October 20, 2014.
Today I want to talk about something that most Christians find rather boring or hard to understand, yet it is something that fascinates me (probably more than in should…). I probably won’t be able to convince you that this topic is really interesting, but I will at least attempt to show a few reasons why it can be relevant and profitable to study. Have you guessed what the topic is yet? (I realize that if you have read the title you didn’t need to guess…) Genealogies! You know, those long list of impossible to pronounce names that are found here and there throughout the scripture. Usually we just skip over them when we read, but I want to suggest that they can actually prove to be very useful in good bible study. I hold that they are placed in the bible for a reason, and that reason isn’t just so we can skip over them (though the actual reason they are in the bible might be far from my logic as well).
Though I have felt this way about genealogies for a long time (I have a poster that has a lineage from Adam and Eve to Christ in my room), what sparked my interest to actually write about it was the genealogy I read in Genesis last night. I will give some of it here, but I will try to spare you all the tough names:
“These are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir. These are the names of Esau’s sons: Eliphaz the son of Adah the wife of Esau, Reuel the son of Basemath the wife of Esau. The sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz. (Timna was a concubine of Eliphaz, Esau’s son; she bore Amalek to Eliphaz.) These are the sons of Adah, Esau’s wife. These are the sons of Reuel: Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah. These are the sons of Basemath, Esau’s wife. These are the sons of Oholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon, Esau’s wife: she bore to Esau Jeush, Jalam, and Korah.”
When you read through this lineage, two questions might come to mind. “What relevance does a genealogy in the book of Genesis have on my life?”, or perhaps you thought a little deeper and asked “Even if genealogies are important, why would the lineage of Esau, as opposed to Jacob, be relevant to Christianity?” Though it probably isn’t the main point of giving Esau’s lineage, what sparked my interest most stems from an interest in the book of Job. The book of Job is a wonderful book about suffering that reveals many characteristics about the Almighty, but it is a book that little is definitively known about. We can’t say with certainty who wrote it, when it was written or the time period it is set in. Any clue to answer these questions is very interesting to me, and when I read the genealogy in Genesis 36 last night, I found one of those clues. In the second chapter of Job, we find his three friends coming to comfort him:
“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him.”
Notice here “Eliphaz the Temanite.” Do either of those names sound familiar? “These are the names of Esau’s sons: Eliphaz the son of Adah the wife of Esau, Reuel the son of Basemath the wife of Esau. The sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz.” It was very exciting to read the name Eliphaz in the genealogy of Esau. I first thought that this might indeed be the same Eliphaz who was Job’s friend, but further study has pointed out that Job’s friend was actually probably a descendant of this Eliphaz because he is deemed a “Temanite,” or a descendant of Teman, the son of Elipaz, the son of Esau. Thus, this line of reasoning gives a pretty good pictue of at least the time period that the book of Job is set in, which is likely during or just before the 400 years of Egyptian bondage which the Israelites were subjected to before Moses came to lead them out. We don’t hear about this bondage because Job is not an Israelite who moved to Egypt when Joseph was set as a ruler under Pharaoh. In fact, the culture and writing suggest that Job wasn’t an Israelite at all, but just a man who lived in the patriarchal age who was a very righteous man. The reason that Job is placed so late in the Old Testament cannon is because it is considered a book of poetry/wisdom and is grouped with Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. Yet knowing that Job lived in a time period before Moses really helps understand the context of the story.
Besides helping us understand time periods and contexts, genealogies also help us connect people and places that are mentioned in the bible to give us a better over all picture of the timeline and why certain people or books are recorded. We see early on in the book of Genesis that God seems to keep a pseudo-geneology or timeline when He (or other people) is telling who He is. He is often referred to as the God of Jacob, the God of Isaac, the God of Abraham (i.e. Ex. 3:6). Have you heard that phrase before? Notice that this is a short genealogy. Abraham begat Isaac who begat Jacob, and this was the line that the promise of the blessing, ultimately the Messiah, would come through. Further, if you put together multiple genealogies that follow, you can see that Christ did come through this line, being a descendant of Judah, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham (I’m not going to lie, listing my own genealogies to describe my point is more fun than it should be).
I suppose first time I got interested in genealogies was when I did my first read through of the bible. The reason it was interesting is because I actually could recognize some of the names. When I reached the first book of Chronicles, I found that the first nine chapters were straight genealogies. I thought “well, this is going to be a tough section to get through…” However, as I began to read, I started seeing the names of people that I had read about earlier. “I know him! I remember that story! Wait, David was a direct descendant of Boaz? That’s why the book of Ruth is so important!” It was thrilling to make the connections, and it still is. I haven’t connected everything yet, and each time I go back and read through a genealogy it is neat to see the different connections amongst the people. It really gives some depth to the reading and a better understanding that these books were written as literal history, not just made up to propagate a religion. This gives validity to the Scriptures as being the word of God and strengthens my faith.
Perhaps one of the most interesting case studies in genealogies is the lineage of Christ, given in the first chapter of Matthew and the third chapter of Luke. Each genealogy is different, possibly following both Mary’s lineage to David and Joseph’s lineage to David in the two separate accounts, but each point back to David and from that point back are the same. Can you imagine the honor it would be to be mentioned in the lineage of Christ? Not that those in His lineage actually got to see it while living (though some did have the promise that they would be in the lineage of the Messiah), but just think about it. Why is Rahab mentioned in the lineage of Christ? I don’t think God makes mistakes about what He included in Scripture. Though I don’t know the reason with certainty, I would say that there is a reason for her mention, if only to highlight what she did for the spies in Jericho. The fact that there are five women in the genealogy of Christ is also interesting, as this does not seem to be the norm when recording a lineage.
There are many things we can learn and infer from the genealogies in the bible, but I understand that it probably takes a unique (some would call it weird) interest in them to make any sense of them. I don’t expect the study of these lineages to fill up all of your bible study time, nor should they really as there are more important matters to study, but I hope that I have sparked at least a little bit of interest in what would some call a rather dry part of the bible. I think reading the bible can be as interesting as you want to make it, and finding ways to make long lists of names interesting might indeed be a beneficial step to understanding the word more completely.
Next time you read through a genealogy in the bible, see how many names you recognize and if you can remember at least one story about each one you recognize.
Suggested Daily Reading: Genesis 36, I Chronicles 2, Matthew 1, Luke 3.
Grace and peace.