Unexpected insights from a boring Old Testament list

While I love making my own lists, I don't have much interest in reading them, other than to cross them off with a big swash of ink. You don't have to read through the Bible very long before you stumble upon some sort of list, whether it's a 'so-and-so beget so-and-so" genealogy or a list of do-and-don't laws.

I was reading through the Old Testament book of Numbers and reached a list that detailed a bunch of Middle Eastern places where the Israelites journeyed after they left Egypt on their way to the promised land, West of the Jordan River. As I was reading, I found myself start skimming, murmuring to myself, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. They moved a lot of places. Let's skip ahead to the good stuff."

Which made me wonder: Why did God include this laundry list of locations? Why is this important? Obviously it must be, to make it in the Holy Word, so what might that be? Over and over again they moved around on this journey to their home. Perhaps this is a bird's eye view of all our lives: God is moving us from point a to b to c to d to e...

And then I noticed that as Moses listed each location, occasionally he'd offer a short description like this place was a desert, this one was without any water or it was an oasis with "12 springs and 70 palm trees." This list goes from Numbers 33:5-37, so about 32 moves. Of these, there are 4 deserts they journey through, one noted place where "there was no water for the people to drink," a sea they journey through and one oasis that they reach after making their way out of the wilderness. Most of the time, though, the places were pretty ordinary with little to say about them.

Does this sound like our lives? A few notable peaks and valleys, and a lot of seemingly unmentionable stuff in the middle? And yet, God mentions it. Verse 2 says, "At the LORD's command Moses wrote down the places where they went as they traveled. This is the list." He watched and recorded it all. And because God is the same as he ever was, he continues to watch it and record it all in our journeys even now. Every blip on the map matters to him and take us to where we're going: The promised land.

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Why I love reading the Old Testament
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{ photo by Static of the Gods } 


  1. Wow. I've never thought of this before. I usually skim through the lists, too.

  2. @ Brittany - I know! I've had to force myself to try to take more time to look at these superficially "boring" parts and see what God intended with them. It's been really enlightening when I actually take time to consider the implications they offer!

  3. I love it when you find insight in things that you normally just glance over. Recently there have been a lot of moments where I'll be reading a passage I've read probably hundreds of times (and am truthfully not paying that much attention to) and something will POP at me and I'll be wondering, now why didn't I notice that before? And the answer is usually, "Because you weren't looking for it."

  4. @ Amanda - Absolutely. And these are the times when it reminds me of how gracious God is, to give us second and third and hundredth chances to learn to love him better!!

  5. That is such a good illustration! I love it! I have always skipped thru those parts, but I think I will start to read them more.

  6. God put those there to testify HIS TRUTH. The mormon book speaks of places secular archaeologists and geographers and historians LITERALLY cannot find and never EXISTED. But GOD has left ISRAEL untouched and still standing while countries have formed and died and become reborn. These boring lists are a great testimony to how REAL these events were. AND HOW REAL GOD is. The jews did not believe in CHRIST but admit that he EXISTED. Even roman history accounts for Jesus Christ.

    I love that GOD is so powerful to create a detailed account of his word in a way that even non-believers are forced to see that The bible is NOT FANTASY.

    I too however, get a bit bored and often find myself praying while reading through. The names especially. I'm like woah how do I even say that god??? hahaha




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