When you open the pages of 1 Chronicles you will probably be overwhelmed by the sea of names. Ugh! Another genealogy. We’ve been through a patch of deep grass like this once before on our Journey through the Old Testament when we read Moses’ book of Genesis and Numbers. As with any book of the Bible, it is important to always place yourself in the context of the original author when trying to understand the text. Remember, there is no wasted space in Scripture. It’s not like somebody said, “you know, I think this book is a little thin, I think I’ll throw in a list of names so that I can meet my word quota.” (I must admit, I’ve done something like that on a few term papers, but it doesn’t happen in scripture).
When Moses wrote Genesis and Numbers, the people of Israel had just crossed the Red Sea and emerged from the darkness of slavery. They had just received the law and their society was being radically reconfigured. Moses knew that it was important to remind the nation of their spiritual heritage in order to give them a sense of connection to the cosmic plan of God at work in the world. In 1 Chronicles a similar thing is happening. The nation of Israel has just emerged from another period of darkness, having been devastated by the Babylonians and held prisoner in that foreign land for 70 years. They had been allowed to return to Jerusalem, to rebuild the city, and rebuild the temple, but not allowed to reestablish a king. In light of this peculiar political situation the nation was asking two basic questions, “Who are we?” and “Where is God in all this?”
The Chronicler’s hopes for his own age and his message for later ages include… [the concept of] continuity. This is brought out by the name-lists of his first nine chapters, binding the people of God together across the generations, and at a deeper level by his constant interest in unchanging principles. He would want to tell us that there is no reason why (making allowances for changed circumstances) the same principles should not apply to the life of God’s people now as then.1
The following excerpt from the Word in Life Study Bible has a nice perspective on this seemingly endless list of names.
The genealogies of Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Isaac, are far more than just a collection of names or an extended family tree. They tell the story of God’s work and purposes from generation to generation.
As such, these genealogies have much to teach us today about how we look at our heritage. They remind us to …
Look back with gratitude. Genealogies show us our roots. As the Israelites looked back on their past, they had much for which to praise God. He had chosen them as His people, brought them out of slavery in Egypt, given them a land, and established a kingdom. Through it all, He had remained faithful to His promises to such leaders as Abraham, Moses, and David.
Look around at our connections. First Chronicles reminds the reader of the kinship between Edomites and Israelites—a fact that has important implications to this day. In a world where ethnicity so often seems to divide, Scripture encourages us to look also at what we have in common.
Look ahead with faith. The past is often an indication of the future. Because Israel’s past showed God’s faithfulness to the people’s forebears, it gave a basis for trusting God to fulfill His Word among their descendants. Likewise, we today can count on God to honor what He has told us.
Following God is more than just an immediate, momentary experience. Certainly it involves what we do in the here and now. But our spirituality is also part of the tapestry of history—a history that God oversees and in which He participates. In 1 Chr. 1–8 we see His work in the history of one family. How has God been involved in the people from whom you are descended?2
Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.) (1 Ch 1:1). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.
2Word in life study Bible. 1997, c1996 (electronic ed.) (1 Ch 1:29). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.