These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
“By the man to whom these belong, I am with child” (v.25) RSV
This series of the female lineage of Jesus began with Sarah, and was followed by Leah. We now move on to the five women who are mentioned in the list of ancestors given in the Gospel according to Matthew. This genealogy (Matt. 1:1-17) is peculiar in as far as any women are mentioned at all. And then, as we shall see, the five women mentioned are each of them somewhat suspect!
The first of them is Tamar: “Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar” (Matt. 1:3). Now the story as to how Judah produced children by his daughter-in-law is a salutary tale! Judah had married off his eldest son, Er, to Tamar. In due course he died without issue. So, according to the custom at the time, the widow was to be ‘serviced’ by the dead man’s brother. This man, Onan, decided not to go through with this duty, and he too died. Judah obviously thought that Tamar was a bit of a black widow and so refused to let his third son anywhere near her. Instead she was to remain effectively under house arrest.
Tamar felt that her father-in-law had not been fair. So she tricked him into ‘lying’ with her by pretending to be a prostitute, though he did not know it was her. She conceived, and when accused by Judah of unfaithfulness, she produced evidence that he was the father (Gen. 38:25)! She bore twins, Perez and Zerah. And it was Perez, Judah’s son by incest (Lev. 18:15), that the line down to Jesus was maintained.
This may seem extraordinary, and yet God’s grace and sovereign purposes are even more extraordinary. Despite our incredible rebellion and human failure, God continues to work out his purposes. Despite deception and incest God brought Jesus, our Saviour, into the world. Hallelujah!
Thank you Lord that whatever sin has been perpetrated in my past I am in your hands. With us these things are impossible, but with you all things are possible. Amen.
1 What happened to a different Tamar?
2 Samuel 13:7-21
2 Read about Judah and Tamar’s place in Jesus’ lineage
The female ancestors of Jesus did not always have an easy life, and they weren’t always saints. Leah, however, seems to have been a good soul, though she suffered from being somewhat plain and her eyes were weak. Her husband, Jacob, had been tricked into marrying her, though he wanted to marry her beautiful younger sister, Rachel (Gen. 29:17-18). He ended up with both of them as his wives, but he loved Rachel and “hated” (v.31) Leah.
Leah found it unbearably painful to be so rejected by her husband. However, he plainly did his duty by her since she started to produce children. Because of her suffering God blessed her with fertility. She bore four boys: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. This last one was to be the line through which Jesus was born. As it says: “Lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered” (Rev. 5:5).
This fourth son was so named because ‘Judah’ in short meant: “This time I will praise the Lord” (v.35). Each of the previous children had been named with names that indicated her desperate desire to win the love and appreciation of her husband. But by the time she reached the fourth, she had found her consolation not in her husband but in her Lord. He alone could bring balm and joy to her soul. Sometimes life is very hard, and there is no consolation to be found from circumstances or people. In such circumstances the Lord alone can be our joy and our salvation.
Leah suffered from the fact that so many men tend to look on the outward appearance. But God is much more interested in the imperishable beauty of a pure heart. As Peter puts it in his letter, “… the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). Peter mentioned Jesus’ ancestor Sarah in this connection. He could also have cited Leah.
Lord, keep me from judging others by their looks or their wealth. Help me to love others as you love them. Amen.
1 Who nearly chose the wrong person to be king and why?
1 Samuel 16:6-7
2 Note how Rachel, Leah, Tamar and Ruth are connected.
During these next week we shall consider the unlikely women who were part of the ancestral line of Jesus. They will reveal to us how God can weave the most unpromising material and the deepest hurts into fulfilling his purposes. Jesus was born in spite of unbelief (Sarah), unlove (Leah), incest (Tamar), prostitution (Rahab), foreign blood (Ruth), adultery (Bathsheba) and an unmarried mother (Mary)!
This week we consider the first, Sarah. She was the wife of Abraham, and was in many ways exemplary. Peter uses her as an example of an ideal wife and an example of godly submission (1 Peter 3:5-6). However, she failed through unbelief in the question of producing an heir for her husband. First of all she suggested that he produce a son through a surrogate, her maid Hagar. The resulting child, Ishmael, proved to be a thorn in the side of the family.
