“Most readers of Matthew’s Gospel take one look at that first page full of ‘begats’ and impossible-to-pronounce names and quickly turn the page.” So begins Julie Smith’s thoughtful essay “Why These Women in Jesus’s Genealogy?”, which is available free of charge in the Segullah journal (2008) and is reprinted in her book Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels. “But,” Smith continues, “Matthew was a deliberate writer.” She goes on to highlight that among more than 25 men in Jesus’s line, Matthew includes just four women (plus Mary), and they aren’t the matriarchs, as one might have expected (such as Abraham’s wife Sarah or Isaac’s wife Rebekah). Rather, the women she includes are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Smith goes on to reflect on why Matthew may have included each of these women who were outside of the social mainstream in at least some way. Smith poses a range of hypotheses; readers can, of course, decide for themselves.
I strongly recommend reading the (short, accessible) article yourself. But I’ll share two passages that I marked with exclamation points in my hard copy.
“These women are, as Jesus is, intercessors: Tamar enables Judah’s line to continue; Rahab brings her family into the house of Israel; Ruth brings the Moabites into David’s line; and Bathsheba brings her son Solomon to the throne.”
And one more:
“Modern readers generally do this Gospel an injustice by skimming over the genealogy as if it were just a collection of facts. The Gospels were written by talented writers with limited space, acting under the inspiration of the Spirit. This is particularly true for Matthew, where the genealogy gets pride of place as the introduction to the story of Jesus… Matthew thought women—and not just any women, but women with unusual, out-of-the-ordinary lives—were worth including and their stories worth thinking about.”
I can’t recommend Julie’s commentary in the BYU New Testament Commentary series, According to Mark, highly enough. I’m constantly referring to it. Search, Ponder and Pray is another high recommendation.