If Leviticus doesn’t kill your Bible reading plans, Chronicles might.
When our church was going through 1 Chronicles, our Bible study leader said his children asked, “Do we have to read the genealogies?” He admitted he was thinking the same question.
The genealogical sections of the Bible are probably no one’s favorite part of Scripture. Our pastor has often said, “Every part of the Bible is inspired by God, but not every part is inspirational.” We’re probably not going to get warm fuzzies from those lists of unfamiliar names.
But because the genealogies are as inspired by God as every other part of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), they have much to teach us.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t waste words. God’s works and thoughts are “more than can be numbered” (Psalm 40:5, NKJV). A former pastor used to say the Bible is divinely brief: of all the things God could have shared with us, He chose the particular words in the Bible. So everything in the Bible is there for a purpose.
Our pastor’s wife used to say of some of the “drier” passages of the Bible, “Keep digging until you find the golden nuggets.”
So what can the genealogies teach us?
God keeps records. Detailed records. Every person on those lists was someone known of God and loved by God. And He knows and cares about us as well.
Some genealogies act as bookends or transitions. For example, Genesis 36 wraps up Esau and his descendants before Jacob’s story switches focus to Joseph.
The Bible is history. Bible professor Dan Olinger said he was thrown for a loop when he learned that some theologians teach that the narratives of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, are fables. These teachers say we’re meant to learn lessons from OT stories like we do from Aesop’s fables, but the stories and people were made up. Dan struggled with this view until he realized that the genealogies ground the Biblical narratives in history. In fables, it doesn’t matter where the characters lived or came from or who their descendants were. But those details do matter in history.
God keeps His promises. Part of God’s covenant with Abraham was that in him, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). God repeated this promise to Jacob three times (Genesis 12:18; 26:4; 28:14). God had promised David that his throne would be established for ever. Paul says God “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:2-4). Matthew’s genealogy establishes Jesus’ human and royal lineage from Abraham through David. Jesus was the long-awaited fulfillment of God’s promises to His people through the ages.
Jesus loves sinners. Luke’s genealogy traces the line of Christ all the way back to Adam, establishing His humanity. Matthew mentions some people we might be surprised to see there.
All of the names shout that Jesus is not only the long-awaited King but that He is the King of grace! This entire family deserved to be rejected by God for notorious wickedness—for lying (Abraham), deceit (Jacob), immorality (David), double-mindedness (Solomon), arrogance (Rehoboam), unbelief (Ahaz), and idolatry which included child sacrifice (Manasseh). And this family had a history of disreputable women, who were “outsiders” for one reason or another. Tamar was the seductive Canaanite (v. 3), Rahab, the prostitute from Jericho (v. 5), Ruth, the Moabitess (v. 5), and Bathsheba, the adulteress (v. 6). You see, Jesus was born into a family that was notoriously deserving of judgment. But that means He’s not afraid to be associated with sinners, including immoral Gentiles—including me and you! (Joe Tyrpak, Gospel Meditations for Christmas, p. 11).
Thomas Overmiller writes:
If the genealogy of Jesus himself featured mothers with disgraced or shameful reputations, then why should you expect anything different? God does not weave people into his purposes and plans because they come from a pristine family background. He weaves people into his plan instead who have disgraceful backgrounds, the kind of disgrace that comes from our own sin and the kind that comes from the sin of others towards us. God delights to find sinners and save them. He delights to redeem us from the power of sin and from the pain of sinful things that other people have done to us. The grace of God shines through disgraced people (A Genealogy of Grace: Mothers of the King).
Genealogies encourage God’s people. I don’t think I realized before this trek through 1 Chronicles that it was written to the Israelites going back to their land after having been in exile in Babylon for 70 years. They needed to be reminded of their identity and encouraged that they were “still God’s people and retain their central place in God’s purposes for humanity” (Brian E. Kelly, ESV Study Bible, p. 705).
The Chronicler sought to address some urgent questions of his day concerning the identity of Israel. He wanted to instill fresh confidence in the people. The genealogies of Israel that begin the work (1 Chronicles 1–9) start by tracing the people’s ancestry back to Adam, a striking reminder that Israel was at the center of God’s purpose from the very beginning of creation. Although only a “remnant” and a provincial outpost in a great empire, Israel must remember that its security and destiny rest with Yahweh, “who rule[s] over all the kingdoms of the nations” and has given the land to Abraham’s descendants “forever” (2 Chron. 20:6-7) (Brian E. Kelly, ESV Study Bible, p. 701).
Genealogies remind us that life is short and death is sure until the Lord returns. I don’t remember the details or the source, but I heard about a girl who invited her unsaved dad to church. The pastor happened to be in a section of genealogies. The girl was discouraged, thinking this was the worst of all sermons for her dad to hear. But her dad became a believer. He said that hearing over and over that so-and-so lived, had children, and then died struck him. The repeated phrase “and he died” drummed itself into his mind, and he decided he needed to prepare for his own end.
Many of the Bible genealogies are “telescoped”: they don’t include every ancestor in a given line. This accounts for some discrepancies between lists. Each of the genealogies is there for a particular purpose, so the author will only include the names that are pertinent to his theme.
I hope you’re more encouraged about Biblical genealogies now. They still might not be the most exciting parts of the Bible, but they’re a rich and integral part.
Does anything in this list of what genealogies teach us resonate with you? Can you think of other purposes for genealogies in the Bible?
(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)