There’s a wonderful little moment in the telephone directory that forms the bulk of Matthew 1. It’s in v5 and 6: “ Salmon was the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.”
Did you see it? All that passion and adventure retold in a few dry words. What an obituary!
Now Matthew had a job to do in his first chapter. He was laying out the proof that Jesus was of royal descent, that he was truly the “son of David ” and rightful “king of Israel,” the promised “messiah” of the “seed of Abraham.” So he puts down 42 names indicating a genealogy that runs clear back to David, the line of kings, and then further back to Abraham, the line of covenant faith. It’s as if he’s saying “God’s directive hand of blessing was on this family from day one. A true-blue heir of the covenant, Israelite to the core.”
But here in v5 comes a little glimpse that all is not as it first seems. Rahab? Ruth? If this is the Israel-story, what are they doing here? Rahab was a prostitute working in Jericho (Joshua 2) who met up with the people of Israel through a couple of soldiers sent to spy out the city prior to conquest. At considerable personal risk, she threw in her lot with them, helped them, and consequently became part of the covenant family. Her very presence in this family tree shows what a significant member she became.
And Ruth was a Moabite widow, a foreigner, an outsider, whose family circumstances and personal sense of love and loyalty led her to throw in her lot with her late husband’s mother, moving into Israelite territory, and eventually marrying Boaz, Rahab’s son!
So Rahab became her mother-in-law.
And she gave birth to Obed, who fathered Jesse, who, in time, fathered David.
The point that Matthew seemed to be making was about racial purity, the Jewishness of Jesus, the exclusivity of the line of kings and covenant people. Paul made the same point when he described himself (in Philippians 3:5) as “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee, as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.…”
He acknowledge d these attributes (probably much as Rahab and Ruth did!) as significant social markers, the outward signs of a mover and shaker, a man to be reckoned with.
But then he goes on: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”
The social markers are just so much garbage. They’re irrelevant. Racial purity or family heritage is irrelevant. The real point is faith.
And that’s why Rahab and her daughter-in-law are here on the family tree. They gained entrance through faith. Rahab had faith in those soldiers that they were going to succeed and she trusted them for her deliverance. Ruth planted her love and trust – her faith – on to Naomi, and then took Boaz as her husband and his family as her own.
And through their faith the line of David was born.
It’s such a little thing when you first put up your hand and say “Yes, I want to make Jesus the Lord of my life” (or whatever terminology comes your way). Such a tiny moment. But it changes everything.
It’s like standing at an underground station and deciding to step on to the train (while those doors swish towards you). You commit yourself to a journey and God only knows where he’s going to take you!
Moments of grace.
God has a place for you, and a plan, and a purpose. “ For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer 29:11). That’s what Rahab and Ruth discovered.
I wonder what God has planned for you.