Does boring and Bible belong in the same sentence? Sadly, many people think so. The problem is not the Bible- it lies within ourselves. Here's some advice on how to enjoy boring Bible verses.
When Bible Means Boring and Atheists Win the Gold
As a caveat, I do not believe that the Bible is boring, and as such there is no such thing as boring Bible verses. At worst, we could probably get away with using the word tedious to describe those not-so-exciting sections in the Old Testament. But this website is not about the worst possible Bible reading we can possibly endure; it's about better Bible reading, and one of the keys to enjoying better Bible reading is to cleanse ourselves from the wrong assumption that the Bible is boring.
I hope you agree with me, but frankly it's much easier to agree on the outside looking in. Here's what I mean: It's easy to say the Bible isn't boring when we're not reading it in the same way it's easy to say trials are endurable when we're not the ones having to do the enduring.
The same people that push for prayer in school or complain that the Ten Commandments have been removed from public places are often not the people who are reading through Genesis to Revelation every year. In fact, many atheists could put our Bible reading output to shame if it were a competition. And while it is not a competition, it is a necessity that we take stock of Paul's words to Timothy when saying "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16, ESV).
Logical Conclusion of God's Word Being His
If all Scripture is breathed out by God, then all Scripture is as if God Himself sat down next to us and spoke His very word to us (which is precisely what He is doing when we read the Bible). Would we dare to cut Him off in the grounds that He is beginning to be boring to us?
Now that your brain is spinning with concern and possibly guilt, I want to remind you that this article is meant to free you from the chains of boring Bible verse syndrome. While I don't pretend to never struggle with an inadequate attention span, or preferring certain books of the Bible over the other, I am convinced that we can and should enjoy the whole Bible. That being said, let me give you some encouragement on how to move forward. This is not only about learning how to get through tedious passages, it's about enjoying boring Bible verses. Why? Because no Bible verse is boring.
When Boring Verses Occur
First, we must understand when potentially boring Bible verses occur. This is not a difficult assessment, and as it turns out, anyone who attempts a Bible reading plan will tell on themselves. Simply look for the drop off. This happens in different places, but as a general rule, people make it through Genesis and part of Exodus, specifically the first half of Exodus that occurs when Moses receives the Ten Commandments from the Lord. After that, most people lose momentum and consistency as they try to work through the rest of the law, i.e. Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
In other words, the drop off happens in the Old Testament, and normally before anyone gets very far at all. Perhaps one of the initial rules of combating the boring mentality is this: Before using the b-word, ask yourself, "How acquainted with the Old Testament am I?" While we could spend years learning from books and courses on Old Testament structure, theology, language and all the rest, we may do just fine by capitalizing on the most important rule. Thankfully we are not left in the dark.
Jesus' Old Testament Appreciation Seminar
With that in mind, we need to set our minds in the right place. Since we live in light of the New Testament and the advent of Jesus Christ, we must take Jesus seriously in His interpretive method of the Old Testament. What was that method you ask? Let's ask the disciples on the road to Emmaus:
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself -Luke 24.27
This my friend, is our primary task when we read the Old Testament. We need to understand that Jesus is the centerpiece- the silver lining of what may seem to be otherwise boring or unimportant.
Let me be clear, we do not read Jesus into everything as some man-made system of allegory. But we do look for where He and His work can be found by way of explicit or implicit reference. Let me show you a quick example of this in none other than the boring book of Numbers.
What do you think of when you hear the term living water? Almost everyone associates that term with Jesus Christ. This is a right and good thing to do. He said it himself, after all:
If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water -John 4.10
With that said, what about the Old Testament? Moreover, what about the book of Numbers? When is the last time you heard someone refer living water to the book of Numbers?
The verdict is out; I’m well aware that the book of Numbers is neglected on the grounds that it is boring and confusing. Even if you attempt to savor each reading of God’s Word, you probably don't say things like, “I can’t wait to get into the book of Numbers today.”
That being said, I want you to know that Jesus didn’t view the book of Numbers as meaningless or boring. Instead, it was so applicable and important that one of His most well-known phrases is taken straight from that book Numbers. That quotation from John 4 occurs when He speaks to the infamous woman at the well, a familiar story to anyone with a basic exposure to the bible.
