One of the challenges readers of the Bible encounter in their regular Bible reading is genealogies. How are they to be understood? What role do they play? How is this to be applied today? Though we know all Scripture is “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17), but how does the genre of genealogy fit into that?
Gerald Bray, God is Love : A Biblical and Systematic Theology, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 59, aids us in answering this question by focusing on three key questions when reading genealogies: (1) what do they reveal about God? (2) what do they say about us? (3) what do they say about God’s dealings with us?
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 one 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 from 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 purpose of God in 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 to us.
In sum, Bray notes that when we read genealogies in the Bible, in response to his questions we learn that (1) God is the faithful Lord who has kept and will keep His covenant from one generation to another (1 Cor. 1:9); (2) we are both insignificant and yet important in that God creates future generations through us and we are part of the great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 11), those who have been faithful to the Lord where He has providentially placed us; (3) there is a purpose in God’s call in our lives that is beyond ourselves, and we are to trust and obey, to pass on to the next generation the faith once for all entrusted to the saints, both with lips and with life (Jude 3).