Have There Been 1000 Generations?
Noticing that I had nothing in the diary for this week or next, I decided to do something I’ve wanted to do for many years. I signed up for a 2-week free trial with a well-known genealogy site, and started to create my family tree. When I first got married almost thirty years ago, I interviewed every member of my family and my wife’s family, collecting everything they could remember about their part of the family. Names, dates, birthdays, ages and places, I had a scrapbook full of information, and I also had several family trees from other family members, collected over the years.
Thirty years ago, my wife and I were the youngest family members, along with my sister. Now there are more: five children, 2 daughters-in-law, and 2 grandchildren! The site I’m using is very clever, taking your starting points and suggesting census and other records to help you find and document many more family members. So far, for example, I’ve found 14 of my children’s 32 great-great-great-grandparents.
So what does this have to do with worship, you might ask! To me, looking at my family tree brings home afresh the amazing faithfulness of God. We know that genealogies were considered very important in ancient times, and can be found in many books of the Bible, most notably Genesis, Matthew and Luke. Jesus’ ancestry was an important part of the evidence that He was the Messiah, especially for the early Jewish believers.
The genealogy of Jesus is a succinct reminder of the faithfulness of God to the nation of Israel over so many centuries, especially when we know much of the time they weren’t very faithful to Him! There’s Noah, ancestor to all of us and the only man of his generation to be saved from the flood. There’s Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, patriarchs of Israel and receivers of many promises and covenants from God. And there’s David, whose kingdom is a foretaste of the coming Messianic kingdom of Jesus, Son of David.
There are also a number of women, and immigrants, and blatant sinners, including murderers and adulterers! The sort of people that most ancient rulers would exclude or edit out of their official records, Jesus includes as a powerful message that everyone is invited into this new kingdom. His faithfulness is to all peoples, all nations, to women and men equally, and regardless of the many sins you might have committed. This is a genealogy of faithfulness, an expression of the constant love of God over centuries and millennia, which never changes and can never change.
A recent popular worship song talks about God’s faithfulness being for “a thousand generations” (I’m sure you know the one I mean!). This got me thinking as to whether or not there have been a thousand generations. Well, some simple counting and estimating brought me to 156 generations from Adam to me! Some parts of this are clear and simple, like the 9 generations from Adam to Noah (shared by all humanity), and the 11 generations from Noah to Abraham. But immediately we face the issue that a generation isn’t a set amount of time. My ancestors at the time of Abraham could have been 20 generations from Adam, or as many as 25 or even 30 generations removed. Most likely I would have had many ancestors alive at that time, from quite a number of different generations.
So there can never be a single answer to the question. But we can estimate. Taking the 20 generations from Adam to Abraham, we can add the number from Abraham to Jesus. Depending which line you take (Matthew or Luke) this is either 42 or 56 generations. If we then take a rough 25 years as an estimate for the generations since the time of Christ, we add a further 80 generations (we could say 60 to 100, but let’s keep it simple!). 20 + 56 + 80 = 156 generations from Adam to the present. Statisticians like to use a range, and I would say that for most family tree lines it would be somewhere between 140 and 220 generations.
We can still sing of God’s faithfulness to 1000 generations! This can either be taken as expressing that His faithfulness is everlasting and never-ending, or it can refer to the literal possibility that our life on this earth will continue for another 800 generations, around 20,000 years, during which of course God’s faithfulness will never change!