Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked. – 1 Chronicles 4:10
When you encounter genealogies in the bible, do you skip over them? Do you feel like they’re monotonous, uninteresting, or that they distract from the story? Why are they there? If all scripture is God-breathed, why are some parts so boring? Why are some parts so uninspiring? If throughout your entire life you only had access to, and knowledge of, one page of the bible, and that page was a genealogy, would you choose to commit your life to Christ? In this post, I’m going to go over why the answer to that last question could be yes. We’re going to see how the bible’s genealogies serve a dual purpose for the detail oriented, and the story oriented.
A Gift from God
Before we dive in, we need to reframe our way of thinking about something in the bible that could be boring. We need to start thinking about it as an opportunity to understand God.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
The key here is that when it says all scripture, this includes the genealogies. This means that they are useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. Genealogies better equip us for righteous work.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. – Psalm 119:105
When you see Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, it is a lamp to our feet. The census of the Israelites in Numbers 1 and 26 is a light to our path. There are more, but if you’re not willing to consider these lists as coming from the mouth of God for our good, then it becomes more difficult to continue to our next point.
The Gift of Detail
God is a highly detailed, meticulous person. He is concerned with everything, and he pays attention to the smallest things.
We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan. – Romans 8:28
What this means for us is that the detail of the genealogies is a gift. How can we use this gift? Paul uses this detail, our knowledge of genealogy from Noah to Christ, to witness to the philosophers of Athens:
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. – Acts 17:26-27
We’re also able to see the result of the two censuses in Numbers 1 and 26. This level of detail shows that by the end of the wilderness exile, everyone from the first census was dead, fulfilling God’s decree. The names of the living families from the first list don’t show up in the second list. It’s also interesting to see that the number barely fluctuates over the 38 year timespan:
The total number was 603,550. – Numbers 1:46
The total number of the men of Israel was 601,730. – Numbers 26:51
Because the Israelites kept such good genealogical records, Paul is able to prove his credentials:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee. – Philippians 3:5-6
In the same way, the Genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 help prove that he is the Messiah, and the lawful King of Israel:
And when he had removed Saul, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.” Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. – Acts 13:22-23
But we don’t need proof that Jesus is the Messiah, right? Isn’t this unnecessary, if all you need is faith? My answer to this is that the prophesies and signs of Christ existed so that every test could be passed, and every detail could be fulfilled, so that there could be no doubt.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. – 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
It is good to pay attention to these details, as the genealogies in the bible are good and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. We are encouraged to pay attention:
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. – Acts 17:11
But what if you’re not detail oriented? What if it’s just really hard to track the details, and you never really feel encouraged or compelled by the Spirit when reading genealogies?
The Gift of a Diamond in the Rough
I have one solution for how to read biblical genealogies if you’re not detail oriented: look for the person who isn’t like anyone else. Look for a break in the pattern. If you’re looking for a story in a list of names, God has placed someone in there just for you. God knows that genealogies aren’t for everyone, so he made them interesting. Let’s explore what this could look like, while paying attention to how the pattern of names suddenly changes:
1. The genealogy in Genesis 10 reveals when the Tower of Babel event occurs
The sons of Shem were Elam and Asshur and Arpachshad and Lud and Aram.
The sons of Aram were Uz and Hul and Gether and Mash.
Arpachshad became the father of Shelah; and Shelah became the father of Eber.
Two sons were born to Eber: One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided; his brother was named Joktan. – Genesis 10:22-25
2. The genealogy of Jesus, where mothers are suddenly named, which is unusual when listing only fathers. This points out to us that even prostitutes or people who weren’t Israelites could be a part of Jesus’ family
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. – Matthew 1:1-6
3. In the second census of Israel, we find an interesting break in the pattern. Out of over 600,000 people, only one family had only daughters. While, in that culture at the time, this is normally not seen as a good thing, it seems God blesses Zelophehad by including the names of all of his daughters. Nobody else gets to have their children’s names put in this census, not even their sons’ names!
These were the descendants of Gilead: through Iezer, the Iezerite clan;
through Helek, the Helekite clan;
through Asriel, the Asrielite clan;
through Shechem, the Shechemite clan;
through Shemida, the Shemidaite clan;
through Hepher, the Hepherite clan. Zelophehad son of Hepher had no sons; he had only daughters, whose names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah. – Numbers 26:30-33
4. And finally, my favorite break in the genealogy pattern, Jabez. In a list of names, this is such a powerful change in pace
These were the descendants of Hur, the firstborn of Ephrathah and father of Bethlehem.
Ashhur the father of Tekoa had two wives, Helah and Naarah. Naarah bore him Ahuzzam, Hepher, Temeni and Haahashtari.
These were the descendants of Naarah. The sons of Helah: Zereth, Zohar, Ethnan, and Koz, who was the father of Anub and Hazzobebah and of the clans of Aharhel son of Harum.
Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. – 1 Chronicles 4:3-10
Whether you like the details, or you’re looking for a special story, the genealogies in the bible are a gift from God. In them, we find amazing prayers, bountiful grace and compassion, and a deeper understanding of God.
The next time you’re reading scripture and come across a genealogy, look for that special person who isn’t like everyone else. Similarly, in our daily lives, we exist in a pattern of work, pain, confusion, stress, anxiety, and sin. God is calling you out of your repetitive life, and into the prayer of Jabez, into his compassion for Zelophehad, and into the family of Jesus alongside Rahab. These genealogies are a light to our feet, and a lamp to our path.
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. – Nehemiah 7:4-5