How to Find the Gospel among the Genealogies of 1 Chronicles
I’m not very good at following those yearly Bible reading plans. I’ve read through the entire Bible several times, but I never can seem to finish those yearly plans. I blame my own dullness as a big part of the problem. Yet, if I’m being honest, I can identify a couple other culprits: Leviticus and 1 Chronicles.
I acknowledge that 1 Chronicles is important. But (get ready to pick up your pitchfork and torch) the phone book is also important (or at least it was until Google). Why do I need to read chapter upon chapter of who begat whom? Is this nothing more than an ancient registry? How in the world does this hold value for us in the 21st Century?
While I’ll still readily acknowledge that those first few chapters of 1 Chronicles are tough sledding, the reality is that the gospel is here as well. It’s far more than a phone book. It isn’t a glorified registry, it’s the word of God. And it, like everywhere else in the Scriptures, points to Jesus.
“How,” you ask?
How Do You Find the Gospel in the Old Testament?
I suppose before understanding how to find the gospel in the OT, it’d be helpful for us to define the gospel. The simplest definition is one given by JI Packer: God saves sinners. If you’d like to put a bit more meat on your gospel presentation, I use two different frameworks with four points each. The first is God—Man—Christ—Response. The second is more of a story: Creation—Fall—Redemption—Glory.
The first presentation centers upon God’s character and how humanity fails to meet God’s holy standard, as such the judgment of God is upon us. But the good news is that Jesus Christ fixes this by fulfilling what is required through his life, death and resurrection. Our only fitting response, then, is to respond to Him in repentance and faith. When this happens, we are united to Christ and his record becomes our record.
The second presentation centers upon the overarching story of the Bible. God lovingly created us to love Him and enjoy Him forever. We were made for rest, rule, and relationship. But we made shipwreck of this, and so rather than having the blessings of obedience we are under the curse of disobedience. Rather than having peace (rest), purpose (ruling), and healthy relationship we often experience the opposite. Ultimately, we are alienated from God. But thankfully God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to bear our curse and to fulfill what God intended for humanity. As such we now experience the blessings of Jesus’ obedience in our place. He restores the rest, rule, and relationship we were created to enjoy. Someday everything will be ultimately restored and we will live in a new heaven and a new earth.
We could write entire books focusing on these various themes of the gospel. But every gospel story follows this basic skeleton. No matter where you find yourself in the Old Testament (or the New Testament) you can find one of these various threads. Every place in Scripture is either telling you something about God, something about our rebellion, something about His rescue, or something about our future restoration. If you can spot this, then you can fill out the rest of the story.
How Do You Find the Gospel in 1 Chronicles?
There is another reason why 1 Chronicles is tough to read in our yearly Bible reading plan. Even after you get through the genealogy, you read stories that you just read about in Samuel and Kings. Why bother repeating all this?
We might be helped here by placing 1 and 2 Chronicles where they originally belonged — at the end of the story. It’s meant to be read after exile. At its core, 1 Chronicles is primarily a historical record that traces the genealogy of the Israelites from Adam to the return from Babylonian exile. It places a significant emphasis on the lineage of King David, highlighting his connection to the tribe of Judah and ultimately establishing the legitimacy of the Davidic monarchy.
It was likely written quite a few years after the Israelites had returned from exile. More than likely it’s around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah and placed within that discouraging time when all those hopes about a rebuilt city and temple were all but dashed. The author of 1 Chronicles goes back to their story to give a message of hope for the future. It's not just a boring history lesson. The author has compiled these to create in the people a longing for the coming King, the Messiah, the One in the line of David.
But there is another thread throughout this book. All the detailed accounts of the organization and functions of the religious system in Israel, including the roles of priests, Levites, and musicians in the worship at the Temple — it has a purpose. The meticulous attention paid to the construction of the Temple, the appointment of priests, and the division of responsibilities among the Levitical clans, holds out hope for a future temple — a time of continued worship.
1 Chronicles paves the wave for the Messiah. It encourages the people to build a physical temple, to long for a new king, etc. But it was also there to create a hope for the Ultimate Rescuer to come and redeem the people. 1 Chronicles tells us that God isn’t through with people. There is a reason to hope.
We see in the New Testament that Christ is the fulfillment of all those hopes in 1 Chronicles. As the author put together these stories to provide hope of a coming king and a renewed temple, we see that Jesus is both of these. He is the King who would rule and reign over the people. He is the Priest who would restore the people into a right relationship with God.
How Do You Find the Gospel in 1 Chronicles 1-9?
I’ll confess that it’s going to be rather difficult to find the gospel in a simple phrase like “Arpachshad fathered Shelah.” If I were preaching on 1 Chronicles, I’d likely not do a verse-by-verse expository sermon. That’d be a real snoozer. But if we pan out just a bit, we can see that the author of 1 Chronicles is doing something. He is selective in this genealogy.
Arpachshad is there for a reason. He has a story. We might not know that story — but he has one and it matters. And all these big names that are hard to pronounce are similar. They all unite to tell one big story. It’s the storyline of the whole Old Testament.
And here again we see the line of kings that traces all the way to David, but also through David. The genealogy is traced even to the present day exilic community. What that tells them is that there is still Messianic hope. God’s promise in 2 Samuel 7 to David is alive and well. The Messiah can still come, even though they were disobedient, removed from the land, and even upon return seemed to slip back into old patterns. There is still hope for Messiah.
But it’s not only David that he traces. It’s also the lineage of the priests. They can still trace a line to Levi. What does this mean? It means there is still the hope for authentic worship. The temple system isn’t over. God can still be worshipped. The temple can be restored.
Ultimately, we see that Jesus’ priesthood will come from a different order (see Hebrews 7). Nevertheless, the hope for a temple and restoration was present there in 1 Chronicles and we see it in that genealogy. God is still fulfilling His promises. And when we come to Christ, we see that he is the promised Davidic king as well as the fulfillment of all those hopes for a temple (restoring the presence of God).
Even what appears to be an ancient phone book, really isn’t. It’s a beautiful piece of literature that points once again to Jesus and the gospel message.
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