“Women in the Lineage of Christ” by Karen Smith is a favorite print of mine. It pictures Eve along with the five women in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1:1-16). These women stand robed in white, side by side, each with a reminder of her own story. Eve carries a piece of fruit. Tamar stands with Judah’s staff. Rahab wears her scarlet cord. Ruth holds a barley sheave. Bathsheba wears a crown. Mary cradles our Lord. These women and their stories fascinate, instruct, and inspire me.
Each faced circumstances no woman would choose. None sought a place of greatness or fame. Each played a crucial role in continuing the line of the promised son of God, some even when circumstances threatened them. None (save Eve and Mary) knew their significance in God's grand plan of redemption. Together, they model the greatest vocation to which any of us could aspire: Believing God’s promises, they walked in covenant faithfulness.
Eve, our mother in the faith, may be the most underappreciated woman in history. She is often portrayed solely as a figure of shame. It's true; she trespassed God's command, a shameful act, but that is not how we should remember her. The Lord promised that her offspring would crush the serpent’s head. After giving birth to Cain, Eve said, “I have had a male child with the Lord’s help” (Gen 4:1). Eve believed the Lord gave her a son — that is, she trusted God was keeping his promise.
Eve’s faith faced challenges. Her firstborn murdered her second son and then walked away from the Lord. Neither could be the promised son. Was the Lord keeping his promises? Eve answered that doubt with a resounding yes. After giving birth to Seth, she said, “God has given me another offspring in place of Abel, since Cain killed him” (Gen 4:25). Through Seth’s descendants, “people began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen 4:26). Eve not only kept believing, but she passed her faith to the next generation. She believed God’s promise and walked in covenant faithfulness, as would the women who followed her.
Generations later, the Lord entered a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob’s son Judah was no model of faith and faithfulness. He chose a woman named Tamar to be the wife of his firstborn, who proved to be a wicked man and was killed by the Lord. Jewish custom called for an eligible brother to marry the widow and produce offspring for the deceased. Tamar's second husband proved to be as evil as the first and met the same end. Judah had one son left.
It became clear that Judah would not have his son marry Tamar. So, learning where Judah would be, and knowing what sort of man he was, Tamar formed a plan. She disguised herself as a prostitute, Judah slept with her, and she became pregnant. Before he left, she secured a few of his personal effects as collateral.
Three months later, Judah learned of Tamar’s pregnancy. Not knowing he was the father, Judah called for her to be burnt to death (along with the child in her womb). When Tamar produced evidence that Judah was the father, he declared, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah” (Gen 38:26). Tamar's “righteousness” referred to her devotion to her covenant obligation. Judah had forsaken the obligation to his deceased son. But Tamar acted in faithfulness, seeking a child to carry on her late husband’s name. Like Eve, Tamar demonstrated covenant faithfulness.
Centuries later, as Israel prepared to enter the promised land, Joshua sent two spies into Jericho to investigate the city. They stayed at the house of Rahab, a prostitute. Knowing the king was looking for the men, she hid them on her roof. In return, they spared her and her family, bringing them into the people of God.
Israel faced a test. Would they walk in faith, entering the land as God commanded? Or, would they disobey in unbelief? Rahab passed the test. She knew about the Lord’s redemption of Israel and his promise to give them the land. She believed it and confessed the Lord as the one true God. Rahab modeled faith and covenant faithfulness.
Sometime after Israel had taken the land and Joshua died, there was a famine. A man named Elimelech took his wife, Naomi, and two sons to the land of Moab. After he died, his sons married Moabite women — Orpah and Ruth. After ten years of marriage, those sons died.
Seeing no reason to remain in Moab, Naomi determined to return to Bethlehem. She encouraged her daughters-in-law to go back to their people and their gods. But Ruth would not hear of it. She swore an oath of faithfulness to Naomi, invoking the Lord’s wrath should she break it. At the center of the oath is this line: “Your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16). Ruth professed allegiance with and faith in the God of Israel. But words, as they say, are just words. Her actions would reveal their truthfulness.
Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Ruth risked her life to glean grain to feed her mother-in-law and herself. Her kindness modeled the covenant faithfulness to which the law called all of Israel. Where did this come from? The answer is in the mouth of Boaz, the owner of the field and Ruth's future husband.
When Boaz protected Ruth, she asked why he would show such care to a foreigner. Boaz then recounted her kindness to her mother-in-law and said, “May you receive a full reward from the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge” (Ruth 2:12). Ruth trusted the Lord, God of Israel, placing herself under his care. Her faith motivated a life of quiet covenant faithfulness.
Many generations later, Ruth's distant grandson became king of Israel. While David was a man after God's own heart, he was also prone to follow his corrupted heart. That is no more plain than in his treatment of Bathsheba and her husband.
David and Bathsheba appear as contrasting characters. David models covenant unfaithfulness. Instead of going out to war with his army, we find David remaining in Jerusalem, watching a woman bathe. This woman, Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, appears as a model of covenant faithfulness. Her bathing was no spa treatment. She followed the post-menstrual purification ritual prescribed in the law. That is, she was keeping covenant with the Lord.
Despite her marital status (and as the wife of an elite soldier), David sent messengers to get her. When she arrived, David slept with her. Soon after, David learned that Bathsheba was pregnant. Instead of repenting, David sought to hide his act of sexual abuse with deception. He brought Uriah home, hoping that he would sleep with his wife and believe the child to be his. Opposite David, Uriah was too virtuous to sleep with his wife while his soldiers slept in the field. Uriah's example did not provoke repentance in David. Instead, David doubled down on his plans to cover up the rape by murdering Uriah, after which he took Bathsheba as his wife.
The Bible does not attribute guilt to Bathsheba. The blame falls on David. Bathsheba, who we found engaged in covenant faithfulness, continues along that path. The Lord promised David that Solomon, his son by Bathsheba, would follow him on the throne (1 Chron 22:9). When Adonijah usurped the throne, she worked to see the Lord's covenant fulfilled (1 Kings 1).
Bathsheba believed God’s promise to David. By faith, she walked in covenant faithfulness through rape, bereavement, and betrayal. Fittingly, this honorable woman would live out her days enthroned at the right hand of the king, her son (1 Kings 2:19).
Mary epitomizes the faith and faithfulness of the preceding women. When Mary learned the Lord favored her and called her to be the mother of the Messiah, she replied, “I am the Lord's servant.” When Elizabeth recognized her as the mother of the Lord, Mary rejoiced in God, her Savior (Luke 1:26-56). Mary believed the word of the Lord, submitting in covenant faithfulness.
In many ways, the women in Matthew’s genealogy looked like and pointed to their common son, Jesus, the Messiah. Each woman would be linked to sexual shame despite being righteous. Though spotless, people considered Jesus a sinner who brought God's curse upon himself. Each woman looked ordinary, if not despicable, to outside observers. Jesus entered the world in a livestock pen and grew up in obscurity, looking nothing like what people expected in a king. No one suspected how God was using these women of faith, even as no one could grasp what God was doing through Jesus.
Jesus, of course, is greater than these women. They saved the line of the promised one; he saved them. They were righteous to an extent, but sinners still. Jesus was completely righteous, free from the stain of sin. They possessed a faith still prone to weakness. Jesus trusted his father, even to the point of death. They modeled a form of covenant faithfulness. Jesus was entirely faithful to the covenant, even to the point of crucifixion. They received undeserved places of honor. Jesus endured a curse he did not deserve so that he could save sinners. Time and scope limit their fame. All creation will honor Jesus forever.
In the end, what vocation did these women fulfill? By faith, they walked in covenant faithfulness through their generally ordinary lives. So it is with us. The Lord does not call us to fret over titles and degrees, raises and promotions, sales and profits. He does not often tell us how he is using us in his grand plan. Rather, God calls us to believe in the crucified and risen savior. He calls us to faith and covenant faithfulness, whether we serve in a boardroom or a custodial closet. This is the greatest vocation. It is how the kingdom of Christ arrived. It is how that kingdom will overtake the earth — through the weakness of a whisper, the minutiae of a mustard seed, and the meager obscurity of a manger.