Family tree (Exodus 6:10-30)
Paul writes to Timothy about these false teachers “devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” (1 Tim 1:4). We probably have taken this to heart more than we realize. Paul writes to Titus saying, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Tit 3:9). We read avoid endless genealogies and also foolish genealogies and then we label all genealogies endless and foolish. We come to a long list of names that we cannot pronounce, cannot understand, and cannot stomach and we say, Paul told us to avoid them so it is best if we just skip over them. We do not spend any time in genealogies. They are difficult, even if we believe 2 Timothy 3:16 that all scripture is breathed out by God we get confused and continue reading. How can a list of names be useful for equipping me for every good work (2 Tim 3:17)? Well today, as you could have guessed, we come to a genealogy. One that pops up in what seems like the middle of nowhere, some commentaries skip over this complete, and others give a few comments. But we believe that all scripture is breathed out by God even what we do not understand. So why is this genealogy here? What does it mean? What does it mean to me?
Before we begin we need to note a few reminders of genealogies as a whole here are three reasons that can help us when we come to a genealogy in the bible.
Firstly, the bible is written within history. The Bible speaks of real men and women who lived in real locations across the earth. They are not mythical tales created in the imaginations of men to prove moral points but are written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit as they record actual events in history. Genealogies show the historical place and connections to people in the bible. This is Paul’s point in 1 Timothy, not that we avoid all types of genealogies, but the endless ones filled with speculation and the foolish ones that are unprofitable and worthless. We might not know who these people are, but often the people who lived during the time know people or families who are listed in the genealogy (this will be helpful to remember later in this genealogy in Exodus 6).
Secondly, we need to be able to understand them. Each genealogy not only teaches us historical facts but also theological truths. Often the genealogy has a major purpose of showing how the first person on the list is connected to the last person on the list. Matthew wants to show how Jesus is related to David and Abraham (Matt 1:1); Luke wants to show the family tree from Jesus to Adam (Luke 3:23-38). Luke wants to emphasize Christ as the redeemer of all mankind, including Jews and Gentiles; Matthew wants to emphasize how Christ was the promised Messiah told to Abraham and David. We can see this by who they start with and end with. (Again this is important to note when we look at Exodus 6).
Next, genealogies can teach us through their repetition, uniqueness, and focus. The genealogy in Genesis chapter 5 ends each branch of the tree with the words, “and he died.” The man lived, had children, and then died. Not only does this genealogy show the first and the last men, Adam to Noah, but the effects of Adam’s sin upon all of mankind, death. The genealogy states, “and he died.” As Paul writes death reigned from Adam (Rom 5:14). We can learn theological truths through the similarities but also the differences. During the genealogy, we see a striking difference with Enoch (Gen 5:21-24), Enoch did not die like the rest of the men, but God took him. We see here the theological truth of the resurrection. We note that we see patterns, but also the outliers in the patterns, where the author spends his time and on whom.
The first thing that we notice about this genealogy is that it is not complete. If we were to turn back to Genesis 46 or 49 we would notice that the Genealogy starts with Jacob/Israel and begins with Reuben the firstborn and then Simeon, but then we see a change in the pattern, the pattern begins, the sons of Reuben/Simeon and end with these are the clans of Reuben/Simeon. Then the next line says, “These are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, the years of the life of Levi being 137 years” (Ex 6:16). The focus is moved to one particular son of Jacob and Israel, you also see that there is no mention of any of the other sons. You would think that Judah would get a mention as the fourth son of Leah and the one whom Jacob says that the scepter will not depart from Judah (Gen 49:10). However, the focus is highlighting the tribe of Levi. More than that within the tribe of Levi we see another change in pattern with Levi’s three sons, Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. Gershon and Merari follow a similar style but Kohath has a change in the pattern, again highlighting the years of the life of Kohath of 133 years (vs 18). Again Moses wants us to take note that there is something important about this son of Levi, in contrast to the other two. What we are doing at this point is just seeking to point out what the author is pointing out. As we apply the same principles of reading the bible to this passage we are beginning to take notes about the passage.
