Recently I’ve been working on a project in my spare time in which I scour Pinterest for photographs of people that I would “cast” in my fantasy film of the Bible. Doing so causes me to really sit down and study bible characters in a whole new way. I’ve come to admire people in the Bible that I hadn’t liked before, or dislike people that I’d thought I did. As I’ve been going along through Genesis and beyond, I’ve also become more consciously aware of which character is descended from whom. This helps me put them in perspective, see where each person is coming from. What people named their children in the Bible is very telling as to their spiritual walk at the time, and it’s interesting to see if they “lived up” to their name.
We see genealogical records over and over throughout the Scriptures. Many of us might be familiar with the recorded lineage of Jesus Christ (see Matt. 1) in which we see one of the fulfilled prophecies that Jesus was of the correct family descent to be the Messiah. But many other individuals’ genealogy is recorded as well. We often see people introduced to us multiple times as being the son of so-and-so. Joshua son of Nun. Joab son of Zeruiah. Abijah daughter of Zechariah. Other genealogies are more complex, such as the lineage of the Koathites in 1 Chronicles 33-47 or the sons of Esau in Genesis 36:10-29. Maybe these histories would bore some, but I find them fascinating. Their exotic sounding names are not just titles—they were real people who raised future generations, for good or ill.
It’s obvious the Bible holds genealogy as important, and not just to prove the lineage of the Messiah. I believe knowing one’s genealogy is important for us as well. When we look out over our family tree, we begin to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around us. We’re just a leaf on the oak or a needle on the pine. Trunks and tree boughs had to grow before us. We start out as twigs and can produce so much more in this life if we so choose and are willing to be used by God. Our story is just a part of the entire story going on since the world began. It’s humbling.
It also can create a feeling of belonging. In our tree analogy, we’re not just an acorn that came from nowhere. Some people don’t have the opportunity to find out where they came from, and when I imagine what that must be like I get a cold sense of loneliness. One can still be their own person regardless, but I think there’s still an emptiness present when one doesn’t know their heritage.
Heritage can be both a blessing and a curse. Some would rather not know their background. But it’s important to realize that knowing family history, even if it is not very positive, does not doom an individual’s future because we are free to make our own choices. It’s the old adage about history being learned lest it be repeated. Is there a certain negative pattern that seems to be a characteristic theme going on generation after generation in your family? Knowing is key to understanding how these actions affect you today. Knowing is also key to breaking the pattern of negativity. In Genesis 34, we read of the account of Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi. In a mad fit of rage, they massacred a whole city while the inhabitants were incapacitated. Their father was so mad at them that he disinherited them from being the next of his sons in line to receive the blessing of family leadership (Gen. 49:5-7). Their actions had consequences that did affect future generations for all time. However, their descendants didn’t have to let that affect their choices. It seems Simeon’s line didn’t make much of a particular positive name for themselves throughout the rest of the Bible, but Levi’s tribe did. The two most prominent of this family are Moses, whom the Lord spoke to as a friend would, and Aaron, from whom Israel’s priests were descended. In fact, when Moses discovered that many Israelites had worshipped a golden calf in his absence, he put forth an order than anyone for the Lord should come to him. All the Levites rallied to him.
It’s also important to note that having a good family reputation doesn’t guarantee us the same fate. Aaron, the first high priest of Israel, was chosen and blessed by God. But some of his sons apparently thought they had a corner on the spiritual market because of their descent. In Leviticus 10, Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu grew careless and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord. Things didn’t end too well for them. Scripture informs us they had no offspring to carry on their name.
No one is perfect, but not all genealogy is depressing. There are also heroes in the family that have come before us that we can look at their legacy and claim for our own heritage. I may not agree with everything my ancestors believed spiritually, but I admire their faith in the midst of fiery persecution. I admire the perseverance an ancestor of mine must have had to suffer through the misery of Valley Forge. They might have been only farmers, pioneers, or even wigmakers, but the story of their character has been related through the ages.
The important thing is what did our ancestors make of themselves, and what can we learn from them?