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If you have ever been bogged down in the begats of Genesis while following a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, I have encouraging news for you. Genealogies matter. True, Paul admonished Titus to avoid foolish genealogies,[1] but none of the genealogies recorded in Scripture are foolish. Their importance can be seen in their prominence. Entire sections of the word of God are filled with the generational listings of the families of man and the tribes of Israel.[2] Within them are gold mines buried in silver dust under a crust of gem stones: redemption narratives encoded in the names, histories of mankind’s migrations, beginnings of rivalries still bleeding in today’s headlines, Messiah’s lineage, and the structure of the beginning of the Bible.

The standout term in the book of Genesis is the Hebrew word toledah, translated as “generations” in the King James Version. The use of this word as a section header for what follows, signifying the history of those begotten, provides the textual structure of the book of Genesis. This structure is outlined in the table below.[3]

The Textual Structure of Genesis

The Creation – Genesis 1:1 – 2:3
Toledah of the heavens & earth Gen. 2:4 – 4:26
Toledah of Adam Gen. 5:1 – 6:8
Toledah of Noah Gen. 6:9 – 9:29
Toledah of Shem, Ham, and Japheth Gen. 10:1 – 11:9
Toledah of Shem Gen. 11:10 – 26
Toledah of Terah Gen. 11:27 – 25:11
Toledah of Ishmael Gen. 25:12 – 18
Toledah of Isaac Gen. 25:19 – 35:29
Toledah of Esau Gen. 36:1 – 37:1
Toledah of Jacob Gen. 37:2 – 50:26

Though it may not be surprising that God would structure Genesis based on generational histories, it is beautiful to behold. Our chapters and verses are indispensable references systems we have imposed on the text, but they seldom reflect its true architecture. The Torah begins with a creative introduction and then moves on through ten major sections. Its internal structure foreshadows the covenant inscribed with the finger of God on tablets of stone, the Ten Commandments.

The use of toledah throughout the Bible often refers to what follows it. The person named after the toledah is the person of origin.[4] For instance, in the “generations of Noah” (Gen. 6:9) Noah is the person of origin for the family that follows.

Messiah’s Lineage
Like the Old Testament, the New Testament begins with a generational focus.

Matthew 1:1-2
1 The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren;

Matthew begins with “the generation of Jesus Christ” and then moves into Abraham’s begetting of Isaac. This inversion of expected order should arrest our attention. Matthew’s gospel is Hebraic in its mindset. From the Torah perspective, the person at the start of a generational record is seen as the origin of what follows. Matthew begins his genealogy with Jesus the Messiah, signifying Him as the origin of all that follows. Matthew then proceeds to detail the genealogy in chiasmus form: Jesus to David to Abraham (Matt. 1:1) and then Abraham (1:2) to David (1:6) to Jesus (1:16-17).

Matthew’s literary transposition mirrors the temporal twisting dynamics of the Lord’s generational involvement in the redemption of mankind. Regarding His place in time relative to Abraham, Jesus had this to say:

John 8:56-58
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

Before Abraham was—past tense—I am—present tense. Jesus presented himself to his contemporaries as existent prior to Abraham’s beginning. He relates himself to David in much the same way.

Matthew 22:41-46
41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them,
42 Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David.
43 He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying,
44 The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?
45 If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?
46 And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.

Jesus’s line of questioning presented the Pharisees with a paradox they dared not resolve. The Messiah was to come from David’s line, but David calls Him Lord. How could David have a Lord not born yet but promised to be his Son? The only satisfactory answer is that Messiah is more than man. This they could not allow. Jesus resolves the paradox in His revelation to John.

Revelation 22:16
I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.

He is both the source and progeny of David’s line. Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh.[5]

[1] Titus 3:9 ESV.
[2] Examples include: Exod. 6:14-25; Num. 1, 3, 26; Josh. 13-21; 1 Chron. 1-9; 23-27; 2 Chron. 29:12-14; Ezra 2; 8:1-14; 10:18-44; Neh. 7:7-63; 12:1-24; Phil. 3:4-5; 2 Tim. 1:5; Rev. 7:4-8.
[3] Adapted from Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 1996, p. 70.
[4] Ibid., p. 72-73.
[5] 1 Tim. 3:16.