God’s Word Is Living and Active (Even Genealogies)

God’s Word Is Living and Active (Even Genealogies)

Written by Ian J. Vaillancourt |
Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The Old Testament is bookended with genealogy-heavy books, and these books take their interpretive cues from Genesis 3:15. As we move to the New Testament, we discover that it begins with…a genealogy. 

The Lineage of Redemption

The scene is familiar to many of us: we wake up in the morning with an awareness of our need for the word of God. We want to see the world through the lens of the word, and we want to be led into prayer by the word. We are also conscious of the limited time we have before the demands of our day creep in, so we roll over, grab our Bible, and open to the place we left off the day before. And we read:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died. (Gen. 5:1–5)

Okay, we tell ourselves, that first bit felt about as edifying as reading the phone book, but let’s keep reading: “When Seth had lived 105 years, he fathered Enosh. Seth lived after he fathered Enosh 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died” (Gen. 5:6–8). At this point we begin to panic, and our fears are confirmed as our eyes scan down the page. This is an entire chapter of genealogy, of births and deaths and really long lifespans. We had wanted the voice of Scripture to be crisp and clear, an encounter with the living God at the beginning of our day. But instead we are experiencing a muted voice that is easy to ignore.1 As we survey the book of Genesis, we find three chapters devoted entirely to genealogies (Gen. 5; 10; 36). That is a lot of “phone book” reading!

In this common scene from our personal Bible reading, it is possible that our understanding of Scripture led us to anticipate an encounter with God. After all, we know that “the word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12). And we also know that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man [or woman, or boy, or girl] of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). As our approach to every passage of Scripture is informed by the Bible’s own teaching about itself, we realize that any time we fail to encounter God in the Bible, the problem is with us, not the Bible.

In light of this, is there any hope that reading a biblical genealogy can lead us to encounter God? The (perhaps surprising) answer is yes, but first we need to learn about the purpose of these passages. The Bible tells the grand story of redemption, and genealogies (or general statements of family lineage) in Genesis sketch the lineage of redemption. To help us get a handle on these surprisingly important passages, we are going to unpack four truths about the genealogies in Genesis before looking forward to Christ in light of them.

1. Genesis 3:15 is the key to understanding the family lineage passages in the rest of the book.

As a part of his curse on the serpent, YHWH God said: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). Not only is this the first glimmer of gospel hope in the entire Bible, but in the context of this discussion of genealogies, notice that it also points to two lineages.2

It is understandable that the horrible scene from Genesis 3 would produce conflict between the serpent (the deceiver) and the woman (the deceived). However, YHWH God took it a step further by extending the conflict to the “offspring” (or seed) of the serpent and the “offspring” (or seed) of the woman. In other words, there will be a lineage for the serpent and a lineage for the woman, and they will be in conflict with one another. Ultimately, the offspring of the woman will “bruise” (or crush) the head of the offspring of the serpent, and the offspring of the serpent will “bruise” (or crush) the heel of the offspring of the woman.

When we understand Genesis 3:15, we can turn back to the book of Genesis and notice that the verse begins to get “filled out” in this fifty-chapter book. As the first glimmer of gospel hope, Genesis 3:15 teaches us that when we read through Genesis, we ought to be looking for the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman. Now we can see how statements of family lineage in Genesis may be significant! Before we explain this further, it is important to understand the structure of Genesis.

2. Genesis is framed around ten statements of family lineage.

In our Bibles, chapters and verses are helpful. But chapters and verses were not a part of the original Bible manuscripts. They were added later as a helpful way of “getting on the same page,” but they were not inspired. As we approach the book of Genesis, we find that its original author (Moses) framed it around two halves and ten sections. This is a part of the original shape of the book.

As we look at the big picture of Genesis, we find that its first “half” is found in Genesis 1:1–11:26. These chapters record what biblical scholars refer to as “primordial history.” The term primordial refers to the beginning of time, so primordial history refers to all of history from creation to the fall to the flood to the Tower of Babel.

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