If you’ve ever read the Bible or followed an audible Bible-in-a-year reading plan, you’ve noticed that the Good Book contains several genealogies. Perhaps you’ve stumbled through some of these family lines with bewilderment, wondering why in the world it matters who begat whom for so many generations.
As you may already know, the Bible tells us that all of Scripture is inspired by God and useful for learning how to live a just life (2 Timothy 3:16). Since that’s the God-given truth, it, therefore, follows that the Bible’s genealogies must serve some greater purpose than simply to map out family trees. As we’ll explore below, the genealogies do, indeed, serve a greater purpose.
Here are three ways that biblical genealogies give the reader significant information.
1. The genealogies give the Bible credence as a historical text.
It’s an unfortunate reality that some people believe everything mentioned in the Bible is made up—all part of one big myth to teach the reader a moral lesson. Anyone doubting if the people in the Bible truly existed need only take note of the names, places, and dates referenced in Scripture and cross-reference that information with the extra-biblical, historical information available.
If you did this, you’d find that archaeology has confirmed the existence of numerous Biblical people and places to date. In terms of the Bible’s genealogies, you’d find archaeological proof that a king named David lived and reigned at a time and place when the Bible said King David lived and reigned.
You’d also find ancient, extra-biblical sources that reference Jesus, His being known as the Christ, His crucifixion, and the fact that His followers were executed for their beliefs.
Simply put, archaeology and ancient sources increasingly support the Bible as a historically reliable text.
2. The genealogies establish that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
The Old Testament contains over 300 prophecies about a future Messiah who would deliver His people from oppression. The prophets foretold that the Savior would come from the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and hail from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 12:3, 17:19, 49:10). The prophets further assured that the Savior would be a direct descendant of Jesse and King David (Isaiah 11:1; 2 Samuel 7:12-13).
Scripture’s genealogies (among other New Testament passages) prove that Jesus Christ fulfilled these Old Testament prophecies. The Apostle Matthew established this from the jump by opening his Gospel with Jesus’ family tree. That family tree shows that Jesus is a direct descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesse, and King David and that He hails from the tribe of Judah (Matthew 1:1-16).
In linking Jesus to each person that the prophets declared would be in the Messianic line, the genealogies show us that God keeps his promises throughout the ages and down family lines. In fact, Jesus’s direct link to Abraham reveals God’s plan to broaden the Old Testament promise of blessings to a nation to the New Testament promise of salvation to all people through Christ Jesus.
3. The genealogies show that God can bring greatness out of flawed people.
Despite our modern sensibilities, it was a fact of ancient life that families in biblical times distanced themselves from any relative whom they considered a bad seed. This desire to disassociate from anyone considered dishonorable was based on the cultural reality of the age. In other words, a person’s associations could affect their marital prospects, their standing in the community, or serve as the basis for being publicly executed.
Based on these cultural norms of old, it’s easy to see why ancient people would want to erase the memory of any black sheep in the family. For that reason, any ancestral list that mentioned a disgraced relative would be a source of shame unless that accurate accounting served a much grander purpose. Such is the case of Jesus’ family tree. Through Jesus’ genealogy, we see that our all-loving God can lift up the most broken of people to bless them as part of His grander plan. In particular, the Gospel of Matthew tells us that the Son of God was descended from Rahab (Matthew 1:5). Rahab was a prostitute and a Canaanite, a nation known as one of Israel’s bitter enemies (Joshua 2:1).
Either fact alone—or the fact that Rahab was female—would have prompted most ancient people to obliterate Rahab’s name from any written family record. However, Matthew included Rahab in his Gospel’s genealogy to reflect God’s far-reaching compassion in making people from all walks of life part of His magnificent design. Jesus was also a direct descendant of Ruth, who was a Gentile. This is important because the Jews of Jesus’ day looked down upon the Gentiles as people who were not (yet) part of God’s covenant with Abraham. Moreover, Ruth was from Moab, a hostile border nation that was often mired in conflict with the Israelites. Like Rahab, there were obvious reasons why some people would have preferred to erase Ruth’s name from their history, but Matthew knew better. In listing Ruth as Jesus’ ancestor, Matthew honored Ruth as a woman (and a Gentile and a Moabite) who formed part of Jesus’ story.
Jesus also descended from King David. David is certainly not without blemish despite his earthly blessings and important contribution as the author of the Psalms. King David chose to sin by committing adultery with Bathsheba. He then went on to compound that sin by arranging for the brutal murder of Bathsheba’s husband, a man who had served David loyally as one of his elite soldiers.
The Redeemer arose from this line of sinners, connivers, and cultural enemies. In descending from flawed people, Jesus cast all of our sins upon Himself and became the final, perfect sacrifice to bridge the divide between humanity and God. It’s no wonder that Jesus called himself a “friend of sinners” and declared that His ministry’s purpose was not to save the healthy but the spiritually sick (Matthew 11:19; Mark 2:17). In summary, the next time you’re tempted to skip the Bible’s genealogies, remember that each name brings context to humanity’s story and sets the foundation for the coming of Him who would redeem all. Lucky for us, each name also shows the depth of God’s compassion in weaving the flawed and the righteous alike into the glorious tapestry of salvation history.
Dolores Smyth is a nationally published faith and parenting writer. She draws inspiration for her writing from everyday life. Connect with her over Twitter @byDoloresSmyth.