Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. [Ephesians 1:4-6 (NLT)]
Since there are about 25 genealogy lists in the Bible, genealogy must be important to both God and His people. Genealogies were important to the Jews since priests and Levites could serve only if they were of pure ancestry. In Chronicles we saw how genealogies provide a connection between generations and the promises made to their ancestors. Matthew and Luke’s genealogies were important to Jewish believers because they showed that Jesus came from the Davidic line and important to Gentiles because Jesus’ Gentile ancestry shows that God sent His son for all people. What do they mean to Christians today?
Thomas Fuller (1608-1661) had an interesting take on genealogies in his book Good Thoughts in Bad Times, Together with Good Thoughts in Worse Times, Consisting of….Scripture Observations…. Published in 1659, the complete title is 34 words long so I took the liberty of shortening it along with bringing some of Fuller’s old English spelling into 21st century. When writing about our Lord’s genealogy found in Matthew 1:7-8, the churchman and historian observed the following:
“Lord, I find the genealogy of my Saviour strangely checkered with four remarkable changes in four immediate generations. (1) Rehoboam begat Abijam; that is, a bad father begat a bad son. (2) Abijam begat Asa; that is, a bad father, a good son. (3) Asa begat Jehoshaphat; that is, a good father, a good son. (4) Jehoshaphat begat Jehoram; that is, a good father, a bad son.
I see, Lord, from hence, that my father’s piety cannot be entailed [transmitted]; that is bad news for me. But I see also that actual impiety is not always hereditary; that is good news for my son.”
The power-hungry Rehoboam looked only to his desires rather than his people’s needs and his harshness in taxing the people excessively caused the division of the nation. During his troubled reign, he married foreign women and pagan practices flourished as Judeans set up Asherah poles, sacred pillars, and pagan shrines. 1 Kings tells us Rehoboam’s son, Abijah, was unfaithful to the Lord and committed the same sins as did his father. As Fuller pointed out—like father, like son!
Abijah was the father of Asa. Scripture tells us that, in spite of his sinful father and pagan mother, Asa “did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight … [and] remained completely faithful to the Lord.” That Asa was one of Judah’s good kings shows that having a bad father doesn’t condemn one to being a bad man. While “like father, like son” doesn’t necessarily hold true, good king Asa’s son, Jehoshaphat, was like his father and “did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight.” Sadly, we then come to Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram. 2 Kings compares him to the northern kingdom’s evil king Ahab. Jehoram “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight” and even allied himself with Ahab by marrying one of his daughters. Clearly, as Fuller pointed out, a father’s godliness and virtue cannot be inherited. The good news, of course, is that neither can a father’s wickedness.
Fuller’s observation about these four generations reminds us that we each are responsible for our own actions. The good news of the gospel tells us that no matter who our ancestors are or what they did, we don’t have to be victims of our heredity, childhood, or circumstances. Although we inherit genes, we don’t inherit character. As Christians, our family is not determined by bloodline or the people with whom we grew up. We have a new family—God’s family! Because of Jesus, we were adopted by God, brought into His family, and became heirs to His kingdom. We have a good Father and, because of the Holy Spirit, we can be His good sons and daughters!