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Grappling With Genealogies

January 10, 2014Filed under theology#devotionsMarkdown source

I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: 1 Chronicles 1–5, Psalm 10, Proverbs 10.

A brief note ahead of the rest of the post: this month, is giving away the ESV “Hear the Word” Audio Bible. Really, for free. You give them an email address, you get the whole Bible, read extremely well. I highly recommend that you follow up on this, because it is normally not inexpensive, though even so a good audio Bible is a very good investment. Now, back to the regularly scheduled post.

As challenging as it can be to apply 2 Chronicles 1—5 correctly, finding the substance in a passage like 1 Chronicles 1—5 is even harder, I think. The entire sequence is a list of names: fathers, sons, occasional wives and daughters in the mix. Genealogies are one of the most challenging sections in the Bible for Western readers, because they seem enormously dry and pointless. (I saw a non-Christian comment on finding the Bible incredibly boring the other day; I have no doubt that passaages like this one contributed substantially to that assessment.) Truth be told, though I am making a game effort at it, I still find these chapters difficult, too.1

There are two things I hold onto as I consider these challenging chapters, though. The first is Paul’s affirmation that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16—17, ESV). That “all” is important, because Paul included 1 Chronicles 1—5 and Numbers 1 and Zechariah 4, challenging though they are in their different ways. He did not exclude them because they might not make as much sense to a future generation in another part of the world. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul explicitly affirmed the value of these books in part because they would be foreign to us.

Too often, we privilege our own cultural views as inherently correct in some way. We assume that because genealogies do not matter to us, they do not matter at all. Few of us, it is true, would be so bold as to say this out loud, but deep down, that is what we really believe. (For what we really believe to be true is what drives our actions.) The presence of these lengthy genealogies in the very word of God stands as a clear rebuke to our cultural snobbery–and to our chronological snobbery, too. These genealogies remind us that we are not the first people in God’s story, and that we will not be the last. We are not the main characters in this narrative: even of those named in these chapters, how many are familiar to us now?2 How many men and women, faithful followers of God, simply go unnamed in these passages? Likewise, who will know our names a thousand years hence, should the Lord tarry?

This genealogy stands as a rebuke to our self-adulation and our emphasis on our own value. It stands as a record of God’s dealings with people who went long before us, and thus as a testament to the historical character of God’s salvific work. It functions as a reminder that God’s plan involves many a flawed hero, and not a few villains. It points us back to the need for a king who would not fit the pattern of all the kings named in this line. It highlights God’s faithfulness to keep his promises to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and to David, even in the face of Israel’s and Judah’s rebellious ways. It ultimately points us to God himself, the one constant in all these names and relationships. He oversaw their history, as he oversees ours. We ought to reflect more often on those who have gone before us in the faith, and to thank God for them and for his work in history. We ought to be ever more dedicated to worshiping the God in whose hands history flows like a watercourse.

  1. Confession time: I put the audio in 2× mode while I was listening to the latter parts of this section. It helped.

  2. Even having read through these chapters a number of times, it had escaped me until tonight that David’s generals, Joab, Asahel, and Abishai, were his nephews–the sons of his sister Zeruiah (see 1 Chronicles 2:16). This detail sheds interesting light on many of their interactions, especially on David’s reticence to remove them from authority even when they were unruly. Yet it had previously been lost on me entirely.