Women in the Line of Christ: Bathsheba

Bathsheba is named in the line of Christ, not by name, but by her relationships, “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife” (Matthew 1:6). Here we get a clue about the story of Bathsheba. She had been Uriah’s wife, but she became the mother of Solomon by David, the king of Israel, who was not her husband.

To tell this story, we need to start with Uriah. Uriah had known David before he was king. Uriah was one of David’s “thirty mighty men” (see 2 Samuel 23:39 and 1 Chronicles 11:41). These men helped David become king and they were his most loyal warriors. Uriah had been with David since he was a young man he fighting in the desert and living in caves.

When our story begins, Uriah is away fighting battles for King David. Scripture tells us, “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army . . . but David remained in Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 11:1). The author shines a spotlight on the fact that this is the time when kings go off to war, but David stayed home. This ought to send off warning bells. David’s place was with his army, but he stayed home.

Instead, David paced the flat roof of his palace in the evening. Looking down, he noticed a woman bathing. Bathsheba was bathing in her private, enclosed courtyard. She was going about her business, but David was in a position to see. And he liked what he saw. From his height on the palace roof, he turned the wife of his friend into an object for his own pleasure. David sent someone to find out who she was, they reported back that she was Bathsheba, “the wife of Uriah the Hittite” (2 Samuel 11:3).

David knew who she was when he sent for her. Sometimes when this story is told, Bathsheba is described as a seductress, or an adulteress, because she came when David sent messengers to get her. But I don’t think this is true at all. Remember, her husband was away fighting a war, and the king’s messengers came to her house. I imagine she expected to hear news about her husband. Her husband was an old friend of the king, one of his most loyal leaders, I don’t think she had any idea what was coming next.

The Bible tells us, “she came to him, and he slept with her” (2 Samuel 11:4). That’s not a lot of information. This was not consensual sex. David raped Bathsheba. He was the king. He sent messengers to bring her to his palace. Her husband was gone. She found herself alone in a room with the king who fully intended to have sex with her.

This story is told in Scripture to tell us something about King David, it isn’t meant to tell us Bathsheba’s point of view, so we have to try to understand her context. We are only given her facts: David sent messengers to get her, he slept with her, she went back home, she conceived and sent word to David that she was pregnant.

David tried to cover up his sin. He sent for Uriah to come home on leave. David encouraged Uriah to go home and spend time with his wife, but Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with the king’s servants instead. David questioned him: why wouldn’t he go home and enjoy some time with his wife? Uriah answered that the king’s men were sleeping in tents, how could he go home and leisurely make love to his wife? He would not do such a thing while his king was still on the throne! David was getting frantic, he got Uriah drunk, but still Uriah would not leave the palace.

David sent Uriah back to the war with a message for his commander: put Uriah in the fiercest part of the fighting and then leave him unprotected. David ordered Uriah’s death. Bathsheba mourned her husband’s death. Then David brought her to his house and made her his wife and she gave birth to his son.

David would not go unpunished. Nathan, a prophet of the Lord, confronted David and told him that Bathsheba’s son would die. This baby, conceived by David while Bathsheba was still married to Uriah, would bear the brunt of David’s sin. Let’s review the situation from Bathsheba’s point of view: She was a woman of honor married to one of the king’s closest friends. She was raped by her king. She became pregnant. Her king ordered her husband’s death. Now she was married to the king and her child had died.

“David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her. She gave birth to a son and they named him Solomon” (2 Samuel 12:24). Solomon would become Israel’s next king, and his name, alone with David’s is listed in the line of Christ, along with his mother, who had been Uriah’s wife.

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Women in the Line of Christ: Ruth

Ruth is another outsider who finds herself named in the line of Christ. There were several things that made Ruth an outsider: She was a Moabite, she was a widow, she was childless, and she was poor. But just like the other women named in the line of Christ, Ruth was remarkable. She showed tremendous courage in the face of fear, and she had tremendous faith in God despite her circumstances.