Secondly, Sarah laughed in unbelief when three divine visitors arrived at her tent. She overheard them foretelling to Abraham that he would have a son by Sarah. She knew she was past child bearing age, and had long since given up hope of having a child of her own. This word from the Lord seemed as foolishness to her. And yet, God in his mercy and to fulfil his plan caused his word to be fulfilled. Within a year she had produced Isaac!
Normally God requires our active participation by a response of faith. But sometimes he works in a sovereign way. Despite Sarah displaying lack of faith, the Lord wove her error into his redeeming purposes. In due course her descendants would produce Jesus.
In like manner God will use our ancestry (both the good and the bad), and indeed our own past failures if only we cry to him for mercy and let him work out his plan from now on. The past is not only forgiven but actually transformed so that it becomes part of his process. A mystery indeed!
Thank you Lord for my past, both the good and the bad. Redeem it so that what I am now, and what I may be in the future, will fulfil your holy purposes. Amen.
1 After her disbelief what enabled Sarah to conceive?
2 How did Abraham react to the news that Sarah would conceive?
“Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (v. 42) RSV
Sometimes we believe God has promised that something will happen and yet its fulfilment is delayed. Noah believed that God had foretold that there would be a worldwide flood. He used the waiting period to the greatest effect. He built theArkthat God had instructed him to build.
He spent a lot of time and money investing in the future. Until the rain fell his boat would have stood out like a white elephant in the desert! His neighbours would have mocked him for being so impracticable, meantime carrying on with their normal daily life; eating, drinking and being merry. They were marrying and carrying on their worldly business (v.38).
Now, none of the things they were doing was evil. Sin is not necessarily living an evil life, but it is living a life independent of God. It is living life our own way without bringing glory to God. The chief purpose of life (and the reason for which God created us) is to “glorify God and to enjoy him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism). Noah’s neighbours were living without reference to their Maker. Now, Noah himself was not a perfect man. In fact the story of his life after the flood is somewhat unsavoury. (Gen. 9:20-24) However, what was far more important was his trust and obedience before his God. Despite mockery and expense and effort he carried on and built the Ark. He geared his life to what God said, and to the long term. The result was not only his own salvation but that of his family and multitudes of God’s creatures.
If we are not to be tempted to live only for the present and to be absorbed in daily life, then let us follow Noah and listen to God’s Word. Let us invest in the long term future, not in this life only but also the next.
Forgive me Lord when I don’t listen to you and when I fail to hear your warnings. Give me a listening ear. Amen.
“… until what he had said came to pass” (v. 19) RSV
Joseph had been his father’s favourite son. He had been given a special coat that showed his privilege. But his brothers sold him into slavery. At first he did well inEgyptbecoming the head slave in Potiphar’s household. But then he was falsely accused and committed to prison.
This Psalm describes his life in prison; it was not pleasant – “His feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron” (v.18). However, once again he rose through the ranks of prisoners and was put in charge.
But things got still worse! His hopes had been raised for his imminent release after he had interpreted the dream of Pharaoh’s butler. But his hopes were dashed because the butler conveniently ‘forgot’ Joseph. Oh, cruel fate! More years passed, more waiting, more hoping.
What was happening to Joseph during this time? This Psalm tells us that “the word of the Lord tested him” (v.19). This does not mean some arbitrary and sadistic test. It means that Joseph was put through a trial out of which he would emerge strengthened. Stretching and purging are necessary, though painful, ways for us to be strengthened.
He was changed from a spoilt prodigy into a mature and humbled man. When he was eventually brought up into Pharaoh’s presence he not only interpreted his dream, but went on to be in charge of all the wealth ofEgypt!
Furthermore, when his brothers and father arrived during the famine, he was able to say: “you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.” (Gen. 50:20). Waiting is a great opportunity for us to learn humility and maturity. Let us also see the hand of God in frustrating circumstances. Do we really believe he loves us and wants the best for us?
Teach me, O God, to see you at work in all the frustration and delays of life. May I praise you all my days. Amen.