Monday, November 07, 2005

Repetition Helps Us Remember

I learned once, in a public speaking class, the catchphrase, "Repetition helps us remember." My prof said it a bazillion times during one class period, and obviously it worked. But when does repetition become redundant? When are you just needlessly repeating yourself? When does re-emphasizing your ideas become annoying? When does it get to the point where you are just saying the same thing over and over, using different words--or maybe the same words? When is your listener/reader just going to stop and bang his or her head against the desk, as you, my faithful blog reader, are feeling tempted to do right now? :)

This is the question that Steve and I would like to ask Moses, specifically in his writing of the book of Numbers. Exhibit A:

"On the day the tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the LORD's command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the LORD's order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the LORD's command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the LORD's command they encamped, and at the LORD's command they set out. They obeyed the LORD's order, in accordance with his command through Moses" (Numbers 9:15-23).

So...let me make sure I am clear on this: When the cloud/fire was over the tabernacle, they stayed. And when it left, they followed. But, I am still a little confused: What if the cloud only stayed for a day--did they leave when it left? What if it was there for a year--did they stay that whole time?

Steve has an audio Bible which he often listens to during his work commute, and a few weeks ago, when he was in the book of Numbers, he was feeling a little exasperated by Moses' description in this passage. It seemed to him (and to me) that Moses could have used a little economy of words. He could have eliminated at least five verses from this section and still gotten his point across very clearly. It makes us wonder, was he getting paid by the word? The subject came up again on Saturday, and as I tried to read the passage out loud, Steve and I laughed so hard that tears were streaming down our faces. (Maybe you had to be there, I don't know.)

I believe all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), so I am sure God hads a purpose in inspiring Moses to write this repetitive passage from Numbers, even if I don't understand what it was. Even if I don't quite get it. Even if I'm not clear on the whys. Even if...okay, sorry :)

I hope He is laughing with us and doesn't think we're irreverent for seeing the humor in His Word. Maybe sometimes He laughs, too, at how incredibly stupid we humans are, that He has to repeat Himself so many times to get His point through our thick heads? Or maybe He just feels sad and frustrated?

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