Second, if we understand that biblical genealogies are not motivated by the desire to identify everyone without missing a single person, then we can approach them with the correct question to understand them better: Why is the narrator interested in these names? What is motivating him to identify them? Our reading of genealogies can be more fruitful if we keep these questions in mind.
Third, even knowing these things, it is difficult to read these chapters! I confess that it is difficult for me to read them attentively. But just like reading the genealogy of a family I don’t know personally today, if I have a good “tour guide” who can explain the genealogy and interpret its importance, then it is much easier to pay attention and read. That’s why I’m grateful for the book by Richard Pratt, 1 and 2 Chronicles: A Mentor Commentary, 2006, Christian Focus Publications, because it has been a dependable guide through these difficult chapters. My observations depend greatly on his.
Notice that 1 Chronicles 1:1 – 2:2 begins with Adam and identifies some of the ancestors of Israel’s historical neighbors: Mizraim (the ancestor of the Egyptians) and Canaan, for example. Next it notes the sons of Shem (from whose name we get the term “Semites” or “Semitic”), and passes through Heber until it gets to Abraham. In this manner it communicates to its Israelite readers that their
lineage is the culmination of God’s plan through the generations (Pratt, 85).
Next the narrator gives a broad view of Abraham’s descendants. He names
the most important first (Isaac), and then names the sons of Abraham who do not
have a part in the covenant: Ismael and his descendants, the children of his
concubine Keturah and their descendants, until he reaches his main point in Isaac (1 Chronicles 1:34). He does the same thing in the next generation: he goes through Esau’s descendants as a preliminary to getting to his most important point, the generations of Israel (1 Chronicles 2:1-2). This whole presentation fulfills the narrator’s desire for his readers to understand the importance and privilege of being God´s chosen people (Pratt, 85).
Now focusing on Israelite genealogy, the chronicler identifies the line of Judah. Even though he is not the firstborn, his line is described first because it contains the royal genealogy. Therefore it concentrates on his son Perez, on his grandson Hezron and his great-grandson Ram (even though he is not the firstborn of Hezron’s family, 1 Chronicles 2:25) because the line of the house of David goes through them (Pratt, 95).
First Chronicles 2 also underlines the descendants of Hezron’s other two sons: Caleb and Jerahmeel. Caleb (first called “Chelubai” in 1 Chronicles 2:9) is not the famous Caleb son of Jephunneh who remained faithful to Yahweh’s promise when the spies first entered the Promised Land in Numbers 13 and 14; this Caleb is an ancestor of Bezalel, one of the artisans filled with Yahweh’s Spirit to construct the
tabernacle (Exodus 35:30 and 1 Chronicles 2:20). From this early time in Israelite
history there already was a strong tie between worship in the tabernacle and those who would form the royal house, one of the major themes of 1 and 2 Chronicles (Pratt, 95). We don’t know with certainty why the chronicler highlights Jerahmeel too, but it probably has to do with his descendant Elishama (1 Chronicles 2:41) who probably would be recognized by readers of that time (Pratt, 96).
The chronicler returns to Caleb’s descendants to finish 1 Chronicles 2 and then goes back to the line of Ram when he begins 1 Chronicles 3 and picks up David’s descendants. Notice his interest in identifying the descendants of the royal house during and after the exile (1 Chronicles 3:17-24). The anointed one promised to David would come through one of them. Through the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, we know that this key descendant of David is Zerubbabel.
In 1 Chronicles 4 he concentrates on the descendants of Judah who were artisans and notes in one instance: “These were the potters who were inhabitants of Netaim and Gederah. They lived there in the king’s service” (1 Chronicles 4:23).
Once again, the connection with the royal family is important, and these men serve as examples to the ones returning from exile on the duty to support the royal house (Pratt, 100, 101).
Today’s reading from 1 Chronicles ends with the genealogy of the tribe of Simeon. Though they did not have as much influence as the tribe of Judah, they
give the returning exiles the geographic limits to which they should extend their territory (Pratt, 102-103).
And along with these genealogies it is appropriate to read Psalm 105 to remind ourselves of Yahweh’s faithfulness across so many generations: “Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered, O offspring of Abraham, his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!” (Psalm 105:5-6)