Better Bible Study Tip #50: Pay Attention to Repetition

Have you ever noticed how frequently the Bible repeats itself?

One of the most obvious examples of repetition are the two separate stories of God parting the waters. The first is the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus 14. Then nearly the exact same miracle occurs in Joshua 3, when God divided the waters of the Jordan River. The repetition is obvious. Most of us were pretty young the first time we noticed the similarity between these stories.

After we notice this one example of repetition, we will begin to notice the theme of “God saving people through water” showing up all over the place. During the flood, God saved Noah through water. Naaman was healed through water. Jonah was saved through water. Christian baptism is salvation through water. Isn’t it interesting how often this theme repeats itself?

Another example of repetition is how God can use really bad situations for good. One of the most obvious examples of this theme is the story of Joseph, who was sold into slavery, wrongfully accused, and left in prison. At the end of Joseph’s story, after he saves his family by providing them grain during a famine, Joseph proclaimed, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50.20). This idea prepares us for the story of the Exodus, where God turned Pharaoh’s evil oppression into an occasion to deliver Israel. Later on, David was delivered after running for his life. The nation of Israel was purified through exile. And of course, in the most obvious example of God using evil for good, Jesus brought salvation through the cross. Over and over the message is clear: God is able to save his people through suffering.

With a little bit of reflection, you may begin to realize that these two themes are actually closely connected to each other. For example, Jesus referred to his suffering as a “baptism” (Mk. 10:38-39). Jesus look at Jonah’s deliverance through water as a sign of his own burial and resurrection (Mt. 12:38-42). It is in our own baptism when we are united with Jesus’s suffering, death, and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-4). Salvation through water is connected with salvation through death. Salvation through death is connected to baptism. Baptism is connected to our willingness to suffer and die with Christ.

All of these interesting connections flow from simply paying attention to repetition. There’s plenty of other repeated themes in scripture. The Spirit creates life. Man is created to reflect God’s image. Sin brings death. God providentially provides for his people. Atonement requires sacrifice. God raises up deliverers for his people. God is holy, and provides a way for his people to be holy. The kingdom of Babylon opposes the kingdom of God. God judges the kingdom of Babylon, no matter what form Babylon may take. The list could go on and on.

When the Bible seems to repeat itself, pay attention. Your ability to notice the theological message of these stories will improve.