I was still a young pastor when I came to ABC in 1972, and in the clergy fellowship I tried to learn from those who were the leaders of the bigger churches in our denomination. I remember Dr. James Borror, who was pastor of a large and growing church in Lakewood, talking about the sermon he was planning to preach at the upcoming district Annual Meeting. He said he was preparing a message from the most obscure verse in the Bible, just to show that a good preacher can preach from any text. The verse was 1 Chronicles 26:18:
At Parbar westward, four at the causeway, and two at Parbar.
This verse is part of a long listing of where the Levites were supposed to be stationed for their service at the Jerusalem Temple in its glory days, nearly ten centuries before Christ. The actual Bible book we know as 1 Chronicles was probably written about 500 years later, when the Jews were living in exile and the Temple had been destroyed. This verse tells about the positioning of six of the 24,000 Levites who were assigned jobs (see 1 Chronicles 23:4). Parbar is capitalized, but not because it refers to a particular place. It’s left untranslated because none of the scholars who are experts on these things has any idea what the Persian loan word meant. They don’t know what the causeway referred to either. My preacher friend used this verse as a launching pad for some exhortations for his listeners to use their gifts in Christian service.
Yup, you can’t get much more obscure than that!
Out of curiosity, I did a deep dive online and discovered that Dr. Borror gave a speech a few years later at an east coast Christian College, and his sermon was entitled “Two at Parbar.”1 Guess he dusted off the old notes. That’s a lot of mileage for the Bible’s most obscure text.
A computer search informed me that other preachers have also gotten on the Parbar bandwagon. One found four lessons for Christians in the mysterious verse:
Point 1: Everyone has a ministry, a place in God’s service
Point 2: Every job is important.
Point 3: Every Christian must be qualified.
Point 4: The greatest ability is dependability, not availability. 2
Wow. He must have really dissected the word Parbar to find all that.
In the introduction to his Parbar sermon, this preacher noted that all these Levites had to be on duty in order to protect the Temple from thieves and defilers:
“The gatekeepers had to guard against people stealing and bringing in things that would defile the Temple. There are people who would love to come to this church and steal your belief. Try to present a program that’s not of God. Try to make you believe that you can dress unproperly; dressing like the world. Anything that will defile God’s house.” 2
Ah Yes, another Bible verse telling young people how to dress!
Dr. Martin Van Buren Canavan was a legendary preacher among Missionary Baptists in Southern California before his 1980 death, and one of his most popular sermons was based on the Parbar verse in 1 Chronicles 26:18. In an old recording made one of the times he preached it, which you can listen to here,3 he makes the outlandish statement that this verse is “just as important, just as inspired and just as much the Word of God as John 3:16.”
I’ll say categorically that this is not true! In fact, the recklessness of this attitude among some Christian leaders moves me to plan for to two follow-up articles:
Next week – TEN WAYS NOT TO READ THE BIBLE
The following week – TEN WAYS TO READ THE BIBLE
— Pastor George Van Alstine