Here’s a question you may not be asked very often: what’s your least favorite book of the Bible? Which book do you avoid reading, or skim over lightly when it shows up in your Bible reading plan? Which book confuses you, frustrates you, or (let’s be honest) bores you?
Could it be Leviticus or Numbers? What about some of those Old Testament histories? Any of the major or minor prophets? Revelation, anyone?
For Christians, the Word of God is essential for spiritual growth, relevant to everyday life (even in the 21st century), and irreplaceable by other means. This description applies to the entire Bible—all 66 books, whether we like them or not. And let’s face it: those unliked books aren’t going anywhere. Every time you open your Bible, there they are—Leviticus, or Job, or Song of Songs, or Revelation, or Ezekiel—waiting for you to understand and even enjoy whatever God would have you learn from them.
So what’s the best way to learn to like the book of the Bible you like the least? My own answer to this, and one I think would apply to any book, is to study it.
Several months ago, I deliberately chose my least favorite book in the Bible for the women’s Bible study group at my church (I’ll share more about that in a bit). I had a theory that a deep study using reputable resources would give me a new appreciation for why God had included this particular book in his Word. At the same time I was deciding to tackle this unliked (by me) book, I discovered that my friend Sara had been doing a Bible study at her own church on a different book, the one that’s the butt of many Bible reading plan jokes: Leviticus.
It was perfect timing for my as yet untested “study-it-to-love-it” theory. Sure enough, Sara and the other women in her Bible study had been having a very positive experience with Leviticus. The first thing they did was watch a short video overview by BibleProject. This is often a great first step when beginning any book of the Bible (not always, though—see one reason to skip or postpone it below).
It’s also important with any Bible study to have good resources at your fingertips. For their study, Sara’s group used Leviticus Bible Study by Scott Behm and Jay Sklar, alongside Sklar’s Leviticus: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries). In the workbook, the authors directly address the reluctance readers may have about studying Leviticus. They also demonstrate its relevance to our own lives, such as how the Fellowship Offering then relates to the Lord’s Supper now.
I asked about Sara’s overall takeaway from doing this study, and she said, “As with studying any book of the Bible, we need to do it through the lens of seeking to understand God and his character and reminding ourselves that He is not a part of our story. Rather, we are a part of His story.” Such wise words, words that I needed to remember when preparing to study my own least favorite book: Judges.
Why I disliked Judges
Judges* may not be on many “most disliked books of the Bible” lists, but it was at the top of mine. I had several reasons for this. I found its unrelenting downward spiral of rebellion, idolatry, and forgetfulness toward God, even by the “heroes” of the story, deeply disheartening. I tired quickly of the excessive violence and oppression. And most of all, I had tremendous difficulty with Judges 19. Without going into too much detail, my problem wasn’t only with the part of the story about the Levite and his concubine (which is horrific enough). It was compounded greatly by the reference to the master of the house and his daughter, which gave me flashbacks to Genesis 19, where Lot makes the same offer, under similar circumstances, of his own daughters to wicked and depraved men. As a mother, as a woman, as a human being, these passages in the Bible are so awful to me that I can barely read them. So for all of these reasons, I had avoided reading Judges for some time.
But after a semester of studying Philippians (“the epistle of joy”) with the thoughtful and enthusiastic women in our Bible study group, I felt ready to tackle my least favorite book. Below are a few questions I asked myself in order to prepare both mentally and emotionally for this task. (Each of these questions can easily be adapted for your own personal study, if you’re not planning to study with a small group.)
- Will this group enjoy or appreciate studying a particularly challenging book?
Bible study is greatly enhanced when participants can and do comfortably ask questions, offer opinions and real-life applications, make connections, and share previous knowledge. A group like this creates an ideal situation for studying the most joyful books, as well as the more disturbing ones. For a particularly difficult book of the Bible, good communication is essential, and group members’ level of familiarity with the Bible isn’t nearly as important as a willingness to question, learn, and participate.
- Would it be helpful to watch the overview video first?
The usual answer to this question would be “yes.” But with Judges, I didn’t share the BibleProject video link (although people could certainly watch it if they wanted to). The reason is because Judges is one continuous story with a beginning, a middle, and an end (and thankfully, a beautiful, redemptive “epilogue” in the book of Ruth immediately following). Because I love a good story, I wanted to study Judges piece by piece, as everything slowly went downhill with each successive chapter. As we watched Israel’s downward spiral and studied why God allowed this to happen, I wanted us to come to the story without necessarily having a firm idea of the “ending”—hence, no video beforehand.
- What study resources will be most helpful for this book?
My first resource for any Bible study is the Reformation Study Bible. The introductions to each book and notes on specific verses are invaluable. For greater depth and application, I really like The Navigators LifeChange series of Bible study guides. These also have background material, as well as margin notes on cross-references, personal application, tips for group study, and much more. For me, this is as much help as I want. I’ve used multiple Bible commentaries in the past, and I get overwhelmed by too much information and too many conflicting opinions. So my suggestion would be to find a couple of resources that you really like (this could include a particular commentary that you trust), and stick with those.
Another resource is simply the different Bibles used by the people in your group. In our group, several different translations (not paraphrases; avoid those for Bible study) are regularly represented, and we often will compare different translations and different footnotes during our discussion. (This is a great reason to ask that participants bring a print Bible to the study, if at all possible.)
- Who wrote the book, and why?
These questions are important to ask regarding any book of the Bible, but even more so for a book that you don’t fully understand or even like very much. The “who” and “why” questions are ones to keep in mind throughout your entire study (or to remind people of if you are leading the study). Books of the Bible each have their own context of time, place, and historical circumstances. Often just knowing this background information will clarify what might have been a previously incomprehensible passage.
- Are you okay with not having all the answers?
If you’re going to study a more challenging or difficult book of the Bible, one that you haven’t liked much in the past, you’re no doubt going to encounter questions (your own, from your group, or in your study guide) that you may not be able to answer. This is true of any Bible book, of course, but how much more likely with a book that is already more confusing or more often avoided than most? It’s okay if certain verses or passages remain somewhat ambiguous. If you approach your study with a sincere heart and an open spirit toward the Lord’s teaching, he will give you what you need, to the degree that you need it, for a better understanding and appreciation of the book.
Here are the benefits you can expect when you invest the time to study the Bible book you don’t like:
- You’ll understand the historical and biblical context, who likely wrote it, and why
- You’ll appreciate how it would have been received during the time it was written
- You’ll be able to place each part of the book into the context of God’s great story that runs from Genesis to Revelation
- You’ll realize, the more time you study it and discuss it with others, what God wants you to learn from it
Most importantly, you’ll develop a greater awareness of how every book of the Bible, even the one you’ve struggled with for years, points you to Christ and helps you know him better. You’ll learn more about yourself along the way, as well—including that you can read, benefit from, and enjoy any book of the Bible, even the one you (currently) don’t like.
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*An interesting and kind of funny footnote about Judges: At my former church, many years ago, the high school Sunday school teacher asked the students to choose which book of the Bible they wanted to study. Out of 66 books, they chose Judges. Years later, at my current church, the youth leader asked the high schoolers what book of the Bible they wanted to study. They also chose Judges. Two different churches, two different sets of teens, many years apart. I have my theories as to why—but I’ll let you make what you will of that!