What do you think of when you look at the genealogies in the Bible? Do they excite you or bore you? For me, these genealogies have been easy to skip over or just read through quickly. They don’t always mean much to me, especially the ones in the Old Testament. A few have even seemed confusing.
In Jesus’ genealogy, I at least recognize some of the names, but it’s still not the most interesting part of his story. Granted, I do appreciate the fact that sinners and women are included in the genealogy of Jesus. Not everyone in his family was righteous or holy, which makes Jesus seem more approachable, more like us. I don’t know anyone who has a perfect family, and it’s nice to see this reflected in Jesus’ family as well.
Even with that, sometimes I wonder why so many genealogies are included in the Bible. Are they really that important? Do we really need to know who all Jesus’ ancestors were?
Second Timothy 3:16 tells us that all scripture is God breathed and useful. With that in mind, I recently heard about people in another country coming to faith in Jesus because of his genealogy. I was surprised by that. They had heard the Gospel for the first time and that is what stood out as most important to them. According to Morgan Jackson of Faith Comes by Hearing, Jesus is the person with the most important genealogy these people had heard. It’s fascinating to hear Morgan Jackson talk about it. If you’re interested, you can check out a short video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrqxLUPbDkY.
These people live in an oral culture, where what you have accomplished is not as important as who you are and who your family is. In America, that can be hard to understand. Here, people’s family lines don’t mean as much to us as their accomplishments. We focus on education or successes that they have had as individuals, with the occasional exceptions. I often forget when I’m reading the Bible that the original intended audience had a very different culture from my own. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that fact, but it’s something I need to remember.
The Bible wasn’t written to people in a Western culture who are educated and have access to the Bible in print form. The Jewish culture was an oral culture as well. The Old Testament describes people listening to the Law when it was first given to them (Exodus 34) and after their return from exile (Nehemiah 8). In Deuteronomy 31, Moses commanded the Levites to read the Law out loud to the people. The only way most of them ever heard the words of the Bible was through listening to them being spoken.
For this reason, genealogies were important to the Jewish people. When the Israelites were returning from the Babylonian exile during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, they used genealogies to prove their ancestry. Some people were excluded from the priesthood because they couldn’t demonstrate that they belonged to the line of priests (Neh 7:63-64; Ezra 2:59-63).
The fact that people have placed their faith in Jesus based on his genealogy brings a whole new reality to the truth that all scripture is God breathed and useful. Hopefully, the genealogies in the Bible will bring something else to mind now for me and for you. God can use scripture in my life and use all parts of it to speak to me. But just because I don’t understand it all doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t.
It makes me wonder what else in the Bible I have not understood that might mean a lot to other people. It’s good to continue to grow and learn about God in whatever way that comes. For me, this time it was learning that people have actually been saved through learning about Jesus’ genealogy. This reality makes me realize how much more I should be trusting God. This showed me that God really does know what he is doing and why he put certain things in the Bible.
What about you? Where do you need to trust God more?