In the beginning God... (Gen 1)
This is the list of the descendants of Adam...When Lamech had lived for one hundred and eighty-two years, he became the father of a son; he named him Noah... (Gen 5)
This is the length of Abraham's life, one hundred and seventy-five years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah...These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham's son...The first came out red , all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau's heel; so he was named Jacob... (Gen 25)
Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob... (Gen 37)
Then Joseph said to his brothers, ""I am about to die; but God will surely come to you, and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." So Joseph made the Israelites swear, saying, "When God comes to you, you shall carry up my bones from here." And Joseph died, being one hundred and ten years old; he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt. (Gen 50.24-26)
Genealogies are not everyone's favorite sections of scripture to study in the Bible. In fact, most of us see the beginning of a genealogy and run our finger through that section of scripture until we see the "action" begin to take place again. Part of the reason we do this is because in the modern world we communicate history through events. When did the Revolutionary war begin? When was the Battle of Gettysburg? When did WWI and WWII begin and end? (do you also notice that our events seem to be centered around war?) We mark our time by major events. We order them chronologically and then go to the next major event to understand how we got to where we are today. This is modern history.
The ancient historians did not work this way. They were story tellers. They told history through the actions and lives of specific people. Please hear me clearly! Don't miss this! I am NOT saying that because ancient historians tell stories about people that the events did not really occur. I am NOT saying that these events are not true. I AM saying that they had a different way of approaching history.
The book of Genesis is completely structured around the lives of people and those genealogies that we like to avoid are major division markers throughout the book letting us know that the story (where we would use events) is about to change. You could argue that Genesis is still structured chronologically and has major events and I would agree. However, the story of the person is the driving force rather than specific events. When we study Martin Luther King or Martin Luther or Abraham Lincoln it is the events surrounding their lives and their place in that story that tend to take us to them. Not the other way around. The ancient historians start with the person and then move to events and significant happenings.
This becomes even more clear (and leads to some confusion for modern readers) in the books of Judges and 1 & 2 Kings. As modern readers we get confused with the jumping from one place to the next in what we perceive as no particular order. The "order" however lies in the stories of the people on which the author is focusing. Gideon, Sampson, Deborah (represent ladies!), Elijah, etc. Again, these people fall in an order that is somewhat chronological but to try and recreate a time line of events from these stories is difficult and it is not the author's purpose.
And that is the real point. What is the author's purpose? Most of ancient history is written to make a theological point rather than to record history for history's sake. The way the author tells the story, the order in which he places events, the numbers, the time frames, the events are all pointing to the theological truth that he wants the reader to understand. Understanding this way of reading Biblical history is crucial to understanding, teaching, and preaching in our churches. If we look at the history of the Bible through our modern historical mindset, we will miss the point of the ancient historical writer.
We mustn't get caught up in arguing with the people of modern culture about the historicity of the historical books of the Bible. The stories are true but are not recorded in a way the "enlightened" mind tries to define true history. Instead we should be pointing out the theological significance of the passages. What the author is communicating about God. How those truths change the way we live as the people of God. These are the things we must be teaching and preaching in our churches.
Genealogies may not be exhilarating reading but come and listen to a story about a man named...and hear what this story teaches us about the Creator.