I like oatmeal. It’s a quick, healthy breakfast that’s reliably tasty. On a cool, fall morning, there aren’t many better ways to start the day.
But I can only eat so much oatmeal. After four or five days of the stuff, I long for variety. Eggs, toast, cereal—anything but the oatmeal.
You have probably experienced something similar outside the kitchen. You take an alternate route to work, embrace “casual Friday,” or ask your hair stylist for a change. Routines and patterns are helpful, but we occasionally long for a break.
Repetition in the Bible
Reading through certain books of the Bible can produce a similar effect. We see the same themes, the same lessons, the same exhortations. We wonder why God keeps hammering this one nail. Aren’t there other parts of the house that need work?
We’ve been studying Isaiah in my small group, and near the middle of the book I felt we were in a rut. Through Isaiah, God rebuked his people for their misplaced trust again and again. (Judah sought alliances with other nations instead of relying on God.) Just when I thought we’d move on, the same themes returned.
Isaiah isn’t the only Biblical book with repetition. How should we handle it? Should we skip ahead, or does God really want us discussing the same ideas and applications over and over?
How to Handle Repetition
God doesn’t make mistakes, so if you’re interpreting the Bible correctly and finding recurring themes, they are there on purpose. Here are some principles to consider when you find yourself in a repetitive section of Scripture.
Resist the pull toward novelty. Though we crave variety and newness, we shouldn’t avoid what is familiar and reliable. Consider the folly in adjusting our interpretation of the Bible simply because we’re tired of what it says! As we submit to God, we must submit to what he says in his word, even if we think we’ve heard it before.
Revisit the lesson. God may have you in this section of the Bible because there are lessons you still haven’t learned. You may think you’ve graduated, but you don’t have your diploma. As you walk this familiar territory, remember that God is your loving father. Your growth as a Christian is good for you, and he’s working to bring it about.
Explore all possible applications. If you find your applications of the Bible to be similar, they may need to be more specific. There are scores of ways to apply the main point of a passage. Consider the inward and outward directions along with the spheres of head, heart, and hands. Pray and ask God to connect this familiar lesson to areas of your life and influence that need correction.
Press on. If you find yourself facing recurring main points and applications, don’t give up. The fact that God is bringing the same issues to you again is evidence of his love (Rom 2:4). Persevere in the walk and fight of faith. (See Gal 6:9 and 2 Thess 3:13.)
Better Than Oatmeal
Unlike oatmeal, studying the Bible is glorious. It’s one of the ways we “behold the glory of the Lord” and are transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor 3:18). God shows us our need for a savior and his provision, in Jesus, of exactly what we need. He teaches us to rely on him and on nothing else.
We may be slow to learn, but God is patient. He doesn’t mind repeating himself, and we should thank him for it.