Why I Memorized a Genealogy

Why we have to start believing Paul when he says that all of Scripture is helpful for godliness, even the parts we want to skip over.

In his letter to Timothy, a young pastor, Paul admonishes him in regards to the Scriptures:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Modern Christians have almost made it a joke that parts of the Bible are too  boring to read. We laugh when we find in common books we can’t finish; we nod in vigorous agreement when we talk about passages in which our eyes glaze over the text and we stop registering words. Paul’s letter here reminds us that we are doing ourselves a disservice, and we should lament our inability to hear those texts for what they are worth rather than celebrating our shared indifference toward them. Note what Paul says here: by the grace of God, through his power and his breath, all Scriptures are profitable for training in righteousness. Not just the ones we like, not just the ones we want to read: all of them.

Following this, we also neglect one of the Christians’ greatest tools: Scripture memorization. The Psalter opens with the proclamation that the person who meditates on the instruction of God, both day and night, is blessed. Jesus combats Satan with memorized Scripture in the wilderness. The apostles’ sermons are based on memorized Scripture – they weren’t pulling scrolls out in the middle of sermons. If we want to fight sin and remember God’s grace, memorized Scripture is the best way to do so.

So, if all Scripture is Godbreathed, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training, we must assume genealogies play into that as well. How do they do that? I’ll use Ruth 4 to make this point:

Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.

They remind us of the history of Israel, which reminds us of God’s hesed love toward his people. When the Chronicler wants to recount the history of Israel from Adam to Saul, he doesn’t give us a quick synopsis, nor does he give us a play by play. Rather, he tells us the entire family history of Israel, from Adam to Israel, from Israel’s twelve sons, from the sons to the tribes as the Chronicler knew them when he wrote. Matthew, copying from the Chronicler, does the same thing by recording the genealogy of Jesus. These genealogies remind us of the sordid history of Israel; it reminds us of cycles of apostasy and idolatry, of repentance and restoration, of exile and return.

In all of those is one thing: God’s faithfulness to his covenant. When we read about Perez, we remember the promises to Israel that out of Judah would come a king. When we read about Salmon, husband of Rahab, we are reminded of God’s faithfulness in bringing Israel into the land of Canaan. When we read of Boaz, and by extension, Ruth, we are reminded of how God would restore Israel by grafting in the Gentiles, as Ruth is the firstfruits of the prophecies of Isaiah 2 and Micah 4. When we memorize and recount the genealogies to ourselves, we confess from memory the history of God’s faithfulness.

They remind us of the failures, and victories, of God’s people, and their examples for us. Writing to Corinth, Paul says: “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (I Cor 10:11) In this specific instance, he is talking about Israel’s apostasy in the wilderness, but the principle stands: these stories were written for our instruction.

By recounting this genealogy, we are reminded of our obligation to family and God’s law when we remember Perez. His mother, Tamar, had to trick Judah, her father-in-law, into providing a son for her after his three sons died, leaving her with no heir. Judah shirked her responsibility, forcing Tamar to go to great lengths to have him fulfill his duty toward her. When we think of Nahshon, we remember him as the chief of the people of Judah on the east of the tabernacle (Numbers 2:3). This brings to mind the entire wilderness journey, where Israel learned faith and love for Yahweh as he was their provider and guide. Boaz and Obed remind us that God rewards simple faithfulness and obedience. Boaz was obedient to the law, and from that, gained a wife and a redeemer for Ruth and Naomi. When we memorize and recount the genealogies, we confess from memory lessons by which we can grow in holiness and Christlikeness.

Finally, they remind us that all of human history points to its telos, Christ Jesus. All of the genealogies end somewhere important. The genealogies in Genesis, all ten of them, have a double focus: to provide the background on the next character and to ask “who is the son promised to Eve that will crush the serpent”? In Exodus, the genealogy of Moses proves his and Aaron’s claim to be the leaders of Israel. In Chronicles, the genealogy shows the history of both Israel and her Gentile neighbors, setting the stage for David and Solomon’s reign over Jew and Gentile. Matthew’s genealogy shows that Jesus is the promised Son of Abraham, through whom the nations would be blessed. Luke’s genealogy is akin to the priest’s genealogy following the ceremonial cleansing, showing that Luke is related to Adam, and therefore, all of humanity. Each of these to Jesus, either as the promised Son, or the Davidic king, or to Jesus incarnate.

Genealogies remind us that history, from its inception, was pointed at Christ, and not us. Sometimes, we get caught up in the “now”. We think all of human history has pointed us to this exact moment, to where we are and what we are doing. The genealogies point to Christ, bring the reader beyond the now into the grand scope of human history with its end in Christ. When we memorize and recount the genealogies, we confess from memory that history is all about Christ, as is the future.

Growth in holiness, training in righteousness, correction, reproof, and more are held back from us as God’s people when we don’t listen to and engage in the whole counsel of the Scriptures, breathed by God. But when we memorize and dwell upon Scripture, day and night, we are blessed beyond measure, able to walk in the fullness of Christ. Memorizing the genealogy gives us the blessing of remembering God’s faithfulness in history toward his people; the examples of victories and failures of God’s people; and a marker pointing forward to Christ, under whom all of history finds its consummation.

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