One of the first words my older granddaughter learned (way before giving me a name) was ‘more!’ Coupled with ‘again!’, these are key words in a toddler’s vocabulary. She is gradually learning the value of manners (‘more, please!‘), but this desire for repetition (often to the point of mind-numbing boredom on the adult’s part – how many ‘Wheels on the Bus‘ videos can there be?!) is a key factor in the the child’s learning armoury. The endless repetition of games and puzzles (she will complete a puzzle and instantly pull it to pieces and do it again or want to read a favourite page of a book over and over again) is the way children learn skills and meanings.
Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Bible, is so called because it means ‘second law’. In it, Moses ‘proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded him concerning them.’ (Deut 1:3) East of the Jordan, he began to expound (explain, set forth) the law. (Deut 1:5)
We may feel, as we’ve ploughed through the giving of the law in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers that we don’t need a ‘second law’, that the familiarity of some of this is boring, that we want to move swiftly on to the action of the battles in Jericho. As adults, we tend to avoid repetition, flitting like butterflies from one thing to another as ‘proof’ of our development.
Psychologists tell us, however, that habits are formed through continuous repetition; few skills are automatic or instinctive, but must be learned. God, in His wisdom, gives us a second chance to absorb the law in the book of Deuteronomy. It behoves us to pause and digest it, noticing fresh aspects, new nuances, different facets, rather than rushing ahead of ourselves.
A teacher knows that learning involves setting forth a new truth, giving pupils the time to work on this independently to check understanding and then recapping what has been covered to reinforce its truth. Deuteronomy is the ‘recapping’, the summary (albeit a long one!), the driving home of all we’ve absorbed so far. As such, it’s a vital part of our understanding and spiritual growth.