What’s in a Name? Why You Shouldn’t Skip the Geneologies

When I’m reading the Bible, I find it really easy to “skim” through certain parts. Or skip them all together.  Some of the laws are just plain hard to get through (for example, most of Leviticus).  It’s pretty easy to skip through the prophecies as well; it can feel like reading a history textbook. It is especially easy to skip through genealogies…so and so begot so and so… he begot him. Jeshephaphat gave birth to Jesseriahphat, etc, etc, etc (I made those names up- don’t quote them).

All very interesting, sure, but without any real context, I might as well just skip these fifty names I’m about to zone out through anyways.

Right?

Wrong.

There are some surprisingly interesting stories packed up in the genealogies! I’m hoping that after reading this post, you might change your mind about the boringness of some genealogies.

 

To Give it Some Context…

Let me take you to the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew.

Matthew Chapter 1:

This is the genealogy[a] of Jesus the Messiah[b] the son of David, the son of Abraham:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac,

Isaac the father of Jacob,

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,

3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,

Perez the father of Hezron,

Hezron the father of Ram,

4 Ram the father of Amminadab,

Amminadab the father of Nahshon,

Nahshon the father of Salmon,

5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse,

6 and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,

7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam,

Rehoboam the father of Abijah,

Abijah the father of Asa,

8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,

Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,

Jehoram the father of Uzziah,

9 Uzziah the father of Jotham,

Jotham the father of Ahaz,

Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,

10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,

Manasseh the father of Amon,

Amon the father of Josiah,

11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah[c] and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

12 After the exile to Babylon:

Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,

Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,

13 Zerubbabel the father of Abihud,

Abihud the father of Eliakim,

Eliakim the father of Azor,

14 Azor the father of Zadok,

Zadok the father of Akim,

Akim the father of Elihud,

15 Elihud the father of Eleazar,

Eleazar the father of Matthan,

Matthan the father of Jacob,

16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

Did you just scroll/skim through that? (Thought so.)

That is the genealogy of Jesus, starting with Abraham.  The main reason Matthew put the Genealogy here was to convince his Jewish brothers and sisters that Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary, was their long-awaited Messiah. If you were a Jew reading this in Matthew’s day, you would have stopped and read through this genealogy very carefully.  You’d be contemplating every name intensely, scrutinizing the list. After all, Matthew is making an extreme claim here to say that this man, Jesus, is their Messiah.

The Jews of Matthew’s day knew the Old Testament very well. The names and stories would be easy for them to recall from memory. As they read through this list of names, the old stories that they knew, loved and studied would be jumping out at them. They would see these names and remember the great works of their Jehovah God. That’s where we need to be as American readers of the Bible. As we study God’s Word and learn how He used these people listed in this genealogy to bring about the Christ, the Son of God, our redemption, we can be blessed and encouraged as we think about how it’s all miraculously connected! Let me show you by giving you some context.

Look Up the Names

I’m not going to take the time here to tell you about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I’m imagining if you grew up in Sunday School those are already familiar stories.

I’d like to show you a few names you might not know about. Let’s start with Tamar.

If you didn’t know already, some of the names in the Genealogy of Matthew 1 are names of women.  This is actually a very important detail to note because, at this time, lineage was carried on by men, but God inspired the inclusion of these specific women. And if God included it, it must be important.

*Just a heads up, most of these stories are messy. They are sinful, but I want you to continue to notice how God uses these people despite their sin to give us His Son.*

In the genealogy, we meet Tamar. She gave birth to twins by Judah. This lets us know that Jesus came from the tribe of Judah as predicted in the Old Testament. 

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples”- Genesis 49:10

If you want to read the full story of Judah and Tamar right now, you will find it in Genesis 38, but here’s a brief snapshot:

Tamar was actually Judah’s daughter-in-law, not his wife. She was married to Er, Judah’s son. Er was wicked in God’s sight so God killed him. In those days it was the responsibility of the male’s family to take care of widows, so Judah had Onan, Er’s brother go and give her an heir so that she would be taken care of. But Onan sinned by keeping Tamar from conceiving, and that was wicked in God’s eyes so God killed Onan as well.

If you think these people sound messed up now, just wait, it gets worse.

Judah doesn’t want to lose any more sons so he lies to Tamar. He tells her to go live with her father as a widow and when his youngest son grows up, he’ll send him to take care of her. But Judah had no intention of ever sending his son. (Ironic parallel to God being willing to send His son, but Judah was not willing to send his.) After a few years go by, Tamar realizes she’s been duped, so she does something very surprising. She learns that Judah is hanging out in a certain town. She dresses up like a prostitute, finds him, sleeps with him, and gets pregnant. To pay her, Judah gives her his staff as collateral and later he’ll send this “random prostitute” a goat. He does not yet know that it’s Tamar.

So Tamar goes back home and keeps Judah’s staff. Months go by and Judah hears that Tamar, his still widowed daughter-in-law, is pregnant. In anger, he sends his men to have her burned for being wicked! When the men get there, she reveals Judah’s staff and says, “The man that owns this staff, this is the man by whom I am pregnant.” The Bible says Judah then realizes that he has wronged her more than she has done wrong and commands his men to let her live. Tamar gives birth to twins and one of them, Perez, is in Jesus’ bloodline.

And in the midst of their sinful actions, God continues uses these men and women to work out his great redemptive story.

Altogether, there are about five women listed in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew.

The next one I’d like to show you is named Rahab.

You can read about Rahab in Joshua chapter 2 and chapter 6. But here’s your quick snapshot:

Rahab was a prostitute and she lived in Jericho. If you remember Jericho, the walls came tumbling down, but before they did, Joshua and his men needed a way in, so Joshua sent in two spies to check the place out. When the spies came to the city, Rahab took them in. She took care of them and kept them safe. She made a pact with them to save her and her family when Israel sieged the city. When the King of Jericho heard, he sent his men to Rahab’s house to find the spies. Rahab lied and said she didn’t know who they were but had seen them fleeing the city. If the King’s soldiers left right away they could still catch them.

In reality, Joshua’s spies were hiding on Rahab’s roof, and that night she allowed them to escape the city walls down a rope out her window. When the trumpets went and the walls fell, Joshua and his men spared Rahab and her family and she went to live with them in Israel. It seems she married a man named Salmon. They had a son and called him Boaz. Sound familiar? This is the same Boaz we see in the Book of Ruth! Again God shows off His redeeming qualities through sinful people and their sinful choices.

God does this with you and me every day. He uses us for His redeeming story despite our sinful choices. I could go on about the fascinating stories and connections within the genealogies, but I’d really love for you to look into them for yourself. So the next time you reach a list of names, look through it. See if you recognize any names and look up the ones you don’t recognize.

I think you’ll be enlightened by what you find!

 

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