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.
“How can this be, since I have no husband?” (v.34) RSV
All the women mentioned over the last six weeks have been not only ancestors of Jesus, but also have had rather alarming if not shocking backgrounds. But now as we come to the last one, the mother of Jesus, surely we have at least one female ancestor who was as pure as the driven snow!
Well, she may have been personally pure, a “virgin” (v.27) and the Lord’s “favoured one” (v.28), but as far as her neighbours were concerned she was a scandal. She was nothing less than a ‘naughty girl’ and an unmarried mother. Of course we know that in law she was betrothed to Joseph before her pregnancy, and that she was married to him before the birth. However, everyone ‘knew’ the real situation, or they thought they knew.
Who would believe that God was the father? “Pull the other one” people would retort. So Mary joins the list of the other unfortunate women who, according to Matthew’s genealogical list, were part of Jesus’ ancestry. That list included Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba as well as Mary (Matthew 1:3-6, 16).
There is no hint that Jesus was ashamed of any of his ancestors. He certainly remained entirely loving and loyal to his mother. However, when he was baptized by John in the River Jordan he was taking the sins of the whole human race, including his personal ancestors with him. The past is redeemable. Whatever has gone before can, through prayer and absolution, be cleansed and brought into the redeeming purposes of God.
In no way was Jesus’ life limited or blighted by his forebears. As he walked through life by the power of the Spirit, so he was free to live a life pleasing to his Father and fruitful for the salvation of individuals and mankind. We too can have that privilege. The curses of the past need not hinder us, for he has set us free. Praise his holy name!
Thank you Lord for my mother (good or bad, alive or dead). May your love and blessing be on her. Amen.
1 To whom did Jesus entrust his mother as he died?
2 Who became more important to Jesus than his human family?
“Bathsheba … the wife of Uriah the Hittite” (v.3) RSV
This week we come to the fourth of the five women mentioned by Matthew in his ancestry of Jesus. This woman is not actually named, but there is no doubt as to who she is: “And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah” (Matt. 1:6). This wife was called Bathsheba.
If you read today’s reading you will have part of the story of this sorry event in David’s life. Bathsheba was beautiful but married. However, King David, who should have been out fighting (v.1), was idling his time in his palace. Consequently the devil found work for idle hands; he saw Bathsheba bathing on a nearby roof and invited her over. An adulterous affair ensued and soon there was a pregnancy. To make matters worse the problem was compounded by David effectively causing her husband, Uriah, to be killed at the battle front.
However, God did not dismiss David and Bathsheba forever. There was an immediate consequence, namely the death of their child. There were also long-term consequences: David would always live by the sword, and his son Absalom would rebel. However after David was confronted by the prophet Nathan (2 Sam. 12:1-15) and after he repented, the couple produced a second child. This time the child was going to be special in the history of Israel and in the lineage of Jesus, for his name was Solomon (2 Samuel 12:24)!
It never ceases to be amazing how God can weave our sins into his fruitful purposes. Bathsheba continued to be an influential wife. When David was old and dying she and Nathan made sure that David’s desire for Solomon to succeed him actually came to pass (1 Kings 1:11-31). Once again sin did not need to be the end of the story. Repentance opens up new possibilities. We should be heartened by such a recurring theme. Nothing is too difficult for our God. There is always a future and a hope.
Thank you Lord for the women of faith who have done great things for the Kingdom. May they be my challenge and inspiration. Amen.
1 Read David’s Psalm of repentance after his adultery.
2 Which sons of David nearly got the throne instead of Solomon?
“So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife (4:13) RSV
The third ‘notorious’ woman in Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus is Ruth: “Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth” (Matthew 1:5). Not only was Ruth a Moabitess, that is a non-Jew, but Boaz was the son of a prostitute, Rahab by name!
Yes, Boaz was the son of Rahab the harlot who hid the spies in the land of Canaan. This remarkable lady of faith married an Israelite called Salmon. No doubt she brought up her boy to be non-judgemental and inclusive. After all she had been included despite her past and being a Canaanite. Thus when Boaz met Ruth, the foreigner, gleaning in his field, he did not reject her. Indeed he was able to respond to her modesty and her beauty.
Ruth had come from Moab where her mother-in-law, Naomi, had lived with her husband, Elimelech, because there had been a famine in Israel. Whilst there, her two sons had married two local girls, Ruth and Orpah. But after Naomi’s husband and two sons died she returned home.
At first the two widowed daughters-in-law wanted to go with her, but only Ruth stayed the course. She memorably said: “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (v.16). She was a true proselyte and left her old land, people and beliefs, accepting the people of God and their beliefs.
Ruth arrived in Bethlehem with her embittered mother-in-law, but her beauty of spirit and her hard work started to transform the situation. Finally the wealthy farmer Boaz spotted her, and romance ensued. He was willing to marry her and take on responsibility for Naomi. They made a noble and exemplary couple. In due course they produced a son, Obed. And later a grandson appeared who was to be called, Jesse, and finally a great-grandson called David!
Thanks you Lord that you look not on the outward appearance or background, but on the heart. Renew my heart and put a right spirit within me. Amen.
The second woman mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus is Rahab: “Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab” (Matthew 1:5). Next week we shall look at Boaz and his wife Ruth, but today Rahab ‘the harlot’ is our subject.
