The Search for the Serpent Crusher

Why Jesus is My Hero #15 of 52

Why is the Bible So Full of Boring Genealogies?

Have you ever wondered why there are so many genealogies in the Bible? They just seem to boring – why were the authors of the Bible so interested in who begat who? It’s these kinds of things that give rise to responses like this scene from the Monty Python film “The Meaning of Life”:

Why are these genealogies there? Well, I can’t answer that question in the general case – you have to read each one on its own terms. But I know that more often than not, there’s nothing boring about them once you begin to get into the mindset of the people writing them. One of the best talks I ever heard was on the genealogy in Genesis 5:

“When Adam had lived for 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.

When Seth had lived for 105 years, he fathered Enosh. Seth lived after he fathered Enosh for 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died.

When Enosh had lived for 90 years, he fathered Kenan. Enosh lived after he fathered Kenan for 815 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enosh were 905 years, and he died…”

…and so the list goes on. In all we’re given eleven generations of mankind in this same formulaic structure. BOR-ING! Except it’s really not. When you get into the story, it turns out it’s absolutely riveting stuff – it’s edge of your seat material.

You see, God made a promise back in Genesis 3:15:

The Lord God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

We’re living after the fall. Adam & Eve have rebelled against God’s command and eaten of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They’ve suffered the consequences by being banished from the garden, and now we’re seeing God’s first promise coming to fulfilment: “in the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” You cannot read the genealogy on chapter 5 without noticing the tragic refrain coming over and over again: “and he died.” It’s miserable reading – just as God said would be the case, by disobeying God, Adam & Eve have brought death into the world, and it’s utterly unnatural.

But we also have the promise of 3:15 ringing in our ears – the hope of an offspring who will do battle with the serpent. It’s only a vague and ambiguous hope, but at this point in the story it’s the only hope we have! So when we read in chapter 5 that Adam and Eve have a son, Seth, it’s a very exciting moment! But then he dies. It’s not going to be him after all. Well maybe it will be his son, Enosh? But no, he dies too. Well what about Kenan? Dead. Mahalalel? Dead. Jared? Dead. Each time our hopes are raised, only to be dashed again. The pattern is only broken with Enoch who “walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” – somehow Enoch escapes death. But he doesn’t remain to bruise the serpent’s head, and our search for the saviour continues.

Things seem pretty hopeful when Noah shows up – he’s described as the most righteous man of his generation, and as a result is rescued from the flood when the rest of mankind perishes. Yet even he turns out to be a disappoint, when we find him drunk in his vineyard a few chapters later. The search for the serpent crusher carries on, and by the time we reach the end of the Old Testament it would be easy to think that God had forgotten that obscure promise he made all those years ago.

It makes for thrilling reading then we finally meet the person of Jesus Christ at the start of Matthew’s gospel, and he goes head to head with Satan in the wilderness. Where Adam & Eve failed to obey God’s word and ate the fruit, Jesus resists Satan’s temptation and clings to God’s promises, trusting in his word when every instinct must have been telling him to listen to the Devil’s lies and eat. Finally the serpent crusher is here – and on the cross we see that promise fulfilled: they each destroy the other, as Jesus is nailed to a cross and killed, and Satan’s mortal power is swallowed up as the penalty for sin is paid once and for all. Only, thankfully, that’s not the end of the story, as Jesus is raised to life on the third day, triumphing over evil forever. That’s why Jesus is my hero, and why I’m persuaded that there’s nothing boring about a Biblical genealogy.