Are there books of the Bible that you struggle with? You know they're inspired, but perhaps you really don't turn to them all that often and you might not miss them if they weren't there? Everyone has their favourites, which means that of course, everyone has their least favourites too. A recent survey by Bible Society has ranked people's least favourite books of the Bible. What are they, and why are they so unloved?
It may not be surprising that this ancient book of complex laws and rituals is not most people's favourite. It isn't a page-turning thriller. You'll probably hear about it when someone says, "Well because of Jesus, we don't need to do *that* any more." It isn't an easy read, but to its first readers it meant something profound. Its many laws and restrictions are all about what it means to be holy and chosen by God: "You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own" (Leviticus 20:26).
Can you quote the book of Numbers? Probably not. It's the fourth book of the Bible and is essentially the sequel to Leviticus. It focuses on the Israelites and their struggle to claim the Promised Land, and a lot of people die in it. It contains passages about God's judgment, but also classic descriptions of God's mercy too, sometimes in the same verse. A classic example is this: "The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation" (Numbers 14:18).
Martin Luther didn't love the book of Revelation and thought it shouldn't be in the Christian canon. Revelation is not an easy book to understand, but it does confirm that the end of the world won't be boring. Actually the word we so often use for disaster movies, 'apocalypse', comes from the Greek title of this book. It doesn't mean 'end of the world' though, but refers to something being 'revealed'. There's a lot of action, fire and judgment in Revelation, but at the end: New Heaven and New Earth.
4. Song of Songs
What do people have against the Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon? This is a passionate love story, full of imaginative, heartfelt devotions from one lover to another. It reminds us that human love and romance are a gift from God, and was later interpreted as a metaphor about Jesus' love for his Church. Then again, maybe people just get uncomfortable when they read some of the more graphic bits.
Why don't people like Lamentations? It's got some lovely poetry in it, particularly the line about the Lord's compassions never failing and being new every morning. "Great is thy faithfulness," as we often sing – straight out of Lamentations. However, the book itself is pretty dark. It's a horrible period in Israel's history, and features less than uplifting references to starvation, cannibalism and all sorts of other horrors. Hence the book's title.
You can't make people like a book, but it's worth saying that life is not always sweet and lovely. There's a time for lamenting as well as for rejoicing, and sometimes we need to know we can find scriptural words to do so. The Bible has words for dark times, and if we turn away from that sort of writing we won't be able to call on them when we need them.