Many people receive that verse as a joyful treasure- a wise saying of Jesus, but do they associate His words with the law in the Old Testament? Do they associate the phrase living water alongside those boring Bible verses we neglect? Not likely. However, Jesus knew what He was saying and even the Samaritan woman probably grasped the concept from the Old Testament. So then, what exactly does living water have to do with the book of Numbers? Here it is:
For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and fresh water shall be added in a vessel -Numbers 19:17
I’ve pointed out the word in Numbers, rendered “fresh” in the ESV translation. I prefer the ESV translation and I think that fresh is a reasonable English interpretation. But a look at the original Hebrew language will show you that the literal word in the passage is not fresh, it's living.
The Context of the Treasure
Upon seeing this, I want to show you the whole section together so that I can point out two rich gospel truths in our passage in Numbers, truths that will dismiss the boring concept and allow us to more fully understand why Jesus chose this symbol to communicate to the Samaritan woman. I've taken the liberty to highlight specific phrases in the passage to call your attention to:
This is the law when someone dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent shall be unclean seven days. And every open vessel that has no cover fastened on it is unclean. Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and fresh water shall be added in a vessel. Then a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there and on whoever touched the bone, or the slain or the dead or the grave. And the clean person shall sprinkle it on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day. Thus on the seventh day he shall cleanse him, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening he shall be clean -Numbers 19:14-19
Now, these are certainly boring Bible verses, aren't they?
However, there is a clear connection in this passage between the function of the living water according to the law and Jesus’ explanation of living water in John’s gospel. Two distinct truths point this out to us.
Two Truths to Enjoy
First, it is clear that the water alleviates the consequence of death, which is why it’s named by way of contrast as living water. And second, it was according to the law that the water shall be sprinkled specifically on the third day and the seventh day.
The point of the living water is this: to apply purification from those tainted by death. We see this with the opening verse “This is the law when someone dies in a tent…”
As the New Testament concludes, Jesus came to abolish death and destroy the works of the devil- he who has the power over death. The cry of victory in Jesus' task was this, “It is finished” (John 19:30). As Jesus calls all men, saying “come to me”, it is clear that He extenuates Himself as the source of cleansing and the source of life as a remedy for death.
How does he destroy the one who has the power over death but by conquering death and dispensing eternal life to those who come to Him?
So where do we see this victory over death? Where is the defining moment of Jesus’ victory? Resurrection displays the victory over death, which took place on the third day. Paul tells us to see that resurrection event as the supreme doctrine whereby our entire hope for life is fulfilled (see 1st Corinthians 15).
In the New Testament, the living water is applied to us by the One who is living water in and of Himself, the One seen as victorious and trustworthy to cleanse us by being risen from the dead on the third day.
The other stipulation for the law about living water is its application on the seventh day. The Old Testament refers to the seventh day as the Sabbath, or day of rest. Jesus, according to the book of Hebrews, is the one who will give us an everlasting rest. We call this everlasting life. We even speak about deceased Christians, referring to their death as rest in peace, precisely due to the fact that their death is a temporary element, giving way to resurrection life. This triumphal moment is our rest and seventh day we most desperately look forward to.
A Warning and Invitation
So why does Numbers 19 speak in strict terms of applying the living water on the third and seventh day? I believe it’s precisely because the living water should always be associated with the concept of Life (third day) and Rest (seventh day).
We know that Jesus, the true living water is the one who gives us both life and rest:
For God so loved the world, that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. -John 3:16
Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest -Matthew 11:28
One final word. Just as any great truth in scripture, it comes with a warning: “If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. Because the water for impurity has not been thrown on him, he is unclean” (Numbers 19:20).
The warning is clear for those who fail to administer the living water for cleansing; they shall be cut off from the people. In the same way, the one who does not believe and receive Jesus Christ the Son of God is condemned and cut off from God for rejecting the Living Water.
But just as the warning is clear, so is the invitation. By His rising on the third day and His gift of an eternal seventh day rest, the invitation stands for all to come to Him for cleansing.
This is just one example that boring Bible verse do not exist. But it is important to note- we have not invented a mysterious meaning or decoded something from the Old Testament. Instead, we simply took Jesus at His word that the Old Testament points to Him and followed the clues given to us in order to arrive at the conclusion from the passage in numbers. This is not rocket science, but it does require attentive, faithful Bible reading.
May we see Him in this light, for this is who Jesus Christ is- our Living Water!
Here's to Better Bible Reading,