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Bible Commentaries
1 Chronicles 1

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-54

1 Chronicles 1:1-54

Adam, Sheth, Enosh.

Israelite descent

Israel was Jehovah’s chosen people, His son, to whom special privileges were guaranteed by solemn covenant. A man’s claim to share in this covenant depended on his genuine Israelite descent, and the proof of such descent was an authentic genealogy. In these chapters the chronicler has taken infinite pains to collect pedigrees from all available sources and to construct a complete set of genealogies exhibiting the lines of descent of the families of Israel. These chapters, which seem to us so dry and useless, were probably regarded by the chronicler’s contemporaries as the most important part of his work. The preservation or discovery of a genealogy was almost a matter of life and death (Ezra 2:61-63; Nehemiah 7:63-65). (W. H. Bennett, M. A.)


The first nine chapters contain the largest extant collection of Hebrew names.

1. These names have an individual significance. A mere parish register is not in itself attractive, but if we consider even such a list, the very names interest us and kindle our imaginations. It is almost impossible to linger in a country churchyard, reading the half-effaced inscriptions upon the headstones, without forming some dim picture of the character and history and even the outward semblance of the men and women who once bore the names. A name implies the existence of a distinct personality. In its lists of what are now mere names the Bible seems to recognise the dignity and sacredness of bare human life.

2. These names have also a collective significance. They are typical and representative--the names of kings and priests and captains; they sum up the tribes of Israel, both as a Church and a nation, down all the generations of its history.

3. The meanings of names reveal the ideas of the people who used them. “The Hebrew names bear important testimony to the peculiar vocation of this nation. No nation of antiquity has such a proportion of names of religious import.” The Old Testament contains more than a hundred etymologies of personal names, most of which attach a religious meaning to the words explained.

4. How far do these names help us to understand the spiritual life of ancient Israel? The Israelites made constant use of El and Jehovah in their names, and we have no parallel practice. Were they then so much more religious than we are? Probably in a sense they were. Modern Englishman have developed a habit of almost complete reticence and reserve on religious matters, and this habit is illustrated by our choice of proper names.

5. According to the testimony of names, the Israelites’ favourite ideas about God were that He heard, and knew, and remembered; that He was gracious, and helped men and gave them gifts; they loved best to think of Him as God the Giver. This is a foreshadowing of the Christian doctrines of grace and of the Divine sovereignty. God hears and remembers and gives--what? All that we have to say to Him and all that we are capable of receiving from Him. (W. H. Bennett, M. A.)

The genealogies indicative of universal brotherhood

The existing races of the world are all traced back through Shem, Ham, and Japheth to Noah, and through him to Adam. The Israelites did not claim, like certain Greek clans, to be the descendants of a special god of their own, or, like the Athenians, to have sprung miraculously from sacred soft. Their genealogies testified that not merely Israelite nature, but human nature, is moulded on a Divine pattern. These apparently barren lists of names enshrine the great principles of the universal brotherhood of man and the universal Fatherhood of God. The opening chapters of Genesis and Chronicles are among the foundations of the catholicity of the Church of Christ. (W. H. Bennett, M. A.)

The genealogies and heredity

Each nation rightly regards its religious ideas and life and literature as a precious inheritance peculiarly its own; and it should not be too severely blamed for being ignorant that other nations have their inheritance also. Such considerations largely justify the interest in heredity shown by the chronicler’s genealogies. On the positive practical side religion is largely a matter of heredity, and ought to be. The Christian sacrament of baptism is a continued profession of this truth: our children are “clean”; they are within the covenant of grace; we claim for them the privileges of the Church to which we belong. This was also part of the meaning of the genealogies. (W. H. Bennett, M. A.)

The genealogies: what we owe to the past

We are the creatures and debtors of the past, though we are slow to own our obligations. We have nothing that we have not received; but we are apt to consider ourselves self-made men, the architects and builders of our own fortunes, who have the right to be self-satisfied, self-assertive, and selfish. The heir of all the ages, in the full vigour of youth, takes his place in the foremost ranks of time, and marches on in the happy consciousness of profound and multifarious wisdom, immense resources, and magnificent opportunity. He forgets, or even despises, the generations of labour and anguish that have built up for him his great inheritance. The genealogies are a silent protest against such insolent ingratitude. They remind us that in bygone days a man derived his gifts and received his opportunities from his ancestors; they show us men as the links in a chain, tenants for life, as it were, of our estate, called upon to pay back with interest to the future the debt which they have incurred to the past. (W. H. Bennett, M. A.)

