Are you guilty of skipping the “begats”?
The “begats” to which I refer are found in the first chapter of Matthew—you know, the long list of Jesus’ ancestors.
History never stuck with me, especially long lists of names I can’t even pronounce, let alone see why they’re important. Besides, when I read, I like action. So I, too, am guilty of passing over the begats.
But one time I forced myself to read through them—only because I was following a read-through-the-Bible-in-one-year program and putting a check mark in the “Matthew 1” box without actually reading it was cheating and lying. I knew the deceit would prey on my conscience, so I plowed through.
And I discovered something interesting: Jesus’ ancestors were not a saintly bunch. Up until then, I’d assumed that Jesus, who was sinless and pure, would have had a bloodline that reflected his holiness. Yet “holy” hardly describes some of the characters mentioned. I’d also assumed that his bloodline would be pure as well—all His ancestors would have been Jewish. I was wrong on that account, too.
Jesus’ ancestry includes people who lied, cheated, deceived, stole, and committed adultery and murder. Abraham lied on at least two occasions to save his own skin. Jacob, whose name means “deceitful,” lived up to his name. Judah thought nothing of sleeping with a woman he thought was a prostitute. Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, committed adultery with King David, who had her husband murdered when he discovered she was pregnant with his child.
Rahab was a prostitute from Jericho and not an Israelite. Neither was Ruth, King David’s great-grandmother. She hailed from Moab—Israel’s one-time enemy. A nation birthed in incest, Moab's bloodline traced back to Lot, who slept with his own daughters. Then there was the shrewd and perseverant Tamar, whose twins were begotten in deceit.
Talk about skeletons in your closet! Jesus sure had plenty in His ancestry.
Another interesting note in the genealogy Matthew recorded is that he included women. It was unusual for women to be listed in Jewish genealogies. Matthew, however, lists five: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary.* Only two were Jewish. Three bore moral blots.
Everything in God’s Word has a purpose; even the accounts of unsavory characters whom God chose to fill a slot in the ancestry of His own Son. That God allowed far-from-perfect men—and women—a part in His plan to save sinners is evidence of His amazing grace. Nobody’s perfect, but surely there were people with better moral records than these.
Seeing the names of some pretty unsavory characters whose treachery and deceit are chronicled in the archives of man, gave me a sense of relief and freedom. Relief that I don’t have to be perfect—God can use me warts and all. And freedom from guilt that my past indiscretions will cause me to miss out on God’s purpose for me.
For God, you see, “has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done, but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9 NIV).
Skeletons in your closet? Don’t fret about them. It isn’t what’s in your closet that God’s concerned about—it’s what’s in your heart.
Thank you, God, for the lesson of the begats. Amen.
Special-Tea: Matthew 1
*Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at the stories of these five women, the role they played in Jewish history, and what it means for us today.