"STUDIES IN THE PSALMS" Characteristics Of Hebrew Poetry INTRODUCTION 1. Before we get into the background of the Psalms themselves, it may prove helpful to notice some things about Hebrew poetry 2. Not only does this help to better understand the nature of the Psalms, but can also assist in proper interpretation of this portion of Scripture [One of the things that makes Hebrew poetry different is...] I. THE USE OF "THOUGHT RHYME" INSTEAD OF "WORD RHYME" A. "THOUGHT RHYME" (ALSO KNOWN AS "PARALLELISM")... 1. Involves arranging thoughts in relation to each other 2. This is done without a concern as to whether certain words rhyme with each other (as found in most modern poetry) B. EXAMPLES OF "THOUGHT RHYME" ("PARALLELISM")... 1. Synonymous parallelism a. The thought of the first line is repeated in the second, expressed in different words for emphasis b. A good example is found in Ps 24:2 1) "For He has founded it upon the seas" (first line) 2) "And established it upon the waters" (second line) 2. Antithetic parallelism a. The truth presented in one line is strengthened by a contrasting statement in the other b. An example is Ps 1:6 1) "For the LORD knows the way of the righteous" (truth) 2) "But the way of the ungodly shall perish" (contrast) 3. Synthetic parallelism a. The first and second lines bear some definite relation to each other (such as cause and effect, or proposition and conclusion) b. A good example is Ps 119:11 1) "Your word I have hidden in my heart," (cause) 2) "That I might not sin against You." (effect) 4. Progressive parallelism - there are several varieties, the most common being: a. Stairlike 1) Composed of several lines, each providing a complete element of the aggregate or composite thought 2) Notice Ps 1:1 , "Blessed is the man..." a) "Who WALKS not in the counsel of the ungodly" b) "Nor STANDS in the path of the sinners" c) "Nor SITS in the seat of the scornful" b. Climatic 1) The principal idea in the first line is repeated and expanded to complete the thought 2) An example is found in Ps 29:1 a) "Give unto the LORD, O you mighty ones" (give what?) b) "Give unto the LORD glory and strength" 5. Introverted parallelism a. The first line is closely related in thought to the fourth, and the second to the third b. For example, consider Ps 91:14 1) "Because he has set his love upon Me," (cf. line 4) 2) "therefore I will deliver him;" (cf. line 3) 3) "I will set him on high," (cf. line 2) 4) "because he has known My name." (cf. line 1) II. THE LACK OF POETIC RHYTHM A. UNLIKE MOST MODERN POETRY... 1. That has standard measures of identifiable rhythms 2. As illustrated in the rhythm of "Mary Had A Little Lamb" B. THE ART OF POETIC RHYTHM WAS OF SECONDARY CONSIDERATION... 1. It is not likely that the Hebrew poets had standard measures, worked out and carefully defined 2. Again, the emphasis was on "THOUGHT RHYME" III. THE USE OF FIGURATIVE EXPRESSION A. THE FIGURE MUST BE ACCEPTED AND DEALT WITH AS A FIGURE OF SPEECH, AND NOT AS A LITERAL STATEMENT... 1. For example, calling the Lord a "shepherd" - Ps 23:1 2. He is LIKE a shepherd, but not one literally B. THE FIGURE MUST BE INTERPRETED IN LIGHT OF MEANING OF THE FIGURE IN THE DAY AND SETTING IN WHICH IT WAS USED... 1. For example, "the valley of the shadow of death" - Ps 23:4 2. Commonly applied at modern funerals to dying... a. It refers to a treacherous place where the guiding hand of a "shepherd" would be very helpful to "sheep" to AVOID death b. It is therefore applicable to times other than just when we are dying CONCLUSION 1. Appreciating these characteristics of Hebrew poetry can help the Psalms become more meaningful to us 2. Understanding these characteristics can also help avoid misinter- preting the Psalms to teach doctrines the psalmist had no intention of teaching!