Genealogies as symbols of the solidarity of our race

The genealogies that set forth family histories are the symbols of the brotherhood or solidarity of our race. The chart of converging lines of ancestors in Israel carried men’s minds back from the separate families to their common ancestor. As far as they go, the chronicler’s genealogies form a clear and instructive diagram of the mutual dependence of men on men and family on family. They are in any case a true symbol of the facts of family relations; but they are drawn, so to speak, in one dimension only, backwards and forwards in time. Yet the real family life exists in three dimensions. A man has not merely his male ancestors in the directly ascending line--father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc.
but he has female ancestors as well. By going back three or four generations a man is connected with an immense number of cousins; and if the complete network of ten or fifteen generations could be worked out, it would probably show some blood bond throughout a whole nation. The further we go back the larger is the element of ancestry common to the different individuals of the same community. The chronicler’s genealogies only show us individuals as links in a set of chains. The more complete genealogical scheme would be better illustrated by the ganglia of the nervous system, each of which is connected by numerous fibres with the other ganglia. Patriotism and humanity are instincts as natural and as binding as those of the family; and the genealogies express or symbolise the wider family ties, that they may commend the virtues and enforce the duties that arise out of these ties. (W. H. Bennett, M. A.)

The antiquity and unity of man

Other nations have had more or less imperfect visions of ancient history and of the unity of the race, but in the Bible alone do we find an authoritative declaration made concerning the antiquity and unity of man and the ultimate destiny of the human race. The Chaldeans had a tradition of ten antediluvian patriarchs or kings. They made the duration of this first period of human history four hundred and thirty-two thousand years. All other chronicles have been bewildered by their polytheism, whereas in the Hebrew history we have all the sublime unity which would seem to be necessitated by the monotheism of the writers. They who believed in one God were likely to believe in one humanity. Monotheism accounts for the two commandments which relate first to God, and then to man. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verse 19

1 Chronicles 1:19

Because in his days the earth was divided.

The division of the earth

The chief value of the genealogical records consists--

1. In enabling us to view the origin of nations historically.

2. In enabling us to trace out the various tribes of the sons of Jacob.

3. In enabling us to prove the lineal descent of Christ to have been of the house and lineage of David; and that He was the fulfiller of the promise to Abraham, “In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed.”

4. Independently of all this we meet with a sentence or a paragraph suggestive of the deepest thought, or illuminating a principle expressed in another part of the Scriptures with light as clear and bright as it is beautiful and enchanting. Such an instance we have in the text.

Consider the division of the earth as ordained without sin. Sin alters and affects everything. There is not a duty you perform or matter you can engage in, in which you do not find sin exerting a pernicious influence. And here it is, I think, that many persons make great error when seeking to interpret to themselves the trials and calamities which come upon them. “Providence ordained it,” is the common philosophy on the matter, when I humbly think the truer account of every calamity would be, “Providence ordained and desired my happiness, but sin has deformed it, and for a time blasted the intended joys and filled me with anxieties.” The division which God intended would be but a repetition in every case of what He had done at the beginning; there would have been allotted to the sons of men certain portions of this fair earth to govern and to till, and every child of Adam would be taught, in the beautiful homilies of nature, the first principles at least of homage to the Creator, and of confidence, and of love. The division Jehovah ordained was division without disunion. Distinction, but not discord. Partition, but still perfect peace. This first inquiry, then, is of much value, and will prove, ere many years, of vast importance in refuting the errors of the sceptical writers which abound. Nor will it perhaps be without its use, to have noticed the character of that division which God intended among the sons of men, one which should have promoted the equal comfort of all, amidst the blessings of universal peace and brotherhood. It may be, that when grace shall have triumphed in our sin-stained earth even but a little more, you may see a disposition to revert to these very principles of division which the Eternal desired to be followed, but which (as we shall notice directly) have been marvellously distorted ever since the day of which it is recorded in the text--“Unto Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg; because in his days the earth was divided.”

