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Do you ever get bored reading through the genealogies in the Bible? I sure do. All the names and lists and “sons of” are so confusing.
It wasn’t until last year when I read an article about how important genealogies were that a seed of interest was planted. This article talked about how Ahithophel, David’s counselor who later betrayed him, was likely Bathsheba’s grandfather (see 2 Samuel 11:3 and 23:34). Perhaps Ahithophel was bitter against David because of his adultery with Bathsheba. Whatever the case, the genealogies give us an inside glimpse of how this man is connected with David’s life.
I really wanted to find some cool things in the Biblical genealogies, so when I read through them last fall, I tried as best I could to keep track of which son went with which father. It was so hard sometimes when a random name popped up and left me wondering, “Where did he come from?” But I was able to learn some really cool stuff about David’s relations through the process of reading through them in a more thorough way.
Why are lists and lists of strange names important for believers anyway? And why would God even include them in the Bible? What do they point to?
My latest adventure with genealogies was in Jeremiah. Normally the book of Jeremiah is really depressing, but as I read through it, I soon became fascinated with all the characters connected to Jeremiah during his ministry. All the little details felt like I was reading a movie script.
I thought I’d introduce you to some of the people I’ve met through Jeremiah, as well as some of the reasons I’ve found about why genealogies are important.
Let’s start off with some villains.
1. Hananiah and Irijah
In Jeremiah 28, a false prophet named Hananiah prophesied that the LORD would break the yoke of the king of Babylon and bring back the exiles to Judah. Jeremiah prophesied against this man, saying that he would die within that same year.
The word of the Lord through Jeremiah proved true over this false prophet’s word, and Hananiah died.
In Jeremiah 37, Jeremiah returned to the land of Benjamin to claim some property. In verse 13, it says,
“When he was at the Benjamin Gate, a sentry there named Irijah the son of Shelemiah, son of Hananiah, seized Jeremiah the prophet, saying, ‘You are deserting to the Chaldeans’” (ESV, emphasis added).
Although we can’t know for certain, Irijah is very likely the grandson of the same Hananiah whom Jeremiah prophesied against. This would make sense that the grandson would have a grudge against Jeremiah because of the death of his grandfather.
Genealogies are a little tricky, because sometimes we can’t say for sure that these people were related. But since the Bible doesn’t give us anything that contradicts it, and we’re not basing major theology on them, I think it’s safe to loosely conclude that Hananiah and Irijah were connected.
2. Baruch and Seraiah
Now we get to the nice people. Baruch the son of Neriah served as Jeremiah’s secretary. He remained faithful to the prophet even during his darkest moments. He frequently risked his life to deliver the prophet’s message to the unbelieving Jews, and the Lord in turn blessed him by promising him his life even in the midst of the Lord’s terrible judgment on the earth (Jeremiah 45:5).
What’s neat about Baruch is that we get to learn more about his family relationship. Jeremiah 51:59 says,
“The word that Jeremiah the prophet commanded Seraiah the son of Neriah, son of Mahseiah, when he went with Zedekiah king of Judah to Babylon, in the fourth year of his reign. Seraiah was the quartermaster” (ESV).
Seraiah has the same father and the same grandfather as Baruch does (Jeremiah 32:12), so he’s likely Baruch’s brother. Jeremiah gave Seraiah a scroll to read in Babylon and then cut up and throw into the Euphrates.
This is such an amazing example of God’s faithfulness in how He provided Baruch and Seraiah to help Jeremiah during his prophetic ministry.
3. Shaphan and his family
This family is the best. Shaphan was King Josiah’s secretary, as we see in 2 Chronicles 34. When Hilkiah the high priest found the book of the Law in the house of the Lord, Shaphan delivered the book to the king. After Josiah read through the Law, God used him to bring about national revival in Israel.
We meet three of Shaphan’s sons in the book of Jeremiah, although there is possibly a fourth mentioned in the book of Ezekiel. I don’t know what age order they were, so I’ll just list them in alphabetical order.
This man served Josiah during his father’s time (2 Kings 22:12). Later in his life we read that thi was s powerful government leader protected Jeremiah from being put to death (Jeremiah 26:24).
In Jeremiah 29, it says that Zedekiah king of Judah sent Elasah and another man to Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah gave Elasah and his companion a letter to read to the surviving exiles in Babylon.
Baruch, Jeremiah’s secretary, read the words of the Lord in Gemariah’s chamber in the hearing of the people. Afterwards, when they brought the scroll to King Zedekiah, the king cut the scroll in pieces as the words were read to him. Gemariah and others urged him not to do this, but he wouldn’t listen to them.
We even get to meet two of Shaphan’s grandsons in Jeremiah.
Gedaliah was the son of Ahikam. Nebuchadnezzar set him as governor over the land of Judah after the people were taken into exile (Jeremiah 40:7). A man warned him of an assassination plot, but he failed to listen and was murdered by Ishmael the son of Nethaniah.
Micaiah was the son of Gemariah. Micaiah heard the words of the Lord in Gemariah’s chamber and reported to his father (Jeremiah 36:11-12). It was then that Gemariah called Baruch to hear the words for himself.
There’s no doubt that interconnected Biblical character stories can be fascinating, but how do you trace these family genealogies through the Bible? I’ve only just started doing it, so I only know of a few resources. The two I found that were helpful was a good study Bible or a Bible dictionary. I use MacArthur’s study Bible, and I’ve found lots of cool facts through his notes. Bible dictionaries are also very helpful, and you can find many of them free on the Internet. One of my favorite Bible dictionaries is Easton’s.
In the end you may wonder, do genealogies just present us with a list of facts, or do they have any real importance? As I was thinking over this, a couple of thoughts came to mind.
1. Genealogies give us a clearer picture of the faithfulness of God. As Mary declares in Luke 1:50, “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (ESV). The genealogies show us how God keeps His covenant promises with His people down through the generations. Shaphan passed on a godly heritage to his children, and God blessed his family for it.
2. Ultimately, genealogies point to Jesus Christ. Without them, we couldn’t know for sure if God fulfilled His promises about the Messiah. Genealogies prove that He has the claim to the kingdom and that God redeemed us like He said He would.
In the first verse of the first book of the New Testament, it begins, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
That’s the most important genealogy you’ll ever read.