Like many people, I’ve often resolved to read the Bible cover to cover, from Genesis to Revelation. I’d start out all excited with the account of creation and the flood, fly through the action-packed accounts of Israel’s escape from Egypt, enjoy the page-turning story of David’s journey from shepherd boy to king, and then…Well, then comes 1 Chronicles. Nine. Chapters. Of Genealogy. Not the most interesting reading material, to be honest. Suddenly, my resolution to read the Bible non-stop, cover to cover, would falter, and the pace of my reading plan would slow to a crawl. I never wanted to skip 1 Chronicles since it’s part of God’s Word, after all. But staying engaged with the text through these boring bits has been a struggle for me.
1 Chronicles 1-9 isn’t the only list of names and family ties included in Scripture. Genesis is peppered with genealogies—from Adam to Noah (Genesis 5), the descendants of Noah (10, 11), and Abraham onward (22, 25, 36, etc.). Numbers contains two censuses-worth of information about the tribes of Israel and who belonged to which. The book of Ruth explains the lineage of David (Ruth 4). Ezra and Nehemiah list the names of the exiles returning from Babylon (Ezra 2, 8; Nehemiah 7). Finally, Matthew and Luke each give a genealogy of Jesus near the beginning of their gospel accounts (Matt. 1, Luke 3).
So how do we stay engaged and get the most out of the genealogies of the Bible? There are so many lists of family lineage in the Bible that they must be important. I think the first step in approaching these portions of Scripture is to understand their value. Each of these accounts is there for a reason and is meant to communicate something to the original readers. No matter how far removed 2022 Waunakee, Wisconsin, feels from the world of the Old Testament, we can still learn from those messages today.
One note before we move on: My point here is that we should pay attention to the genealogies in the Bible, even if they seem boring. However, if it’s blocking or discouraging you from continuing your Bible reading, feel free to skim or skip these passages. Don’t do what I often did and quit reading because 1 Chronicles seemed unconquerable. It’s better to come back to it at another time than to shelve your Bible out of guilt at being stuck in Chronicles. Even the best Bible scholars struggle with these passages, so don’t feel bad. But if you’re ready to grapple with genealogies, here are some methods to get more out of reading them.
Look at the Big Picture
First, don’t get too bogged down in trying to memorize the details. It’s not really important to be able to recite the names of the sons of Ram, the firstborn of Jerahmeel, son of Hezron (1 Chronicles 2:27). Instead, look for the bigger picture. Ask why is this included? What was the point the author was trying to make? For example, it’s important to note that the genealogies of Jesus found in Matthew and Luke are quite different. Without understanding the big picture of why the author included each one, a reader might assume that the contradictions between the two family lists mean that there is confusion or doubt about Jesus’ history and family. However, it wasn’t unusual for genealogies to skip generations that the author wasn’t interested in. The point was not to list every relative but to trace a specific lineage to make a point. Matthew traces Jesus back through Abraham’s line because his purpose was to reassure the Jews that Jesus was the descendent of David (and Abraham) that was promised. On the other hand, Luke chooses to trace Jesus’ family history back to Adam, and finally God, situating Him as the savior of all people—connected to and representative of all other humans since Adam.
Look for Connections with Other Parts of Scripture
Another thing that will make genealogies more meaningful is finding connections between other events and passages in the Bible. Many of the details within bloodlines will reveal how God kept His promises throughout history. For example, Matthew’s genealogy states, “Abraham was the father of Isaac” (Matt 1:2). This simple sentence conceals a miraculous story behind it. Remember that Abraham and his wife Sarah were so old when they were told they would have a child that they laughed when the Lord told them so (Genesis 17-18). But from Isaac, their impossible child, would come the nation of Israel and eventually Jesus, the world’s savior.
Look for Connections Between People
You’ll also see connections between family lines and familiar names. If you look closely, you’ll see Rahab mentioned in Jesus’ lineage (Matt. 1:5). Rahab was the prostitute from Joshua 2 whose family was spared when the Israelites destroyed Jericho in return for hiding two Israelite spies before the battle. She became the mother of Boaz, the man who married Ruth. So, a woman who was initially considered an enemy of God’s people became an ancestor of Jesus Christ. As you read, it might help to highlight names you recognize or make a chart of some different families. Try exploring a companion commentary or pairing your reading with research from Bible scholars to identify even more connections.
If you think about it, it is amazing that these genealogies are included in our Bible. Our Bible is grounded in actual history involving real people. These people had names, and they had mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, children and grandchildren. You’ll see many names in the genealogies that you won’t see mentioned again. Who’s ever heard of Serug, the son of Reu (Luke 3:35)? However, it’s fascinating to know that many people we know nothing else about were vital to God’s redemption plan. Even when history doesn’t remember us or we don’t see ourselves as important, we don’t know what God is accomplishing through us. Even if genealogies still aren’t your favorite part of the Bible, I hope this helps you find new tools to look at them in a new light.