The Prime Minister has been happy to promise us a “strong and stable leadership”. A lot. Sadly, she has been less than happy to eat a poke of chips.
(For a little bit of balance, here’s a clip of Ed Miliband doing something similar a few years ago as well as his infamous bacon butty pic, above. British politics is a satirist’s dream.).
The aim is of course to associate these themes with the person saying them, providing re-assurance in the voter’s mind. It doesn’t always work- when Howard in the Big Bang Theory repeatedly listens to Elton John’s Rocketman when speaking to his fellow astronauts (let’s leave the absurd premise of Howard going to space for now) to earn the nickname Rocketman, but they instead plump to call him Froot Loops after an unfortunate interjection from his mother.
Repetition to reinforce a point isn’t anything new. In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar decides it’s time to set up a statue of himself. His instructions are somewhat lacking in brevity, but they are repeated often. It’s hard to miss and it makes for a rather lengthy read:
Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counsellors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Then the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counsellors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
And the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.
And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.”
Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Later on in the chapter, we see two more repetitions of the music list, one more of the list of government officials, and several of the three men Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and a burning fiery furnace.
So why all the repetition? Why not just say “music”,”the image”, “government officials” and “the three friends”? Would this not make the passage shorter (and less of a pain to read out in church or small group)?
Well, yes it would, but I think Daniel is emphasising a point- in the first part, it’s emphasising the king’s unquestioned authority. What he says, happens. All the government officials are called- and all government officials come. All the people are to bow down to all the music- and all the people bow down to all the music. Anyone disobeying the king’s command is to be thrown into a burning fiery furnace and the three men are thrown into a burning fiery furnace.
In the second part, however, we see that the names of the three men are repeated over and over again, while the previous repetitions are reduced. Eventually, after the men are miraculously delivered from the burning fiery furnace, the king gives a new decree:
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.
Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.”
Instead of the list of music and the image he set up, we now see the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the fiery furnace is gone, and instead of an image he set up, there’s now a god who is seen to deliver people. In this way, God has shown the king who really has authority and he has reacted accordingly. For now.
In Jesus’ time, we see the effect miracles and teaching have on those watching, and not just the Jews. A centurion, on asking Jesus to heal his servant, remarks:
Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.
He is recognising Jesus’ authority. He tells men what to do, yet recognises Jesus as a higher authority than he. This gives great comfort when dealing with earthly rulers, but also serves as a reminder as to whom it is we are really serving.
(Most of this was borrowed from a blog post I already wrote a couple of years ago, but thought I would re-use it for topicality. I haven’t written in a while, so thought I would ease my way back in to it!)