At the writing of this post, my nuclear family has grown to a whopping 18 members and counting. The sheer magnitude of this group means that I feel as though I’m playing a game of “Duck, Duck, Goose” in my head whenever we are out in public together. We had the opportunity to get together a couple of months ago to celebrate my brother’s milestone birthday, and we managed to take up one whole section in the restaurant where we’d decided to eat lunch.
The ten children among us (seven of whom are under the age of six) are so active that I found myself continually counting heads to make sure that we hadn’t lost any of the more energetic roamers. Later on that afternoon, as we all played in the pool at the hotel, I found myself playing lifeguard, once again, just to keep track of every precious moving part.
It’s almost as though the Chronicler in the reading for today is playing a counting game with the entire people of Israel. You might be understandably dismayed to find another set of genealogies here in 1 Chronicles, where you might not have expected it. So, why do we see another recounting of the family tree of the people of Israel?
At this point in their history, a remnant has returned from exile in Babylon to rebuild the temple and then the wall around the city of Jerusalem. This group of people had felt cut off and disengaged from their heritage when they were removed from their ancestral land, as a result of their apostasy and disobedience to God’s law.
Now, as they return, they need to feel again a sense of connection to those that have gone before. They need to remember to whom they belong, and they need to be reassured that they are still God’s very own people, whom he loves with a steadfast faithfulness. The returned exiles need to know that God will see them as the legitimate inheritors of the covenant promises that he made to their ancestors.
Throughout the Old Testament, God pledges his commitment to his people in various ways – first through Noah, then Abraham, and then through the prophet Moses and King David. In the midst of the various specific promises of each one of these renewed relationships, Yahweh essentially covenants to be their God, and asks them to be his people.
This promise on God’s part demonstrates his favor in choosing Israel as the people through whom he would bless the whole world. God shows them what his steadfast love looks like in the midst of ongoing human moral failure.
One of the prophets that lived during the period just after Judah’s exile into Babylon wrote of a renewal of God’s covenantal faithfulness, following the judgment of exile that he’d inflicted on his people. Jeremiah writes of this new covenant to come when he prophesies, “…this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord…I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33).
A colleague of mine who had two young adult children would often talk to me about their escapades. I’ll never forget how he referred to the two using distinctly different language. Of his son, he always used the passionately emphasized phrase, “my son,” without fail. Of his daughter, who had been somewhat of a disappointment to him, he loosely and almost apologetically called her, “our daughter,” as though he would’ve preferred to attribute her entirely to his wife, rather than claim her as his own.
In these genealogies in 1 Chronicles, God is counting those returned exiles (chapter 9) as the heirs of the spiritual promises that he made to their ancestors. By listing their names and tribes and parentage, God is claiming them as his own, even after their time of pronounced disobedience. God is saying, essentially, “you, too, are my people.”
For us, when we feel cut off from relationship with God and his people (now the church), whether because of blatant sin, spiritual apathy, or a dullness of belief, we need to hear again that we are spiritual descendants in a long line of believers. We are heirs of the promises of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, “for all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
God claims us as his own, saying to us, “you, too, through Jesus, are my people.”