The Genealogies

1 CHRONICLES 1–9

The Chronicler’s history begins with a complex series of genealogies and lists, drawn from numerous sources. Some of these sources we can identify and locate, especially in the Torah and the Deuteronomistic History; others are unknown to us. To further complicate the picture, the various lists are not always consistent with one another. In large measure, the Chronicler has presented this material to us as is, with few if any internal modifications to make each piece fit.

It may help a Christian reader, tempted to despair at this welter of ancient ancestors and family gossip, to recall that the New Testament begins in much the same way (Matt. 1:1–17)! Indeed, the purposes of Matthew’s genealogy and the Chronicler’s are in many ways similar. Like the Chronicler, Matthew wants to establish from the start a connection between the ancient wellsprings of Israel’s faith and the experience of his own community. Each, too, has a particular interest in the line of David as the sign of God’s faithfulness to Israel.

In both genealogies, there are surprises. For Matthew, the line that leads to Jesus passes through Tamar’s deception of Judah (Matt. 1:3; see Gen. 38:1–30) and David’s acts of adultery and murder (Matt. 1:6; see 2 Sam. 11:1–27; note that Matthew refers to Bathsheba as “the wife of Uriah”). Similarly, the Chronicler notes that David’s family tree has strange branches—leading, through Abraham’s son Ishmael, to the Arabs (bitter enemies of Judah in the latest portion of the Chronicler’s history; see Neh. 2:19; 4:7; 6:1–6), and through Jacob’s son Esau, to the Edomites (who, after the fall of Jerusalem, took advantage of Judah’s weakness to seize land and goods; see for example Ps. 137:7; Jer 49:7–22). The messy particularity of the genealogy, in Matthew as in Chronicles, serves as a reminder of God’s consistent, persistent presence—even where that presence was not noted or sought, or even desired.

The genealogies in Chronicles have a definite structure, which demonstrates the Chronicler’s purpose. 1 Chronicles 1:1–2:2 traces the line from Adam to Israel’s twelve sons, the ancestors of the twelve tribes. Then, 5:1–9:44 lists the genealogies of the tribes, apart from Judah. The royal tribe of Judah is placed at the center of the Chronicler’s genealogies, in 2:3–4:23. The Davidic line comes in the middle of the Judah material (3:1–24), sandwiched between Judahite genealogical lists in 2:3–55 and 4:1–23. So, David and his line are the center and climax of the genealogies in 1 Chronicles 1–9. Although the Chronicler paints on a worldwide canvas, his focus never wavers from the line of David.