I could talk about Ruth for days.

But let’s begin on a dusty road that led away from Moab and back to Israel. Ruth was following her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel. A lot had changed since Naomi had left Israel. She had left Israel as a wife and a mother of two sons. They moved to Moab in search of a better life. But then her husband had died. Her sons married two Moabite women and she was hopeful that soon she would have grandchildren, but ten years passed and there were no babies, and then her sons died. Everything fell apart. Now she was living in a foreign land with two foreign daughters-in-law. Things had changed. She decided to go home. Ruth decided to go with her.

Ruth was leaving behind everything she had ever known, to travel to a new land with a different culture and religion. Along the way, Naomi tried to talk her out of it, “Go back” she said (Ruth 1:8). Naomi knew that she had nothing to offer Ruth except a life of poverty, but Ruth persisted:

Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you from me. (Ruth 1:16-17)

This was Ruth’s statement of faith. Ruth claimed the God of Naomi as her own God.

Ruth went with Naomi to Bethlehem (yes, that Bethlehem). When they arrived, the barley harvest was just beginning. Ruth offered to go to the fields to pick up the leftovers that fell to the ground. Ruth took it upon herself to provide a living for Naomi. It just so happened, that Ruth found herself in a field owned by Boaz.

Boaz was a well-known landowner in Bethlehem. He was an upstanding citizen, known for doing what is right. He took notice of Ruth, this foreigner who had lately arrived with her mother-in-law that had nothing left to offer. He had heard about Ruth. He knew that she had given up all she had in order to care for Naomi.

I’ve been told all about what you have done for you mother-in-law since the death of your husband. (Ruth 2:11)

Boaz had heard about Ruth, and he recognized something about the choices she had made. They were the same sort of choices he made all the time: choices made to benefit others at his own expense. Boaz sent her home with about thirty pounds of grain on that first day.

Naomi was concerned about providing long-term care for Ruth. Naomi came up with a daring plan: She asked Ruth to appeal to Boaz to be her kinsman redeemer. A kinsman redeemer was a family member that was responsible for providing for the needy members of the extended family. A kinsman redeemer could redeem land sold by outside of the family or even provide an heir for a family member who had died.

Naomi may have been thinking of the first provision, but Ruth takes things further. Ruth asked Boaz to, “spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family” (Ruth 3:9). Ruth proposed marriage to Boaz.

Here, I think it is interesting to point out that Boaz was the son of Rahab. Rahab was a foreign woman who married into the family of Israel. Now a foreign woman was asking Boaz to marry her and to bring her into the family of Israel in the hopes that she could produce an heir for mother-in-law’s family line. But also keep in mind that Ruth had already been married for ten years and had been unable to have a child. This is such a long shot. But Boaz recognizes all of this as a great kindness on the part of Ruth to Naomi, to her family, and as an act of hope in the God of Israel.

So Boaz also acts in faith. He agrees to marry Ruth, to take on the debt of Naomi’s dead husband, to buy back his land, and to (hopefully) produce an heir for the family line. The elders of the town pronounce a blessing on their marriage, “Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah” (Ruth 4:12). The blessing echoes another example of the use of a kinsman redeemer that produced an heir for the family of Judah.

Boaz and Ruth had a son. They named him Obed and he became Naomi’s heir. At the end of the book of Ruth there is a genealogy. This listing traces the family line from Perez (the son of Judah and Tamar) through Boaz and Obed down to King David. The Gospel of Matthew will fill in the rest of the line from David to Jesus. In Matthew 1:5, Ruth is named as the mother of Obed. She takes her place in the line of Christ.

Women in the Line of Christ: Rahab

Rahab was a prostitute. She appears in Scripture at a turning point in the history of the nation of Israel. The generation of wanderers had arrived at the doorstep of the Promised Land. Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, sent two spies to look over the land of Jericho. You can read the entire story in Joshua 2.

