The Four women
Thirdly, Matthew communicates God’s covenant fidelity through his mention of four women within his genealogy. In verses two through six of the genealogy, Matthew mentions Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and (indirectly) Bathsheba. It may seem strange to surmise that Matthew might mean anything at all by including these women. Women, after all, are necessarily included in genealogies! However, as Bruner rightly puts it, “the simple fact that women are mentioned at all is noteworthy”. Men were usually included in Jewish genealogies, and their presence sufficed for the entire household. For this reason alone, Matthew’s inclusion of these women calls for attention.
However, there is even more room for pause, considering the character and background of the women. First of all, it must be noted that all four women are non-Jewish. “Tamar was a Canaanite, Rahab a Jerichoite, and Bathsheba, through marriage, a Hittite”. What is worse, the women’s
stories do not fit comfortably into traditional patterns of sexual morality. Tamar’s seduction of her father-in-law, Rahab’s prostitution, and Bathsheba’s adultery are all explicitly in the OT, and while Ruth 3-4 records without moral censure how her marriage to was arranged, the euphemistic language recounting the events at the threshing floor leaves many modern interpreters uneasy.
Matthew therefore places four women in the genealogy that, for all intents and purposes, would make his Jewish readers uncomfortable. One wonders why Matthew would have done this. While there are several layered reasons Matthew could have done this, it is striking that these four women are immoral and Gentile.
The church has historically used this detail of the genealogy to emphasize God’s embrace of outcasts. Bruner cites Luther, who in his commentary on Matthew, says that “Christ is the kind of person who is not ashamed of sinners—in fact, he even puts them in his family tree!” This is indeed true. Yet there is a certain weakness in this position principally because the perpetrators in at least half of these women’s “sins” were the men! David was the perpetrator of Bathsheba’s adultery, and Judah was the one to purchase Tamar’s services. For that reason, it is best to focus on these women as Gentiles who are included within God’s plan of redemption. In conjunction with Matthew’s constant focus on Israel’s mission to the Gentiles, it seems most easy to place this inclusion of the women under the Abrahamic promise: that through his promised seed, God will embrace the entire world. France explains,
Appropriate to Matthew’s own context is the view that the four foreign women prepare the reader for the coming of non-Israelites to follow Israel’s Messiah which will be foreshadowed in the homage of the magi in 2:1-12 and will be a recurrent and increasing theme throughout the gospel until it reaches its climax in the mission to the nations in 28:19.
What’s more, what is established through this genealogy is the fact that God has already embraced Gentiles into the lineage of his promised seed. Not only is God moving outward to the world, but he has already done so through these women! This is of course exemplified all throughout the Old Testament, yet it is put explicit through Matthew’s genealogy.
With this in mind, it is most probable that Matthew means to call to mind God’s promise to Abraham, that one day his people would bless the nations; even more, that Abraham’s seed would include the nations. Thus, Matthew is proclaiming via these four women that God has and is fulfilling his promise to bless the nations through his Seed Jesus Christ. Thus, with the inclusion of the four women, Matthew tells his readers that God is fulfilling his promises to their father Abraham. He is being faithful to the covenant he made with him, to embrace the entire world in the family of God.