In my Bible study class yesterday, we came across a long passage of name. Then I received the usual question: Why are there so many genealogies in the Bible? What’s with the bible family tree?
It’s a good question. The Bible teaches us how to live. So why all the lists of names? Why do we need a bible family tree?
We are not the first generation to struggle with genealogies. The ancient rabbis believed every word in the Bible served a purpose. God would not leave us with unnecessary words. Each one had significance.
Therefore, they have lessons to each. Some are more scholarly and others are more mystical. Each of them can enrich our life and understanding of the Bible. Here are five of them:
1. Every person matters.
Every name was important because every name counted. If one name is left out, the story is incomplete.
Have you ever had to make announcements thanking people for organizing a program or event, and then inadvertently left someone out? Have you ever been left out yourself? Then you know how it feels.
Great achievements happen only when people value and count every person’s contribution. That has been true as long as people walked the earth.
2. The genealogies remind us that God works through human beings.
God uses us to fulfill the Divine purpose on earth. God needs us to act so He can act through us! So the bible family tree–the lists of names–recount the people who made each life possible.
3. Genealogies teach us names matter:
If names didn’t matter, the Bible could simply say “10 generations passed.” Instead, we get a list of names. Names encapsulate who we are.
As a famous biblical passage puts it, “Moses said to God: When I tell the Israelites that the God of their ancestors has sent me, they will ask me, “What is his name?”
God says, Ehyeh asher ehyeh, (I will be who I will be).” (Exodus 3:13-14)
4. The Bible family tree conveys ideas through numbers:
In Hebrew every letter has a numeric value. The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet—Aleph—counts as one. The second letter—Bet—counts as two. And after ten, the numbers ascend by ten.
Since each letter has a numeric value, every word also has an associated number. Here’s an pertinent example: The word David in Hebrew is spelled Dalet Vav Dalet, D-V-D. Dalet has the numeric value of 4. Vav is 6. And then the second Dalet is also 4. That totals 14. So the Hebrew name David has the numeric value of 14.
Why is that important? Look at the opening of the Book of Matthew. It’s a long list of names. But notice something about those names? They are organized in three groups of 14!
To convey a message of continuity: Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience. Jews in the first century believed that the Messiah would come from the family of David. (I talk in depth about this gospel in What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness of Jesus)
By dividing the genealogies into groups of 14—the same numeric value as the name David—Matthew is sending a message about who Jesus is. He is descended from the House of David.
Any first-century Jew hearing the Gospel of Matthew would have understood the connection between 14, King David, and the genealogy of Jesus.
5. Genealogies also convey hope:
They remind us of our long heritage. This insight helps us understand the nine chapters of genealogies that open up the Book of Chronicles.
In the Jewish ordering of the Old Testament texts, First and Second Chronicles are the last books of the Bible. Judging from the final names and locations mentioned, scholars believe the book was written no earlier than the fifth century BCE.
Therefore, the Book of Chronicles is written after the Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Babylonians. That happened in 586 BCE. Yes, the Temple was rebuilt, but the Israelites no longer had political independence. They lived under a foreign ruler.
By linking the Israelites of his time with ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the author of First Chronicles seeks to lift their spirits. He is urging them not to lose hope and faith. They have suffered. They have lost their independence. They lost their First
Temple. But they are God’s people. They are God’s people despite all that happened. They are part of something bigger than themselves.
So are we.
Do You Skip Over or Read the Genealogies?