Once the spies arrived in the city of Jericho, we are told, they entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab. The king of Jericho sent word that she should give up the spies, but she lied and said that they had already left her home. Instead, she hid the spies on her roof under some stalks of flax.

Then things get interesting. Rahab went up to the roof and had a conversation with the spies. Listen, she said, “I know that the Lord has given you this land” (Joshua 2:8). We have heard stories about your God, and I know that your God is the true God of heaven and of earth. This was her statement of faith. She believed that God would give the land of her people to the Israelites. It was only a matter of time.

She asked that the spies take an oath before God to spare the lives of her family when they took the city of Jericho, and they agreed. She promised to help them live, and she asked that they would return the favor. She tied a red rope in the window and let the spies escape down the side of the city wall. They told her to keep the rope there as a marker to protect her family when they came to destroy the city.

Rahab played an important role in helping the Israelites take the city of Jericho. She was called righteous for her actions: “In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?” (James 2:25).

Rahab married into the family of Israel. Her husband was a descendant of Judah and she became the mother of Boaz. Boaz would grow up to become the husband of Ruth (whose story we will look at next time). Rahab the prostitute is named in the line of Christ in Matthew 1:5.

 

Women in the Line of Christ: Tamar

Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I.” (Genesis 38:26)

Tamar appears for the first time in Genesis 38. She was a Canaanite woman who was given in marriage to the oldest son of Judah (Judah was one of the twelve sons of Israel). Tamar’s husband, we are told, “was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death” (Genesis 38:6). Within a few verses of meeting Tamar, she is a widow in the family of Israel.

Tamar’s father-in-law, Judah, followed the law by commanding his second son to marry Tamar so that she could produce a son to take her dead husband’s place in the family.

Here it’s important to know a bit about the complicated inheritance law that operated during this time period. Tamar’s first husband was the firstborn son of Judah. As the firstborn, he was promised a double portion of his father’s estate. Judah’s second and third son would inherit a quarter of Judah’s total holdings. But when Tamar’s husband died, the second and third son saw an immediate increase in their inheritance: son number two now will inherit two-thirds of his father’s estate and son number three will get a third. When Judah ordered son number two to marry Tamar in order to produce a son to take the place of her dead husband, he was ordered to defeat his own self interests. If he was successful in producing a son, that newborn would suddenly go back to inheriting half of Judah’s estate and son number two would only get a quarter.

Son number two, did not like those odds. So he refused to impregnate Tamar (you can read Genesis 38:8-10 for the specifics on this). His actions were wicked in God’s sight, “so the Lord put him to death also” (Genesis 38:10). In a few verses, Judah has lost two sons and Tamar has been widowed twice, and she has no sons to carry on the family name.

Judah is getting worried. Why do his sons keep dying? Perhaps Tamar is the problem? He sent her away, back to her family’s home: in this culture, this is a serious walk of shame. Judah made a lame excuse that he would call for her when his third son became old enough for marriage. But time passed and the call never came. She was abandoned by the family of her husband. She is damaged goods. No one will want her now. She is destined for a lifetime of shame, and probably also a lifetime of poverty.

“After a long time” we are told, Judah’s own wife died. Tamar found out that her widowed father-in-law was traveling to oversee the shearing of his sheep. It was harvest season for Judah. He was in a good mood.

Tamar took action: she removed her widow’s clothes and got dressed up. She disguised herself with a veil and sat by the side of the road where she knew Judah would see her. Judah took for a prostitute and he propositioned her. He had no idea who she was. She requested a pledge for his payment. He offered his personal seal with its cord and his staff: essentially his driver’s license and his credit card. He slept with her and she became pregnant. He left and she went back to being a widow.

Several months passed and Judah heard that his widowed daughter-in-law was pregnant. He was furious. Judah ordered her execution. As she was being brought out to be burned to death, she sent a message to her father-in-law along with some show-and-tell items.

“I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”

Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I.” (Genesis 38:25-26)

Tamar would give birth to twin boys: Perez and Zerah. These baby boys took the place of Judah’s two dead sons. Perez would go on to lead the clan of Judah and to become the ancestor of King David, and ultimately the ancestor of Jesus.

