These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. for people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had the opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16)
Aside from the book of Leviticus, no Biblical passages are less desirable to read these days than the genealogies. At best most people skim over all the hard-to-pronounce names, and at worst people will ignore them altogether. I was once in a Bible study going through the book of Nehemiah, and one week we studied a chapter that was almost entirely a list of all the men who had returned to Judah and helped rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Needless to say we had an invigorating discussion after we slogged through all the difficult names. (Who names their child something like Nephushesim anyway?)
I agree that it can be hard to read through each list of who fathered who and which branch from the family tree inhabited what part of the world, but I kind of enjoy reading through genealogies. This is probably because I tend to be a bit of a nerd, but I do have to point out one thing: These genealogical lists are inspired Scripture. Whether you like it or not, the Lord saw fit to add these names and lists into His written word. Here's a look at some reasons why.
For starters, these genealogies were crucial to the people of Israel, since what we have as Scripture is their nation's history. Family heritage is key in Israeli culture, and i'm sure there were families back in the time of King David (or any time in ancient Israel's history) that could trace their lineage all the way back to Abraham. (The ability to trace back your Israeli family heritage could have been very important in temple worship in that time as well, proving you were part of the line of Jacob and not some impostor.)
Secondly, many of these genealogies have helped give support to how old our earth is. You can see this particularly in the book of Genesis, where we can see generations going all the way back to the creation of the world. The reader is able to have interaction with history all the way back to its inception. Praise the Lord for that! I don't ever want to find myself tired of such a gift.
Third, we see the Lord's faithfulness and provision with each new generation. After the Fall, God promised that one will come who will redeem creation from its incurable stain of sin. Each generation, all the way back to Adam and Eve, was searching for this Savior. While each generation for thousands of years did not see the end result of God's promise, He still remained faithful in preserving His people for the time when His Son would come. Each generation continued to call upon the name of the Lord (even if it was only one family, like in the time of Noah), and continued looking ahead to the future fulfillment of God's promise. The author of Hebrews makes a point in this matter in his famous chapter on faith:
Those we regard as heroes of the faith in the Old Testament, though they never saw the ultimate fulfillment, saw that God was preserving and preparing them for a true homeland.
I want to touch on something that I've already briefly mentioned. These genealogies are important because it is a tangible way for us to connect with those who helped lay the foundation for the faith upon which we now stand firm. This is not some recent, misguided spiritual journey that has only existed for a century or two; no, we are able to stand side by side with those who were standard-bearers of the true faith thousands of years before our distant ancestors were born. I see that as such a privilege.
I completely understand that genealogies are not the most invigorating read you will ever find. But that does not mean you cannot appreciate them and why they still exist in Scripture today. As you read them, praise the God who has all authority in past, present, and future. Praise Him for the work that He did back then, for what He is doing now, and for what He has promised will happen in days/years/ages to come. Walk alongside those from the past who were seeking that "better country."
Afterword: We are currently speeding headlong into the Christmas season, and there are a couple of genealogies closely linked to the story of Christ's birth. One of them, the account at the beginning of Matthew, was put to music by Andrew Peterson as part of his Christmas project Behold the Lamb of God. You can find my review of that album here, and you can purchase it on iTunes or at the Rabbit Room. For now, here's "Matthew's Begats":
A simple servant of the Master.