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Looking deeper

Repetition (here referring to when a text is repeated almost verbatim somewhere else) is something that is found throughout the Scripture. The synoptic gospels would be the most obvious example (although each writer has his own unique purpose and nuances in employing the material). The Ten Commandments are repeated, details concerning the tabernacle are as well (Exodus 25-31 and 35-40), much of the material in the books of Samuel and Kings is duplicated in Chronicles, some of the psalms repeat earlier psalms (see 15 and 53 for one example) and on it goes.

Some people find this strange. They think that if the Bible is the word of God, nothing should ever be repeated. In other words, in a perfect world there would be no repetition so in a perfect word there should be none as well. That’s like saying if someone is a great classroom teacher, they will never repeat themselves. That's simply a false assumption that sounds like it was made by someone who hasn't been in the classroom in a long, long time. Repetition is part of teaching, it's part of life and whatever else is true about the Bible it is most certainly a book of life.

If we’re honest, we’ll have to admit that part of our problem with repetition is us. We’ve been shaped by our entertainment culture to always be on the lookout for the new and the novel. We tend to equate the latest with the greatest (until it becomes “so last week”). And yet, most of us when we get up in the morning have a routine that we follow. When we head off to school or work, we usually drive the same route. We have a favorite restaurant where we eat and some of us have seen a certain movie so many times we can repeat the dialogue word-for-word!  It’s obviously not the case that we are personally opposed to repeating things, what we're opposed to is mind-numbing repetition that has no purpose.

And purpose is what is often missing in our approach when we are confronted with the repetition of Scripture. We immediately tell ourselves, "I already know this" and move on. What we should be doing is asking, "What is the purpose for the repetitive material?"  Many times, it emphasizes something’s importance (like the chorus in a song or parent reminding their children of something). There’s no doubt that we have four accounts of Jesus’ life because His life was the most important event in the history of the world.

In the duplicate material concerning the tabernacle, importance is certainly being stressed but it seems there is more going on than that. The first block of material is given as instructions for how the structure is to be built, while the second unit’s concern is to show Israel fulfilling those instructions in constructing the tabernacle. In between the two sections is the episode of their rebellion via the golden calf. That changes everything and God raises the possibility to Moses of doing away with everyone and starting over with him. By this point though, Moses has more than the word of God—he has the heart of God and pleads for Israel’s restoration which God accepts.

This is immediately followed by the section detailing nation’s construction of the tabernacle. I think we are to see that penitent people showed their love for God by joyfully giving gifts for the tabernacle and taking part in the work of construction. The detail emphasizes the extent of their conscious obedience to God in contrast to their thoughtless rebellion. It is a beautiful way for the book to end and allows us to see Israel at their best.

When viewed this way, the repetition of this section is the means of showing and celebrating Israel’s return to God. It is much more than mere duplication. From it we should learn that whenever we come across a duplicate text, we should look deeper.

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