Which is why Tamar finds her name in the lineage of Jesus (Matthew 1:3). Tamar is the first of four women who are named in the line of Christ. It is rare to hear a sermon preached on Tamar. She was a woman of courage who took great risks in order to produce an heir for the line of Judah. She was, according to Judah, more righteous in her actions than he was in his.

Women in the Line of Christ: Introduction

Four women are named in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. These women were outsiders, they were women of courage, and they knew suffering. All of them were named in the lineage of the Messiah in the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel.

Their stories are radical and sometimes shocking. Why were their names included in this list of Jesus’ human ancestors? Craig Blomberg writes, “The only factor that clearly applies to all four is that suspicions of illegitimacy surrounded their sexual activity and childbearing” (Craig Blomberg, The New American Commentary: Matthew, p. 55-56). All of these women were viewed with suspicion, and yet Matthew highlights their names and their connection with the Messiah.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, also knew what it was like to bear a child under suspicion of illegitimacy. She is named in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus as the wife of Joseph and the “mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah” (Matthew 1:16). Mary must have known the stories of the four women in her family’s line. These were all incredibly strong and courageous women. Women who took risks for the sake of righteousness: even when they faced the real possibility of being misunderstood. Most of them had their motives misread.

The verbs used to describe the life of Jesus in the Apostles’ Creed are direct and to the point: conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, and was buried. Some scholars have pointed out that the creed sums up Jesus’ life in one word: suffered. If you think about the glories of heaven Jesus left in order to come, walk this earth, and then die for the creatures he created: suffering seems like an apt description.

When the baby Jesus was circumcised, a man named Simeon prophesied to Mary, “A sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35). Mary was holding her newborn son, and she was being told that she would suffer too. Her firstborn child would suffer, and her soul would also be pierced.

What do these women have to teach us about Jesus? What did Mary have to learn from them as she prepared to bring the Messiah, the miracle of the Incarnation, into the world? What risks would she take for the sake of righteousness? This Advent season, what can we learn from these women as we prepare again to celebrate the birth of Christ in our hearts?

 

 

 

 

 

#MeToo – The Bible Version

There are plenty of women in the pages of the Bible that could give us their own #MeToo hashtag:

#MeToo When my boss made me sleep with her husband so I could be their surrogate mother. After I had the baby she tried to fire me and get rid of me (Genesis 16 and 21).

#MeToo That time when my husband pretended I was his sister so the king wouldn’t kill him and I was taken into the king’s harem (Genesis 20).

#MeToo My husband the king threw a huge party for his buddies that lasted seven days. When they were all good and drunk he sent for me so he could flaunt me in front of his friends. I said no–and was banished (Esther 1).

These women all lived in a time and place where patriarchy was the norm. They were treated like property. Disobedience could get them killed, but obedience could also have some fairly damaging results.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the story of Esther. The story opens in Persia with Queen Vashti losing her title and her role, because she refused to be the sole contestant in a beauty pageant for the pleasure of her husband’s drunken friends. “Later,” the Bible tells us, “when the anger of King Xerxes had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her” (Esther 2:1).

After Vashti’s disobedience, Xerxes had issued a decree that: “Every man should be the ruler over his own household” (Esther 1:22). This part always strikes me as ironic, his wife defied him, so he issues a decree that no wife should defy her husband in a time and place where patriarchy was already in full force. Every woman should be controlled by a man–even though his own wife had told him no. It was to protect her own honor, and possibly for her own safety, but nonetheless, she had told the most powerful man in the land: No.

The king’s personal attendants come up with a suggestion: “Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. . . . Then let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti” (Esther 2: 2, 4). The king thought this was a brilliant idea.