Now let us inquire into the division of the earth among nations as it does exist, under the influence of sin. Now you notice, by referring to the text (Genesis 10:25), that the division took place before the building of Babel, and according to some persons, some considerable period before that epoch. At all events, the narrative implies that this division preceded the dispersion, and must therefore have occurred when all men spoke but one language. Remember, then, that God’s will was that men should divide (though without discord) and replenish all the earth. Recollect, too, that from the text we learn that the first step in this had been taken, even as Eber names his child Peleg (division) in memory of the event. Observe, then, what we are told immediately after the division in the days of Peleg. You read in the eleventh chapter of Genesis that the whole earth was of one language and of one speech; but that in their journeyings from the east, instead of dividing (as probably was the intention when they started), finding a large and inviting plain in Shinar, they counsel each other: “Let us build a city and tower whose top may reach to heaven, and let us make us a name lest” (mark) “we be scattered abroad on the face of the whole earth.” So that sin at once interrupted the beneficent designs of God, and interposing its corrupting leaven, sought to change His ordinances by promising greater benefits than He, but which have ever been found productive of evil. And now, that which was ordained for a blessing in every age, forthwith becomes a curse while it is yet obeyed; for God coming down, and seeing the injurious moral effect which would follow from this congregating together, disperses them by a division wholly unlooked for. God confounded their speech, made them talk in different languages, and they are obliged in consequence to disperse, and the division is accomplished. But how? Not in peace and harmony, and with a “God be with you.” But brother utters jargon to brother, and words of blessing and adieu are impossible, and now it is no more division with love, but confusion, and disunion, and discord, and ill-will. For I ask you what is the history of nations, but a continuation of this story? Nations for the most part are distinguished from one another by their difference of speech. But this is not the only difference. Scarcely a nation in the world but has at one time or another, been at war with other nations, and almost every kingdom of importance has, in its turn, encountered the armies of all other kingdoms in the dread attack of war and slaughter, at some period of their history. And this is the place for observing another very striking result of sin in the division of the earth. God, we saw, intended it so to be conducted as to subserve the advantage of all; but man decreed in his pride of intellect and reasoning that he would live in the dense vastness of a thickly populated city. And though God indeed dispersed them from Babel, the tendency of our nature seems to be far from eradicated. Still mankind crowd into cities, until they are so closely populated, that disease and death are fearfully increased. So you may notice how the retributive hand of judgment has followed these transactions. Man is a social being, and intended by God to congregate, but intended not so to congregate as we find he has done, and will still persist in doing, until by a strange anomaly his next-door neighbour is the veriest stranger to him. God ordered earth to be divided; and the plan by which thousands are huddled in close, dark, narrow alleys and areas is only sin’s development of its influences, as it reverses God’s intended method of division, and says with towering vanity, “Go to, let us build rather a city that we may not be scattered.” It is a known fact, that there is less religion in large towns than small ones, and far less where the poor are obliged to pack together as I have described. The reason is also plain. The cause is, that since the days of Peleg, the earth has been divided according to sin, and the dispersion of nations is the result of God’s anger, in confounding their speech. But the reason is, because the human mind, cut off from the beauties of nature, and those countless sources which it possesses for preparing the mind for religion, becomes prejudiced in its fearfully artificial state of town life, and by the evil customs and habits which surround it, against every sense of real godliness, which it thus learns to regard as belonging only to the rich.

But though you see sin so plainly operating, you are assured that christ will conquer, and grace finally prevail. In the day of glory which awaits you (described in the last two chapters of the Revelation), it is very interesting to observe that the city of the new Jerusalem described there bears a peculiar likeness to those which would have existed if the division of the world had been such as God ordained, and which began in the days of Peleg. In Christ’s kingdom there will be division without discord, that is, every person in his right place, in perfect love, and unity with all the rest.

