Why read boring bits of the Bible?

asleep_on_bible

A confession:

I find some parts of the Bible really boring!

While I am convinced that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that all of Scripture is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16), there are some bits which seem most useful for putting one to sleep (such as the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles). Another repetitive portion of the Bible is Numbers chapter 7, in which the same four verses are repeated twelve times with only four words changed each time (the day, name of the chief, his dad’s name, and his tribe). Therefore, I was relieved to discover that John Piper also had to stop and think about why this passage is so tedious. Here are some of his conclusions:

  • Efficiency is not always the highest value. Slow, long, repetitions are sometimes the best way to make an impact.
  • Patience in reading God’s word may be a test of the frenzy of our pace and our demanding attitude toward the Bible that it be the way we want, not the way God made it.

This is difficult for me to get my head around — is there really anything to be gained by tediously plowing through long lists of dead people’s names, or how many gold dishes were donated?

There can be if I embed my reading within the assumption that these lists are in the Bible for a reason. My task in coming to the Bible is to take in what is written such that God can achieve His purpose (Isaiah 55:10-11). So the assumption I need to have is that there is something to gain from reading these lists.

Here is another angle on reading the Bible slowly and thoroughly, again from John Piper:

… much of the Bible is poetry. It is self-evident to me that poetry is not meant to be speed-read, but ordinarily read aloud. So I would encourage you to supplement your speed with slow savoring of the way things are written to be heard.(One Advantage of Reading Slowly)

There are, of course, advantages to reading quickly also – it is good to be able to read through the entire Bible relatively quickly and so gain an overview of the whole story and scope of it. For what it is worth, my advice would be to attempt to read the entire Bible through at least once, scanning some of those repetitive passages at a speed that enables you to get the idea of what they are on about without becoming stuck in a mire of boredom. Once you have read through the whole Bible once it is easier to grasp the context of the less interesting sections and pay attention to some of the details. My personal approach is to have several bookmarks, one of which is in a book of that Bible that I am reading more slowly and meditatively, and another bookmark that moves at a quicker pace so I don’t get tired of being stuck in one book for a month.


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2 thoughts on “Why read boring bits of the Bible?

  1. This can be a problem for us, to be sure. My eyelids can feel heavy when reading the long genealogies. I try to remind myself, however, (when it’s a “godly” line in view) that these are my spiritual forebears.

    Sometimes we may have caught ourselves giving polite attention with less than whole-hearted interest as friends or acquaintances describe details of their family tree, or show us slides or photographs documenting the same. We don’t share their degree of natural interest, but their interest is quite understandable, as our own family history may be a source of fascination for us.

    Rather than feeling like I’m in this situation, I ought to be interested in my spiritual family. They were significant enough to be named in God’s Word, with Him they remain alive, and we have a hope of meeting them – in which case it would behoove us to know where God placed them historically.

    Secondarily, in the case of 1 Chronicles, it could help us to try to adopt the mindset of a Jew returning from exile. For such a one the physical ancestry was less distant, and the preserved family history would be a precious part of his restored inheritance.

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    • Hi Neil,
      I love your analogy with listening to someone describing their family tree, I feel the same when enduring long renditions of overseas holidays (short versions are OK). It definitely is good to remind myself that God deems it important to record each of those people’s names in a genealogy so it means something in our spiritual heritage.

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