The Heroic Women of Jesus’ Ancestry

In the ancestry of Jesus, we find some really interesting women of faith:

Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary the mother of our Lord.

One will notice that in a conventional genealogy we have such and ‘such begat’ or ‘the father of’…  In Matthews genealogy there is a twist and the reason there is a twist is that sometimes God works in unconventional ways. All these women have a story to tell, and they all faced some type of persecution in their lives. 

Tamar and Judah

Tamar was married to one of Judah’s sons and he died.  According to the law (levir practice) she was to have a surrogate husband.  She got a surrogate husband, but he wasted his seed on the ground so that she wouldn’t get pregnant.  God judged him and he died.  Judah decided that Tamar was not going to get the youngest son but lied to her… that when he grew up, he would perform by making her pregnant.  It didn’t happen. Judah lied to her.  So, one day she got dressed and pretended to be a prostitute so that she would ensnare Judah so that she could keep the line of her dead husband alive.  Judah fell into her temptation and Tamar took his seal and cord in waiting for his payment for sex.  Three months later she was found to be with child, and he was going to burn her to death. Tamar pulled out the cord and the seal and he admitted that he was at fault.   

Although it is against Leviticus to sleep with one’s father or sister-in-law.  The levir law is an exception and the law here is suspended so that it is not counted as incest:

“You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife, you shall not uncover her nakedness. 16 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness. Leviticus 18:15-16”

If Tamar who was a foreigner did not do this act, then the genealogy to David and then to Christ would have been broken.  Tamar was a very brave woman as she wanted her rights and by faith she fought for her rights before God and protected her husbands and her blood line to the next generation.  It is also very interesting what Rabbi Sacks says about Judah on this issue when he admitted he was in the wrong:

“This moment is a turning-point in history. Judah is the first person in the Torah explicitly to admit he was wrong.[5] We do not realise it yet, but this seems to be the moment at which he acquired the depth of character necessary for him to become the first real baal teshuvah. We see this years later, when he – the brother who proposed selling Joseph as a slave – becomes the man willing to spend the rest of his life in slavery so that his brother Benjamin can go free. (Gen. 44:33) I have argued elsewhere that it is from here that we learn the principle that a penitent stands higher than even a perfectly righteous individual. (Brachot 34b) [6] Judah the penitent becomes the ancestor of Israel’s Kings while Joseph the Righteous is only a viceroy, mishneh le-melech, second to the Pharaoh.

Thus far Judah. But the real hero of the story was Tamar. She had taken an immense risk by becoming pregnant. Indeed she was almost killed for it. She had done so for a noble reason: to ensure that the name of her late husband was perpetuated. But she took no less care to avoid Judah being put to shame. Only he and she knew what had happened. Judah could acknowledge his error without loss of face. It was from this episode that the Sages derived the rule articulated by Rabbi Rabinovitch that morning in Switzerland: it is better to risk being thrown into a fiery furnace than to shame someone else in public.” From

(I also used

Rahab and Salmon

Rahab was another foreign woman in King David’s and Jesus’ genealogy and originally she was a prostitute.  Yet she had respect for the God of Israel and protected the spies.  God protected Rahab and she married some Jewish general and became a citizen of Israel.  The following is about the promise to Rahab:

“Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall, so that she was living on the wall. 16 She said to them, “Go to the hill country, so that the pursuers will not happen upon you, and hide yourselves there for three days until the pursuers return. Then afterward you may go on your way.” 17 The men said to her, “We shall be free from this oath to you which you have made us swear, 18 unless, when we come into the land, you tie this cord of scarlet thread in the window through which you let us down, and gather to yourself into the house your father and your mother and your brothers and all your father’s household. 19 It shall come about that anyone who goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be free; but anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him. 20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be free from the oath which you have made us swear.” 21 She said, “According to your words, so be it.” So she sent them away, and they departed; and she tied the scarlet cord in the window.” Joshua 2:15-21

Then later in Joshua it says:

“25 However, Rahab the harlot and her father’s household and all she had, Joshua spared; and she has lived in the midst of Israel to this day, for she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho. Joshua 6:25”. 

Then in Matthew’s genealogy we have:

“Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Matthew 1:5”

The function of Rahab in the story according to Tikva Frymer-Kensky:

“Rahab has a special function in the biblical narratives of Israel’s existence in the land. When uncovering the men, she explains that she knows that God will give Israel the land (2:8). She has heard about the events of the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea) and the defeat of the Amorite kings Og and Sihon, and she declares (quoting from the Song of Miriam in Exodus 15; see v. 11) that “dread” has fallen on the inhabitants and that they all “fear” Israel (2:9). This is the message that the men bring back to Joshua. Rahab is thus the oracle, or prophet, of Israel’s occupation of the land.” Taken from

So, Rahab was a Canaanite and a prostitute which is a double whammy as far as social niceties go but because of her faith and by God’s grace she became an ancestor of Kings and princes.