Verse 44

1 Chronicles 1:44

Johab the son of of Zerah of Bozrah reigned in his stead.


Never let it be supposed that Providence is limited to any one man in the matter of kingship and dominion. Men who are reigning should lay to heart the reflection that their reign is to come to an end. Every man is bound to consider his successor; it is not enough to vacate office; every man should leave behind him a character worthy of imitation, an example that will stimulate in all highest directions. Let every man prepare himself to succeed the king--in the family, in the state, in the social circle: we should always be preparing ourselves for some higher office, and the best way of so preparing is to fill with faithfulness the office which we have at present assigned to us. There is only one King who shall have no successor, and that King’s name is Jesus Christ. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verse 48

1 Chronicles 1:48

And when Samlah was dead, Shaul of Rehoboth by the river reigned in his stead.

The race and the individual

“The king is dead. Long live the king!” After the Saxon comes the Norman; after George the First George the Second, and then George the Third. So is history written with wearying monotony. These chapters have their lessons, and not the least significant is contained in the words “reigned in his stead.” We hear the tramp of many generations as we read these verses. The march of the human family has been always towards a grave. That is the end of every life. “And so death passed on all men; for all have sinned.” Who were Bela, and Jobad, and Husham, and Hadad, Samlah, and Shaul? They were kings once, but who cares anything about them now? They are dead, and their deeds are forgotten. Another man shall fill my pulpit; another man shall attend to your business; another man shall sit in your chair. Our text suggests the thought of the death of the individual and the perpetuation of the race. Instead of father comes the son. Whether we like it or not, our children will soon be pushing us out of our places. The world demands strong hands and nimble intellects. The cry is for young men. It is pathetic, it is sometimes heart-breaking, to see how cavalierly the world treats the aged. With rude hands it pushes them aside to make way for their successors. The moral suggestiveness of the genealogical chapters is great. The Bible has a wonderful method of epitomising. It informs us of the creation of the world, the sun, moon, and stars, earth, heaven, and sea in a single chapter. It tells the whole story of Redemption in one verse (John 3:16). The very brevity is significant. What importance we poor mortals attach to very trifling things! Our pleasures, our troubles, our work, our family, its marriages, its funerals; and we sometimes feel aggrieved that these things have not a deeper interest for others. Here are many generations of men all crammed into one chapter. “Behold God is very great.” And so He tells of many generations of men in a few verses. It is such a small thing to Him. The individual passes away, but the race continues. Men die, but man endures. “One generation cometh and another goeth.” The earth is very beautiful, hut it is, after all, one vast cemetery, in which repose the ashes of our forefathers. It is a lovely garden full of flowers and singing birds, but in the garden there is always a new tomb. The dead outnumber the living. We pride ourselves on our possessions. A few years ago they were not ours, they belonged to the departed; in a few years to come they will not be ours, they will be held by our successors. God lends us a house to live in, clothes to wear, money to use, and we grow arrogant, and exclaim,” See how rich I am!” We shut our fists tight over our gold, and say, “This is mine; I will keep it. Nobody else shall have it.” And Death comes, and says, “Give it up. Thou mayest retain it no longer.” Twenty--thirty generations of men. What solemn thoughts the words suggest! But who could not weep over this vast host who have all felt the joy and beauty of life, but are now dead? Where are the ancient seers and prophets whose eagle vision peered through the mists of time and read with unerring certainty the fate of great nations and the purposes of God? Gone! Prepare thyself! Thou shalt die and another reign in thy stead. Our text suggests the solidarity of our race. We are all children of one earthly father, as we are an the children of one Heavenly Father. All the fountains of history have their rise in the solitary pair who were driven from the gates of Paradise by the flaming sword of the angel sentinel of God. We are all descendants of a gardener, and the proudest crest might well have upon it a spade. The common brotherhood of the race is, I trust, soon to receive practical recognition by statesmen. Long enough have poets sung of equal rights and preachers repeated stale platitudes about “all men being as one in God’s sight”; and yet the nations have gone on murdering one another, and, under the plea of extending civilisation, have extirpated many a tribe whose only crime was that they would not give up the land of their fathers to satisfy the territorial greed of the white man. Our text reminds us of our indebtedness to the past. Every man is an