Discovering Gems in the “Boring” Parts of the Bible
At the beginning of the year, Erin and I have been on one of those “read through the Bible in a year” programs. I am surprised to say that we are still on it halfway through the year and progressing. I say I’m surprised because while I have made similar attempts to read through the Bible in a year, I have never made it to June. I usually fall off somewhere in February or March, when the reading list inevitably puts Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy all together day after day. That makes for some tough reading.
One thing I have discovered is how valuable it is to have a companion reading the same schedule as you. Not only does that help with accountability, but it also provides you a discussion partner to share things you’ve discovered or ask questions about what you didn’t understand.
I want to share with you a couple of things I have discovered in the last six months from those parts of the Bible that sometimes don’t seem to hold much value. These places are the graveyards of Bible reading programs, and rarely if ever do you hear a sermon preached from them, or a devotional built around them. But they are in the Bible, and perhaps it’s just my personality, but I almost take that as a challenge, to find the gems in these passages we so often skim over if ever read at all. Both examples come from 1 Chronicles, one near the beginning and one near the end.
The first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles is chock-full with genealogies. The genealogical list from Adam to Noah in Genesis 5 has nothing on these chapters. Not only are there a lot more names, but often it’s hard to follow, sometimes it jumps back and forth from family to family, and it goes on page after page. It is extremely difficult to read, there is no denying that.
One of the strategies I use, and I encourage others to use, during Bible study is to notice when things are the same, and when things are different. This is simply compare and contrast. When a lot of things are the same, there is a reason, perhaps for emphasis. If there is something repeated over and over, especially in the case of genealogies, then that shows the normal flow of life. Father begets son, who in turn begets his own sons. This is how things normally go. In a passage so full of similarities, it is the places of contrast, where things don’t go as everything else, where you will most likely find some gems.
And as I was reading through name after name, I came across this passage in 1 Chronicles 2:34-35 – “Now Sheshan had no sons, only daughters. And Sheshan had an Egyptian servant whose name was Jarha. Sheshan gave his daughter to Jarha his servant in marriage.” And then it continues listing the descendants that came after. At first (and perhaps second and third) glance this might just seem like an interesting blip of information given about a random happening with Sheshan. But if we dig just a little, we will find that these two short verses say a lot about Sheshan and his heir, Jarha the Egyptian.
I don’t think I would’ve put this together had I not been going through a rigorous reading schedule of the Bible, because about a month before I was in Numbers and Joshua, and both of those books also have their fair share of names and families and laws that are often skimmed over. But as the rules of inheritance are being delineated for the Israelites who are about to enter into the land, there is a problem that comes up. See, part of the reason these genealogies are so important is because there was supposed to be continuity of ownership of plots of land. The same family was to own their land in perpetuity. So it needed to pass down from father to son. But there was one family that could not do that because they only had daughters (see Numbers 36 and Joshua 17:3-6). It was determined that those daughters needed to marry men within their tribe, and those men would father children to perpetuate their father’s line. So these men from outside the family would essentially act as “sons” and perpetuate the daughter’s family line. This was done precisely so that the land would not move between families.
So what does that mean for Sheshan and Jarha? Well, that means that Jarha was a man, apparently, of such a high moral character that even though he was a servant and a foreigner, he was selected as the man to continue Sheshan’s line. Jarha was not only accepted into Sheshan’s family, but as a son. Jarha the Egyptian was fully integrated into this Israelite family, and his children inherited after him. This short passage not only speaks highly of Jarha’s character, but also that even a foreigner could be grafted into God’s people. That is a concept that is more fully dealt with on a spiritual level by the Apostle Paul in Romans 11.
Another short passage, this time at the end of 1 Chronicles. In chapters 23-27, there are lists of names of Levites and priests and army commanders and other officials within the government of David. It goes on and on, just like the other lists I mentioned. Sometimes a familiar name pops out in these lists, because we’re more familiar with the stories surrounding David and the people who frequently show up around him. So after reading five chapters of names, I came across this passage in 1 Chronicles 27:29-31 – “Shitrai the Sharonite had charge of the cattle which were grazing in Sharon; and Shaphat the son of Adlai had charge of the cattle in the valleys. Obil the Ishamaelite had charge of the camels; and Jehdeiah the Meronothite had charge of the donkeys. Jaziz the Hagrite had charge of the flocks. All these were overseers of the property which belonged to King David.”
Again, this may seem an insignificant passage, but as I read it I had this thought: We often focus on King David as a good and successful king. But a king is only one man. There had to be dozens and dozens of men taking care of all sorts of things within the kingdom to allow David to be a great king. That includes men like Shitrai and Shaphat and Obil and Jehdeiah and Jaziz. These men weren’t kings or priests or mighty men of valor. They were herdsmen and shepherds who oversaw and took care of David’s herds and flocks. These men contributed to David’s success in their own way, as small or as insignificant as it might seem to us. All those names in those last chapters of 1 Chronicles were people who contributed to the success of King David. David could not have been what he was without all those other men contributing in their own way with their own expertise. And again, Paul tells us the same thing within the church that “the body is not one member but many… and the eye cannot say to the hand ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Corinthians 12:14,21)
I hope that in these examples, we can find that the truth of God’s word is found even in the “boring” places of the Bible. We just need to let it speak, and we need to be prepared to listen.