A number of times in my life, I have enthusiastically set out to read the whole Bible. Not just a couple Psalms with breakfast, not just a few motivational verses or Paul's shorter letters. The whole Bible—start to finish, including everything in the middle. I wanted to be well-versed in this important narrative, to hear God speak to me through all of its pages.
The first chapter of the Bible is breathtaking. It spans the scope of creation—the heavens, earth, plants, sea-creatures, humans. It gives an image of God in the big picture and in the details. God speaks and breathes life and it is all good. Then Scripture launches into a complex story—sin enters the world, brother murders brother, people populate the earth. We are quickly introduced to Abram, whom God calls and sends out to become a great nation. Moving into Exodus, we see this nation begin to form, then face the threat of extinction in Egypt—then rise up from oppression against great odds. We read about plagues, battles and miracles! We watch the Israelites cross the Red Sea on dry land, escaping their enemies. We see them arrive in the desert at Mt. Sinai where God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. We are on the edge of our seats. What will come next? Who else will we meet?
But instead of a riveting narrative, we get a long list of laws.
And Then There Were Boring Parts
Fine, fine, we say, and skim over the boring parts. But after the laws come chapters of details about the Tabernacle—measurements, placement of items, order of worship. Maybe this is just a boring ending to an otherwise interesting book. So we turn the page only to be faced with rules about sacrifices in Leviticus. We flip to Numbers, only to find name after name recorded in long genealogies.
Up to this point the story has given us heroes, villains, conflicts and a plotline. Like all good stories, it has led us into a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world in which we live. It gives us a framework to understand our own beginnings, to see ourselves in the characters and their struggles. We see the Israelites in Egypt and say, "I too have faced great difficulties. I too have cried out to God for help and deliverance." God's presence in the story gives us hope and leads us forward.
But when we look at minute details we don't see much of ourselves—or our current situations—mirrored back. What does a census have to do with our lives? What do Tabernacle measurements teach us about God—and what is the Tabernacle anyway? Rather than leading us forward, most of us get stuck in the text and give up all together.
But we don't have to. In fact, these boring parts of Scripture can lead us deeper into our individual—and shared—faith story. As we spend time with the parts that seem tedious and insignificant we may be surprised by what we find.
Not So Boring After All
When we reach the chapters on the Tabernacle (Exodus 33–40), we discover a God who gives meticulous instructions on building a portable tent to house God's presence. God doesn't leave the Israelites alone to wander in the desert, but physically dwells among them. As we read measurement after measurement—and all the detailed instructions for worship and sacrifice—we begin to realize just how holy God is. We start to wonder: does God take this same care in being present with us—in the temple of our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19)? How then should we take care of ourselves and foster this communion (v. 20)?
When we arrive on the mountaintop with Moses in Exodus 19, we realize God didn't stop at giving the Ten Commandments, but gave the Israelites detailed laws in the Bible to help live them out. We start to see these laws forming the Israelites into a people—teaching them how to live peacefully with God, one another and outsiders. And we begin to feel the weight of ritual purity in the Bible. How could anyone get all these rules right? Surely, they would fall short. We gain a deeper appreciation of our need for Christ's sacrifice, which—thankfully—isn't dependent on following laws but on continually receiving grace.
And perhaps when we read all the names and numbers in the censuses and genealogies in the Bible—we can also see them differently. These aren't one-dimensional words on the page; they represent relationships, stories, histories. Each number is a person. Each name belongs to a family. No one is forgotten. Even after the Israelites' nomadic wandering, battles and threats of extinction—every single person is counted. No one is lost. Even Jesus is accounted for, tracing his family line back generations, connecting him to a larger story. As we spend time in these details we start to wonder: could God know my name and the names of my family members? Could God remember me? Am I also fulfilling a role in my "tribe"—my family, community and city?
Breathing New Life
Reading Scripture won't always be easy—there are always temptations to skip over sections, chapters or even books. But we can hold to the promise that Paul gave his young apprentice Timothy, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful" (2 Timothy 3:16). As we stay with the tedious, seemingly insignificant details we may find God speaking to us in significant ways. We may find even the dusty numbers breathing new life into our faith journeys.
Make sure you don't miss out on anything Scripture has to offer!
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