epitome of the race. In him history has its reflection and development. He is the incarnation of the past and the prophecy of the future. No man can isolate himself. Where did this man get that imagination which transforms the commonplaces of life, and gives to the veriest mudbank hues of iridescent beauty? Where did that other get his logical faculty, his mathematical accuracy, or his genius for construction? You would have to trace his ancestry back through centuries to answer those questions. Some of us, alas! have inherited from the past other qualities which are the bane and cross of our life. But there is another way in which we are indebted to the past. We have come into a heritage of noble deeds and splendid thoughts. We are heirs of all the ages. For us the thinkers of past ages burned the midnight oil, for us the workers tolled when Nature bade them sleep. For a shilling I can purchase the plays it took Shakespeare a lifetime to write. A few coppers will make Milton my life companion. We are indebted to the nameless dead, as well as to those favoured few who have snatched immortality from the hand of fate. The world is better for their unrecorded heroism, their quiet, patient suffering, as the atmosphere is sweeter for the fragrance of the violet. The civil liberties we enjoy, the freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience, have been bought for us by the rich blood of brave men and women. Let us hand to our sons unimpaired the holy legacy of our sires. Our text also suggests the debt we owe to the future. Posterity has a claim upon us as well as the past. Let it be ours to make the bounds of freedom wider yet; to leave at least one evil less than when we were born. It is glorious, and yet it is awful to think that in writing our own history we are also determining the character of generations to come. To the young I say, Prepare yourselves to take our places. We mean to make it as easy for you to reign in our stead as we can by removing out of the way some of the difficulties and dangers that have beset our own lives. We mean to make it u hard for you to succeed us as we can by living so well that it shall only be by the most strenuous efforts that you shall surpass us in moral effort, in high purpose, in brave deeds, and aspiring thoughts. Get ready, I say, for the larger duties and greater responsibilities the future has in store for you. The business of the world, its philanthropies and its religion, will soon be in your hands. Another lesson of these chapters is that of our own insignificance. They tend to correct our overwhelming self-esteem. Men come and pass away, but the old world goes on. There is no place but what can be filled; no man is indispensable. Who will succeed you? Who will lift the sword that you lay down, who will wear your mantle, who will fill your office? Can anybody do it? Yes; but you have nothing to do with that. It is yours to make it difficult for any man to succeed you by doing your work so well that it cannot be done better. We are all apt to magnify our own importance. Our place may not be so hard to fill as we imagine. Some ruddy country lad may come with his sling and stone, and in simple faith hurl a pebble in the name of God at the giants before where we have trembled and fled. At the weaver’s loom may be another David Livingston, in the market garden a Robert Moffat, at the cobbler’s bench a William Carey, in the school a Charles Haddon Spurgeon. One closing thought, rues to us, and that is, in the common aspirations, longings, and desires of men; in their common origin and destiny, we find an argument for a common redemption. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Generation after generation of men and not one absolutely holy save Him who bore all our sins on the Cross, but had no sin of His own. In due time Christ died for the ungodly. The cry of all ages has been a cry for deliverance from the curse of sin. That cry found its answer at Calvary. Jesus is the only King of whom the text will never be true. He sits on an eternal throne. His crown will never lose its lustre. We sinners cannot do without the Redeemer. The gospel we proclaim is a resurection gospel. Because He lives we shall live also. (S. Horton.)

Verse 54

1 Chronicles 1:54

These are the dukes of Edom.

A high order of names

The great lesson teaches the transitoriness of all human dignity and glory. Where are the dukes of Edom now? Who knows the names of Timnah, Allah, Jetheth? How far are our own names known? What will be thought of them in the next century? Men are not to be estimated by their renown, but by them in the next goodness and their local influence. In the Christian Church we have come to a higher order of names than was ever known in secular history. Men may now be called sons of God, saints, slaves of Jesus Christ, inheritors of the world of light: let us aspire after these higher titles, for they never perish. The titles which men give soon expire: the titles which God confers are vital with His own Eternity. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Chronicles 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/1-chronicles-1.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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