Christmas Family Drama
Have you ever tried to define what family is? Its one of those words we use often but we each have a different way of interpreting it. I struggled with defining it on my own so I decided to look it up.
According to Merriam-Webster.com family is
(Entry 1 of 2)
1a : the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children also : any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family a single-parent family
b : spouse and children want to spend more time with my family
2 : a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head : household
b : a people or group of peoples regarded as deriving from a common stock : race
b : the staff of a high official (such as the President)
5 : a group of things related by common characteristics: such as
a : a closely related series of elements or chemical compounds
b : a group of soils with similar chemical and physical properties (such as texture, pH, and mineral content) that comprise a category ranking above the series and below the subgroup in soil classification
c : a group of related languages descended from a single ancestral language
6a : a group of related plants or animals forming a category ranking above a genus and below an order and usually comprising several to many genera
b in livestock breeding
(1) : the descendants or line of a particular individual especially of some outstanding female
(2) : an identifiable strain within a breed
7 : a set of curves or surfaces whose equations differ only in parameters
8 : a unit of a crime syndicate (such as the Mafia) operating within a geographical area
Good job Merriam-Webster! You were much more thorough than I would have been. But even though Merriam-Webster give us 8 different definitions, there are many more, just look it up online.
I know that these challenges with defining family can lead to some drama. For example, we will have a small wedding, we will only invite family members, or we will spend the holidays with family. Who gets included? Who will be excluded? How will that go over?
Maybe you have a perfectly balanced family and never have to struggle with this, or maybe you’re from a different country and you have a solution to these types of situations. I know plenty of people that dread the holidays because of their relationship with their “family.” Maybe you feel bad talking about it, perhaps you feel like everyone else has perfectly happy families, and you’re the only one walking on eggshells afraid of offending someone or setting someone off.
Maybe you wonder about peace on earth, and how the holidays are supposed to bring people together. But you’re not the first one to have family issues, and you’re not the last one. I always find comfort when I read a Bible story that helps guide me through challenging situations, and the first chapter of Matthew has some great ones!
Matthew chapter 1
Matthew begins with something many just skip right over, a genealogy. Matthew begins that way because it is important to establish Jesus as a direct descendant of Abraham and David in order for his Jewish audience to accept Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3:23-38) traces Jesus’ ancestry all the way back to Adam making Jesus the universal Savior. Though in modern days where you came from seems to matter less, at least in some parts of the world, in the time of Jesus it made all the difference. Jesus’ lineage was part of His claim to legitimacy so it would make sense to highlight all the great men in his family line all the people that would be admired by others.
The Genealogy of Jesus Christ
1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:
2 Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram.
Matthew 1:1-3 NKJV (bold mine)
If I was writing the genealogy of Jesus, in an effort to convince Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, I would have tried to make it as impressive as possible. Don’t politicians do that? Don’t they try to cover up any potentially embarrassing part of their past? Why would Matthew include a woman, which was unusual, but to make things more surprising, why would he choose to include Tamar?
The story of Tamar can be found in Genesis 38:1-30. I want to one day do a whole post just on Genesis 38, it is a fascinating chapter, especially in its context (literary and historical). But for now, I will only hit some of the key points of the story of Tamar.
Judah moves away from the main compound of Jacob, marries a Canaanite woman, and becomes the friend of a Canaanite leader.
Tamar is the Canaanite wife of Judah’s oldest son Er. (Canaanite = outside God’s special blessings promised to Abraham and his descendants)
Er is so wicked in the sight of the LORD that the LORD kills him. (Genesis 38:7)
Onan is Er’s younger brother and he now has the responsibility of marrying his brother’s wife and raising an heir to his brother. Onan refused to raise an heir for his brother and the LORD killed him also. (Genesis 38:8-10)
Judah then sends Tamar back to her father’s house as a widow to wait until his youngest son is grown. (verse 11)
If the story was not odd enough, it gets worse.
Tamar covers herself and sat by the road. Judah sees her and thinks she’s a harlot and gets her pregnant. She holds on to the equivalent of his ID until he sends payment. (verses12-19)
Soon after, Judah sends a servant to pay the harlot and his servant is unable to find her. (verses 20-23)
Three months later Judah hears that Tamar is pregnant. Judah wants to literally burn her when she shows him his ID saying that the man who owned it is responsible for getting her pregnant. (verses 24-25)
From that pregnancy she gave birth to twins Perez and Zerah as mentioned in Matthew 1:3.
