Let’s be honest. If you’ve ever paced through a Bible reading plan, I’m sure you’ve been tempted to skip the genealogies. The listing of name after name, struggles with pronunciation, pondering whether having it in family tree diagram form would make a difference, and then getting to the end of the passage and feeling like it was more a chore than a delight.
Sure, maybe Matthew 1 grabs our attention as it reveals a glimpse of where Jesus’s family line originates. But then there’s the curiously old-aged ones in Genesis 5:1-32, and all the interminably long ones in 1 and 2 Chronicles.
Yet there must be something useful about genealogies for God to have kept them in His Word.
So what can God teach me through a genealogy? This question came up last week, when our family bible reading got to Nehemiah 7:
Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt. So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families. I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return. This is what I found written there:
These are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town, in company with Zerubbabel, Joshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum and Baanah):
The list of the men of Israel:
the descendants of Parosh 2,172
of Shephatiah 372
of Arah 652
of Pahath-Moab (through the line of Jeshua and Joab) 2,818
of Elam 1,254
of Zattu 845
of Zakkai 760
of Binnui 648
of Bebai 628
of Azgad 2,322
of Adonikam 667
of Bigvai 2,067
of Adin 655
of Ater (through Hezekiah) 98
of Hashum 328
of Bezai 324
of Hariph 112
of Gibeon 95
This is what we came up with after reading and reflecting on the passage together:
- These are names and faces to God’s people – He knows each of his covenant people by name! Wonderful parallels to the family of God in Christ, who God knows his sheep by name (John 10:14-15, also Romans 8:28)
- We should read genealogies less like a phone directory, and more like a church family directory – for the original readers of Nehemiah, these people are family in the one true God!
- Every name listed is living proof that the God of the Bible is faithful in keeping his promises, and in preserving a remnant — even after judgement and exile
So we laughed through mispronunciations, noted some cool names (my favourite is Anathoth as it makes me think jam… then there’s the great and mighty Osnappar in Ezra 4:10!). But ultimately we’re most thankful that we worship a God who rescues and keeps His people (even when they don’t deserve it!)
Further reading: 9 Purposes of Biblical Genealogies, shared by Dave Bish, who summarises:
Genealogies occur relatively frequently in the Biblical narratives and we’re overlooking substantial portions of scripture if we omit them. It’s not that we expect them to yield meaning in the same way that a sentence in a Pauline letter might, but because they contribute to the literature which God has chosen to use to reveal himself to us.