by Matthew Holst • September 23, 2014
Most Christians inwardly, if not outwardly, groan when they arrive at a genealogy in their Bible reading. This is a shame. The genealogies are wonderful and I love studying (not just reading) and preaching them. They are compressed histories of God’s faithful and loving dealings with his children, and, of his war against Satan. The genealogies in Scripture are so important that it may rightly be said that we cannot fully see the glory of the metanarrative (i.e. the storyline) of the Bible without them. Here are six tips for reading genealogies that I think will benefit the diligent reader:
1. Read Them
Do not simply pass them by. It make take several days to carefully work your way through a particular genealogy in Scripture, but with good cross references, a concordance or online Bible, you will be able to make connections and learn vital lessons you never did before. For example: the genealogy of Exodus 6:14-25 will show us that Korah who led the rebellion against Moses in Numbers 16 was actually Moses’ cousin. How is that for a family dynamic?
A similarly important connection lies in the relationship between Ahithophel (David's betrayer who hung himself, like Judas, after his conspiracy found him out - see 2 Sam. 16:23-17:23) and Bathsheba and Uriah. If you read the list of David's mighty men in 2 Samuel 23:8-29, you will find a short genealogy at the end of the chapter. We are told that Ahithophel was the father of Eliam, who was, in turn, one of David's mighty men. We are also told that Uriah was one of David's mighty men along with Eliam (2 Sam. 23:39). Prior to this, In 2 Sam. 11:3, we read, "Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam, one of David's mighty men. Uriah was one of David's mighty men. Ahithophel was Bathsheba's grandfather and Uriah's father-in-law. How easily now we see the pieces fall into place in order to explain the revenge that Ahithophel sought by conspiring against David with Absolam for the way in which David had murdered his son-in-law and torn apart his granddaughter's marriage.
2. Pay Attention to Every Word
Some details may pass us by in reading, but there are no wasted words in Scripture. Ex 6:15 “The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman.” This insertion of Shaul’s lineage is unique in the context and theologically important. Does it point to Simeon’s unfaithfulness to the covenant standard (which would later be codified in the Mosaic law - Exodus 34:15-16 & Deuteronomy 7:3)? Or does the nameless Canaanite woman fit the mould of the Tamar/Rahab characters in Matthew’s genealogy of the Christ? After all they named their child Shaul – that is, “asked of” or “prayer’s answer.”
3. Pay Attention to Every Missing Word
Most (not all) genealogies contain some details of ages and time. Two genealogies which contrast each other are those of Cain (the line of Satan) and of Noah (line of Christ). Read them both in Genesis 4 and 5 and spot the differences, then ask yourself why have these differences been recorded?
4. Consider How They Remind Us of Life and Death
They point us to the cultural mandate “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28) in the midst of a sin-wracked world. Life is given by God, even as he commanded it. Death is also such a reality – the words “and he died” which appear in Noah’s genealogy (Genesis 5) remind us that this age is not our ultimate destiny,
5. Consider How They Present to Us to Two Seeds
In the garden God set in opposition the seed of the woman - Christ – and the seed of the serpent – Satan. These are profoundly evident as you read genealogies. Exodus 6 reminds us of this as we witness, Korah, Nadab and Abihu all of whom the Lord destroyed, in the same line as Moses, Aaron and Phinehas (the good one of Numbers 25 and other places). Genealogies come to their zenith in the gospels of Matthew & Luke where we find the true seed – Jesus Christ. Tracing his lineage is a remarkable exercise of God’s faithfulness.
6. Consider How They Present to Us a Faithful, Promise-Fulfilling, Covenant Keeping God
They present to us a line of sinners, saved by grace–all the way to the great genealogies of Christ in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. As we are presented with rotten, sinful, deceitful, adulterous men and women in the genealogies, we are reminded that covenant status does not save, faith alone in the Christ does. In this way, we learn to treasure God’s faithfulness to us and our children after us.
Additionally, we observe this faithfulness when God condemns wickedness in the covenant line. Korah, swallowed up by the earthquake of judgment produced three sons who gave birth to the sons of Korah. These men (i.e. the Sons of Korah) were responsible not only for the care of the Tabernacle, but also the penning of many beautiful and inspired Psalms. Genealogies can serve as valuable sources of assurance to the doubting Christian--they help build our faith in the gracious and all-sufficient Christ.
We get out of genealogies from what time we are willing to put in. If we are prepared to spend the time, do the work and be guided by the Spirit, we will be presented with potted-histories of God’s kindness to man. So we mush read the genealogies of Scripture and study them. They, like every other part of Scripture, are profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness, that you may be made perfect, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16).
R.C. Sproul "Tracing the Genealogy of Jesus" (Tabletalk Devotional)
T. Desmond Alexander "The Royal Genealogy of Jesus" (Tabletalk Article)