Genesis Day 20: Why does the Bible have all these lists of people?
I know, I know, you are trying to read Genesis and keep up with these posts—and then you hit another list of names. You’re thinking, “Didn’t I just read one of these?” Answer: Yes. Yes, you did.
Beyond reading, it is pronouncing those names.
The question might be, “Do we really have to bother with them?”
Perhaps before you punt on these names, you pray what Jacob prays when he is wrestling with the Lord: “I will not let you go until you bless me!” (Genesis 32:26)
There are at least two quick reasons I can offer you to read these lists.
First, the names root us in reality. The Bible does not begin, “Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away…” No. These lists proclaim that the Bible, rather than the work of myths and legends, is the story of real people and a real God.
Consider how many of these lists there are. The sheer number of lists is the Bible’s insistence on linking itself to real people; and, notice the different ways that the Bible does this linking: sometimes there are generations of relatives. At other times, tribe and clan are clarified. Still in other stories, the exact year and month will be specified, which gives the timing in reference to other events (the reign of a certain king, the captivity of Jerusalem, and so on).
All of this is an indication that the author expects their readers to accept what they are saying as historical fact. They are looking to provide abundant and verifiable data because they are giving an account of what actually happened, and they want you to be sure of that.
We understand this technique. In recent years, an entire industry of Genealogy has emerged with people seeking to verify and trace their lineage.
Lists of people, numbers and places are a sign of authenticity—and that is just one reason.
Here is another reason: in the Bible, Hebrew names have meanings. The meanings, at times, are deep, even spiritual. Consider some of the names from Genesis Chapter 5, and you might even think about the role of these individuals.
Adam = Man
Seth = Appointed
Enosh = Mortal
Kenan = Sorrow
Mahalalel = The Blessed God
Jared = Will come down
Enoch = Teaching / education
Methuselah = His death shall bring
Lamech = The despairing
Noah = Comfort
Studying, going deeper into these lists can reveal all sorts of information. I want to avoid getting too detailed in this blog. I would just point out that the lists of names we read in chapters 5 and 11 are genealogies of individuals (fathers to sons). Whereas chapter 10 is trying to show the development of nations. If you want to probe into some detail, here is a good place to go.
I would simply like to come back to a question.