Summary: · Tamar represents those who are forsaken and lonely · Rahab represents those who are fearful of the future
The Family Tree of Jesus
Tamar and Rahab Matthew 1:1-17
The Christmas season is upon us. For most of us that means Christmas cards, Christmas shopping, Christmas cooking, and, of course, Christmas trees. You might be surprised to discover that there was a Christmas tree described in the first chapter of Matthew. But this tree wasn’t a fir tree or pine tree or any other kind of evergreen.
The Gospel of Mathew starts by listing the family tree of Jesus …so I guess that could be called the first Christmas tree. Most of us take one look at this long list of 42 generations between Abraham and Jesus and we think only one thing: “Boring!”
But to the Jews this list was anything but boring. To the Jews, a person’s genealogy was central to their identity and importance. In the Family Tree of Jesus, Abraham tops the list. As the father of the people of Israel, that makes sense. And we’re not surprised to find names like Isaac and Jacob, or like David and Solomon. But we might be surprised to notice the names of 4 fairly obscure women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. (Recently, I’ve been preaching about obscure Biblical characters. In keeping with the season, I found some obscure Biblical characters that are connected with the Christmas story.)
Now we need to understand that Jewish genealogies generally named only the fathers. Why would Matthew break tradition and mention these 4 women by name? Is it because they were exceptionally noble and virtuous? Were they respected and powerful women in their time? Were they noteworthy examples of godly Jewish women?
When we look at these four women, we discover just the opposite. None of them were well respected by the Jews. In fact, only one of them was even an Israelite. The others were Gentiles from idol-worshiping countries. And three of the four were what we would consider “fallen women.” All four of them had definitely fallen on hard times. And every one of them desperately needed a Savior.
This week and next, we’ll examine the lives of these 4 women who were the great-great- (etc) grandmothers of Jesus. We will find that we have more in common with them than we might at first think. These women represent the human condition. They represent the reasons all of us need a Savior.
1. Tamar: Forsaken (Genesis 38)
Like many people today, Tamar was forsaken by the very ones who should have loved her. Her own family misused her and lied to her. She felt trapped in a barren life with no hope for her future.
The story of Tamar is recorded in Gen. 38. It is also the story of Judah, the fourth-born of Jacob’s 12 sons. (In fact, Judah is the brother who came up with the cruel idea of selling his little brother Joseph to Egyptian traders.) Evidently Judah didn’t improve with age. He disobeyed the commands of God by marrying an idol-worshiping Canaanite woman. As time went by, they had 3 sons.
And true-to-form, Judah married his oldest son off to another Canaanite woman. Her name wasTamar, which means “Date Palm.” Since the date palm is a prolific producer of fruit … she probably hoped to produce lots of offspring.
Now, sit back and get comfortable, because this is a long, complicated story. You see, Tamar’s husband died before she had any children. In fact, Genesis 38:7 puts it this way: Judah’s firstborn was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD took his life. We don’t know specifically what that means. It is possible that God literally struck him down. It is also possible that he died due to the natural consequences of a wicked life. We all know that a life of immorality, drunkenness, carousing, and fighting will often lead to an early death.
After the first son’s death, Judah followed the Levitic tradition by giving Tamar in marriage to the second son. The purpose of this tradition was that Tamar would be able to have a son who could be the legal heir of her deceased husband. But things didn’t work out that way. The scripture says the second son was also so evil that God took his life.
If we’re going to understand what a tragedy this was to Tamar, we need to understand the culture in which she lived. Several years ago, a friend of mine in India wrote to tell me that his newly married daughter’s husband had died suddenly. The father was completely devastated about this tragedy. In talking to him, I discovered that in the Indian culture it was as if his daughter’s life had ended. She would never be free to marry again, so she would never be able to have children. In other words, she would never have independent status in their society. It’s hard for us to comprehend that kind of harsh reality, but the fact was that all her hopes for the future died with her husband.