Whenever I read the Chronicles, I generally skipped the first 12 chapters full of genealogies. Yes, they’re in the Bible. Yes, I believe they’re inspired, but, let’s be honest, they can be pretty boring. It’s kind of hard to see the point of 12 chapters of list after list of people who don’t actually do anything of note. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who has felt this way.
Enter Gerald Bray.
In his systematic theology God is Love, Bray helpfully gives us three questions that we should always ask when studying any text:
- What does it tell us about God? What does it say about who he is and what he does?
- What does it tell us about human beings? What are we meant to be and what has gone wrong?
- What has God done about this problem and how does he expect of us in light of what he’s done?
As a test-case, he applies them to the study of the genealogies, to see what these “endless list of ‘begats'” can tell us, shedding on light the deep riches of God’s Word that await those patient enough to mine for it:
What do the genealogies reveal about God? They tell us that he is a faithful Lord, who keeps his covenant from one generation to another. Whoever we are and however far we may have descended from the source of our human life in Adam, we are still part of God’s plan. Over the centuries we have developed differently, we have lost contact with on another, and we have even turned on each other in hostility, but in spite of all that, we are still related and interconnected in ways that go beyond our immediate understanding or experience.
Secondly, what do the genealogies say about us? They say that form the world’s point of view, most of us are nobodies. We live and die in a long chain of humanity, but there is not much that anyone will remember about us as individuals. Yet without us, future generations will not be born and the legacy of the past will not be preserved. We are part of a great cloud of witnesses, a long chain of faithful people who have lived for God in the place where he put them. Even if we know little about our ancestors, we owe them a great debt of gratitude for their loyalty and perseverance, when they had little or nothing to gain from it or to show for it.
Finally, what do the genealogies say about God’s dealings with us? They tell us that we are called to be obedient and to keep the faith we have inherited, passing it on undiminished to the next generation. They remind us that there is a purpose in our calling that goes beyond ourselves. Even if we are not celebrated by future generations and leave little for posterity to remember us by, we shall nevertheless have made an indispensable contribution to the purposes of God in human history. So the genealogies bring us a message from God, even if they appear on the surface to be barren and unprofitable. All we have to do is ask the right questions, and their meaning will be quickly opened up to us.
Now things might not open up that quickly for you and I, and yet Bray is right. All of Scripture really is profitable for the believer who seeks to hear God’s word to his people (2 Tim 3:16), and is willing to learn the right questions.
Soli Deo Gloria