The Best Things About the Boring Parts of the Bible

Small Talk — 2014 National Conference

Look at the Book: Reading the Bible for Yourself

Well, we should probably just admit it — don’t you think? — that there are certain parts of the Bible we don’t really read; we skim because, well, because they’re boring, right? They’re repetitive, overly detailed, full of names and places that we can’t pronounce. And so, really, why bother?

Well, there are many reasons, and not the least of which is that even the parts of the Bible that we deem to be boring are significant because they are God’s word to us. So here’s my top ten list in my ten minutes of the best things about the boring parts of the Bible. Get ready.

10. Promised Offspring in Genesis

After a poetic account of creation and then 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. And when we get there, we think, “Why do I need to know this?” Well, it’s because God made a promise, in the previous chapter, Genesis 3 about a particular descendant of Eve. And the whole of the Bible is most significantly about this descendant.

So the number ten best thing about the boring parts of the Bible is that 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: this promised offspring, who will one day be born and do battle with the offspring of the ancient serpent, and win.

In Genesis 6–9, we witness the population of the earth narrowed down to just Noah and his three sons and their families. And then once again, these begets pick up again in Genesis 10, and they focus in now on the descendants of just one of Noah’s sons — Shem. And finally, on one descendant of Shem — Abraham. This one to whom God makes incredible promises.

Further lists help us to trace the coming of the promised offspring through Isaac and Jacob and then Judah and David until we come to the New Testament, and we read in Galatians, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Galatians 4:4).

So you see, keeping our focus on this promised one as we look at the book helps keep us from making the Bible all about us instead of all about him.

9. Tabernacle Design in Exodus

The book of Exodus begins with a 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. And on their way to the promised land, God gives Moses very detailed instructions for the design of the tent that they’re going to construct, in which God is going to come down and dwell among them.

In this detail of this design, we see gourds and open flowers woven into the fabrics, a basin made to look like a lily, a lampstand in the form of a tree with branches. The writer of Hebrews says that the tabernacle and later the temple were, it says, “copies of true things, a shadow of things to come” (Hebrews 8:5).

So when we look closely at this detail of the design that we might slow down in, it becomes obvious to us that all of this detail is showing us that all of these things about the tabernacle and the temple were reminders of the paradise of Eden. But more than that, they’re like an architectural model of Eden 2.0: the new heavens and the new earth.

So the detail of the tabernacle and temple design reminds us of Eden, and it fills us with anticipation for the beauty and perfection of the new heavens and the new earth in which God will descend to dwell with us forever.

8. High Priest’s Clothing in Exodus

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. And it says about the clothing that it was to be “holy,” “glorious,” and “beautiful” like God himself (Exodus 28:1–3). Which is appropriate since the priest represented God to the people, but the priest also represented the people to God.

He wore an ephod and a breast piece that had stones on it, and these stones had the names of the twelve tribes inscribed on them. And so when the high priest entered into the most holy place into the presence of God, it was as if he took the people with him and with their concerns into the presence of God.

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 before the presence of God.

7. Sacrifices in Leviticus

In Leviticus 1–7, we find detailed instructions for offering sacrifices, and these are like flashing neon signs with the message, sin brings death, sin brings death. But the sacrifices also reveal that God accepts the blood of an innocent substitute to pay for sin.

So number seven, the best thing about the boring parts of the Bible is that the requirements of the Old Testament sacrifices help us to see what sin costs, as well as the fullness of our forgiveness. Which was made possible for us through the once-for-all perfect sacrifice of Christ.

6. Clean and Unclean Laws in Leviticus

Now let’s face it, those laws about what makes a person clean and unclean in Leviticus 11–15, they’re just strange. And yet when we study them, we begin to 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. And bodies bled and developed disease only after the curse. And mold and mildew, the visible evidence of decay, that came into being only after the curse.

Everything designated as 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 the blood of an acceptable sacrifice.

And in fact, one day we’ll be made holy so that we can enter into the presence of God. The good news is God is not going to abandon our world to its uncleanness. He will make it clean. Jesus who was perfectly clean took our uncleanness upon himself so that we might be made clean, and he is at work even now in us by his spirit making us holy to the Lord.

5. Census Records in Numbers

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 his people the land of Canaan and therefore they died in the desert. Then at the end of the book, in Numbers 26, we read once again this long census record of the second generation as they’re preparing to enter into the promised land. Now why do we need this information?

Well, the census records of Numbers encourage you and me to examine whether our names are to be counted among those who refuse to believe and will die in the wilderness of the world. Or if we will find our names and we will be counted among those who believe in God’s promise of an inheritance and have life in the abundance of the promised land to look forward to?

4. Allotment of Territories in Joshua

Joshua 13–21, we read all this geographic detail of the land of Canaan that’s going to be given to each tribe. And because we’re unfamiliar with this ancient geography, it’s a boring list to us.

But if we were familiar with these places and with these tribes and clans, we would much better have a sense of the wonder among God’s people as each tribe was given a huge amount of territory in the promised land. I mean, likely every tribe would’ve looked at each other when they heard read out what they were going to inherit, and they would’ve 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. But in fact, we’ll say breathlessly “All of this for us?”

3. Genealogies in Chronicles

First Chronicles includes chapter after chapter of genealogies. They begin with Adam and they stretch through the descendants of Judah and Benjamin and Levi, which are the kingly and priestly tribes. And those are the ones who made up most of those who returned to the land after exile. The genealogies help us focus on where history is headed, which is 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 on which he sits 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).

2. List of Returnees in Nehemiah

When Nehemiah was trying to figure out who among the returned exiles should inhabit Jerusalem, we read that he pulled out a book. A book in which the names of those who had returned to Judah at the first time the opportunity was opened up by Cyrus’s decree to come home.

The list of names of those who returned to Judah from exile assures us that God likes to keep lists of the names of those who are his. Those who will inhabit the new Jerusalem. In Revelation 21, John tells us “only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” will populate the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:27). And I promise you, we will not be bored when that list of names is read. We’ll be on pins and needles listening for our names.

1. Genealogy of Jesus in the New Testament

The New Testament begins with a genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. And oh, what grace we find in this boring part of the Bible.

In the lineage there of Jesus, we see Abraham. Do you remember him? Who pretended his wife was his sister and gave her to a godless king. There’s 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. And Solomon who allowed many foreign women to turn his heart away from loving the Lord.

So the number one best thing about the boring parts of the Bible is that the genealogy of Jesus shows 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. Thank you.

attends Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, in Franklin, Tennessee, and teaches at conferences around the country and internationally, including her Biblical Theology Workshops for Women. She and her husband host Respite Retreats for couples who have faced the death of a child and are co-hosts of the GriefShare video series.