Theological Reasons for Wordiness

Bringing offerings to the tabernacle

I just read Numbers 7 on my annual way through the Bible. I read every word. It is one of the longest, most repetitive chapters in the Bible.

From verse 12 to verse 83 Moses describes the offerings that each of the twelve tribes of Israel brought to the tabernacle when it was first dedicated to the Lord.

But here’s the amazing thing. There are 93 words in the description of what each tribe brought as an offering. And all 93 words are repeated verbatim for each of the 12 tribes. Twelve times he says exactly the same thing. Twelve times! Exactly the same 93-word description for each tribe’s offering!

Why?

Gordon Wenham answers: “It seems likely that a theological purpose underlies his wordiness.”

The purpose he says is “to emphasize as strongly as possible that every tribe had an equal stake in the worship of God, and that each was fully committed to the support of the tabernacle and its priesthood.” (Numbers, p. 93)

Yes. But let the method of emphasis sink in. Moses could have used Wenham’s words and saved time, space, and tedium. He could have said, “Every tribe has an equal stake in worship and all are to be fully committed to the tabernacle.” That’s 18 words. But he used 12 x 93 = 1,116 words.

Here are some lessons:

  • There are times when you look into every child’s eyes and say the same important thing. You don’t say the precious thing to one and then sweep over the others: “That applies to all of you.”
  • These tribes are not equal. Some are larger. Some have sordid legacies. But everyone heard every word of God’s plan for their approach to God. Every one. Every word. Identical.
  • Efficiency is not always the highest value. Slow, long, repetitions are sometimes the best way to make an impact.
  • Patience in reading God’s word may be a test of the frenzy of our pace and our demanding attitude toward the Bible that it be the way we want, not the way God made it.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.