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In many excerpts of the Bible one can find an extended description of a person and his respective descendents. What's the purpose of this? Is it supposed to give an idea of how much time passed between two important facts? Is it supposed to preserve the origin of man? The genealogic tree is a lot more objective than most of the facts narrated in the sacred book. There must be a good reason for this.

Genesis, 5:21-24

21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. 22 After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. 24 Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

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I suggest you have a look on youtube: I guess it will answer your question –  GGer Feb 29 '12 at 9:45
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3 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

In many cultures, genealogy roots a person in who they are. By saying, "so and so is the son of so and so," you are establishing an identity. As the old saying goes, "we don't want nobody nobody sent."

In the specific case of Genesis 5 & 10 (sometimes called "the Table of Nations"), however, there is a very interesting theological point being made. Namely, the Israelites were a nobody.

In many creation myths, the creation myth is set up in such a way as to highlight the fact that the culture that came up with it has pre-eminence amongst the peoples. In Babylonian myths, for example, the Mesopotamians were the firstborn among creation. In Egyptian creation myths, the same holds true, and the pattern is repeated in many places.

What is different about Genesis is that Abraham is kind of a nobody. He's not always the firstborn of the firstborn of the firstborn. He's just another guy in creation.

What makes him different is that God chose him to say, "through you I will bless all nations." The Jewish scriptures are remarkable in their lack of ethnocentricity. As you state, these genealogies are very objective in their fact taking stance.

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That's a very interesting point. Abraham wasn't chosen because of his ancestry, but because of his righteousness. And we see the same pattern repeated with Isaac and Ishmael, with Jacob and Esau, and with the sons of Joseph. In none of these cases did the firstborn son inherit the birthright, but rather the one who was the most worthy in the eyes of the Lord. (Which also brings to mind 1 Samuel 16:7...) –  Mason Wheeler Feb 29 '12 at 19:30
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As already mentioned by @Affable Geek, the identity of a person is an important thing in biblical times. The importance of identity is also to be able to trace your history back to the promises of God. So for a Jew, it is important to trace your origins back to Abraham to show that you are a child of Abraham and therefore part of the promises that God made to him.

For example, King David, it is important to show that he is a decendant of Abraham because we see God's promises partly fulfilled in Him (Israel has land, has become a great nation (offspring) and bring blessings to other nations).

A promise is also made to David that an even greater King will come from his line

2 Samuel 7:12 (NIV)

12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

We know that Jesus is that king. Part of Jesus' credentials is his anncestory. In fact, this is so important that when Paul reminds Timothy of the Gospel they are preaching he says in 2 Timothy 2-8 (NIV):

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel

Liniage is also important as it shows the trustworthy nature of God. If Jesus couldn't be traced back to David then either Jesus isn't the King that God promised, or God changed His mind and chose some other person to be the King. If God changes His mind then we cannot trust Him. Yet, the bible shows that God consistently keeps His promises (for example the promises to David) and so we can trust Him.

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No disagreement with AffableGeek. As you mention in your question, another value to these geneologies is to allow us to establish a chronology for Genesis. Historians such as James Ussher and Isaac Newton calculated dates of OT events, including creation, based on adding up these ages until we get to an event that we can connect to a modern calendar.

Another thought that occurs to me when I find something in the Bible that doesn't seem important or relevant to me is: Maybe it's not important to me. But maybe it is important to someone who lives in a different culture, whose life or faith faces different challenges. Even if it's not important to anyone, anywhere in the world today, maybe it was important to people hundreds of years ago, or will be important to people hundreds of years from now.

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