Making a List...

Most of us know that little jingle often heard around Christmas time that mentions Santa making a list and checking it twice. Truth be told, there is One who knows if you’ve been naughty or nice, but it’s not Santa Claus. Much like the song says of the mythical Saint Nick, our Lord really does make lists. I’m not talking about lists of our faults and failures, or of our awards and accolades, but lists which were recorded in the Bible and handed down to us so that we might learn something of value concerning God’s Kingdom.

Some of the lists are quite lengthy and require a good deal of study in order to glean some spiritual truths from what may appear to be rather mundane bookkeeping. Much of the book of Numbers, for example, consists of genealogies and inventories. In Exodus 26 and following passages, God presents to Moses a list of instructions regarding the construction of his tabernacle. In a similar fashion, 1 Kings chapters 5 and 6 reveal very detailed lists concerning Solomon’s building of the temple in Jerusalem. While these long lists are often viewed as simple historical documentation, there are always spiritual lessons just waiting to be discovered.

Other Biblical lists are shorter and more readily understandable; the most famous, of course, being the Ten Commandments. Other notable lists include the pieces of the Armor of God from Ephesians 6, as well as the list of Jesus’ twelve chosen disciples scattered through the four gospels.

Each list carries its own importance and lessons, but there is one feature common to all lists, whether found in the Bible or on your grocery list: order. Every list ever made starts with a single item. How is that item chosen? Every list continues with a series of other items. Why are they placed in a certain order?

 | Dreamstime Stock Photos
My wife has a magnetic notepad stuck to the front of our refrigerator. Whenever we run low on something, whether it is milk, paper towels, deodorant, or dog food, we write that item on the list. The order of this particular list is determined by our use of household supplies. Not a lot of higher order thinking is required.

Other lists people make may be ordered by stream of consciousness or brainstorming, just to get as many ideas on the table as possible in a given amount of time. Some are meticulously set in order according to complex plans; a list of materials being grouped together according to their use in construction blueprints might be one example. But how does God make lists?

It is worth noting here that our God is a God of Law and Order. He does not make random decisions. Everything has a purpose with God. Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at that most famous list: the Ten Commandments. Behold, the First Commandment…

Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. (Exodus 20:3, KJV)

Without a doubt, this single statement is the most important of God’s commandments. Every command that follows is tied back to the first, if through no other factor than simple obedience. Anything we do which is contrary to God’s will places our desire for that sin above our desire to honor God. It is therefore impossible to commit any single sin without also violating the First Commandment. This is the core of the statement made by the Apostle James…

For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all. (James 2:10, HCSB)

Jesus Himself establishes this very principle with His reply to one particular question…

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)

It can be inferred from these passages that the first item named in a Biblical list holds a place of special significance.  Other verses of scripture support this assertion. For example, we know from the Bible that Peter was the leader of the early church in the years following Jesus’ ascension. It should come as no surprise, then, that Peter is always named first in the lists of the twelve apostles.

Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:14-16, ESV)
See also Matthew 10:1-4, Mark 3:16-19, Acts 1:13

It is also worth mentioning that the last item of a Biblical list may also hold a special significance. In the case of the verse above, it is abundantly clear why Judas Iscariot is the last to be named. The ordering of the list places a leader at the beginning, and a traitor at the end: polar opposites. While the first and last items of other lists in the Bible may not necessarily be opposites, they often share a special connection of one sort or another.

What about the rest of the items in the middle of the list? How are they ordered? While the answer to that question might be different for various lists, the organizing principle often has to do with the relationship of one item to another. Perhaps we are given a sequential pattern to follow. Perhaps we are supposed to recognize the connections between certain items, events, or people.

While these concepts regarding the ordering of Biblical lists may not be set in stone, keeping them in mind is often helpful in properly interpreting scripture and applying it to our daily lives. Knowing that God keeps a record of every detail reveals how much value He places on us. Understanding that the Lord outlines priorities for us to follow (even within His own commands) encourages us to do the same in our own plans. The point here is not to give you a concrete method of understanding every one of these lists, but to encourage you to dig into the scriptures and unearth the truth for yourself.

Go discover the treasures which God has hidden for you just below the surface!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Support Living In The Bible - Your donations help spread God's word to the ends of the Earth!