rev 7).
The Abrahamic covenant should also remind us of the great cost by which Jesus brought us into the family. We, as covenant breakers, deserve to be ripped asunder and left outside the camp forever torn away from God. Yet, Jesus, on the cross, was killed and torn apart from God on our behalf. He took on the full punishment that our covenant breaking deserved and, in exchange, gave us the full blessings that a covenant-keeper deserved.
In the case of David, we are reminded of that great kingly line that was promised to King David. Though David died, his heir, Jesus Christ reigns. This reign consists of perfectly administered justice, mercy, and grace and, on the day of consummation, it will continue on forever and ever.
This week we will be skipping ahead to verse three. Why? Because I’m the proprietor of this post and you’re not.
Actually, in verse 3, Matthew surprises the reader by mentioning the first of four separate women within the larger genealogy. This is not an accident on the part of the gospel writer. In fact, it is deliberately added for our own sanctification.
There are three observations about Tamar that need to be considered when thinking about the gospel of Jesus.
Number One: Tamar Is a Woman
Duh! Right? Tamar is a female and not a male. So what? This seems like a minor detail because we live in an age where men and women’s roles are largely blurred into one. Everybody can do everything anybody else can do. It isn’t thought at all peculiar anymore to have a stay-at-home dad while mom goes off to work. There are women managers, CEO’s, and even these…
So, again, why the big deal about Tamar’s gender? Well, back in Matthew’s day, being a woman didn’t exactly get you very far.
Mentioning Tamar was hugely counter-cultural. Women were highly prized in those days for a few activities: making babies, making sandwiches, and being overall subservient to the commands and wishes of the men folk.
Also, if you’re Matthew and you want to lend credibility to your claims about Jesus, the last thing you would want to do would be to reference a woman. It would be akin to having Dick Cheney as a professional reference when applying to work at Ron Paul’s office. It just doesn’t help your case.
Yet Matthew not only names one woman—he names four! He wants his reader to know that Jesus, the one who has come to die a sacrificial death for his people, has done so not just for men but also for the women.
Number Two: Tamar Is Downright Sinful
Tamar was a sinful gal. In Genesis 38, through a series of convoluted events, she has sex with her father-in-law, Judah. I mean, what the what?! Even the church at Corinth would take pause to consider what had happened.
The amazing part of this incest-filled story is that the just and righteous Lord of the universe uses it for His glory. The story of Joseph instantly jumps to mind.
Joseph’s brothers get tired of hearing their brother yap about his special God-given dreams and decide to murder him. Upon starting the process of fratricide, they end up backtracking a bit and sell him into slavery. Many years later, through a series of events both encouraging and discouraging, Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Famine sweeps the land and Joseph’s brothers come running to Egypt for help.
It is soon after these events take place that Joseph explains what Providence did throughout all those years of trials, tribulations, and rise to power and privilege: God used all things, even the evil performed by his brothers, for his (Joseph’s) good and his (God’s) glory by saving his chosen seed (Abraham’s descendents). Even though his brothers had committed great evil against their brother, God in his sovereignty used their wickedness to not only sanctify Joseph but to glorify Himself.
And, so it is with Tamar. Of course she was sinful. What she had done with Judah was inexcusable and her sin deserved the wrath of God. Yet, God, in his mercy, chose to save her and use that sin for good. Tamar would be not just a limb on a family tree but a crucial link in the chain that would soon bring about the Savior of the Word.
Number Three: Tamar Was a Gentile
Salvation came from the Jews. Jesus says this explicitly in John 4:22. One of the major themes of the Old Testament deals with the fact that Yahweh chooses for himself a particular people upon which he lavishes love and mercy. That nation is Israel. No other nation receives this privilege.
Given this fact, having Tamar (a Gentile) included in the genealogy that has as its end the long-awaited Messiah would have been absolutely jaw-dropping to any Jew…like the disciple who wrote it! After all, the Jews saw themselves as special and not in the “we’ve received grace and will therefore feel gratitude” kind of way. They viewed themselves as better than their neighbors. The other nations worshiped many gods, all of whom were false. Israel, however, worshiped the one true God. They were the elder brother from the story of the prodigal son; they knew what was right and wrong and did what was right (supposedly).
Little did they realize the God that they had entered into covenant with was also grafting the Gentiles into the family. Tamar reminds us of this glorious truth: the covenant is not just for them, but for all of us.
Grant Osborne sums up the main point of Matthew’s mentioning of Tamar in the following manner:
“God in his providence saw fit to include women who were foreigners and sinners in the royal lineage of Jesus so as to show that he is God not only of righteous Jews but of all humanity and that he has come to bring salvation to the whole world of humanity” (Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 64)