Anyone reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament, becomes aware that many names, numbers, genealogies, and locations have been recorded in Scripture. How tempting to skip over these in our reading. How many small group participants have dreaded being called on to read one of these passages filled with hard-to-pronounce names!
These names and listings are important for several reasons:
1) The Old Testament, specifically, is the national archive of Israel's history. All the names, places, numbers, and genealogies remind us that we are reading real history, sometimes in much detail, even down to the number of camels! (Ezra 2:67)
2) The covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David -- and especially the promises regarding the coming of Messiah -- take place along the lines of clearly-marked family descent. It was important to preserve not only the prophecies, but also God's providence over unfolding history, to assure us of the correct identification of the Messiah when he came. (See Matthew 1 and Luke 3, for example.)
3) To be a part of the covenant community of God, people needed to know, and be able to show, where they fit in those genealogies. This was an important part of their identity as the people of God and allowed access to the temple for worship (Nehemiah 7:61). Of course, in the New Testament, membership in the covenant community is validated by the seal of the Holy Spirit, rather than by family lineage. (Ezekiel 36:26-28; 2 Corinthians 1:22)
4) The importance of the individual and his/her name. This is a very key reason that the Bible is filled with names. God is relational. He knows and relates to people as individuals. He calls people by name, and gives his own name to them that they might know him and call upon him. (Isaiah 44:5; John 17:6) At the end of history, at the final judgment, God will open a book filled with names. (Revelation 20:15) Ponder the following verses...
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine." (Isaiah 43:1b ESV)
"Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:20 ESV)
"To him [the Good Shepherd] the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out." (John 10:3 ESV)
"...who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." (Philippians 4:3 ESV)
"Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20:14-15 ESV)
Here's a suggestion: every time you come to a list of names in the Bible, stop and remind yourself that God knows you by name. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, rejoice that your name is written in his book of life! Take time to thank God that the Good Shepherd knows you and calls you by name.