Reading all of the names in the genealogy of Jesus, I know I’ve read them before. I know I’ve read their stories, some of the brief and boring, some more enthralling. But for most of these individuals, I can’t recall anything. And it makes me realize I’m missing something.
If I knew my Bible better, I am confident this genealogy would be more meaningful to me. If I read the names Rehoboam and Josiah and could recall exactly what the Old Testament and history books tell me about them, the temptation to skim over this list of names would be less. Because it wouldn’t be merely a list of names.
At the Oriental Museum of Chicago there is an artifact called Sennacherib’s Annals. It’s a clay prism with cuneiform writing. The prism talks about Hezekiah — our Hezekiah — and how he wouldn’t submit to Assyrian authority and was then besieged “like a caged bird.”
Even that little tidbit makes reading Hezekiah’s name in the line of Abraham’s descendants so much more meaningful — because I recall something about the people.
If only I could recall something — or many things — about every one of the members of this tree! I’d be more inclined to read and think and take my time because I’d know who we’re talking about. I’d be invested in each line because they’d mean something to me–they’d be people with lives and stories instead of unpronounceable names in a list.
This feeling demonstrates to me the importance of reading and meditating on the Word, and the reality that we need scripture to understand scripture. It is, in a way, tautological—using itself to prove itself–but it’s also true. We need the Old Testament to understand the New Testament. How much more would I appreciate the opening of Matthew’s gospel if I already appreciated the historical books earlier in God’s Word!
A line of origin like this doesn’t stand in isolation. It harkens back to stories already told. Likewise, the New Testament is not a standalone catalogue of books and letters. It is a continuation of the story already begun.
It’s difficult to understand any book when you jump in two-thirds of the way through. It’s only in knowing the names and all that goes with them in the OT that I can more powerfully grasp all the context and content of Matthew 1.