Esther won the beauty contest and became Vashti’s successor as Xerxes’ queen. She was young, an orphan, and she belonged to an ethnic minority that had been taken captive by the Persians. Her guardian, Mordecai, told her to keep her ethnicity a secret for her own protection. She became the queen of the court and all of its intrigue. At this point in the story, we come face to face with a foul villain: Haman.

Haman is a member of the court who is hungry for power, he is a racist, and he is ruthless. Haman waited for the right moment and then he came to the king with a request: “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them” (Esther 3:8-9).

When Queen Esther learns that her people are being targeted for genocide, she is torn between two terrible choices: to say nothing and watch her people die, or to confront the king and face death herself. Mordecai sent Esther a message,

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house that you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 413-14).

Esther chose to risk her life and to take actions that put her in direct opposition to the king’s post-Vashti edict: “Every man should be the ruler of his own household.” She planned to confront the king.

Esther prepared to meet the king. She prepared a meal for the king and for Haman and when she served them she told the king that she belonged to the ethnic group that was facing genocide, and she told the king that Haman was to blame. The king got up to think about it and when he returned he saw Haman “falling on the couch where Esther was reclining. The king exclaimed, ‘Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?'” (Esther 7:8). Haman was hanged and the Jewish people were able to defend themselves against their enemies.

This is a complicated story for many reasons: Esther was a child bride offered up to a fickle king. But what stands out to me is Esther’s courage despite the dangers of the patriarchal system in which she found herself.

Can We Talk About This? (Part Two)

If we are going to talk about the marginalization of women in the church, I think we need to take a look at what the Bible has to say about women. In my last post, we looked a bit at what church history has told us (news flash: It’s not very nice), but what about Scripture?

In the beginning, God created men and women together in his image. Both men and women were given the cultural mandate:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 

     So God created mankind in his own image,

     in the image of God he created them;

     male and female he created them. 

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:26-30)

Men and women were created together in God’s image and they were given a joint purpose to accomplish. God created woman because, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). God decided to make a helper suitable for Adam. At this point, it is helpful to note that the word used here for helper is ezer. Ezer is a word used in many places in Scripture, most often as a term God uses for himself to describe the sort of support he provides for his people. God is an ezer. Most of these references have military overtones. God is our very strong ally who comes to our aid. This is the term God chose to use when explaining the need to create the woman.

Yes, there are several instances in Scripture of women being treated badly. The Bible is describing human culture that has been corrupted by sin–not condoning it. Jesus in the Gospels give us the very best template of how God views women: Jesus used women as positive examples in his stories (very uncommon for Rabbis of his day), Jesus had women who served and learned among his group of disciples (this was a radical departure for his time), Jesus had women serve as his witnesses (the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 or the women at the resurrection–all four gospels note the women’s presence at the tomb).

Many books have been written that carefully document the treatment of women in Scripture. Yes, Paul has some difficult passages in his letters that appear to question women in Christian leadership. But we should examine these statements in the light of the whole arc of Scripture. Is it possible that Paul was addressing specific concerns?

John Stackhouse in his book, Partners in Christ, makes the case that Paul’s concern was that the gospel go forward. God was willing to make cultural adaptations so that the gospel message would continue to have an impact:

When society was patriarchal, as it was in the New Testament context and as it has been everywhere in the world except in modern society in our day, the church avoided scandal by going along with it–fundamentally evil as patriarchy was and is. Now, however, that modern society is at least officially egalitarian, the scandal is that the church is NOT going along with society, not rejoicing in the unprecedented freedom to let women and men serve according to gift and call without an arbitrary gender line. This scandal impedes both the evangelism of others and the edification–the retention and development of faith–of those already converted. (John J. Stackhouse Jr., Partners in Christ)

I believe Stackhouse raises an important question: If God tolerated patriarchy for a season in order that the gospel go forward, now that patriarchy is no longer a normalized part of modern society is it time that the church deconstruct patriarchy for the good of the gospel?

I have barely scratched the surface on this topic. For those who are interested in reading more I would recommend Stackhouse’s book or just about anything written by Carolyn Custis James–maybe start with Half the Church.