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Friday, February 25, 2011

Weekly Snippet: Bored by Names Lists? Look Again...

I was talking to someone recently, who shared with me a common problem people have when trying to read through the entire Bible--long names lists.  Specifically, most people get bored and skip ahead when they hit one of those lists of so-and-so was the father of so-and-so.  Numbers is the worst, and I, too, can admit to running out of steam on my Bible reading plan when I arrived in Numbers.  In fact, most people who have shared their desire to read the entire Bible from cover to cover have admitted to me that Numbers is their biggest challenge because the names lists just don't appeal to them in any way.

Today I thought I'd share a few interesting facts about hereditary names lists in the Bible that might peak your curiosity.  When you get to the end of this list, you might be thinking differently about those sections in your Bible:

  • The Line of Christ--This is the most significant family genealogy in the Bible, as most people would agree.  However, there's one interesting fact that many people may not realize.  Christ could trace back His family genealogy to David on both sides of his family.  Curious?  Go read the names list in Matthew 1: 1-16, and compare it to the list in Luke 3: 23-38.  The lists diverge after Zerubbabel.  The first one, in Matthew, is Joseph's line, since Jesus was his legal son, and the one in Luke is Jesus' ancestry through Mary.
  • Earth-Age Estimate--Though there are what appear to be occasional gaps in the recorded genealogies, the lists, calculated for maximum life-span of each individual, put the earth at several thousand years old, not millions or billions of years old.  The genealogy lists were an early Creationist argument against Evolutionary time estimates.
  • Who's Who of Ancient History--These lists are populated by famous people, either noted elsewhere in the Bible or generally known at the time. Some are much more important to modern readers than they may seem.  Take, for instance, Eliashib, the high priest in the days of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah.  Though he helped build the wall and led in the musical worship in God's house, he allowed his sons to intermarry with Sanballat's family and gave Tobiah a room in the house of God (see Ezra 10: 24; Nehemiah 3: 1, 13: 4-9, 28). 
  • A Perspective on National Origins-- My favorite list, The Table of Nations, in Genesis 10, traces the roots of several nations later encountered in the Bible.  What many readers don't understand is that archaeologists have discovered these aren't all local middle-eastern tribes that vanished in antiquity; for instance, check out this list of the European and Indian descendants of Japheth.  It gives you a different perspective on history, doesn't it?
  • Insight into Ancient Social Structure--People in those days had large families, which means one man could be the father of 12 children, who in turn were the parents of 12 kids each, and so forth.  In only a few years, we could have hundreds of people descended from one man.  Many of the men in these lists were the leaders of large tribes or clans of people, sometimes the population of a town, by virtue of their age and the number of descendants they had.  Especially in the early names lists, you begin to get a picture of a roll of towns sorted by tribal leader, an older man who led the family and defended it with his own "army" of able-bodied sons and grandsons.  See Joshua 14: 6-15; 15: 13-19.
  • Naming Trends--For those who like to explore the meanings of names in the Bible, you might notice interesting naming patterns during different parts of Jewish history.  For instance, many men in the time of the Babylonian exile have names that include the name of God, El.  I can only offer the theory that they were all crying out to God for deliverance, and named their children according to the mood of the times.  You'll have to do your own research to discover more about this.
Well, hope that's enough to peak your interest.  I plan to be back here Monday with more good content, so stay tuned.  Until then, this is me reminding you to stay savvy and study up--no part of the Bible is really boring, if you look closely enough!