If we’re honest, most of us have wanted to skip over certain portions of Scripture, not because we don’t think they're important or because we find them offensive, but rather because it’s, well, kind of boring. Even if we haven’t said it aloud, we’ve wondered, Why shouldn’t I just skip over the less exciting parts of the Bible?
One response is, “Because you shouldn’t. God wrote it. We’re supposed to read it. End of story.” However, most Christians know we should read all of God’s Word. Yet it’s likely that some parts of the Bible awaken our imagination, emotions, and intellect, while other parts of the Bible, for whatever reason, simply don’t.
Rather than whipping ourselves for not finding every word of the scriptures equally evocative, let me offer four incentives to give those less exciting parts of the Bible a fresh, zealous examination.
1. Jesus is there.
I once heard a pastor say that his congregation took notes during the sermon, except when he started talking about Jesus. At that point, they would stop and gaze at him. Why? Because praising and glorying in Jesus arrested the attention of his people. We love to love our Christ, and we also love when others exult in Him.
Now, let’s face it: not always, but often when we think of “less exciting,” we think of the Old Testament. I wish I could admit that I have forever found the Old Testament riveting. The truth is, I haven’t. But reading the New Testament has changed that, particularly Luke 24. Jesus’ encounter with the Emmaus disciples plainly tells us that the Old Testament is constantly hinting, pointing, and even shouting at us to look to Jesus (Luke 24:27, 44-45).
In other words, do you want (as the hymn goes) “more, more about Jesus”? He is the subject of every “less exciting” part of sacred Scripture. Find and taste the manna from heaven by looking and eating in the Law, Psalms, and Prophets.
I’ll never forget the first time I read through Numbers 16, the place where God sends a plague upon Israel because of their outright rebellion in the wilderness. Then Moses commands Aaron, censer in hand, to rush out between God’s plague and the Israelites in order to bring the plague to a halt. And then it hit me: this isn’t merely an historical account of Israel’s waywardness and rescue. It is a foreshadowing of Jesus halting the judgment of God for His people, people who are prone to wander in the pilgrimage to the New Canaan. I’m not the first to read Numbers 16 that way, but I would never have read it at all without some resolve to read all of the Bible.
2. The repetition is on purpose.
I confess that I have been dulled at times by the more repetitious sections of God’s Word. The judgment sequences are really tough. It’s obvious around my house when I’m reading through Jeremiah and Isaiah. My coffee and chocolate intake usually goes up during those weeks; I need something to buoy my spirits. But the persistence (with the aid of the sugar and Arabica) inevitably pays dividends.
I occasionally listen to classical music. My all-time favorite piece of classical music is Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. There are parts that are very slow, maybe even oddly slow—like, make-you-want-to-stop-listening slow. And the notes get repetitive in the same way. But then there is this amazingly moving synthesis of harmonizing strings. The first time I heard it, I was in college studying. I put my notes down. And I wept.
The lonely, cold repetition sharpened the contrast with the full, warm, vibrant instrumentation. The music fit the old truth: when winter is all the more biting, spring is all the more brilliant.
Likewise, when we persevere through the cycles in Judges or the judgments in Isaiah, we are soaking in the anxiety that people caught in judgment ought to experience. But we are also surging forward to a Suffering Servant and a New Covenant Maker. The repeated notes of gloom give way to the symphony of redemption. But you have to go through a cloudy winter to appreciate the delights of a full sun.
3. The laws enrich the soil.
Generally, readers of Scripture get bogged down in the law-giving portions of the Old Testament. Even friends of mine who aren’t believers talk about how hard the Bible is to read: “‘Cause, you know, stuff like Leviticus just doesn’t make sense.”
It’s true that reading a consecutive series of laws and regulations isn’t much like Tolkien, but it is too helpful to pass over.
Actually, it reminds me of gardening. I keep a small garden. Soil additives are not exciting. But the vegetables thrive and yield because it gives the ground a higher concentrate of what they need to boom. Without them, sure, I’d still get some produce. But not near as much.
You can understand that it’s awesome for Jesus to heal a leper, or that it’s amazing how Paul is so open with the gospel to the uncircumcised. But until you walk with Israel and hear God giving laws to exiled lepers from the camp, or until you recognize the significance of circumcision within the covenant community, the full yield of these latter texts will go unharvested by the casual Bible reader.
The slower portions of the Bible prepare the heart’s soil for richer, fuller, weightier fruits of righteousness.
4. Irrelevant today Is vital tomorrow.
I’ve mostly had Old Testament texts in mind for this article, but plenty of us experience the same absence of zeal in the New Testament. In my world, it happens when what I’m reading just doesn’t seem to be relevant to my life.
The trouble is, of course, that what’s relevant today was irrelevant yesterday. And what’s relevant tomorrow is irrelevant today. In other words, we don’t really know what truths we’ll wish we had already etched into our minds and hearts because we don’t know what lies ahead.
The ant stores for winter in the spring, because he knows the frost is coming. Believers must harvest biblical truth, even when it seems uninteresting, because the time is coming when it will be profitable (2 Timothy 3:16).
One of the most consistent pastoral topics I get from people is about forgiveness. Not much about the Trinity, election, atonement, end times, divorce, or politics. No. Those were all the rage at one point. But these days, I get a fair amount of interest in forgiveness.
I could simply respond by saying, “We forgive others because God forgave us.” That’s a good answer; it’s true. But because I am prepared to draw on a variety of examples from (what some might consider) innocuous passages, I can bring more color and contour to my counsel. I can talk about Paul’s once-strained relationship with Mark (2 Timothy 4:11), David’s patience with Absalom (2 Samuel 13ff), or God’s compassion for Israel in the wilderness (Hosea 2:14–15).
I wasn’t preparing for those moments because I had amazing pastoral, prophetic insight and wanted to be relevant. Quite the opposite. I was getting ready for the hot topics of the present, while the Lord was using my normal, “boring” Bible reading to gird me for spiritual battles yet to come.
In his instructions for his yearly Bible reading plan, Robert Murray M’Cheyne exhorts his congregation, “If we pass over some parts of Scripture, we shall be incomplete Christians.” He’s right. So let’s be complete Christians. Let’s read God’s Word, even when we don’t find it, in the moment, exhilarating. It will yield righteousness and love for the Lord, in season and out. And that’s worth our pursuit.
Ben Stubblefield is the senior pastor at FBC Jackson in Jackson, Alabama. He also serves multiple Christian colleges as an adjunct faculty member in New Testament and Theology.