Among the more common complaints from those who attempt to read the Bible all the way through is that there are so many boring passages of genealogy that most people find to be tedious and without enjoyment. Now, it should go without saying that I am immensely fond of genealogy and have found a lot of worth in some of the obscure passages of 1 Chronicles . Now, although I enjoy genealogy for its own sake, I am aware that many do not. There are writers as well, such as the author of the Prayer Of Jabez, who have mined the obscure passages of 1 Chronicles for their own writing, although this may not be a good example of a proper use of that particular area of scripture. The mystery people often wrestle with, though, is what is the purpose of large sections of the Bible being devoted to genealogy, even though this presents a barrier to many readers.
It is first worthwhile to note just how much genealogical information is recorded in scripture. A brief survey will suffice for our purposes today. Jesus Christ has two genealogies given, one in Matthew 1 that gives his legal genealogy through his stepfather and the other in Luke 3 that gives his physical genealogy, showing that he was descended from David through both lines and was therefore properly the Son of David. The first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles are genealogies that show some notable descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel and give some stories as to what happened to some of the tribes (like Reuben) after the initial settling of the land that helps to explain some historical mysteries, which will perhaps be covered in a future installment of this series. Likewise, there are large sections of genealogy running through Genesis giving the origin of nations and families, as well as a few other scattered genealogies through the rest of scripture and genealogical information in 1 and 2 Kings about all of the rulers of Israel and Judah–the information for Judah’s kings including the mother of most of the kings of Judah, a remarkable level of detail in an age when most women were very anonymous.
What is the worth of this genealogical information? For those who enjoy the material on its own terms, they present a wide variety of stories as well as information that places important people of the Bible in a larger context extending across many generations. To give one example not at random, the genealogy of Heman included in 1 Chronicles 6:33-38 informs the reader that the otherwise obscure author of Psalm 88 was the grandson of Samuel and a descendant of Korah. This places an otherwise unknown person in a larger story of faith going back to the time of the wilderness, and indeed shows him to have been a close relative of the priests, which explains Samuel’s own adoption of a great deal of priestly behavior and the ease in which he was accepted as an adopted son of the high priest. Even for those who do not enjoy genealogy on its own terms, though, can understand at least some value of the Bible giving so much information about the descent of people from other people through people most people have never heard of.
Part of the value consists of promises. A surprisingly large amount of the Bible’s promises relate to physical lines of descent. For example, the faithfulness of the Rechabites to the commands of their forefather Jonadab in Jeremiah 35 earned that group of people a promise that their forefather would never lack a man–in short, the line would continue and not be destroyed or daughtered out. Likewise, Isaac received a promise in Genesis 26 that he and his seed would be blessed because of the faithfulness and obedience of his father Abraham. And so it goes, with even somewhat obscure people in the Bible like Jehu being promised that their line would continue for several generations because of at least partial faithfulness. If the specific promises to various people concerning their own family lines and their continuance or elimination was not enough, the Bible gives some general promises as well that are worth considering.
It is especially worth considering these examples because some of them occur at the foundational moment of the establishment of the congregation of Israel as well as the New Testament church. Exodus 20:4-6 tells us: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” This commandment is a reminder to Israel that those who disobey God will face generational curses and those who obey God will have generational blessings, although the blessing will outweigh the curse. Many families, like my own, have both. A similar promise is given in Acts 2:39: “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” In both of these verses obedience on the part of people is connected to a promise by God that there will be blessings that cascade down to following generations due to that faithfulness, apart from the worthiness of those descendants themselves. Sometimes the blessings we have in our lives are not due to any great righteousness of our own, but rather are due to the faithfulness of God in fulfilling His promises made to our ancestors.
Why does this matter? In large part, it matters because God has a family plan. The promises that God makes to human families about continuing on and His continuing favor towards them are reminders that we too are God’s future children if we enter into His Kingdom and eternal life. The frequent references of the Bible to families and to the family origin of the people of the Bible, the commands God makes for the family to be honored and respected, and the promises God makes to people due to their family ancestry are reminders to us that God too is a being who cares a lot about family. And that which God cares about, we should care about as well.
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