Let’s admit it, there are certain parts of the Bible we skim because . . . well . . . because we think they’re boring. They’re repetitive, overly detailed, full of names and places we can’t pronounce. So why bother with them? There are many reasons — not the least of which is that even the parts of the Bible we deem to be boring are significant because they are God’s word to us. Here’s my top ten list of the best things about the boring parts of the Bible.
After a poetic Creation and a cosmic disaster, the story of the Bible slows down in Genesis by tracing the sons of Adam and Eve’s son, Seth, through numerous generations. Why do we need to know this? Because God made a promise recorded in Genesis 3 about a particular descendant of Eve. The whole of the Bible is most significantly about this descendant. So, the tenth best thing about the boring parts of the Bible is:
Tracing the line of descendants from Adam and Eve forward keeps us tuned in to what is most important in the Bible’s story, or really who is most important — the promised offspring who will one day be born and will do battle with the offspring of the ancient serpent and win.
In Genesis 6–9 we witness the population of the world narrowed down to just Noah and his 3 sons and their families. The begats of the Bible pick up again in Genesis 10 focusing in on the descendants of just one of Noah’s sons — Shem — and finally on one descendant of Shem — Abraham — to whom God makes incredible promises. Further lists help us to trace the coming of the promised descendant through Isaac and Jacob and Judah and David until we read in Galatians 4:4, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman.” Keeping our focus on this promised One helps to keep us from making the Bible all about us instead of all about him.
The book of Exodus begins with the vivid story of a baby in a basket on the Nile River who becomes the deliverer of God’s people from their slavery in Egypt. On their way to the Promised Land, God gives Moses detailed instructions for the design of the tent they are to construct in which God will come down to dwell among them. In the detail of the design we see gourds and open flowers woven into the fabrics, a basin made to look like a lily, lampstands made to look like trees with branches. The writer of Hebrews says the tabernacle and later the temple were, “copies of true things,” and “a shadow of the good things to come” (Hebrews 8:5). So for #9:
The detail of the tabernacle and temple design reminds us of Eden and fills us with anticipation for the beauty and perfection of the new heavens and new earth.
As we continue in Exodus we read exacting detail about the clothing that was to be made for the high priest who would serve in the tabernacle. It was to be holy, glorious, and beautiful like God himself, which is appropriate since the priest represented God to the people. The priest also represented the people to God. He wore an ephod and a breastplate that had stones with the names of the twelve tribes on them. So when the high priest entered the Holy Place, it was as if he took the people and their concerns into the presence of God with him.
The detail of the high priest’s clothing assures us that our Great High Priest, Jesus, carries our burdens on his shoulders and our concerns on his heart as he intercedes for us in the presence of God.
In Leviticus 1–7 we find detailed instructions for offering sacrifices which were like flashing neon signs saying: “sin brings death . . . sin brings death.” But the sacrifices also revealed that God accepts the blood of an innocent substitute to pay for sin.
The requirements of Old Testament sacrifices help us to see what sin costs as well as the fullness of our forgiveness made possible through the once-for-all perfect sacrifice of Christ.
Let’s face it — the laws about what make a person ceremonial clean or unclean found in Leviticus 11–15 are strange. Yet when we study them, we see that everything that makes a person unclean is something that reflects the effects of the curse of sin on this world. Animals fed on other animals only after the curse. Bodies bled and developed disease only after the curse. Mold and mildew, the visible evidence of decay, came into being only after the curse. Everything designated unclean in Leviticus demonstrated that things are not the way they once were in the Garden—the way God originally intended them to be.
The laws regarding clean and unclean in Leviticus give us hope that we who are unclean can be made clean through an acceptable sacrifice, and will one day be made holy to enter into the presence of God.
Jesus, who was perfectly clean, took our uncleanness upon himself so that we might be made clean and he is at work even now, by his Spirit, making us holy. God will not abandon our world to its uncleanness forever! He will make it clean.
The book of Numbers begins and ends with a census. In Numbers 1 we find the record of the generation who rebelled and refused to believe that God was giving them the land of Canaan and therefore died in the desert. In Numbers 26 we read the census record of the second generation as they prepared to enter into their inheritance and abundant life of the Promised Land. Why do we need this information?
The census records of Numbers encourage us to examine whether our names are to be counted among those who refuse to believe and will die in the wilderness of this world, or if we are counted among those who believe God’s promise of an inheritance and have life in the abundance of the Promised Land to look forward to.
In Joshua 13–21 we read the geographic details of the land in Canaan given to each tribe. Because we are unfamiliar with the ancient geography, it can be a boring list to us. But if we were familiar with these places and with these people, we could better imagine the sense of wonder among God’s people as each tribe was given a huge amount of territory in the Promised Land. Likely the people of each tribe would have looked at each other and said, “All of this for us?”
The allotment of territories to tribes in the land of Canaan gives us a preview of what it will be like when our greater Joshua, Jesus, leads us into the eternal Promised Land where we will inherit all that God has promised.
One day our Greater Joshua will read out the inheritance that will be ours in the new heaven and the new earth, and we won’t be bored! Surely we will breathlessly say, “All of this for us?”
First Chronicles includes chapter after chapter of genealogies that begin with Adam and stretch to the descendants of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi — the kingly and priestly tribes — who made up most of those who returned to the land after exile.
The genealogies in 1 Chronicles help us focus on where history is headed — the son of David, seated on the throne of the universe.
This list should reorient our hearts toward the coming of our great king when we will hear a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3).
When Nehemiah was trying to figure out who among the returned exiles should take up residence behind the rebuilt walls of Jerusalem, he pulled out the book in which the names of those who returned to Judah when the opportunity was first given by Cyrus’s decree to come home were listed.
The list of names in the book Nehemiah read that included all those whose hearts God stirred up to leave Babylon for Jerusalem should make our hearts glad to know that God likes to keep lists of those whose hearts he has stirred up with a longing for his city, those who will inhabit the New Jerusalem.
In Revelation 21:27 John tells us, “Only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” will populate the New Jerusalem. We will not be bored when that list of names is read! We’ll be on pins and needles listening for our names.
The New Testament begins with a genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. And oh the grace we find in this boring part of the Bible! There in the lineage of Jesus is Abraham who pretended his wife was his sister and gave her to a godless king; Judah who fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar, his daughter-in-law; Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute who put everything at risk to get in on the promises of God; Ruth, a Moabite who left everything behind to make Israel’s God her God; David who took another man’s wife and then had her husband killed; Solomon who allowed many foreign women to turn his heart away from loving the Lord. So the #1 best thing about the boring parts of the Bible is:
The genealogy of Jesus shows us that Jesus welcomes flagrant but forgiven sinners into his family.
This gives outsiders and outlaws like you and me hope. He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.