“And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.” Matthew 1:7
It’s the middle of June. How about a lesson from the Christmas story?
The Gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy, tracing Jesus’ ancestry back to Abraham. The dizzying list of names threatens to lull the casual reader into drowsy nap through the begats. Nothing here. Let’s move on to the real story that begins with Mary and Joseph.
However, if you slow down and look closely at the genealogy, you will find some very interesting details.
For example, Matthew noted especially for us that Solomon’s mother was Bathsheba, and he noted that she had been the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Matthew chose to remind us, in fact, of her adultery and her husband’s murder. He could have easily omitted her and the uncomfortable associations, but he did not.
In fact, quite contrary to typical Jewish genealogies, Matthew referred to four women in the lineage of Jesus. In addition to Bathsheba, we read Tamar’s name in v. 3. Her story is long and complex, but suffice it to say that she disguised herself as a prostitute, seduced her father-in-law and bore two sons by him.
Then there’s Rahab in v. 5 who did not have to pretend to be a harlot, she was a card-carrying member of the world’s oldest profession. Next we find Ruth, a fine woman except for the unfortunate fact of her ancestry. She was from Moab, and for reasons too complicated to go into, the law clearly stated that no Moabite shall be a member of the nation of Israel. Among a people who valued racial purity, she would be forever marginalized.
Lest you think it’s only the women who come out looking a little shady in this list, the guys have even more black marks. Start where Matthew began, with Abraham. He was a man of great faith, no doubt, but he also had more than a few qualities in his character that did not need to be there.
For example, on his first trip to Egypt, he told Sarah, his wife, to pretend that she was his sister. Sarah’s beauty attracted the attention of the princes of the land. They in turn praised her beauty to Pharaoh. Sarah, as instructed, told them she was Abraham’s sister and was taken to Pharaoh’s house. No harm, the Pharaoh thought, in dating someone’s sister. Long story short, the ploy saved Abraham’s life, but I doubt Sarah was too pleased to be passed off as a sister. Wives are sensitive like that.
Then, of course, Abraham impregnated a servant girl named Hagar. He did have Sarah’s permission, but doesn’t this story sound like something Dr. Phil should address? Concubines are simply never good for a marriage, I don’t care whose idea it is. The point is, Abraham was not a man of pristine character.
Neither was his grandson, Jacob (also in Jesus’ lineage). In plain English, Jacob was a cheat for much of his life, taking advantage of his intellectually challenged older twin, his blind father, and wrestling with God so hard he came out with a limp. This is not the kind of guy you want to discover in your family on ancestry.com.
Space is limited so I can’t go into the misdeeds of David (adultery and murder), or Solomon (700 wives/300 concubines, which is about 999 too many intimate relationships), or the numerous other kings mentioned here (evil intrigue and numerous apostasies).
What do we make of all this? God’s grace is so puzzling, and at no time more so than when Jesus entered the world. From the genealogy, to the selection of a poor, simple teenager like Mary as the mother, to the dirty little village of Bethlehem as the setting, the whole story of the coming of the King is oddly scripted. The casting and setting are strange.
But it seems that God delights in taking a stall and turning it into the birthplace of the King of Kings. He calls lowly, smelly shepherds to be the first audience. He takes humble people, some with checkered pasts, and has them take lead roles in the greatest story ever told.
And so the light should begin to dawn that God can take you with your checkered past and history of failure and sin, and work you into a special place in His plan. You may not be qualified, but God qualifies you through His grace. All you have to do is live your part.
Many people struggle with guilt. Some guilt is deserved for it alerts us to the presence of something in our personalities that does not need to be there. Other times the guilt is artificial and very harmful for it is the product of either an over-sensitive conscience or the result of an over-bearing personality that makes you feel guilty when you should not.
You must learn to distinguish between good and bad guilt. When the guilt is valid, ask forgiveness, make amends as necessary, accept grace, and quit punishing yourself. If God doesn’t hold the deed against you, then neither should you. Just quit it. Whatever your past, you have a place in the Father’s family.
Dr. Terry Ellis
June 14, 2015