Nothing gets so quickly boring and utterly complicated as reading the genealogies in the Bible. These lists of people from father to clan to tribe usually turn readers away from the biblical text rather than draw them into it. Truth is, we don’t really care who begat who. We’re looking for something more interesting, or at least something that has to do with “me.”
These genealogies serve a purpose, though. If we’ll take the time to read them, we’ll begin to notice something. These lists of people let us know we are connected. Crazy isn’t it? When we read our own genealogies, they tell us something about who we are; they let us know we are connected.
we are connected
The biblical genealogies let us know, just like the ancient readers, that we are connected to a specific person. Maybe there’s someone faithful like Abraham or maybe someone disgraceful like Cain in our family tree. That connection may tell us something about ourselves or it may explain something in our family heritage. We like to be connected to the important, but we may find difficulty in being connected to the notorious. Either way, we are connected.
The genealogies help us understand that we are connected to a people. We are part of a family group with lots qualities — some good, some bad. That family group has a feeling of who it is, how it lives — a culture if we can call it that. The family may be known for being good cooks, hard workers, or a bunch of rascals. Nevertheless, we learn that we are connected to a group.
Because these lists of people come in the Bible, we can learn from the genealogies that we are connected to a community of faith, living in relationship with God. All these stories we read in the Bible issue from that understanding. We recognize the individuals and we can see the families in all the stories, but these form part of a larger community of faith in covenantal relationship with God.
God expresses that desire to be in relationship with us as we read the stories of the individuals and families: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob or Moses and Aaron or Ruth and Naomi or David, Bathsheba, and Solomon. God proves faithful, merciful, loving, and righteous at every step of their lives. And, in these stories we see that they are part of something larger: that community of faith in relationship with God.
the aim of God in history
The genealogies help us learn that we are in this together, not just together with our family groups and community of faith, but in this together with God. These lists, that seem so boring, actually use a physical means — our connections to individuals and families – to express a spiritual reality. That reality is that we are in this together with God. And that reality should inform how we live this life, that it’s not really about “me” – it’s about “us.” Dallas Willard suggests, “The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with himself included in that community as its prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.”
Our connections really do matter – the places, the people from which we come are very important. For immediately we may come from some good folks (or some not so good ones), but ultimately, we come from and are connected to God, “the most glorious inhabitant” of our family tree. And we can learn that from a simple list of who begat who.
Godspeed your journey as you take the fire with you.
A text for the table: 1 Chronicles 1.1-2.17.
Image credit: “Growing Management Strategies.”