My two-year-old son David has entered the stage where he’s quite the chatterbox. As soon as I get home from work, he’ll happily tell me everything that’s on his mind. Here’s an only-mildly-edited recent quote: “David and Mama and Jimmy go to the pool and I SPLASH in the pool and Mama splash David in the pool and I have green ball in the pool and… and SPLASH SPLASH SPLASH green ball in the pool. Daddy, may I have please go to the pool now?”
So here’s your quiz: what’s on David’s mind?
How did you know?
While usually not quite as pervasive as the rambling thoughts of toddler, one of the easiest techniques to use in doing good Bible study is that of observing repeated words and themes. Authors didn’t have bold and italics back then, so a common way to emphasize a point was to repeat it multiple times. It’s like saying, “Hey, don’t miss this!”
One of my favorite passages that makes generous use of repeated words is Amos 4. Consider these verses:
 “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD.  “I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would have rain, and the field on which it did not rain would wither;  so two or three cities would wander to another city to drink water, and would not be satisfied; yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD.  “I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD.  “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD.  “I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD.
(Amos 4:6-11 ESV, emphasis mine)
Note how often the phrase, “yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD, comes up. That’s the author’s (and God’s) way of saying, “This is really important! This is what I want you to do!”
Another repeated theme is the varied forms of judgment. The LORD is deliberately using all kinds of pain to get the attention of Israel so they might return to Him: starvation, dehydration, frustrated work, disease, defeat in battle, death, and even fire from heaven! Sadly, it seems that Israel persisted in running from Him time and again. It’s repeated often so we wouldn’t miss the repeated theme – even though Israel did.
Want to try looking for more repeated words and themes?
- Consider Colossians 2:6-15. Notice how many times “in Him” / “with Him” appear. What is Paul trying to get across to the Colossians?
- Consider Genesis 1. How did God go about creating? What is the author trying to tell us about the works of God?
- Consider 1 John 3:11-24. See how many repeated words you can find!