Women of Advent: A Vulnerable Genealogy

Cara Strickland

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A VULNERABLE GENEALOGY

Recently, I heard a sermon preached almost entirely on Jesus’ genealogy in the book of Matthew.

I was visiting a church I attended in my youth, a place where I learned a lot of what I’ve needed to unlearn about theology of women. I was delighted to see that the pastor immediately picked out the women in the narrative, a little disappointed to realize that he did so only to point out that they were all foreigners, with the exception of Mary. But this got me thinking in another direction, as sermons so often do. I began to think through these five women, to question what else they might have in common.

Right there, as the pastor continued with his sermon, I realized something I’d never noticed before. Each of the women in the genealogy was either single (in the case of Tamar, Ruth, and Rahab), or sort of relationship adjacent (Bathsheba’s husband was away at war, leaving her vulnerable, Mary was betrothed, but easily sentenced to death for being pregnant at a word from Joseph).

The very things that made women safe in the cultures of their day: marriage and children, were missing from their lives.

This affected me especially because those things are also absent from my life. I don’t know what’s it like to be a widow. I can imagine that the process is made worse by unfair treatment from a frightened father-in-law, who watched two sons die after coupling with Tamar. Still, that doesn’t excuse the fact that he sent her home to her father’s house, making her present and future uncertain. Without children to carry on her husband’s line, there would potentially be no one to care for her. She might be worried about where her next meal would come from, or how she would continue to live.

It might also be especially hard to be a widow in a country you’ve never been, where you are treated with suspicion because of your race, while trying to care for your also widowed mother-in-law. Ruth performed hours of hard labor in a field where she could easily have been taken advantage of and robbed. Giving up everything she’s ever known to stay with the family she married into.

Rahab heard the rumbles of the coming of the people of God, even from a distance. As a prostitute, she made herself vulnerable for a living. Yet, she became the protector of her whole family (and the Israelite spies).

Women are left alone for many reasons.

Bathsheba’s husband was at war, fighting for the king. It is ironic and heartbreaking that it was this very king who took advantage of his absence to completely alter Bathsheba’s life, taking her from a long-distance wife to a bereaved wife (and then bereaved mother).

Mary harbored the Messiah within her, risking a lot more than her reputation. Although Joseph could have had her killed, it was also his presence that ensured her safety (once the angel intervened).

When I tug at this common thread of vulnerability I find women who were met by God in the very heart of their aloneness.

Singleness did not disqualify Ruth, Rahab and Tamar from taking care of their families (and themselves). It was God who granted them favor and protection. Bathsheba and Mary were guarded and brought to safety by God even in circumstances of disgrace, when I’m sure they felt most isolated. Not only was marriage not a precursor to the instrumentality of these women in the redemptive story God is telling with the world, their lack of marital covering is central to the narrative.

Many of these women did not remain single and none of them remained in the heightened place of vulnerability they are known for.

Tamar became the mother of twin sons Zerah and Perez. Perez’ descendant Salmon married Rahab and she became the mother of Boaz. Boaz married Ruth and her son Obed had a son Jesse who was the father of David. David took Bathsheba by force, making her the mother of a king and the last mentioned female link in the chain until an angel appeared to Mary many years later to announce the birth of another kind of King who grew among His half siblings.

I don’t know exactly how the story of God works. But peering into these lives through the small windows we’ve been given, I can’t help thinking that God was intentional about elevating these most vulnerable women in the genealogy of Jesus, not only because they were well suited to take risks and work with urgency, but because the vulnerable, the alone, the overlooked are precious and important to God, then as well as now.

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To learn more about the women in the genealogy of Jesus download our free e-book The Women of Advent.  This 33-page devotional features chapters on each of the five women named in the lineage of Christ recorded in Matthew 1 and includes reflection questions and suggestions for further study.                       

Cara Strickland

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23 Comments

  • I don’t recall noticing before how God chose extremely vulnerable women – even more vulnerable than women generally in their culture – to achieve his greatness. He works in the unlikeliest people even today.

  • Well done Cara! This makes me want to go to each of these women’s stories and study them even more.

  • I preached on these 5 women a few years ago at the ordination/installation service of a pastora friend of mine. I found it very interesting that these 5 are in Matthew’s genealogy even though we know some of the other mothers by name: Sarah, Rebecca & Leah. It is important to note that although each of these women were vulnerable, they did not wait for rescue – each took action. Tamar made sure she had heirs (although not in the way anyone would recommend). Rahab hid the spies and rescued her family. We don’t really know how complicit Bathsheba was in the initial encounter with David, but later we are told that she made sure that Solomon ascended to the throne. Ruth went to the field to feed herself & her mother-in-law and then tells Boaz what’s what. And Mary … imagine your good Christian teenage daughter coming home with a story about a boy named Angel (or was it Gabriel?) visiting her. We hail her now, but back then, definitely not. Each of these women had strikes against her and each took action and each is included forever in the record.

  • Fantastic post here, Cara, and one which highlights for single women everywhere the point that contradicts complementarian theology, which is that God uses whom He chooses and we are ignorant when we decide to put people into a box because of their gender or marital status.

  • Absolutely….God deemed it important to honor and include women in the most important lineage of all the Bible–that of our Saviour Jesus.
    Your parallels are so timely, Cara. A great read.

  • This is very well written and has some interesting thoughts. My one criticism is that Scripture doesn’t say that David raped Bathsheba as you have implied.Bathsheba chose to sleep with him. They were both guilty.

