While the language of Hebrews 11:4 was a reference to Abel (not Mabel), I’d like to appropriate and apply that phrase to a unique set of persons we read about in Matthew’s genealogy (Matt 1:1-17).
Matthew’s genealogy, unlike Luke’s, is typical of Jewish genealogies in most respects, as it proceeds from Abraham (no need to go back any further than that for his Jewish readership) to Matthew’s current day. On the other hand, it has at least one distinctive and unexpected characteristic; it includes references to five women. In our day, the reference to these women as important players God’s plan would not be surprising. In Matthew’s day, however, this would have been extraordinary.
These women are not included because of their flawless character. In fact, each of them might have had a bit of a “black eye” in her own day (deserved or not). Despite that, like the men in this genealogy, they are named because God used them to bring the Messiah into the world. Not only that, however, He continues to use them even today to show us something about Himself. What can we learn about God from these women?
Tamar (Gen 38:6-30): God keeps his promises even when others don’t. Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah, left childless due to the wickedness of two of Judah’s sons (and Judah’s own breach of promise) resorted to trickery to provide for her future security. Though God would not condone her actions in that case, He does use her to accomplish his plan. Application: God can and will use us too, despite what others may have done (or not done).
Rahab (Josh 2:1-21): God’s forgiveness opens up possibilities for our future. Rahab is described as a “prostitute” (cf. James 2:25) at the time she hid the spies before the Israelites took possession of the land of Canaan. Yet her faith is commended in that moment and she becomes a part of the lineage of Christ. Application: Regardless of the mistakes of our past, it is never too late to act in faith and be used by God for His glory.
Ruth (Ruth 1-4): God notices faithfulness regardless of background. Like Rahab, Ruth is not an Israelite, though her mother-in-law (Naomi) is. Like the other women we have considered so far, she has not had the best fortune when we meet her. However, her loyalty to Naomi and her discretion even in difficult circumstances are pleasing to God, and Ruth, a widowed Moabite woman, finds a place in the lineage of Jesus as the wife of Boaz, a faithful Israelite. Application: Your ethnicity and socio-economic status do not matter to God. He can use you regardless of where you come from.
Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:1-12:24): God won’t tolerate sin, but He doesn’t hold a grudge. Bathsheba was King David’s partner in adultery (we do not know for sure about her willingness, but it doesn’t look good). She lost the child from that illicit relationship, but after her husband’s death, when she became David’s wife, she bore the heir to the throne, Solomon. Application: There are no “second-class” Christians. When we repent and follow Him the guilt of sin is forgotten.
Mary (Luke 1:26-56): God asks us to do things that don’t make sense to the world. When the angel appeared to Mary and told her that she would soon bear a child, she was unmarried. What God had chosen her to do put her at risk of death if Joseph doesn’t marry her immediately (pregnancy outside marriage looks a lot like fornication, right?) and causes her to accept a life of shame (cf. John 8:41). Yet her submission to God’s will resulted in the accomplishment of God’s mission. Application: God still asks us to do things that don’t make sense from the world’s perspective. When we submit to Him, He can work powerfully in our lives too.
These five women still speak to us—not so much about their own faithfulness but about the faithfulness of God. Will our genealogy say the same?