15 May 2012

Not So Vain Repetition

Ever read Numbers 7?  It’s one of those chapters where, whenever I read it, I find myself asking, “I wonder why God chose to put this in the Bible?”  (Not that I think He shouldn’t have; Isaiah 55:8-9.  These feeble minds just can’t help but wonder.) 

Here’s the setting.  Moses has just set up the tabernacle – the place where the nation of Israel will worship God.  The place where they will bring their offerings and their sacrifices to the Lord. 

In Exodus 35, the people made an offering that supplied the materials for the construction of the tabernacle.  In Numbers 7, the prince of each tribe made an offering that supplied the materials for the service of the tabernacle.  Most of the chapter (89 verses long) is simply a listing of the offering brought by the princes.  What’s curious is the fact that each of the 12 princes brought exactly the same offering – and the chapter repeats the details of the offering 12 times. 

Coming to this passage in my Bible reading is like coming to Leviticus 13-14 or that first section of 1 Chronicles.  It makes me feel not-so-spiritual.  I know it’s God word, and I know it’s inspired, and I know it’s profitable, and I don’t skip over it.  It’s just not my favorite part of the Bible to read. 

So I usually have to make an extra effort to try extra hard to find something in the passage and take away some type of application.  Most of the time in Numbers 7 I try to figure out if maybe there’s some small, hidden difference in the offering brought by one of the princes.  (Haven’t found that yet.)

But I did have a thought this last time through.  Here’s the thought: God is very much unlike us; He obviously isn’t bothered by repetition. 

By human nature, we tend to get bored with “the same old thing.”  But I don’t think God does.  He chose to make an everlasting record – no, 12 everlasting records – of the offering brought by the princes of Israel the day the tabernacle was set up. 

What’s the application? Well, in Matthew 6:7, Jesus said, in reference to prayer, “…use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do…”  We tend to come away from that statement with the idea that repetition is bad, but it’s not the repetition that Jesus condemned.  It was the vanity of the repetition; the emptiness of the prayers being prayed.  (Jonathan Edwards said, “Many pray with their lips for that for which their hearts have no desire.”)

The fact that God took note of the offerings of Numbers 7, and chose to put it in the Bible 12 times, must mean that it was pleasing to Him.  Which in turn can only mean that it was the right thing done from the right heart.

What can we take from this?  Perhaps another reminder that we don’t need a new approach to prayer.  We don’t need a new approach to witnessing.  We don’t need a new approach to worship.  We don’t need a new approach to church.  We need the RIGHT approach to all those things.  And it’s OK to stick with “the same old thing” as long as “the same old thing” is the right thing, done from the right heart, for the Lord. 

God doesn’t get tired of hearing us pray the same prayers.  God doesn’t get tired of hearing us sing the same songs of praise.  God doesn’t get tired of watching us witness at the same time, at the same place, to the same people, in the same way. 

In no way am I condemning variety or “change” of any kind.  (One look at the natural creation is enough to convince that our God appreciates variety.)  It’s just clear from Numbers 7 that God is OK with repetition, and it’s clear from Matthew 6 that what He’s ultimately concerned with is the condition of our heart before Him.

How about making this a prayer you continually repeat?  “Lord, help me to do the right thing, the right way, for the right reason, with the right result.  Amen.”

1 comment:

  1. Great article...appreciate your pastor and the ministry of the BIBLE Baptist Church of Deland. Praying for Bro. James and the Thessalonica Project.

    God Bless You...

    Bro. Ken Parrett
    New Testament Baptist Church
    Halifax, NS Canada