Finding Your Roots is an American TV series that examines the family histories of well-known celebrities with mixed ancestry.28 One featured celebrity guest, embarrassed to discover how one of his ancestors was a slave owner, admitted that “the very thought left a bad taste in my mouth”.29 Would Boaz, I wonder, be similarly embarrassed by his mixed lineage? His ancestors include a Canaanite prostitute (Matthew 1:5) and his forefather Perez was the product of a sexual scandal (Genesis 38:6–30). And now, as he starts his own family, it seems as though the townsfolk are deliberately embarrassing him with his tainted past by praying, “May your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah” (Ruth 4:12).
Why would the townsfolk pray this?
Tamar was a Canaanite who posed as a prostitute to trick Judah, her father-in-law, into getting her pregnant (Genesis 38:6–30). Perez, the younger of the twin sons from this disreputable liaison (38:27–30), founded the Perez clan, the leading clan of Judah (Numbers 26:20–21) to which Boaz belongs (1 Chronicles 2:5, 9–12; Ruth 4:19–21). Perez was also the forefather of the Bethlehem clan (note “Ephrathah” and “Bethlehem” in 1 Chronicles 2:50–54).
There are many parallels between the story of Boaz and Ruth and the story of Perez’s parents, Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38). Scholars believe that Perez was named here because of the go’el guardian-redeemer and levirate marriage issue involving Tamar. The story of Judah and Tamar is the most celebrated narrative of levirate custom. Tamar and Ruth, both foreigners, both young widows, participated in levirate marriages. God used both women to bear sons (Tamar albeit dishonourably, and Ruth honourably) to perpetuate a family line—the Messianic line—that was threatened with extinction.
Probably, most of the people praying this blessing on Boaz are themselves descendants of Perez. They are asking God to bless their kinsman who has acted faithfully to preserve their family line, by granting him a famous dynasty. God will abundantly answer this prayer. God is no man’s debtor, and we can never out-give God (Romans 11:35 NLT).
Moabitess Ruth is not the only foreign woman in the Messiah’s ancestry. God includes three others—Tamar (Genesis 38), Rahab (Joshua 2), and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11–12) in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:3–6). These women had messed up big-time, but their idolatrous or immoral past did not define them, for our gracious God included them in His plan to save the world. And with that same grace, He welcomes less-than-perfect persons like you and me into His family.
Four women of foreign descent and tarnished histories (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba) are ancestors of our Lord Jesus (Matthew 1:3–6). What does this tell you about who our God is?
How can 1 Timothy 1:15–16 encourage you not to let your past failures or sins prevent or deter you from serving our God?