We have noted that the author wants us to see the line of Levi, Kohath, and particularly the line of Amram, again by the change that Amram being 137 years old. Some commentators believe that Moses is highlighting these ages because they are out of the ordinary. After all, Moses writes that the standard length of life is about 70 or 80 years (Ps 90:10). However, as you can see it is not only Moses points out their age, in every line he mentions their age he follows a branch off that line of the tree, highlighting not only their age but their heritage/ancestors. We come to Amram and Jochebed, who are the parents of Moses and Aaron. Now we can understand a little bit of why Moses focused on this genealogy. Now commentators have questioned the validity of this genealogy based upon the difficulty of pairing verse 18 with 20 with Exodus 12:40 which states Israel was in Egypt for 430 years. Some have suggested that the Hebrew in 12:40 speaks of generations and not literal years. Whereas I believe when we read genealogies they are not always a full account of names given, Matthew skips names in his genealogy in Matthew 1. We need to understand we expect details and things to be written in our style, but these are not Western authors but from the culture and place they were written. Moses does not give a detailed account but seeks to point out the highlights. Therefore, vs 18 and 20 speak of two different Amrams from the same family branch as many family names are used.
Now we would expect that the family tree would focus on Moses and his wife Zipporah and his two sons, Gershom and Eliezer (Ex 18:1-5). However, the focus is not on Moses but on Aaron. This is very important as we will see.
This is one of the great points of this genealogies, is that the start speaks of Israel and the sons, Reuben, Simeon, and then Levi. But then focuses on Levi, Kohath, Amram, and Aaron. Following six generations from the trunk down the line of Aaron. Now we notice something else that we see is that the line follows, Aaron, and Eleazar and finishes with Phinehas. As we consider the truth about this we need to be reminded that although these names mean nothing to us they were well known to the people of Israel, particularly to those who are wandering in the wilderness. These three names come up frequently, but let us spend a brief time focusing on three stories or passages that highlight these men, and help us understand this passage in Exodus 6.
Aaron (Exodus 28-29)
The focus of Aaron is best understood in Exodus 28-29, where Moses is told that Aaron and his sons would serve God as Priests, without unpacking this passage in its entirety (we aim to spend more time on that when we get to this portion in our sermon series). Aaron and his sons are to be set apart from all the people of Israel to serve God as priests (Ex 28:1). They are to be anointed, ordained and consecrated (Ex 28:41). This is to be given to them as a statue forever (Ex 28:43, 29:9). They are to go through vigorous cleaning and sacrificed to be consecrated to serve in God’s presence, they are to wear special ephods, breastplates, signets, sashes and caps. The priests have an important role in the life of the Nation of Israel, making atonement for the sins of the people. Making sacrifices before the Lord.
Now we start to see an important piece in the genealogy is that Reuben and Simeon are mentioned at the start because Reuben although is the firstborn gave up his right as firstborn for defiling his father’s marriage bed by sleeping with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah (Gen 35:22, 49:4). Simeon we are reminded took a Canaanite woman, and she gave birth to a son. Whereas in Aaron’s line, they highlight that they have married within the nation of Israel. Now this is not to say that multicultural marriages were sinful; but that the key is that false worship often came out of these multicultural marriages. Aaron and Miriam will seek to rebuke Moses for his marriage to Zipporah, but in turn, Aaron and Miriam are rebuked (Num 12). The people reading know of Aaron and his sons’ important role in the nation of Israel as they served as priests for the people of God.
Eleazar (Numbers 16)
Eleazar is the next branch Moses highlights. Now we will see at another time the reason why Nadab and Abihu are skipped over, but we do not have time today. Eleazar is highlighted because he is critical in the story found in Numbers chapter 16 with the rebellion of Korah. Again we do not have a great time unpacking this passage but the basic premise is that Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi (do these names sound familiar?). and a group of men set themselves against Moses and Aaron, but we find out they are rebelling against the Lord (Num 16:11, 16:30). In the end Korah and his company are swallowed up when the ground opened up before them, or they were consumed with fire. Moses commands Eleazar to take up the censers out of the blaze and hammer them as a covering for the altar, this is to serve as a reminder as Numbers 16:40, “to be a reminder to the people of Israel, so that no outsider, who is not of the descendants of Aaron, should draw near to burn incense before the LORD, lest he becomes like Korah and his company—as the LORD said to him through Moses.” (Num 16:40).
