Most Christians inwardly, if not outwardly, groan when they arrive at a genealogy in their Bible reading. This is a shame. The genealogies are wonderful and I love studying (not just reading) and preaching them. They are compressed histories of God’s faithful and loving dealings with his children, and, of his war against Satan. The genealogies in Scripture are so important that it may rightly be said that we cannot fully see the glory of the metanarrative (i.e. the storyline) of the Bible without them. Here are six tips for reading genealogies that I think will benefit the diligent reader:
1. Read Them
Do not simply pass them by. It make take several days to carefully work your way through a particular genealogy in Scripture, but with good cross references, a concordance or online Bible, you will be able to make connections and learn vital lessons you never did before. For example: the genealogy of Exodus 6:14-25 will show us that Korah who led the rebellion against Moses in Numbers 16 was actually Moses’ cousin. How is that for a family dynamic?
A similarly important connection lies in the relationship between Ahithophel (David’s betrayer who hung himself, like Judas, after his conspiracy found him out – see 2 Sam. 16:23-17:23) and Bathsheba and Uriah. If you read the list of David’s mighty men in 2 Samuel 23:8-29, you will find a short genealogy at the end of the chapter. We are told that Ahithophel was the father of Eliam, who was, in turn, one of David’s mighty men. We are also told that Uriah was one of David’s mighty men along with Eliam (2 Sam. 23:39). Prior to this, In 2 Sam. 11:3, we read, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam, one of David’s mighty men. Uriah was one of David’s mighty men. Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather and Uriah’s father-in-law. How easily now we see the pieces fall into place in order to explain the revenge that Ahithophel sought by conspiring against David with Absolam for the way in which David had murdered his son-in-law and torn apart his granddaughter’s marriage.
2. Pay Attention to Every Word
Some details may pass us by in reading, but there are no wasted words in Scripture. Ex 6:15 “The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman”. This insertion of Shaul’s lineage is unique in the context and theologically important. Does it point to Simeon’s unfaithfulness to the covenant standard (Genesis 26:34-35) which would later be codified in the Mosaic law (Exodus 34:15-16 & Deuteronomy 7:3). Or does the nameless Canaanite woman fit the mould of the Tamar/Rahab characters in Matthew’s genealogy of the Christ? After all they named their child Shaul – that is “asked of” or “prayer’s answer”.
3. Pay Attention to Every Missing Word
Most (not all) genealogies contain some details of ages and time. Two genealogies which contrast each other are those of Cain (the line of Satan) and of Noah (line of Christ). Read them both in Genesis 4 and 5 and spot the differences, then ask yourself why have these differences been recorded?