As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold… (Daniel 3:5)
Have you noticed how many lists there are in the Bible? From the instructions for building the tabernacle in Exodus, to the lists of exiles in Nehemiah, to the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew, lists pop up all over the place. It seems that God loves lists.
Perhaps you have wondered why those lists are there in God’s word? I think there are two main reasons why God loves lists and loves to write those lists down for us. The first is that lists leave nothing out.
The verse at the top from Daniel chapter three was in my daily Bible reading recently and got me thinking about this topic. The king of Babylon had decreed that the people bow down and worship a golden idol, and they are to do that when they “hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music”.
Could God have inspired this verse (and the other occurrences in the chapter) to simply read “music”? Absolutely, he could have done. But he doesn’t. Instead he gives us a list of different types of music and musical instruments, ending with the catch-all phrase “all kinds of music”.
What this list does is paint a picture for us: it tells us that no kind of music or musical instrument was excluded from the king’s decree. It wasn’t that the people were supposed to worship when a specific piece of music was played, or they hear a specific instrument being used. It was all kinds of music at any time. The list gave us a picture of nothing left out.
You can find other example of lists that leave nothing out in the Bible’s story. But there is another type of list and another purpose for lists as well. These are lists that leave nobody out.
One of the most common lists in the Bible are lists of people. A particular example of this is the book of Numbers, which is named after its lists! It’s a book that has memorable and vivid stories of God’s people, interspersed with long lists of names and numbers (which are probably a lot less memorable). Why are those lists, and those like it elsewhere, included?
Those lists are included because they are lists that leave nobody out. They record not just the exceptional and extraordinary – the heroes and villains of the memorable stories – but the ordinary and everyday. The lists record the people who might not get recorded, who might get forgotten, who might get left out. But God does not forget or leave them out. He remembers and records, and wants us to see them as well.
A specific example of this is seen at the start of Matthew’s gospel. Matthew records for us a list of Jesus’ family line. Matthew even tells us the purpose of writing this genealogy in the very first verse: to show that Jesus is descended from Abraham and David in his physical human family.
But Matthew’s list leaves nobody out, and he deliberately includes certain people who might get left out. Manasseh, for instance, who was not a good king from David’s line, who we might be tempted to gloss over in the line of Jesus the Messiah!
More than that, Matthew’s list includes others who might have been sidelined and excluded from the account, specifically the women. Matthew’s list includes Tamar, Ruth and Bathsheba. These are women who had been taken advantage of and exploited in the case of Tamar and Bathsheba. There is a woman, in Ruth’s case, who is a foreigner to the people of Israel. But they are included because they are important, they are significant and God leaves nobody out.
So next time your Bible reading takes you through Numbers, or Exodus or Ezra or any other book with long sets of lists, take a moment to pause and reflect. Remember that, though lists don’t seem all that inspiring, they remind us that in God’s eyes nothing is left out and nobody is left out.