Following this, the sinful people are about to be consumed by the holy and righteous Lord for their sins. But Aaron is commanded to make an atonement for the sins of the people using the censer. He runs out in the midst of the congregation who are in the middle of a plague, and we are told in Numbers 16:48, “And he [Aaron] stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.” We see that Eleazer and Aaron are there in the middle of an unholy people and they stopped the plague because of the people’s sin. The people reading this genealogy in Exodus 6 would have been alive during this time, or if not it would have been in recent history. The people only wandered in the desert for 40 years.
Phineas (Numbers 25)
Again, I wish we could spend more time on this passage as this is one of the stories that we do not know the end of we know of Balaam and his journey with the donkey but we do not really know the outcome of Balaam the prophet. But briefly, he leads the people of God astray and tells them to take foreign wives from Moab which leads them to worship and bow down to other gods. Israel yokes themselves to Baal at Peor (Num 25:1-3, cf. Num 31:16). There is a plague upon the people of God, and you guessed it this is where Phinehas steps in, taking his spear he pierces the belly of a man who was sleeping with a Midianite woman. Following this, the Lord tells Moses,
“Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. Therefore he said, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood because he was jealous of his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.” (Num 25:10–13).
Again, we cannot unpack this in full, but we see Phineas is jealous of his God and he is the one who makes atonement for the sinful people of Israel (Ps 106:30-31). The genealogy shows that in the midst of sinful men and women is a group of people who atone for their sins. The readers or hears of Exodus 6 would know of these men and the sacrifices that they had made for the sins of the people. They would be common names and have saved many lives because of their actions.
Now why does this matter? Why are these passages mentioned here in the middle of this portion of Scripture? We need to know that God breathed all of Scripture not only what it says but also the order it is said, this is not a mistake that Moses records this genealogy in the middle of this passage. Many commentators point out that verses 10-13 and 26-30 are similar, they normally explain that the genealogy is a side note or a distraction so Moses records it in case you fell asleep in the genealogy. However, this helps us understand the genealogy and its placement. What wat are the repeated sections of these verses on either side of the genealogy?
We see in verses 12 and 30 that Moses points out he is of uncircumcised lips. Now some have suggested he is mentioning that he has a stutter or is not fluent in speaking Egyptian. But what is the understanding of circumcision (Ex 4:24-26), that circumcision is the distinction of those who are in the covenant community and outside, those who are unclean and those who have been cleaned. Moses is explaining as Isaiah puts it, that He is a man of unclean lips (Is 6:5). Moses points out that because of this the people have not listened to him nor will Pharaoh. Moses is a sinner surrounded by sinners. His genealogy highlights that God has set apart the line of Aaron to atone for sinners, such as Moses. To cleanse them and atone for them. As one of the seraphim touched Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal from the fire and cleansed his lips and took away the guilt and atoned for his sin, so too Aaron will do so. As Phineas atoned for the sins of the people and the prophet so too Aaron and his sons will atone for the sins of the prophet and the people.
Prophet and Priest
Not only do the surrounding passages explain Moses’ sin but also the pairing of the sinful prophet and the sacrificing priests. The passage shows the paring of Moses and Aaron (vs 13, 26, 27). We see the realities of the imperfections and the lack in Moses will be paired with Aaron his brother who will serve by his side.
In all of this, we see the paring of the prophet and the priest together. The need for the prophet to speak with God and hear from God to tell the Priest how to sacrifice how God has prescribed. But also the prophet and the people need the sacrificing priest to atone for these sins. Now we can see how this passage, including the genealogy, points to Jesus. This is what the author of Hebrews begins his letter by saying and the whole argument in the letter, that Jesus is the better prophet and priest;
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Hebrews 1:1–4)