Those Four Old Testament Women in Matthew’s Genealogy

I’ve previously pondered about those four Old Testament women in Matthew 1:1-17. I’ve argued that their significance is primarily their Gentile background–which serves Matthew’s emphasis on Gentile mission–and that perhaps their inclusion has to do with where they appear in Israel’s biblical history.

I’m wondering, too, whether Matthew includes these particular women because of how they relate to David. Just hear me out. I’m wondering whether the Davidic design of the genealogy explains why these four women appear. I’m trying to be more specific, then, than only saying their Gentile background explains their inclusion. I’m suggesting that perhaps their Gentile background in relation to King David explains their inclusion.

Scholars widely acknowledge that the first section of Matthew’s genealogy (1:2-6) relies on names listed in 1 Chronicles 1-2. Significantly, 1 Chronicles 2 is a genealogy of David! In that Old Testament section, there are fourteen generations from Abraham to David (counting both men), and in that list “Tamar” is mentioned (1 Chron 2:4). Who is Tamar tied to in 1 Chronicles 2:4 and Matthew 1:3? To Judah. And what is Judah’s significance to David? Judah was told in Genesis 49:10, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,” and David is the first king from the tribe of Judah (Saul, remember, was from the tribe of Benjamin). Matthew may be intending readers to call to mind this Genesis 49:10 promise with the words “Judah and his brothers” (Matt 1:2), which may allude to “your brothers” in Genesis 49:8.

The second woman Matthew lists is “Rahab” (Matt 1:5). Her name isn’t in 1 Chronicles 2, so Matthew has added her here. The reason is understood when we look at her descendant: Boaz, who, as Ruth 4:18-22 shows us, is linked to David (more on that in the next paragraph). As Nolland rightly observes, “This is the only generation into which Rahab could be fitted in the scheme of the genealogy. This tightness of fit highlights a historical difficulty in this section of the genealogy: the period of the Conquest and the Judges is compressed into the period covered by the mature years of Salmon, the lifetimes of Boaz and Obed, and part of the life of Jesse (David’s father)” (Matthew, NIGTC, 78). Important for Matthew’s Davidic emphasis, then, is Rahab’s connection to Boaz who is connected in the book of Ruth to David.

The third woman in Matthew’s genealogy is “Ruth,” who appears in the same verse as Rahab (Matt 1:5). Mentioning Ruth and Boaz recalls the book of Ruth, in particular its final chapter with a genealogy, and that genealogy takes us to David (Ruth 4:18-22). The reason we know Matthew is wanting to evoke the book of Ruth and not simply 1 Chronicles 2 is because Ruth’s name doesn’t appear in 1 Chronicles 2:11 next to Boaz’s name. Still following the order of generations listed in 1 Chronicles 2, Matthew evokes the book of Ruth by naming its heroine as an ancestor of–you guessed it!–David. Again, the genealogies in 1 Chronicles 2 and Ruth 4 are both Davidic.

The fourth woman in Matthew 1 is not named explicitly, but we know who is meant. The “wife of Uriah” (Matt 1:6) can only be Bathsheba here, which recalls the tragedy of 2 Samuel 11 when David committed adultery with her. The name “Uriah” would bring to mind the fact that Uriah was “the Hittite” (cf. 2 Sam 11:3), and thus Bathsheba’s marriage to Uriah clarifies her Gentile contribution to Matthew’s genealogy. This Gentile contribution is something shared among Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth as well. But Bathsheba is also associated with David in a way the previous women were not: she became his wife, the wife of the first king of Israel from Judah’s tribe. Her name also appears in 1 Chronicles 3:5 when David’s descendants are listed. Matthew would have been aware of her name there but used a circumlocution (“the wife of Uriah,” Matt 1:6) to highlight her Gentile contribution to his list.

After the mention of David, there are no more Old Testament women mentioned. This further confirms that the four in the list (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba) are included because of their Gentile background in relation to King David. Tamar was the wife of Judah who was given a promise (cf. Gen 49:10), a promise which David fulfilled. Rahab and Ruth are placed tightly together in Matthew 1:5 in close proximity not only to one another but to their descendant David. Bathsheba is David’s wife.

In summary, and based on previous posts I’ve written on this topic, I think we can mention three truths about the four women in Matthew’s genealogy that are in keeping with its purposes and its Old Testament sources.

  1. The women are Gentiles, and this Gentile emphasis is important for Matthew’s Gospel (cf. Matt 28:19-20, as well as many stories along the way).
  2. The women appear at significant junctures of Israel’s history. Tamar is associated with the beginnings of Israel because Judah was one of the twelve tribes (sons) that came from Jacob the patriarch. Rahab evokes the conquest as the Israelites prepare to cross the Jordan and take possession of what God promised them. Ruth lived during the time of Israel’s judges, which followed the conquest. And Bathsheba was married to David who represented the inauguration of Israel’s kingship. Four women: Israel’s beginnings, conquest, judges, and kingship.
  3. The women matter because of their connection to King David. Judah received a royal promise which David would begin to fulfill, Rahab and Ruth are both listed in Matthew 1:5 as David’s immediate ancestors, and Bathsheba became King David’s wife. After David, no other Old Testament women are named.

Any thoughts about these four Old Testament women in Matthew 1:1-17?

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