There is a beautiful painting by Tricia Robinson called The Four. Sadly, due to copyrights I can’t in good conscience reproduce it here. But if you search for Tricia and The Four you can see it on her website.
I mention this picture because of what it represents, and the message it carries. The world is full of people with big burdens, physical, emotional and spiritual. If you spend most of your days overwhelmed by those burdens and feeling a sense of worthlessness, then I want to tell you a story, the story of The Four. Because I want to try and give you a little hope. It’s the same hope I have when I start feeling useless and worthless.
The Four is a portrait of four women. Their stories are not glamorous, and if anyone should be feel, as Ann Voskamp puts it, “like outsiders, have-beens, or never-beens”, it would be these four. They are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, four women mentioned by name in the Old Testament, highly unusual given women of the time were more possessions than persons and rarely garnered a reference in scripture. Let me tell you about them.
Tamar was the daughter-in-law of Judah, one of the sons of Jacob and the head of what would become one of the most important tribes in Israel. Her story is found in the 38th chapter of Genesis. Tamar was the wife of the oldest son Er, who because of wickedness was put to death by God. Since the custom at the time was for the wife to be taken by the next brother in order to produce an heir for the dead son, Tamar was wed to the second son Onan. Onan refused to impregnate Tamar, knowing the children would be considered his brother’s. Because of his sin, he also died. Judah, fearful of losing his one remaining son Shelah, sent Tamar back to her parents with the excuse of waiting for the last boy to reach the age of marriage.
When Tamar figured out that Judah was never going to give her as wife to the youngest, and after Judah’s wife had died, Tamar devised her own plan. She disguised herself as a prostitute and tricked Judah into having sex with her, even convincing him to leave his staff and signet with her as a deposit for a goat he was supposed to give her as payment. She then dressed herself in her widow’s garments again and went home. When it was discovered she was pregnant Judah was furious, until she revealed it was him that did it. She delivered twins. It carried on the family line but brought no honor to Judah for generations.
Rahab was a prostitute living in Jericho at the time Israel was about to start conquering the land and destroying the inhabitants. She had heard rumors of their coming and of the God whom they followed and chose to hide His spies that had come to look over the land. As reward, the spies made a plan that would allow her and her family to survive the destruction of the city of Jericho. Although she was an outcast among her own people, her faith in God saved her and her family.
Ruth was a woman of Moab, as was her sister-in-law Orpah. They were married to the sons of Naomi, a Hebrew widow, despite God’s specific instruction for his people not to intermarry with foreigners. While living in Moab (instead of Israel) because of a famine, the two boys died. Naomi decided to go home to Israel and sent the women back to their mothers’ home. Orpah returned; Ruth refuse to leave Naomi and went with her. While gleaning leftover grain in the fields, she is spotted by Boaz who is close kin of Naomi. Impressed by Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law he agrees to ‘redeem’ her or marry her and produce an heir so that Naomi would retain possession of her late husband’s land.
Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, a soldier in the army of David, king of Israel. While the army was off waging war, David stayed home in the palace. One evening as he was walking on the roof, he looked out and saw Bathsheba taking a bath. Two problems here; he should have been out leading his troops in battle, and she probably should have been a bit more discreet about her bathing habits. However, David sent for her and slept with her. The Bible isn’t clear on whether she was a willing party; chances are in those times she didn’t have much choice. Later it was discovered that she was pregnant. King David tried to manipulate the circumstances to cover his tracks and make it look like Uriah’s child, but Uriah was too honorable to fall for it. In the end, David had him murdered on the battlefield and kept Bathsheba as his own wife. The “man after God’s own heart” had fallen prey to adultery and murder and dragged Bathsheba in after him.
As you study the painting of these women, you immediately notice that all are wearing crowns. And then you begin to understand there’s a much, much bigger story here because as you start tracing the genealogical line of King David, you see the names Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. For, you see, one of Tamar’s illegitimate sons Perez became the head of the family line that included Salmon, the father of Boaz whose mother was Rahab, and whose wife Ruth was the great-grandmother of David the King. David was promised by God that from his family line would come the Messiah, the Promised One who would deliver Israel. That promise began with the son born to Bathsheba, Solomon.
Then there’s Mary. She was a young woman engaged to Joseph the carpenter, who came up pregnant after being visited by the angel Gabriel. She knew she hadn’t been with a man, but people were beginning to talk. Joseph, being an honorable man, decided to break the engagement quietly in order not to cause Mary any more shame. That is, until the angel came to him in a dream to explain that Mary was carrying the child of God Almighty, the Messiah that generations had been anxiously awaiting. You can read the rest of the story in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Here’s the hope I want you to get from all of this. No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what you’ve done in your life, God has a plan for you. He included these four women in the family tree of Jesus to help you understand that His grace is not limited to a chosen few. If you’ll come to Him, believe on the One he sent to redeem you (yes, God wants to buy you back, because you were his in the beginning), and give him your life, He has a place for you, and a plan. He will heal your hurts, refresh your spirit, and show you love like you’ve never seen in your life.