So what spiritual lessons can we learn from a whole chapter of genealogical information, filled with names I can't pronounce?
This chapter records the descendants of Esau. Two parts of this chapter stood out among the list of names:
1. Anah is described as the one who discovered hot springs in the desert while grazing his father's donkeys. I did a quick search for Anah's name elsewhere in the Bible (BibleGateway.com is great for this), but the only other mentions are in a similar list of descendants in 1 Chronicles. Why include this? Why, in the centuries of transcribing the Old Testament by hand, did scribes believe this piece of information was worthy of being recorded for posterity?
Because it was true. When recording factual events, one often includes such details.
2. Next is the mention of Mehitabel, wife of Hadad (or Hadar), the last named King of Edom and the daughter of Matred and grandaughter of Me-Zahab. What is the significance of this person? Me-Zahab means “waters of gold.” Commentaries suggest this may have referred to a location he was from or to being so wealthy that gold "flowed in his house like water." The point is, in a long list of genealogy, the only wife mentioned other than Esau's is this mention of Hadad's wife and her ancestor who was apparently rich and famous in his time.
As a writer of fiction, one of the first lessons is to edit out anything that doesn't move the story forward. We can give details to help engage the reader's imagination and paint the picture, we can include tidbits that foreshadow coming events, but trivial facts like these don't bear on the story at hand. They get cut in the interest of brevity, maintaining a readers attention, and getting to the point of the story.
This week my son had a history project that involved interviewing his grandparents about their experiences over the past three quarters of a century. As my dad told him about serving in Viet Nam, there were lots of these little details that he shared. Many I had never heard before. They didn’t make the difference between him being a name on a black granite wall and him making it home. They didn’t have any eternal significance, as best I can tell. They were just memories of things he experienced. They're marks of authenticity.
Chapters in the Bible that provide such detail remind us that this is not a fairy tale or a morality play. It is history and the seemingly trivial details remind us that, although it was inspired by the Holy Spirit, it was penned by real people, recording real events about real lives.