Ruth and Boaz

Naomi was married to Elimelech, and they had two sons.  One of the sons was married to Ruth the Moabitess. Unfortunately, there was a famine and Naomi’s Husband and two sons also died.  She was left with nothing. She decides to go back to Israel, and she encouraged the daughters to go to their lands.  Ruth refused as the God of Israel was also her God.  This was a dire situation, and the situation was similar to Tamar and Elimelech’s family genealogical line was about to be cut off.  God intervened for Naomi and Ruth and the Davidic genealogical line was not cut off.

“Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the LORD had visited His people in giving them food. 7 So she departed from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 May the LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, but we will surely return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Return, my daughters. Why should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait until they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters; for it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the LORD has gone forth against me.” Ruth 1:6-13”

There was only one way for the line not to be cut off and that was that Naomi through her foreign daughter in law could be her surrogate and so it happened, and Boaz married and had children with Ruth.

Bathsheba and David

Bathsheba is the first Jewish woman by blood we actually meet, and she was originally married to a Hittite (a foreigner).  She was a pawn in David’s hand to satisfy King David’s lust.  She got pregnant and David tried to cover it up by getting Uriah to lie with his wife.  Uriah was too honourable so David sent him to the front line where he got killed.  David then took Bathsheba to be his wife. Judgement fell on David and the baby died.  Nathan the prophet confronted David about this and David’s repentance is found in Psalm 51:

“1 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;

According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity

And cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,

And my sin is ever before me.

4 Against You, you only, I have sinned

And done what is evil in Your sight,

So that You are justified when You speak

And blameless when You judge. Psalms 51:1-4”

According to some Rabbinic writings Bathsheba was destined for David but he went about it the wrong way.  Bathsheba along with Nathan played an important role in setting up Solomon for kingship and hence the first Temple to be built for the God of Israel.  Even after David died there were those in court that tried to use Bathsheba for the usurpation of king Solomon’s position to someone else.

Mary (The mother of our Lord) and Joseph the stepfather of Jesus

Mary freely chose to be the receptacle for God taking on humanity through Christ.  Because of her obedience God’s salvation for the world became possible.  It is well worth quoting her song the Magnificat:

46 And Mary said:

“My soul exalts the Lord,

47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;

For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.

49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me;

And holy is His name.



51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm;

He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.

52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones,

And has exalted those who were humble.


And sent away the rich empty-handed.

54 “He has given help to Israel His servant,

In remembrance of His mercy,

55 As He spoke to our fathers,

To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home. Luke 1:46-56

Mary was devoted to her God and our God.  She conceived as a virgin and King Herod attempted to kill her child.  She had to flee with Joseph to Egypt.  They only came back to Judah when Herod the Great was dead. In Islam she is also very important and there is even a chapter named after her ‘Meryem’.  In the Quran Mary faced persecution by some in the Jewish community for this miraculous birth:

“Later, after Jesus’ birth, Mary brought him to the temple. All of the men in the temple mocked her, except Zechariah, who believed in the virgin birth. The Israelites demanded to know how she could possibly have had a baby without a man, whereupon the Virgin Mary responded by pointing to Jesus who then spoke his first prophecy.” (Taken from

Reflection on these women of great faith

God cares for the unwanted of society as an example in Isaiah it says:

“Learn to do good;

Seek justice,

Reprove the ruthless,

Defend the orphan,

Plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:17


All the cards were stacked up against these women of faith.  They were helpless and society can at times have a blind eye towards the weak and helpless.  In this genealogy women were especially mentioned as they played a seriously important part for the coming of the Messiah into this sinful world.  It is also very important that in the background of the ministry of Jesus, the backbone that held Jesus’ ministry together was in fact women. This is not a man’s world; it is God’s world and women are just as important as men.  The majority of those in power in history have tended to be mainly men although there are exceptions such as Cleopatra and the Late Queen Elizabeth the Second.  The world is in a mess as we face lots of challenges.  Jesus cared for women that society cast aside, he cared for children, he cared for the sick and he cared for the foreigners (Romans and Samaritans as he taught against racism).  In fact, in Jesus’ life and works (his incarnation) we see a blueprint for an inclusive society. As jesus cared for the weak and vulnerable in society so we too should care for those less able than ourselves, this to me is also an extension of the Christmas story.  As Jesus reminds us later in his sermons that we ought to love God and our neighbour.  Our neighbour is ‘anyone.’


The image of Mary I am using has been taken from:,_mother_of_Jesus

I am using it according to the creative commons law.)

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