Reading a List of the Names of People Who Lived a Long, Long Time Ago and Being Inspired By It

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Today I read 1 Chronicles 2, which is nothing more than a list of names and names and names: fathers and wives and concubines and sons and daughters, one Egyptian slave, clans and kin and houses. Some might choose to roll over dead before reading such a thing; others might get to sleep long before reading the names of the sons born to Caleb and his wife Azubah. For whatever weird reason, I rather enjoy the biblical genealogies.

All these individuals, each named, each having full experiences of life: birth, marriage, children, work, family, friends. They all knew the frustrations of daily life, the conflicts with friends and family, the struggle to make ends meet, the challenges of business or child-rearing or getting along with a spouse. They all knew the pleasure of a bright spring morning, the goodness of a well-cooked meal, the comfort of sleep, the thrill of sex, the satisfaction of a job accomplished, the fear of death. Each name is like a little window into a soul, about which the author tells us almost nothing…but that they were each a story of their own. Just knowing their names is an imperative.

I like reading maps, too—maps of places I’ve never been and maps of worlds long ago and maps of imaginary universes. Reading genealogies is like reading maps. I look at an ancient map of southern Gaul, and see a small village named Oiasso. There was a place of life and relationships and business and work and love and birth and death. The echoes of all that living still reverberate, and come to me through the map. Places and people and visions and experiences and stories. Rich, deep realities that, while long gone, are still somehow here, relevant, and I am remembering them in some small way.

“Sheshan had no sons—only daughters. He had an Egyptian servant named Jarha. Sheshan gave his daughter in marriage to his servant Jarha, and she bore him Attai.”

“Hezron lay with the daughter of Makir the father of Gilead (he had married her when he was sixty years old), and she bore him Segub.”

“The descendants of Shobal the father of Kiriath Jearim were: Haroeh, half the Manahathites, and the clans of Kiriath Jearim.”

The great tsunami that is the onrush of human lives from the past, as though they all stand outside some unseen barrier, clutching their own experiences of life to their breasts yet watching ours breathlessly and joyfully, as though they’re watching the next act in a great drama—sometimes it overpowers me with joy. None of them is really gone entirely, and in some completely inexplicable way, Shammai and Abihail and Atarah and Hareph … and Tom and Gayla and Beth and Joyce and Molly … and my mom and Bebe and Paul and Daniel and Trevor … and my great-great-grandchildren—we’re all in this together. We’re all on the map of God’s great, good creation, and whether we’re the ruins of a forgotten village or we haven’t yet been built at all makes no great difference in the long heaving tidal wave toward the times of fulfillment when God will bring all things in heaven and on earth together under Christ.

Image: The 3rd European Map (Tertia Europae Tabula) from a 1578 edition of Ptolemy‘s Geography.

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