    • Hi Robert,
      Thanks so much for your comment. My research showed that the majority of scholars see that incident as rape because women didn’t have power to say no to men in situations like that (perhaps especially to the king). If that was indeed the case, I can’t imagine God considering Bathsheba guilty of sexual sin. Either way, she was in a very vulnerable position, and her husband was not there to protect her.

    • Robert, Bathsheba had no choice in the matter. David saw her when he was walking on his roof, ordered her to be brought to him, and did as he pleased. She was just past her period, which assures us that the child she bore was David’s, not Uriah’s. David was king and could do as he wanted. She was raped.

      • The reason i suspect otherwise is Psalm 51. which refers to David’s adultery with Bathseba not his rape of her as Amnon did of Tamar. or Absalom did of the ten women on the roof. In addition is the Biblical requirement of a rape victim to report it. I think that God showed Bathsheba mercy, but I am not convinced she is sin free. I am not falling on my sword. David was definitely voyeuristic.But these verses do have to be taken into account.

        • Robert, I’m not getting how Psalm 51 confirms Bathsheba’s guilt. Are you inferring that David’s comment in Psalm 51 that he sinned only against God? It is my understanding that this was written after he was confronted by Nathan (so after Uriah’s death), so it refers to more than David’s taking of Bathsheba. Or was there something else in Psalm 51 that I missed? In 2 Samuel 12 Nathan chastises David without ever mentioning Bathsheba. I think this is more convincing as it is obvious Bathsheba is not being held accountable. We may have to agree to disagree on that.

        • The king was all powerful. Women had almost no power except through relationship, which Bathsheba did not have with DAvid to begin with. If she had said no, she would have risked losing her life. As has been said, Nathan makes no reference to Bathsheba’s sin, only David’s. It is our modern enculturation that leads us to infer her right to say no.

          • Actually Bathseba was more connected than you think. My pastor did a series about a year or so ago working through the Samuels. She was related to a lot of the leaders that became David’s enemies. You really have to pay attention to those geneaologies to pick up on it. Probably a big reason that she was still on the scene to advocate for Solomon after David’s passing. I don’t know for sure if she was raped or adultery. If my pastor hadn’t walked the church through the story, I would have missed the connections as well. The think that I have never understood about David’s life is why they needed that young woman to keep him warm at the end of his life. How many wives did he have? Even assuming a few died…I just don’t get it.

          • Robert, I appreciate you sharing that information. These important connections are addressed in the reference material at the end of the post. I’m not sure what interpretation your pastor gave it, but it is not surprising that after David misuses his power to bring such tragedy upon this family (getting Bathsheba pregnant, having Uriah killed, and the death of Bathsheba’s first child) they would align against him later on. It seems unfair to lay the blame for this at Bathsheba’s feet, as if her actions caused it. Here is an excerpt from pp. 86-87 of the Davidson article cited at the end of the post:

            “When David inquires as to the identity of the one he has lusted after, he is told by someone, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” (v. 3). The information concerning Bathsheba’s identity takes on enormous significance when one realizes that both Bathsheba’s father (Eliam) and husband (Uriah) are listed among the select group of soldiers called David’s “Thirty Mighty Men” (2 Sam 23:13,34,39). These men were David’s close comrades, “trench-buddies” who had fought together before David was king! Furthermore, Eliam was the son of Ahithophel, David’s personal counselor (2 Sam 15:12; 1 Chr 27:33). The question, “Is this not Bathsheba, Eliam’s daughter, Uriah’s wife?” should have pricked David’s conscience and restrained his lust. Recognizing such intimate ties between David and Bathsheba’s husband and father and grandfather, makes the sexual sin of David against Bathsheba all the more audacious and appalling. He took his close friends’ wife/daughter/granddaughter!”

            You also suggested that she was still on the scene to advocate for Solomon at the end of David’s life because of her relationship to David’s enemies – as if she was some kind of political opportunist. Considering that David had promised Bathsheba that Solomon would be king (and was apparently about to go back on his word) and the fact that she acted on the prophet’s Nathan’s instructions and not on ot her own initiative this seems quite unfair.

            I agree with you that there is a lot about David’s life that is hard to get – like the multiple wives thing. I go back to the fact that a monarchy was never God’s ideal plan, but a concession to the people. Too much power in one person’s hands is never a good idea!

          • Thanks for that response, Gail. I had never twigged that she was not just the wife of, but the daughter/granddaughter of his friends and colleagues. I do get weary of preachers finding ways to make it somehow/always the woman’s fault.

    • In the biblical account neither God nor the prophet Nathan laid any guilt on Bathsheba, so I would have to disagree with you. See the link to the post on Bathsheba below for more on this.

  • Thank you for this well written and thoughtful post. I would make one correction though–it isn’t marriage and children that made these women less vulnerable; it’s marriage and sons. Legacy and inheritance passed through sons not daughters. Widows were cared for by sons not daughters. I find this truth especially troubling when I read the Bible because there are so many places in the world where girls are still vulnerable just for being girls–it is sons who are desired for the same reasons that they were in the ancient world.

    • So true. I’m very thankful that the church (and society) have come a long way since these days, but constantly aware that there is more to be done.

  • This is excellent. Thank you for looking up the information about these women. I’m sure that took some time.

    • Thank you so much. Over the past few years, I’ve found the study of women in the Bible to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve done. It’s a pleasure to share what I’m learning here.

  • In the Bible, as now, it is during times of uncertainty and upheaval that women tend to have space to change things. And change them they do, with God’s leading.

    • Uncertainty and upheaval can certainly be wonderful midwives for change. Thank you so much for being here.

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