For instance I’ve been preaching through the Old Testament book of Nehemiah at church each Sunday and this morning I got to Nehemiah chapter 11 and 12. These chapters contain a long list of names. What’s the point?
I got to think about why information like this should have been preserved for thousands of years.
Nehemiah had led a process of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and this involved rebuilding a community. When it was all over a lottery was held to determine who should get to live in the newly rebuilt city. One out of every 10 people would get to make the move.
The list of names of the families who would get to live in the city tells me that there was a great deal of order and organisation in the process, which emphasises how important the move was, and how significant each person was to God. It also said to me that at the heart of this significant event in Nehemiah’s time, was the sense of belonging.
Each name that was mentioned in that long, boring list, was important to God, and each person was connected to a family and had a place in their society. As they moved into the city each person, male and female, young and old, had a deep sense that they were returning home to where they belong.
Through Jesus, we too can have that deep sense of belonging … of knowing that our identity, our acceptance, our place in the world is important to God and that through him everything else starts to make sense. I can’t get over how deep Jesus love for me is that he would be prepared to give his life for me. And that in itself assures me that I belong.
So are the long lists of names that we read in the Bible just a boring inclusion in a piece of ancient historical literature? I think they show that throughout history God’s heart is focussed on individuals and that you and I are just as significant and valuable in God’s eyes as Sallu son of Meshullam back in 450BC.