What does it mean when the Bible repeats itself?

Frequently the Biblical writers will use repetition of words and phrases as a means of emphasis.  For instance, the word “believe” appears in John’s gospel 100 times — an obvious means of reinforcing not only the importance of belief in Christ, but also of the key verse in the book — “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (20:31).

But what does it mean when a Biblical writer repeats much longer sections verbatim?  For instance, what does it mean when Moses repeats the same 93-word description 12 times in Numbers 7?  What would Moses have us understand about the offerings that each of the 12 tribes were to bring?

John Piper, in “Theological Reasons for Wordiness” suggests that it was an emphatic means of communicating that every tribe had an equal stake in worship and they were all to be involved fully in worship.  He then offers four further lessons to be learned about why God uses repetitive language:

  • There are times when you look into every child’s eyes and say the same important thing. You don’t say the precious thing to one and then sweep over the others: “That applies to all of you.”
  • These tribes are not equal. Some are larger. Some have sordid legacies. But everyone heard every word of God’s plan for their approach to God. Every one. Every word. Identical.
  • Efficiency is not always the highest value. Slow, long, repetitions are sometimes the best way to make an impact.
  • Patience in reading God’s word may be a test of the frenzy of our pace and our demanding attitude toward the Bible that it be the way we want, not the way God made it.

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