March 2, 2010

Genealogies in the Bible

I’m never really sure what to do with the genealogies in the Bible. Other people have taught me a bit about the significance of some of them, but it is certainly a struggle. The “and he died” of Genesis 5 underscores that the sentence against Adam and Eve was carried out as promised and that it affected their descendants in the same manner. The short one at the end of Ruth informs us that this story carries significance beyond the immediate events, and would produce King David, from whom the Messiah would come. Speaking of which, the genealogy of Matthew one is perhaps the most perspicuous in its theology, subversive as it may be. The fact that he includes 4 women (which itself is unheard of) – including an incestuous relationship, a gentile prostitute, a gentile saint, and an adulterous affair – points to the significance of this King, who would be Savior of Jew and Gentile, male and female, sinner and saint.

But what of all the other genealogies? What about 9 chapters of it in 1 Chronicles? I venture to guess that others have plumbed the depths of even these and found edification. After all, they are part of “all scripture” (2 Tim 3:16). I’m still not sure what to do with them. Certainly, there are pieces here and there that some have made use of, such as the infamous Prayer of Jabez (1 Chr 4:9-10). A quick search of sermon central shows that this might be the only passage in 9 chapters which have found their way into the pulpit. Surely there’s more to it than that, right? After all, the author seems to have been quite intentional in beginning his work in this manner. 1 Chronicles seems to seek continuity between the pre-exilic people and those who have returned to the land, with a special emphasis on the house of David, the tribe of Judah, and the tribe of Levi. One thing that strikes me is all of the untold stories that exist alongside the people whose lives have been set forth in Scripture. God is carrying out His purposes in history, and the Bible records many generations of people who lived and died with little or no fanfare, undoubtedly many of them wicked and some of them faithful, but all playing some role in this grand drama of redemption.

I suppose that it’s thoughts like the above that would incline someone to read a book with a title like The Chronicler's Genealogies: Towards an understanding of 1 Chronicles 1-9. Unless our confession is merely lip service, it would seem to me that there’s value in such a study. Here’s some more stuff on genealogies from a quick search:

A storm is coming (1 Chronicles 1-9)

Nine Purposes of Biblical Genealogies

Avoid genealogies?

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