While reading through the Solomon accounts in Chronicles, I’m using The IVP Biblical Background Commentary. Though it is a brief commentary, I’ve really appreciated it. Recently I ran across a helpful paragraph entitled, “The Significance of Genealogies to [a] Postexilic Audience.” In other words, what would the Chronicler’s genealogies mean to the 5th and 6th century exiles?
“Though most of the material of Chronicles covers the history of the preexilic period, it is written for those who returned from the Babylonian exile in the sixth and fifth centuries and reestablished themselves in the land. Genealogies to them represented the charter of their identity. Their covenant with the Lord had established them as an elect people of God living in the land promised by him. Their family lineage was their certificate of membership. It was their heritage and their legacy.”
“Often in the ancient world genealogies served sociological rather than historical functions. Instead of offering a strictly sequential report of the order of generations, they were designed to use continuity with the past as an explanation of the current structure and condition of society. Israel carried along with this an additional theological emphasis and significance that was inherent in their genealogical reports. Continuity with the past would give meaning to their current theological situation.”
“Individuals in the ancient world found their identity not in their individualism, but in their solidarity with the group. This included not only those that made up their contemporary kinship group but extended throughout the generations. The genealogies were their way of fitting themselves into this pangenerational solidarity. Every generation is not necessarily represented. One might compare the selective list of heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. Americans today take pride in being able to trace their ancestry back to those who crossed on the Mayflower or those who signed the Declaration of Independence. The difference is that in Israel these connections gave rights and privileges rather than being simply status symbols” (p. 413).
These paragraphs are helpful to remember as we consider the long list of names in 1 Chronicles – and other genealogies in the Bible. I especially appreciate the emphasis on covenant, solidarity, history, and sociology – not to mention the fact that genealogies weren’t meant to be exhaustive. There is more to say about genealogies, but this is a good start.