Long ago while still a callow youth I told a seminary student interning at the church I grew up in that I was thinking of reading through the Bible.
“Don’t start at Genesis,” he said. “You’ll get bogged down in Leviticus and Numbers and all those lists and give up!”
Not only did his words keep me from getting bogged down in Leviticus and Numbers and giving up, they kept me from reading through the Bible at all. I didn’t give up because I never started.
I finally read through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in my 20s. He was right in that Leviticus and Numbers can be a bit daunting. They didn’t stop me, though. Since that first read-through I’ve repeated the process many times. Including the lists.
- Consider the laws in Leviticus 19, where prohibitions against robbery and slander stand alongside prohibitions against cutting the hair along the side of your head or clipping your beard.
- There are the tribal lists of Numbers 1, where each is presented in the exact same wording as the preceding and the repetition can become soporific.
- Even in the opening pages of Genesis you find chapter 5 with its list of one descendant after another with each coming to the phrase “and then he died.” Except for Enoch. Keep your eyes peeled for Enoch.
It’s that bit about Enoch that convinces me to read every list every time I go through the Bible from cover to cover. That plus remembering what Paul told his young friend:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17.)
Which leads me to the thought that the entirety of Scripture is authoritative. Some is prescriptive authority and some is descriptive authority. Gideon’s fleece, for example is descriptive. (Judges 6:36-40.) The Golden Rule is prescriptive. (Luke 6:27-31, Matthew 7:12.)
The lists are part of that scriptural authority, and so they must be in there for a reason. What it is can be elusive at times yet it has led to some wonderful insights, such as catching the brief mention of Sheerah in 1 Chronicles 7:
The descendants of Ephraim: …
His daughter was Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon as well as Uzzen Sheerah.
I’d read that passage more times than I can remember and it wasn’t until I was in my 50s that I stopped to consider that a woman is the one who gets the credit for establishing three Israelite cities. (See Sheerah – the woman who led men to victory.)
She’s not the only woman who was given responsibility to lead or teach God’s people, of course. It’s refreshing, still, since so many people claiming to teach the Bible focus on the men found in scripture. It’s as if they don’t understand the part about all scripture in Paul’s letter, and would like to skip the ones about women. I could make a list of passages for them to read. After all, Silencing women of God is a dangerous practice, and some good solid comprehensive reading can alleviate that danger.
Which brings me back to my original point. Reading all of the Bible is instructive. Whether cover to cover or some other plan, it’s all worth your time. You never know what will jump off the page and into your mind and heart and life.