When the Bible Is Boring

6:34 AM

The book of Nehemiah always fascinated me. When I was a kid, my Texas megachurch pastor preached through it during one of our first years attending. I know this, because I fell asleep every Sunday. Perhaps the guilt of not paying attention created a curiosity about it. Or perhaps it's interesting because Nehemiah himself is interesting and he tells his own story in first person -- a novelty in Old Testament literature.

In any case, as I followed my read-the-Bible-in-however-long-it-takes plan, I read Nehemiah. After the the second or third list of unpronounceable names (repeated in Ezra), I stopped and asked God, "Why did You include this?"

What good are the genealogies? What good are the detailed lists of how many camels and cedars of Lebanon one had? What good are the censuses? What good are the temple plans? How could a simple girl find any sort of application or comfort in lists and centuries-old measurements?

So I asked why. I knew that piety hinged upon my ability to stay awake between Parosh and Hatipha, but I've never heard of any pious person specifically setting out to memorize the list of returned exiles. Still, I wanted to honor the Word. I didn't want to skim through just to say I read it. Perhaps there really was something behind the lists and the dead people whose stories were never told.

Perhaps.

Or maybe...maybe I read the Bible wrong?

We call it -- or I should say they, the ones who told me -- God's rulebook. God's guidebook. (Which makes me think of football and hiking, respectively.) We read it to know how to live. We read it to apply it. It's supposedly very practical -- but genealogies aren't very practical. They don't affect how I live daily life. And I can't think of a way to apply them.

With this view, I feel cheated when daily Bible reading ventures into the downright dull -- the lists and the measurements and the goods.

But I don't think the Bible can be or ought to be summed up as simply rules to live by. Christianity, after all, isn't about a list of rules. It's a relationship -- a relationship that in the end affects everything. Strictly speaking, the Bible is the Word of God -- the Word of God. The God we have fellowship with. The God we know and love.

If I had nothing to do and thought really hard, I could tell you all the mundane details of my sister's life -- I know her that well, and I love her enough to notice those things. But since I do have something to do and because my sister is reading this, I won't disclose those details. They're important -- they make up part of her life -- they affect our relationship, even, though by themselves they aren't interesting at all.

I think we should approach the boring parts of the Bible like that. In themselves they're words on paper. In the context of this is God's Word and it's part of a great story and God actually saw this happening, they take on new meaning. They don't reveal any great theological truth (other than that God cares about the details, which is huge). They won't impact our lives. We can't apply them or benefit from them in that way.

They're merely part of the narrative of God's sovereignty. They're the periods and parentheses in the story. By including the boring, the Bible solidifies the reality and historicity of its contents.

Oh, and the other neat thing about lists of returned exiles? You can get a head start on naming your kids.

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10 impressions

  1. An interesting take on the "boring" parts of the Bible. It makes sense to me that if you want a real relationship with God you want to know Him fully including the mundane details. I wonder: Have you thought about why you are only provided with these mundane details from a specific and, relatively speaking, short period of time in the distant past, and not since then? And, if it is because the mundane details were no longer necessary after Jesus, then why should we care about the mundane details of the time prior to Jesus? These questions are not intended to be challenges. I'm honestly interested in your thoughts about them.

    Adele

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  2. Very interesting and true post. I especially like the last two sentences. :)

    Sometimes when I'm not exactly feeling overly-enthused about reading my Bible, I try to make up excuses. Like, oh, this is a more dull and difficult part that I'm reading through right now. But then I remind myself that God put every little bit, every sentence and list, in there for a reason. Even if it's just to remind me, like you said, that He cares about little details.

    ~Kristin

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  3. Adele, excellent. It's something I haven't really sat down and thought about. I suppose the easiest answer would be to say, "How should I know?"...because sometimes that's the only honest answer about hows and whys of God. I think we should care about the mundane just because it's God's Word -- regardless that it is old. God is unchanging, and if it's all about Him, then it doesn't really matter from what time period we study His works.

    Plus, Scripture has always been a progressive revelation -- which is to say that from Genesis to Revelation it began to reveal more and more of who God is, up until the point where we can know God fully and where the Spirit indwells us. That's where Scripture stops -- and that's where we continue. The returned exiles didn't have what we have now in Christ Jesus. In a way, we're living the mundane.

    But that's just the five-minute response. I really don't know...it's an excellent question. :)

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  4. When I read those "boring" parts, it helps me to remember that these are real people that these lists are talking about. That makes it kind of cool. And I'm one of those weird people who just really loves all those strange-sounding Bible names.

    As for naming my kids, my first-born son is going to be named Benaiah, 'cause that guy was one of the awesomest guys in the whole Bible. (2 Samuel 23:20-23) End of discussion.

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  5. I read a book in which a missionary visited a stone-age tribe. She translated the Bible with the help of a tribesman. During the genealogies, he had a revelation: there's proof of man's origin. In his tribe they believed that man was the offspring of a banana and rock. He believed because of Eliphelaz and Oholibama, and so must we. : )

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  6. Thanks for sharing that. It was a special reminder of the wonderful, relationship loving God we serve. Every person listed had a name remembered by God . . . even if they were the evil types, mediocre types, or godly types. They were remembered by our God.

    And He was spelling His love story to the world using their long-forgotten lives.

    Frannie

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  7. Bailey,

    That's a good point that if God is unchanging then including mundane details from any time period would work equally well and there is no need to include mundane details for all times.

    Thanks for responding!

    -- Adele

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  8. Good points as usual, Bailey! My Bible reading plan that my youth group does starts in the New Testament, so I haven't really gotten to anything boring yet!

    But I remember reading Leviticus a while back.. it was rough. A lot of detail about measurements of the temple. I wondered why God would put that in there!

    Now I have a reason! He cares about that, and he cares about me. What I'm wearing, what I ate for breakfast, what color nail polish is on my toes.. MY mundane details. And that's pretty incredible for Someone who created the universe. :]

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  9. I thought of another reason why all those detailed lists are in there: to prove the Bible's reliability as a historical account.
    If the Bible were some old myth or fable, the list would say something like "and there were many thousands". Instead, we see lists of people's names, specific numbers, specific months...These little boring details prove how carefully this was written down.
    <><

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  10. This is interesting. I've always viewed *those* books of the Bible as mundane, not that important, not applicable to today, ect. But maybe I just need a new perspective in reading them. ;)

    Oh, and that last part? Mhm. Worked for me. During my adventure into the OT a year ago (never finished, just in case you're wondering), I found the name "Asher" and fell in love with it...until my parents decided to name a mentally-retarded cow Asher and then the ended up dying. Yeah. -_-

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