Old Testament

The Power of Genealogies and the Promise of Seed in Scripture

Genealogies are often perceived as some of the most tedious portions of Scripture. However, they are actually among the most helpful parts of the Bible. Certain books use genealogies to draw attention to significant theological points. By paying attention to the genealogies we can glean tremendous theological benefit.

The book of Genesis serves as an example of this. Genesis relies on genealogies (for example, Genesis 5 and Genesis 11) and employs specific vocabulary terms to enable the reader to trace God’s promise from Genesis 3:15 throughout history. This pattern continues beyond Genesis in notable junctures. For example, Ruth 4 continues the genealogies of Genesis, pointing ahead to a Messianic figure who will fulfill the promises of Genesis. Similarly, Matthew 1 establishes a final and comprehensive record of God’s faithfulness to the genealogical line of the Messiah.

The Offspring Theme in Scripture

Not only to genealogies function to point the reader toward a key figure who will play a crucial role in God’s redemptive plan, but similar to the genealogies, the Old Testament also employs specific terminology to highlight Messianic impact. A crucial example of this is the term “seed” (or “offspring”). The Hebrew word for “seed” (זרע) appears 229 times in the Old Testament, with 59 occurrences in the book of Genesis alone (26%).

The first instance of this word is found in Genesis 3:15:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

This promise of victory, brought about by a special champion for humanity, originates from a future “offspring” of Eve. After this promise of Genesis 3:15, the biblical writers frequently use the term “offspring” as a significant marker, indicating that they have Genesis 3:15 in mind. As such, writers often use this word to demonstrate progression of the Genesis 3:15 promise.

As the promise of offspring is developed, there is a dynamic interplay between the plural and the singular. The word offspring itself is a collective plural, meaning that it can signify a singular descendant or a plurality of individuals, depending on context. As we read Scripture, we see that God’s promise encompasses numerous descendants for Abraham and his progeny, yet there will also emerge one singular offspring from this multitude who achieves ultimate victory (cf. Genesis 22:17).

Like the genealogies, these particular uses of “seed/offspring” signify a progression or narrowing down of the promised lineage through which the deliverer will arise within a specific family (David). By tracing this lineage in the first part of the Old Testament (as demonstrated below), we observe the promise of “offspring” passing from Adam to Noah, then to Abram, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and ultimately to David. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that during the New Testament era, everyone anticipated the deliverer to be from the line of David. It was through His family that the culmination of the promise was expected to manifest.

Examples of the Offspring Theme Used in the Bible

ReferenceEnglish Standard Version
Gen 3:15I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Gen 4:25And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.”
 NOAH 
Gen 9:9Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you
 ABRAM 
Gen 12:7Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
Gen 13:15for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.
Gen 13:16I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.
Gen 15:5And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
Gen 15:18On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates”
Gen 17:7And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
Gen 17:8And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.
Gen 17:9And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.”
Gen 17:10This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
Gen 22:17I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies,
ISAAC                                                         
Gen 24:60And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate him!”
Gen 26:3Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father.
Gen 26:4I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,
Gen 26:24And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.”
 JACOB 
Gen 28:4May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!”
Gen 28:13And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.
Gen 28:14Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
Gen 32:13But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ ”
 JUDAH 
Ruth 4:12And may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.
 DAVID 
2 Sam 7:12When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.

As can be seen in the table above, what may initially appear as dry and tedious genealogies in Scripture are actually profound threads woven into the tapestry of God’s faithful promise. These genealogies, along with the intentional use of the word “seed/offspring,” serve as signposts guiding us through the pages of the Bible. They reveal a divine plan unfolding, tracing the path of God’s faithfulness from generation to generation.

It is important to approach the genealogies of Scripture with fresh eyes, recognizing the hidden treasures they hold. We ought to recognize that authors use terms intentionally to link Scriptures together. Such seems to be the case regarding the significance of the “offspring” theme and the progression it signifies, leading us to the promised deliverer. Even in genealogies and the discussion of offspring, we can be filled with awe and gratitude for the faithfulness of our God, who orchestrates history and fulfills His promises through the a preordained family descent.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.

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