Reading the Bible - Episode 5
Episode Introduction: The important of reading poetry in the Bible.
Nearly a third of the Bible is poetry.
The majority of God’s speech in the Bible is poetry.
Poetry is difficult to read with understanding.
The purpose of poetry
The purpose of poetry is not primarily to communicate information.
“Rip it out” scene in Dead Poet’s Society
The purpose of poetry is primarily to ignite your imagination by inviting you to ponder something slowly and from many angles.
Job 40-41: Behemoth and Leviathan
Tools for reading poetry
Poetry is known for its rhyming and cadence, but biblical poetry is structured differently.
Hebrew poetry makes extensive use of couplets: two lines, intentionally set beside each other.
The first line makes the basic statement, and the second develops that idea in some way.
Common developments would be:
1. The second line completes the idea of the first: Exodus 15:1
“I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
2. The second line intensifies the idea of the first: Psalm 88:11-12
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
3. The second line compares or contrasts the idea of the first: Psalm 103:13
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
Many more types of structure that are used to help the reader make connections as they read, thus opening even more layers of meaning.
Inclusio (Psalm 8)
1 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Chiasm (Luke 1:71-74)
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
Refrains (Psalm 136)
His steadfast love endures forever.
Merismus (Psalm 95:4-5)
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
The structure forces the reader to slow down, to ponder the lines and images carefully, to look at it from many different angles.
Metaphoric language and imagery ignite our imagination as we read.
The language of poetry seeks an emotional response.
Consider Exodus 14 and Exodus 15.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 23
At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
the floods stood up in a heap;
the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
Remember that the biblical authors lived in a very different culture than ours, and their imagery reflects that.
The chaotic waters - Psalm 69
1 Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
2 I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
4 More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.