6 Tricks to Make it through the Bible’s "Boring" Books
- Gregory Coles
- 2017 10 Jan
There are some books of the Bible that I’ve always loved. Acts. Philippians. The Gospels. They’re exciting books, full of gripping stories and mind-blowing theology. I read them again and again simply because I want to.
And then there are other books of the Bible that aren’t so easy for me to get excited about. I don’t want to call them “boring,” exactly… but reading them feels like hard work. I get weary from the pages of priestly regulations in Leviticus, the textbook-style histories of Chronicles, the lists of names and numbers in Ezra. And really, how can anyone except a mathematician get enthusiastic about a book called Numbers?
But the fact that these books are a challenge to read doesn’t mean we should ignore them. As the Apostle Paul boldly claims in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
If even the “boring” books are useful for us as followers of Jesus, how can we make the most of them (and even learn to celebrate them) instead of getting bogged down by them?
1. Ask God what He wants to teach you.
First, before you even start reading a “boring” book, pray and ask God to reveal Himself to you as you read. Tell Him that you want to learn and grow and be challenged, and then ask Him to accomplish those things through this book.
All too often, we read the Bible as if it’s a stagnant book, just black ink on lifeless pages, as if it’s up to us to do the work of understanding and applying it in solitude. But Hebrews 4:12 tells us that “the word of God is alive and active.” If the Bible is alive, we need to expect it to act like a living thing, moving and breathing and taking us by surprise. The text of the Bible doesn’t just sit there waiting for us to read and understand by our own power; it speaks back.
2. Look for the big-picture story.
In Numbers 4, God takes a census of all the Levite clans and commands that the Gershonite clan be in charge of carrying the tabernacle’s curtains. Imagine that: an entire clan of people, dedicated to something as inconsequential as curtains. Boring, right? How could anyone except a fabric salesperson get excited about a lifetime supply of curtains?
But when we think about the bigger picture those curtains fit into, the Gershonites’ job doesn’t seem so unimportant anymore. Those curtains made up the boundaries of the tabernacle where God had promised to meet the Israelite people. They marked out the holy space where divinity brushed up against humanity. Without the curtains, there could be no tabernacle; and without the tabernacle, the Jews would lose the presence of God, the very grace that would save them.
The “boring” books are full of little details like the Gershonites and their curtains. Read in isolation, they might seem dull and insignificant; but read in the context of the bigger story they belong within, those minor details can take on a major significance.
3. Focus on the action.
A lot of the so-called “boring” books are history books. They tell stories of war and love and betrayal and restoration—but they tell these stories the way a history book would, by focusing on dates and names and record-keeping. And many of us, because we’re trained to think that history textbooks are boring, miss out on the fascinating, bizarre, and gripping stories hidden with these books.
Take 1 Chronicles, for example. The first nine chapters of the book are mostly long lists of names called “genealogies,” which isn’t a promising start. But by Chapter 13, a king kills himself after being wounded in battle, three elite warriors risk their lives for a single cup of water, and a man gets struck dead by God right in the middle of a party because of some stumbling oxen. Suddenly, this “boring” book isn’t looking so boring after all.
Keep your eyes open for action, and you’ll find that a lot of these books are action-packed.
4. Notice the repetition.
One of the worst feelings as a reader is getting stuck in an infinite loop, reading the same sentence over and over. When you read the ceremonial laws in Leviticus, for instance, it’s easy to feel this way. Sentences or paragraphs appear multiple times, word for word, because the oral tradition they were based on would have spoken the same words aloud multiple times to help listeners remember them.
Instead of being frustrated by these repetitions, try to notice them and ask what makes them worth repeating. Why were the same precise procedures used for several kinds of sacrifices? Why do phrases like “pure” and “without defect” show up so often in the requirements for offerings given to God?
“I just love Leviticus!” my sister-in-law gushed recently. “All those rules remind me what a big deal God’s holiness is. And that makes the sacrifice of Jesus an even bigger deal, because He had to be more perfect than all the other sacrifices put together!”
5. Skim the lists.
Look, lists and genealogies and number charts serve an important purpose in Scripture, but that doesn’t mean we need to read them in the same way we read other parts of the Bible. You don’t need to pronounce every name in the genealogy to understand the importance of a kingly lineage pointing toward King Jesus. You don’t need to add up every number in the book of Ezra to know the joy of exiles returning home.
When I was in third or fourth grade, just for fun, I memorized Ezra 2:34, which says: “of Jericho, 345.” It wasn’t an inherently spiritual experience. But when I went back and read Ezra a few years later, I realized that the lists in Ezra weren’t the main point. If I let myself linger on those lists, I would get distracted from the very things they were meant to teach me.
So don’t be afraid to skim the lists. You’re not dishonoring God’s Word by focusing your attention elsewhere—in fact, you’re honoring the Bible best by learning to understand it in the way it was meant to be understood.
6. Remember why you’re reading.
Bible-reading doesn’t always have to be fun and easy and exciting. It’s okay if reading some books is hard, if it feels like work instead of rest. But whatever you do, don’t let the work of reading the “boring” books turn your Bible study into a burdensome chore. Keep your reason for reading, your relationship with God, in the forefront of your mind. Remember what it is that makes you so excited to know the Bible better.
And when you lose sight of that ultimate goal, don’t just give up on the difficult books. Ask God to refresh your memory, to show you again what it means to be so in love with Him that you don’t want to miss a single one of His words. Learn to say with King David in Psalm 119:97, “Oh, how I love Your law! I meditate on it all day long.”
Gregory Coles is an author and an English instructor at Penn State University. Learn more at www.gregcoles.com.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: January 10, 2017