There’s a story of an old Scots minister who was reading from the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel. He started reading, “Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac beget Jacob, and Jacob begat Judah,” and he looked on ahead and saw the list to follow and said, “and they kept on begetting one another all the way down this page and halfway into the next.”
Unfortunately, I think that’s the way most of us view genealogies: this person begat that person who begot that person, and then eventually (finally) the chapter’s over. If you didn’t outright skip the entire list, at the very least you worked on your pronunciation.
But genealogies are placed for a reason, and are applicable for us even under the New Testament. Here are nine reasons why you should take the time to read them every time you come across them in your Bible.
- They substantiate historical accuracy – These are real people with real stories that can still be uncovered today, and we can identify with their stories and with their lives. Many of the genealogies contained in First Chronicles, for instance, identify towns and countries that are still identifiable today.
- They confirm prophecy – The Messiah’s descendancy from David is paramount to the doctrine of Christ, and so both Biblical genealogies in Matthew and Luke go through great pains to reveal that Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of that specific Old Testament prophecy.
- They display God’s interest in individuals – One of the most noteworthy parts of Matthew’s genealogy is his inclusion of several women, such as Rahab, Bathsheba, and Ruth. These are women that much of the world would have passed on by, and yet God gives them a special place in our spiritual heritage.
- They give us examples of Godliness – The prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:10 is jammed into the middle of a long genealogical record, and yet the writer stops to highlight a model of integrity that can still be emulated today.
- They regulated who could do what – Serving as a priest was only available to those who were members of the tribe of Levi; genealogical records determined whether one fit into that category, and were exceedingly useful after the exile (Ezra 10).
- They highlight the story of the Bible – Genealogies are not necessarily an unbroken chronological chain of people; they emphasize the people and events that are pivotal to understand the story of the Bible. Supposed “gaps” in the timeline are not to undermine any one person’s significance, but to pave the way for those who are most pertinent to the discussion at hand.
- They prop up other parts of the story – Follow this chain for example: Ahithophel was one who conspired against David (2 Sam. 16:23-17:23). Ahithophel was also the father of Eliam, one of David’s mighty men (2 Sam. 23:34). Eliam, in turn, was possibly the father of Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:3). Putting this together, we see that Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather and Eliam was Uriah’s father-in-law. You would have never seen that had you skipped their Biblical ancestry.
- They give us brief descriptions of people’s character – We know very little about one of the most intriguing people in Scripture: Enoch. Genesis 5:22 records that instead of dying, “he was not, for God took him” (Hebrews 11:5). This kind of occurrence is akin to Elijah’s departure, so whoever Enoch was, it is likely he was a great man of righteousness.
- They are in the Bible – If all else fails, remember the admonition of 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” We may not always understand the importance and benefit of reading the genealogies, but if it’s in God’s Word, it would behoove us to read them intently.