The inspired human penman of this Book of the Bible is generally thought to have been Ezra the scribe, more than 500 years before the birth of our Lord Jesus. The records contained in this Book are very extensive – leading the reader all the way back to the beginning, to the time of Adam; and recording the various heads of families in a direct line from our first father Adam, down to David and his descendants, in order to detail the lineage of Jesus. This part of the Bible seems to have been written in order to keep the minds of the people of God focused upon the promised Seed of the Woman – in Whom, all blessings were to be centered (Gen. 3:15).
The first paragraph (verses 1-27) has Adam for its first word and Abraham for its last. Between the creation of the former and the birth of the latter were 2,000 years – nearly half of which time, Adam himself lived! Adam was the common father of all human beings, and Abraham was the common father of God’s chosen people. By the breach which the former made of the covenant of innocence, we were all made miserable; but by the covenant of grace made with the latter, we may be made happy. We all are, by nature, the children of Adam; let us pray for grace so that, by faith, we may become the children of Abraham (Rom. 4:11-12); so that we be grafted into the good olive tree, and partake of its root and nourishment.
One writer has well observed that one of the special glories of the Jewish nation was that they were able to directly trace their ancestry from the first man that the Lord created. Many heathen nations abused themselves and their posterity with fabulous accounts of their beginnings; some of them fancied that they were the moon itself before they became humans, others claimed that they came from stones, and the Athenians believed that they grew out of the earth – much like the vain evolutionary imaginations which many “scientists” have of the origin of our universe. The account which the Holy Scriptures give of the creation of the world and the rise of nations carries the evidences of its own truth, which are just as plain to see as the vanity and falsehood of those idle tales.
Verses 5-23 repeat the account of the replenishing of the earth by the sons of Noah, after the Flood (which occurred around 2349 BC). Of the descendants of Japheth, who were planted in “the isles of the Gentiles” – that is, the western countries of Europe – only a short account is given (verses 5-7). With these people, the Jews had little or no dealings. The historian then proceeds to the descendants of Ham, who moved southward toward Africa and those parts of Asia which lay in that direction. With the branches of Ham’s descendants who came to be known as the Egyptians and the Canaanites, the people of God had severe struggles throughout their history. We are then given an account of the posterity of Shem (verses 17-23). They peopled Asia, and spread themselves eastward. The sacred register then hastens particularly to the family of Abraham (verses 24-27) through the line of Shem’s son Arphaxad – breaking off abruptly from all the other families of the sons of Noah. The great promise of the Messiah was passed from Adam to Seth, from him to Shem, from him to Eber, and thus to the Hebrew nation – who were entrusted above all other nations with that sacred treasure, until the promise was performed and the Messiah was born in the fulness of time!
Israel was a chosen nation; no other group of people, in a national capacity, was so dignified and privileged as the Jewish nation was. They were the holy nation that is the subject of the sacred history; and therefore, we will only briefly look at all the descendants of Abraham except the posterity of Israel alone (who was also known as Jacob). These included the Ishmaelites (the descendants of Abraham by Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar), the Midianites (who descended from Abraham’s children by his second wife, Keturah), and the Edomites (whose forefather was Esau, the son of Isaac, and the grandson of Abraham).
Having briefly passed over the other branches of Abraham’s family, the next chapter will begin to examine the families that came from Israel (probably better known as Jacob), whom the Lord chose to be His special people.
As we read these genealogies, let us think of a few things. First, may we give thought concerning the multitudes who have gone through this world, acted their part in it, and then passed on to the grave. All these people, and all their descendants, have had their day; and many of them made a mighty noise and figure in the world. But their day came to fall, and they were not known anymore. However, let us also meditate upon the Providence of God, which keeps up the generations of men, and preserves our degenerate human race upon earth – even though we are guilty and sinful. How easily could He cut us off, without either a flood or a fire! He could simply decree all humans childless; and in a few years, the earth would be eased of the burden under which it groans. But the Divine patience lets the trees that burden the ground not only grow, but propagate! Just as one generation of sinful people passes away, another one comes (Ecc. 1:4; Num. 32:14); and they will continue to do so while the earth remains – thanks to the Lord’s mercy and grace alone!
Lord, we praise You for Your long patience toward the human race, in preserving us alive for so many succeeding generations – despite our universal depravity. Truly, we have all sinned and come short of Your glory. We are all equally polluted, and we stand in need of our great Savior. We thank You for Your provision that has been made for our redemption, by the gracious interposition and love of our Lord Jesus! Amen.
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illustration from a Bible card published in 1906 by the Providence Lithograph Company | Wikimedia Commons