Is it not interesting how many people in the Bible are labelled by their ‘unfortunate’ past? For instance, Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:15), or Simon the Leper (Matthew 26:6). So Rahab, despite her faith in helping the spies sent by Joshua into the Promised Land, has always been called ‘the harlot’. Perhaps it is helpful, if somewhat humbling, to be reminded of where we have come from. We are what we are because of grace. Or as a modern saying puts it: “There but for the grace of God go I”; in other words, if God hadn’t intervened Rahab would have continued to be a harlot.
Of course being a harlot meant she was the ideal person to hide the spies! Many men came and went into her house, and who would be counting? Thus even in the midst of her unsavoury lifestyle she was used by God to achieve his purposes. But of course she was not just a prostitute, she was a woman in touch with what God was doing. This should not amaze us. It is often not the churchy people or the theologians who are more in tune with truth, justice and the movement of God.
As Jesus said: “the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you (i.e. the chief priests and elders of the people)” (Matthew 21:31). This does not mean that unrepentant sinners enter the Kingdom, but that those people whose lives are in a mess tend to know it and admit it. They are therefore more honest and open to the truth. Those who think they are righteous may miss the boat.
Jesus was not ashamed of his ancestry, especially Rahab. She was a perfect example of the all embracing mercy of his heavenly Father. This God is our Father too.
Thank you Lord that you know me through and through, and yet you embrace me with your eternal love. Amen.
“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.
“… the creation waits with eager longing …” (v. 19) RSV
Has it ever occurred to you that the greatest ecological crisis is caused not by carbon emissions but by our spiritual sins – our rebellion against God? Our passage today indicates that all creation has been groaning (v.22), waiting to be released from “its bondage to decay” (v.21).
This process has been depicted for us in the story of creation. In Genesis, the Fall of Adam and Eve resulted in (amongst other things) the cursing of the ground: “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you” (Gen. 3:18). Now, Genesis gives us a theological account of creation, not a scientific one. It explains the significance of what has happened.
Genesis therefore explains that angels, and man and animals and trees and rocks and the weather are all intertwined. So when one moves out of step it affects all the others. Hence human rebellion has knocked all of creation off-kilter.
Creation is longing for restoration, but it won’t finally know it until it passes through its own death and resurrection. One day there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1). Until then creation waits for the salvation of the human race. It waits. There is nothing else it can do. Meantime the earth witnesses to the glory of God.
If we are bothered about this beautiful but broken world, then we need to join the ranks of those who are saved. We need to move onto the side of Jesus and walk in harmony with him.
Of course we should in every way try to save the planet, but nothing we do will be as effective as walking in step with the Creator. “… the creation waits with eager longing …” (v.19) for us to do so.
Lord, life is a great mystery. Thank you for the world that you have created. May I help its salvation by walking in harmony with you. Amen.
“… the farmer waits for the precious fruit …” (v. 7) RSV
“Be patient” (v.7) says St James. God’s times are not our times. We are impatient for answers to prayer. We want God to act now and to sort everything out. Ultimately we want our Saviour to come, get rid of sin and evil, suffering and death. We want, in other words, “the coming of the Lord” (v.7).
But James wisely points out that life is not like that. Nature itself teaches us that things happen in their season and not before. We cannot rush the growth of plants or of animals. “… the farmer waits for the precious fruit” (v.7). Of course if the farmer has not ploughed and harrowed, planted and tended then he can wait as long as he likes, but no fruit will ever come.
Patience is required after we have done all we can. God will not bless inactivity and irresponsible super-spirituality. He blesses those who have endeavoured to help themselves.
But we know there are times when having done all we can, and we still cry out for God. “Where are you?” we plead. “Why do you not answer my prayers?” we cry. This is when our faith grows through the exercise of patience.
We need to learn (and it is learning through practice) to contain our souls in patience. The farmer knows that the fruit will eventually come, that is why he is able to wait. We too need to believe that ultimately God, through Jesus, will come. He has promised to provide food and clothing, and all things needful for life. It must therefore grieve his heart when we grumble and complain both to God and to other people. Such lack of faith is no testimony to the God of promises. Let us develop serenity and trust, accepting God’s timing.
Thank you Lord for the wonders of nature. Thank you that the birds do not strive and that the grass grows. Help me to learn from them. Amen.
King Saul’s patience ran out at the last moment. He had been told by Samuel to wait seven days until he would return and perform the sacrifice. But Saul panicked when his troops started to be restless and to desert. He felt he could wait no longer but must take matters into his own hands. On the seventh day he performed sacrifice himself.
This was breaking the law of God. He was king in charge of the temporal affairs of his kingdom, but Samuel was the prophet and in charge of the spiritual affairs of the nation. The king must not interfere with the religion of his people.
Samuel (who represented God) was horrified: “What have you done?” (v. 11). Such impatience and inability to wait on God’s timing showed that Saul was not worthy to be king. If he had waited he would have become strong, but he blew it. Samuel told him, “But now your kingdom shall not continue;” (v.14).
Patience helps us grow up and grow strong. Only the immature want the ‘waiting taken out of wanting’. Children wantChristmas ‘now’, but life is not like that.
The only way that a narrow boat can continue up the full length of a canal is by passing through locks. Each lock causes the forward progress of the boat to cease; yet the change of water level while it is in the lock is vital if the boat is to move forward again. Our times of no progress and frustration are not wasted if we accept them with patience.
God wants us to trust him. If he says he will do something, then even if he appears to be delayed, we must not try to solve the problem for him. St Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow about his promise … but the day of the Lord will come …” (2 Pet. 3:9-10).
Help me, O Lord, to wait on your timing, for my times are in your hands. Amen.