I imagine you have many questions about Genesis 38, it is a fascinating story, but that will have to wait until it gets its own post.
Why would Matthew bring up the story of Tamar? Imagine if that was your family, would you talk about the past?
4 Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. 5 Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, 6 and Jesse begot David the king.
David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah.
Matthew 1:4-6 NKJV (bold mine)
Matthew continues his genealogy and things seem normal for a while until he mentions Rahab. To learn more about Rahab we need to read Joshua 2,6.
Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.”
So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there.
Joshua 2:1 NKJV (bold mine)
Yep. Rahab the harlot. Rahab lived int he city of Jericho, she was part of a community that God had ordered Israel to completely wipe out. So it ought to make you wonder how a prostitute, from a wicked city, who was not part of God’s chosen people (she was not born a Jew), finds herself in the genealogy of the Messiah!?
A brief overview of who Rahab was:
Rahab was a harlot who lived in a house in the wall Jericho. She knew that God had given the city to the Israelites and she lied to save the lives of the spies from Israel who were staying at her house. The day that Israel attacked Jericho Rahab and her family were the only ones who were spared. (For more information read Joshua 2, 6)
5 Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse,
Matthew 1:5 NKJV (bold mine)
Ruth is a Moabitess who decides to follow her mother-in-law back to Israel and worship her God (the LORD).
and Jesse begot David the king.
David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah.
Matthew 1:6 NKJV (bold mine)
To learn more about Bathsheba we need to read 2 Samuel 11-12.
Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite. We don’t know what nationality she was. But David had Uriah killed and married Bathsheba.
This was the lowest point, morally speaking, of David’s life. Why would Matthew bring up Uriah’s wife? Why not just mention that David was the father of Solomon?
A less than perfect family
Matthew does not mention any other women besides these four, and Mary the mother of Jesus, at the very end. (Matthew 1:16)It is unusual to mention women in genealogies, and why would Matthew choose mention especially the women who don’t seem to belong?
Why mention the family members that people would rather forget?
Why bring up stories that make everyone feel uncomfortable?
Why would Matthew bring up these characters that remind us of how messy life can get?
Could it be to keep us from thinking that our life is too messy for Jesus to accept us?
Perhaps to remind us that Jesus was born into a chaotic world surrounded by messy people with less than perfect lives?
Jesus came to bring healing, harmony, peace, salvation to a world that desperately needs Him. We still need Him today. Out life is not too messy. Look at His earthly lineage!
An Inclusive Family
Keep in mind that Tamar was a Canaanite. Rahab the harlot lived in Jericho, a city doomed to destruction, full of enemies of Israel. Ruth was a Moabitess, and a widow. Bathsheba was the wife of a Hittite, who became pregnant by King David while she was still married to Uriah.
These women were mostly outsiders, yet they were not only included in God’s special people, but they also had the privilege of playing a role in the lineage that eventually led to the coming of Jesus, the Savior of the world.
The last woman mentioned by Matthew in the genealogy of Jesus is Mary, the mother of Jesus. But even that had some drama involved. t was so bad that Matthew tells us that Joseph had plans to divorce her. (Matthew 1:19) In those days, though the marriage was not fully consummated during the betrothal period, the betrothal couple was legally binding and could only be dissolved by a certificate of divorce.
Joseph could have had Mary stoned (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), but he was kind and preferred to get a private divorce. When Mary agreed to be the mother of Jesus she literally put her life on the line. (Luke 1:26-38) A careful reading of Luke 2:5 reveals that when Mary and Joseph made their trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem they were still not married. There is a possibility that Joseph had intended to divorce Mary in Bethlehem so that she would not be ostracized by her community. At least in Bethlehem no one knew her, as opposed to the place where she grew up and was well known.
The timeline is tight in Luke 2. There is a possibility that when Jesus was born Mary was betrothed to Joseph but not yet married. Even nowadays, when someone has a child out of wedlock, people talk, imagine back then, in small communities where everyone likely knew everyone else.
Besides the humbling place where Jesus was born, He was also born in a less than ideal social setting. There was drama. That first Christmas was not without drama. Jesus’ family was dysfunctional, when you look at His genealogy you see people mentioned that don’t seem to belong. But Jesus intentionally came into a messy world to bring harmony, peace, and salvation to all of us and our messy lives.