– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator
Genealogy has become an incredibly popular hobby and a multi billion-dollar industry in the United States in recent years. Why? Because people are curious about their family’s roots. They want to know where they came from, who they came from. They want to uncover stories unique to their family, as well as stories that locate their family in a broader historical context. In learning more about our ancestors—by understanding how God has woven our stories together—we can connect the present to the past and find hope for the future.
This interest in family lineage, though, is not new. Notably, the New Testament begins with a genealogy. Matthew opens his gospel with “a record of the ancestors of Jesus the messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). David and Abraham–two of Israel’s most famous ancestors. David, the shepherd boy who defeated Goliath with a slingshot; the songwriter whose music soothed King Saul’s troubled soul; the ruler who abused his kingly authority; the man after God’s own heart who confessed his sins. Abraham, the patriarch of patriarchs; the father who relocated his family when God called; the father who nearly sacrificed his son; the father of a great nation.
For those who are acquainted with the Old Testament, the genealogy of Jesus includes other familiar names–Isaac, Jacob, Solomon–as well as unfamiliar ones–Hezron, Ram, Amminadab. Jesus’ family tree, though dominated by men, includes five women with compelling stories: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.
Tamar’s story is heart-wrenching, a stark reminder of how women in that era were treated as property, passed down from one brother to the next when death occurred in order to produce offspring. According to Genesis 38, Abraham’s great-grandson, Judah, acquired Tamar to be the wife of his wicked firstborn son. After he died, she was disrespected by her brother-in-law and lied to by her father-in-law. Exercising agency, Tamar orchestrated a dramatic plan to confront Judah with his sin. As a result, she was accused of being a prostitute; the penalty for such an offense in that time was burning. But Tamar was not executed for her actions; instead, Judah admitted that her righteousness exceeded her own. Her life was spared, and she gave birth to twin sons. One of those sons, Perez, is listed among Jesus’ ancestors.
While Tamar was accused of being a prostitute, Rahab is explicitly labeled as one in Scripture. As the Israelites prepared to cross the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land, their new leader, Joshua, dispatched two spies to Jericho to assess the situation. These spies took refuge in Rahab’s home, where she resourcefully kept them safely hidden when the king of Jericho’s men sought them out. After extracting a promise of protection from the spies, she helped them escape from the city, lowering them down a rope in the city wall. The spies kept their promise, and Rahab and her family were spared when the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.
Ruth’s reputation stood in stark contrast to Rahab’s, even though she was an outsider. After Ruth’s husband died, she left behind her family and friends in Moab to accompany her recently widowed mother-in-law to Bethlehem. Boaz, a local landowner, took note of Ruth’s compassionate care of her mother-in-law and provided Ruth with a safe place in which to glean grain. Ruth ended up marrying Boaz, the son of Rahab.
Bathsheba has an undeserved reputation as a wayward woman. Bathsheba was the victim of an abuse of power when King David decided to take her as his own. When she became pregnant, he sought to cover up his sin through a series of events that culminated with the death of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. Bathsheba’s grief was magnified when her baby died. David ultimately repented and took Bathsheba as his wife. She eventually gave birth to Solomon, who succeeded his father as king. Bathsheba is identified in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus as “the wife of Uriah.”
The fifth woman mentioned in the genealogy is Mary. We know little about this Jewish teenager’s background. In Luke’s gospel, we learn that she accepted the Angel Gabriel’s stunning pronouncement that she would be the mother of God’s Son with grace and courage: “Here am I, servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Although she would undoubtedly be the subject of local gossip, Mary believed that she was a blessed child of God, and she trusted God with her future.
Tamar. Rahab. Ruth. Bathsheba. Mary. Though they never met, their lives were connected across the generations, their stories woven together in the overarching narrative of God’s redemptive plan. None of them could have imagined that their names would appear in a genealogy of the Messiah.
God’s redemptive plan for the world extends to this generation. God is still at work weaving together the narratives of diverse individuals to bring healing from abuse, shame, grief, and suffering. At The Next Door, women are experiencing redemption which helps empower them for a lifetime of recovery.
Lives are being literally saved–redeemed–as the threads of generational addiction and abuse are snapped and replaced by threads of love, faith, hope, wholeness, community, respect, and encouragement. The compassionate, dedicated staff of The Next Door have chosen to intertwine their lives with women whose reputations often rival those of Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba. Many have lost people dear to them, like Ruth and Bathsheba did, and they need help navigating the pathways of grief. Others, like Mary, are ready for God to do a new work in their lives.
God is weaving lives together through The Next Door, and the resulting tapestry is stunningly beautiful. Will you weave yourself into the tapestry of The Next Door this year and join us in this life-saving work?
Published January 7, 2020