Discover Hidden Treasures in the Genealogies of the Bible

To be perfectly honest, when I used to come to a passage of Scripture that began with So-and-so was the father of Thus-and-such, my eyes would glaze over and I’d just skip the list of who begat whom. BORING! Or so I thought.

Yet when my Bible study teacher pulled hidden gems of meaning out of these endless lists they didn’t seem like such a snooze. In fact, I sat enthralled by the insights that apparently were hidden from unequipped eyes.

Once you understand a few principles, you will also be equipped to reveal the riches concealed within these long lists of names.

Genealogy has become a popular hobby in the 21st Century. We have websites like ancestory.com which help you trace your lineage back generations. Send in a DNA sample and you’ll get a report mapping your ethnicity going back multiple generations. You’ll have a good idea from which region of the world your ancestors hailed.

According to the Genealogy Products and Services – Global Outlook Report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc, genealogical enthusiasts spent between $1,000 to $18,000 a year to discover their roots.

The Purpose of Genealogies in Biblical Times

Modern researchers place thousands of dollars of value on tracing genealogies when all that depends on the information is satisfying one’s curiosity.

Now, imagine your ability to pursue your calling, live where you desire, determined your taxes, and who you could marry depended on verifying your family lineage. In Biblical times, there was a lot more than curiosity riding on one’s genealogy. [3; p. 1608]

The ancient purpose of one’s genealogy was not to create an exact timeline of who was born when. Rather, the people included in the list and the information given about them was chosen to suit the author’s particular purpose.

Various purposes of genealogies include:

  1. Show relationships and distinctive traits of Israel and her neighboring nations.
  2. Provide coherent and inclusive genealogical system for Israel.
  3. Bridge narrative gaps.
  4. Provide chronological framework of important biblical events.
  5. Census-like function for military or political purposes.
  6. Provide qualifications for an office/role.
  7. Protect the spiritual purity of Israel.
  8. Affirm continuity of God’s people through the exile.
  9. Highlight the sovereignty of God in His ordering and governing of history.[2]

I’ve made you a cheat sheet that clarifies each of these nine functions and gives examples from the Scriptures. If you’d like a copy, just click the button below and I’ll email a copy to you instantly.

Discover Hidden Treasure - Genealogies Purposes

It was accepted practice to use a combination of high profile historical figures, precise patterns, and specific sets of symbolic numbers to convey the author’s larger message about who a particular person was and how they fit into God’s plan. The telescoping of generations was frequently used to obtain numbers, sequences, and patterns which the author used to his rhetorical advantage.

Each roll provides a narrative thread of God’s overall tapestry of redemption. And the outlines reveal not only information about the people in the list but also their God who orchestrated the events chronicles by the names featured.

You may find it helpful to download the infographic versions of the genealogies of Adam to Abram I made for you. Just click here and I’ll email you a copy right away. It will make it much easier to visually follow the flow and notice the little gems I’ve excavated for you.
Biblical Genealogies Adam to Abram LB

Send me the infographics!

Adam’s Line: Cain versus Seth

For example, compare how the author of Genesis handles the line of Adam as traced through Cain in Genesis 4 and through Seth in Genesis 5. If you pay attention, you’ll discover a few theologically significant little jewels.

Did you notice how there were no ages given in Cain’s account?

Yet, when Seth’s line is given, the author carefully denotes the age of the fathers at the birth of the son, the years lived after the son’s birth, and the age of the father when he died.

Do you see the definitive pattern? In Seth’s line, each man’s life is categorized into two era’s: before the child’s birth and after the child’s delivery. [1]

Hmmm, I wonder if that B.C and A.D. pattern might prefigure the significance of the birth of a particular child (Jesus) in a particular family line of a man after God’s own heart (David)? And if you check out the genealogy of Jesus over in Luke 3:23-38, you’ll see that both Jesus and David trace their line back through Seth to Adam. Cool, huh?

When you read through Cain’s lineage the author emphasizes how Cain’s descendants built cities, developed technologies and made cultural advances. All very valuable contributions from a worldly perspective. Whereas the emphasis made in Seth’s story is how his progeny related faithfully with God.

So is it any surprise that Cain’s line is wiped out in the flood of God’s judgment on humanity’s wickedness, while Noah, a descendant of Seth, is used by God’s grace to provide hope for the renewal of mankind.

{Adam to Noah} Compared with {Shem to Abram}

A great example of the use of numerical patterns is seen when you compare the generations from Adam to Noah (including Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Genesis 5) with the generations from Shem to Terah (and his sons Abram, Nahor, and Haran, ) (Genesis 11:10–26).

As discussed above, Noah was the man through whom God chose to redeem humankind during the flood. (Genesis 6 – 9) Abram was the man with whom God chose to cut a covenant through which God would ultimately redeem all mankind. (Genesis 12; 15)

Notice when the author outlines the lines of each man there are ten generations from Adam to Noah and ten from Noah to Terah.

Then, the man representing the tenth generation is the father of three sons. Out of the two sets of three sons, God chose one in each set to be the instrument of his blessing and play a key role in the overall redemption story.

Ten is a number used to signify completeness while three often represents the divine. Thus, the author conveys God is at work in the lives of His chosen ones to bring his plan of redemption to completion. There is a divine order and sovereignty to the way their history unfolds.

The Table of Nations

Want to understand the relationships, animosities, and significance of certain nations and individuals in the remainder of the Old Testament?

Then you’ll want to check out the list of family lines known as the Table of Nations (see Genesis 10). FYI, this is also on the free infographic I made you. Also, consult your Number Symbolism Cheat Sheet I made you in a previous post.

Notice the number of nations is no coincidence. Seventy nations is a multiple of both 7 and 10 so it conveys a sense of completeness as determined by God. This account of the nations reflects the perspective at the time Genesis was authored. Thus there is no discussion of anyone the Israelites were not aware of outside their known world of the ancient Near East. [3; note on p. 24]

So don’t skip over the genealogies!

I hope this post helps you see the hidden gems and layers of meaning conveyed within those long lines of “So-and-so” begat “Thus-and-such”. Take a closer look the next time you come across a genealogy in the Bible and see what treasure awaits!

Question: What’s something interesting you’ve learned from one of the genealogies you’ve studies in the Scriptures? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Sources:

  1. Coming to Grips with Genealogies by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary as published on Bible.org.
  2. The Purpose of the Biblical Genealogies: With Special Reference to the Setting of the Genealogies of Jesus by Marshall D. Johnson (London : Cambridge University Press, 1989)

  3. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016)
  4. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2003)

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  • Pete

    My first reaction to genealogieswas just about like yours! Normally I’d skip them. Looking forward to your “cheat sheets” to see what I missed.
    What was most interesting out of what I did learn in the past? That would be that Jesus’s genealogy in Matthew 1 traces Joseph’s ancestors, while the one in Luke 3 follows Mary’s. Today, as I looked at those two again, I learned that both Joseph and Mary were descended from David and Bathsheba, tho Mary’s ancestor was their son Nathan, and Joseph’s was their son Solomon. (See 1 Chronicles 3:5, also 2 Samuel 5:13-16). Hadn’t known that till now.