More About Ancestors of Jesus

Anthony Zimmerman
January 13, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

Notice the four women that Matthew lists among the ancestors of Jesus, Rahab, Thamar, Ruth and Bathsheba. Like some of the men who had sinned, three of the women ancestors of Jesus had also been sinners. Rahab was a prostitute, Thamar committed incest with her father-in-law Judah, and Bathsheba committed adultery with King David. Only Ruth was notoriously good and beloved, but she was a foreigner, a Moabite. Saint John Chrysostom observes that Jesus did not disdain to be born of sinful ancestors, because he came to bear our sins away.

It is not only because He took flesh upon Him, and became man, that we justly stand amazed at Him, but because He vouchsafed to have also such kinsfolk, being in no respect ashamed of our evils. And this He was proclaiming from the very beginnings of His birth, that He is ashamed of none of those things that belong to us (Homily 1 on the Gospel of Matthew).

King David

David was a man whom the Scriptures could praise for his goodness, even in the same sentence where it recounts his sin of adultery: "David did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite" (1 Kings 15:5). The story of DavidŐs adultery is told with candor by the sacred author:

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go forth to battle, David ... remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking upon the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, "Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" So David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. And the woman conceived; and she sent and told David, "I am with child" (2 Samuel 11:1-5).

In accordance with the Jewish law (see Leviticus 18:19) it was against regulations for a woman to have intercourse with her husband during the period of menstruation and for seven days thereafter. At the end of the 12-14 days of abstinence the woman took a ritual bath and was then ready to resume intercourse. This is usually the most fertile time of the cycle, so we are not surprised that Bathsheba conceived.

To cover up his adultery, David arranged to have her husband murdered so that he could marry his widow. But God loved David still, and sent the Prophet Nathan to straighten him out. Nathan was a master confessor who skillfully brought David to repent of this double sin, adultery and murder: "Thou art the man!" he suddenly said to David, pointint his finger directly at him. David then and there confessed his sin: "I have sinned against the Lord" (2 Sam12:13). And so Jesus has adulterous ancestors, and even a murderer. It is another example of the truth that Paul states so well: "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). God can make straight lines out of the crooked ones that we offer Him.

David also failed miserably as a father to his children. He had many children from many wives and concubines. Despite being their father, he could be utterly naive when his own children lied to him. When his son Amnon lusted after his half-sister Tamar, Amnon easily tricked his father by pretending to be ill. At AmnonŐs request David sent his daughter Tamar to the bedside of her half-brother Amnon, who was secretly lusting for her, to make cakes for him. David should have known. Amnon then raped her as he had planned. Read the story in 2 Samuel Chapter 13.

Having many wives instead of one surely deprived David of help by a single caring woman to assist him in being a good father to his children. Christ wisely re-established the original arrangement of life-time marriage between one man and one woman.

They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" He said to them, "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery" (Matthew 19:7-9),

Numerous sociological studies today provide data that, by and large, children who are educated by a father and a mother bonded in faithful marriage are likely to be more faithful to religious practices, usually do better at school, and in general have fewer mental and physical health problems than children of broken families, those who have not had both a father and a mother as educators. DavidŐs children would likely have turned out better if their father had been at home with mother to box their ears when this was needed for their education.

King Solomon

Let us pick up on Solomon, the heir to DavidŐs kingdom, another eminent ancestor of Jesus. He began his reign well as King of Israel, and we today are grateful to him for the many magnificent pages of the Bible that are attributed to him. The Lord was pleased with the young Solomon when he prayed humbly for wisdom so that he can rule his people properly. God responded to that prayer with this magnificent promise:

And God said to him, "Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days (1 Kings 3:11-13).

The Bible is coaching us here that better even than gold and silver is wisdom coming from God. Jesus reminded us of this truth in His Sermon of the Mount: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" Mt 6:19-21).

However, great as was the wisdom of Solomon, he too had many wives, and this lead to a sad downfall in his latter days. Instead of being bonded to one wife who would try to keep him on the straight and narrow way, the many wives induced him to worship the gods that they worshiped, and so to offend the true God who had given him wisdom:

He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father (1 Kings 11:3-4).

This great wise man allowed himself to become a fool. The list of kings before the Babylonian Exile have a mixed history as we can read in the Books of Kings and of Chronicles. After the Exile there were no more kings ruling over Israel, but the line of royal descent is traced by Matthew down to Joseph, the humble carpenter, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus.

Reflection on the ancestors of Jesus

By thus listing the names of the ancestors of Jesus, good and bad, St. Matthew and the Holy Spirit teach us that Jesus did not despise humanity for its sinfulness but bravely came to remedy our evil ways. The message that God sent to Mary and Joseph was that Jesus is being sent to forgive sins. Let us not forget this important teaching when we are deluged with news of wars and crimes today. Instead of despairing, we can turn to Jesus and ask Him to forgive; to forgive our wars and bickerings, our greed, our unfaithfulness, adultery, secularism, divorce, murder, drug addiction, lying, abortion, contraception, sodomy, same sex unions, pornography, and scandal of our innocent young people whom we are supposed to educate. Lord, have mercy!

It is good practice to read the Bible for life education. So much wisdom is written on its pages. The Book of Sirach, for example, teaches us to not be naive, and gives us lessons on being "street-wise." We do well to absorb some of this wisdom from the Bible daily. Worldly wisdom is ours, and heavenly wisdom as well, when we educate ourselves through the Bible. Maybe it is too much to expect from all, but my advice is: read for a half hour daily. DonŐt hurry. Pause to absorb and reflect.