Diversity. Tolerance. Inclusivity.
These are the buzzwords, the politically correct, celebrated virtues of our current American culture.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. All these are very commendable qualities . . . when rightly applied.
God created diversity—He’s incredibly creative. He has been supremely tolerant, for thousands of years, with our sin (see Romans 2:4). And He is also very inclusive. He promises that “whosoever believes” in Jesus has eternal life (see John 3:16).
The real truth of the matter is that we Christians have nothing to be ashamed of with regard to how our God fulfills these virtues.
The evidence for this is found in one of the most unlikely places—a genealogy. Yep, it’s found in one of those same places that may have shipwrecked your ambition to read through the entire Bible when you encountered it in Genesis or Numbers or perhaps I Chronicles.
However, this genealogy is found at the beginning of the New Testament–in Matthew 1.
Two strange names stand out—Rahab and Ruth.
They’re strange because they’re two of only five female names among a multitude of men. They’re mothers, floating atop an ocean of fathers. They’re also very foreign. They are two of only three gentiles who are found on the list.
And they’re included in a “circle of honor.” Somehow, they became part of the Messianic line—ancestors of the Messiah of the Jews, the Christ of God. They belong to a list of Jewish heroes who were progenitors of the Savior of the human race–hallowed names like Abraham, Jacob, Judah and David.
There they are, both mentioned in the same verse, Matthew 1:5: “Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse.”
Who was Rahab? She was a prostitute from Jericho, one of the Canaanite nations the Jews dispossessed. Ruth was a Moabitess whose people were forbidden to the tenth generation from entering the assembly of the Lord as a consequence for not welcoming, and even being a stumbling block to, the Jews on their journey to the Promised Land (see Deuteronomy 23:3-4).
How did these women break through their invisible ceiling? How did they manage to be named among the all-stars of the Jewish faith, given their horrendous spiritual and racial pedigrees?
Their story is really the story of a God who is more than tolerant. He is incredibly gracious; a God who specializes in diversity and spreading His grace to any and every sinner, no matter how great their former sin.
Let’s remember their stories for a moment and remind ourselves of how beyond tolerant and incredibly inclusive our gracious God is.
Rahab’s career as a prostitute was fully in keeping with the Canaanite penchant for gross sexual immorality. Her act of faith might seem very strange to us. She lied to her own people about hiding and helping the spies Joshua had sent to spy on Jericho as the Jews were about to conquer the Promised Land. However, her lie demonstrated her faith in the God of Israel—that He would indeed prevail against the gods of her own culture and save her and her family in the process (see Judges 2).
Rahab eventually married a Jewish man and bore Boaz. Boaz, in turn, was the godly man who foreshadowed the Great Redeemer’s grace and mercy by redeeming Ruth, the Moabitess. They together were then blessed with a male grandchild for Naomi, Obed, who would also then become part of the Messianic line.
Ruth, like Rahab, ultimately defied all the influences and norms of her idolatrous culture. When Naomi’s husband moved his family away from Israel to Moab during a famine, Ruth married one of Naomi’s two sons. Naomi’s husband died; then in turn, each of her sons died, leaving Ruth and her sister-in-law, Orpah, widows. Having seen God’s blessing was not upon her in Moab, Naomi decided to return to the Land of Promise, an act of trust in the God of Israel to take care of her.
Ruth and Orpah then had a decision to make for themselves. Would they abandon their families, their people and their gods to accompany this Jewish widow as she returned to a land and a people foreign to them? Orpah ultimately did what most would do—she took the easier route and remained in Moab. But Ruth, resisting Naomi’s urging to do the same, swore, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16b).
What each of these women demonstrated at a turning point in their lives was the importance of doing just that—turning. When life came to a critical juncture—when they had to choose between the one true living God and the easier, culturally-acceptable alternative—they turned. They repented from their idolatry and their culture’s sin and put their trust in the God of Israel.
And, “behold,” as the Bible so often says when it wants us to take note of something–they were not merely tolerated in Israel, they were fully included and assimilated! They married godly Jewish men. Most importantly, God did not merely accept them. He abundantly blessed them because of their hard choices to stand against the compromises their former cultures had demanded. They were blessed with godly descendants who became part of the coveted Messianic line. Despite their diverse, and perverse, spiritual heritages, they were honored above most of the women of Israel and mentioned as progenitors of the great King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
How’s that for tolerance, diversity, and inclusiveness? It really goes way beyond tolerance and inclusiveness. In fact, it extends as far as God’s love, mercy and grace. He truly honors those who honor Him! (see I Samuel 2:30).
And come to think of it, that’s also the story for the most well-known Jewish men found in Matthew’s genealogy—including the greatest of them. Abraham had been an idolater in Ur of the Chaldees, but he had repented and moved away to worship the one true God who called Him (see Genesis 11-12; Joshua 24:2). Jacob had been a liar and a cheat when he wrestled with God in Bethel and decided to follow Him (see Genesis 27-28). Judah had been a merciless, hypocritical whoremonger who sentenced his own daughter-in-law to be burned for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, until he discovered he was the child’s father. He had been a major instigator of his brothers’ treachery against Joseph, but finally demonstrated his repentance when he offered to sacrifice his own life to save his youngest brother Benjamin (see Genesis 44:18-34). David, though a godly youth, had to repent of his adultery and murder later in life (see Psalms 32 and 51).
And that will be our story as well, but only if we turn from the sinful norms of our culture—same-sex marriages, abortion, watered down social and false gospels, transgenderism, blurring of the roles God uniquely intended for each gender to fulfill and the immorality that has caused many couples to forego marriage.
In fact, what we find in this entire genealogy are stories that demonstrate God is beyond tolerant. He is exceedingly merciful and gracious. We discover that the only thing God can’t forever tolerate is unrepentant sin—because it, by its very nature, leads to death (see Luke 13:3, 5; Romans 6:23; James 1:15).
Diversity, tolerance and inclusivity–these are the virtues that God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and grace fulfill even to overflowing. His grace and mercy is only limited by the two things He hates–death and the sin that inevitably brings it forth.
Ruth and Rahab’s names at the outset of the New Testament stand out as beacons of God’s mercy and the new life He gives as a result of repentant faith. They direct us to the ultimate revelation of God’s love and grace—Jesus of Nazareth—whose death makes it possible for any and every repentant sinner from any and every nation upon the earth to be included, and blessed, in God’s Kingdom.