1 Chronicles 1-9: What's with All the Names?
By Sarah Snyder
Last week, our readings brought us to 1 Chronicles. As we read through the Bible chronologically, the organizers of this reading schedule begin including the repeat stories found in this book. The first nine chapters is, for lack of a better term, boring. It’s just a list of names. In fact, the writer offers no introduction, the first word is “Adam.” Thus follows a long, long list of father and son names that have no practical meaning for us today. So this begs the question, what’s with all the names?
Genealogy was a big deal in Ancient Near Eastern cultures. Most kingdoms were ruled by kings who passed their kingdoms down to their sons. In Ancient Egypt, for example, the king was thought to be a direct descent from Ra, their most important god. In fact, the royal family often intermarried to keep a “pure” bloodline. Thus, keeping a proper genealogy was important in identifying who was from what family. This is of no exception for Israel.
In the Hebrew Bible, 1 and 2 Chronicles is one book and it is placed as the last book of the Old Testament. Thus, the story of Israel ends with a list of names and repeat information. This book is also one of the last books written in the Old Testament. It takes place after Israel has returned from exile and is attempting to rebuild the Temple. We know from Ezra and Nehemiah that things are not going well. The author of Chronicles is trying to show Israel that through this is difficult time, God is still at work. The most important line traced in Chronicles is David’s. The author is trying to remind Israel of the covenant God made with David (2 Samuel 7). The whole book focuses on David’s line and Jerusalem, genealogy and geography.
While Israel struggles to get things right as the return from exile and leaders continue to fail, the author of Chronicles points them to a future hope. Stephen Dempster in Dominion and Dynasty puts it this way, “The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) orients its readers to the future. As such the Story if unfinished. The long, dark night of exile awaits a sequel - the dawning of a new light that will radiate to the ends of the earth.” The line of David will prevail. The book of Matthew begins with a geology, one that points readers from Abraham to David, and from David to Jesus. That future hope has come.
While these geologies are often boring, and Chronicles in general is a repeat, it is so important in understanding our hope in Jesus. Without dedicated writers to keep up with family lines, naming Jesus as Messiah is not as clear as it is with genealogies. God promised a future King that would reconcile His people through the line of David and Chronicles diligently reminds us of our hope in Christ.