I am currently teaching a Bible study on 1st John. The first day of class I asked everyone what their favorite and least favorite books of the bible were. Interesting, the least favorite were almost all either Revelation or Old Testament books with long lists of names. When we get confused...we give up. It's a fact of life.
Earlier this month in my daily bible reading I was scheduled to read the first 10 chapters of 1st Chronicles. I quickly realized I would be reading 9 chapters of name lists, family lines and ancient census data. I thought about my friends when this came up.
1st Chronicles is part of a larger biblical history of Israel and how her kings affected her. It used to be one large book, but it was divided up into two (1st and 2nd Chronicles). While Kings and their behavior are the main characters, the tension points revolve around the Temple, priests and how well Israel is worshiping. The book ends with the conquering of Jerusalem and the later return of some exiles. These last verses in 2 Chronicles (36:22-23) connect us to one of the last lists in 1 Chronicles (9:1-33). Chronicles outlines what happens when sin runs rampant among God's people and their leaders and the consequences. Ezra and Nehemiah give us a final end to the story, with two different descripitions of Jerusalem and the temple being rebuilt.
So back to the lists
Yes, a huge chunk of seemingly boring lists dominates the beginning of 1st Chronicles (chapters 1-9). But the very end of the story informs the beginning. This isn't a history being written in progress, but an intentional retelling of the how the current situation came to be, namely the return from Exile. Starting with the descendents of Adam (1:1) and ending the lists with Saul's family, the writer is making sure the line of Israel is told...but in regards to the exile. The story of God's people is a story of how we relate to Him who saved us.
The verse gives us plenty of interpretive hints in 9:1-2
The people of Judah were exiled to Babylon because they were unfaithful to the Lord. The first of the exiles to return to their property in their former towns were priests, Levites, Temple servants, and other Israelites.
This is an issue of worship. Yes, some bad political decisions were made, but when we read this verse as the beginning of a narrative shift and combine it with the multitude of verses introducing each King in terms of how well they led Israel in worship, a new picture forms.
How we as a people relate to God matters. How we decide to honor him matters...are we doing it blindly and without care or do we understand the immensity of worshiping the living God? Our stories connect us because they place us as part of a long line. The beautiful thing is the dramatic inclusion of Jesus Christ. He is our High Priest, the writer and finisher of all things Holy. In Him we are brought into this family of God and are no longer outsiders. Our family list begins and ends with Him!
Hopefully, this gives you an insight into how and why we have those long and hopefully no longer boring lists of families and names.