September 17 – The Psalms as poems

September 17, 2019 Randy Bushey

~by Randy Bushey

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.

The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.

The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes (Psalm 19:7,8).

Poetry is an artform, a literary genre using words to communicate thoughts and feelings in a beautiful, highly descriptive or verbally clever way.

By some measurements, almost one-third of the Old Testament – the Hebrew Bible – is written as poetry.

Among the obvious examples would be Proverbs and the book of Job. Many of the prophetic oracles of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel are recorded in poetic form, as are significant individual declarations at momentous points of redemptive history:

– Jacob’s patriarchal blessings to his 12 sons in Genesis 49.

– the victory song of Moses when the pursuing Egyptian armies were destroyed by the Lord (Exodus 15).

– Hannah’s prayer of praise to God in 1 Samuel 2 after she presented her child Samuel to serve at the tabernacle.

– Daniel’s vision of the pre-incarnate Christ in his Son of Man vision (Daniel 7).

But, the most obvious collection of Hebrew poetry is the Psalter – a treasury of 150 poems of life under God’s care, the connection of His people linking with the Lord relationally in times of worship, praise, prosperity and conquest, and also in seasons of discouragement, repentance, fear, and grief.

The Psalms were collected over 500 years from David to the return of the exiles in the era of Ezra and Nehemiah.

And the Psalms are quoted in the New Testament more than any other Old Testament book.

What is immediately obvious is that Hebrew poetry is unlike poetry from writers of more contemporary eras. Our poetry is founded on rhyme, meter and rhythm, alliteration and sound sequences.

Ancient Hebrew poetry is constructed around patterns, like alphabet acrostics where each verse or paragraph begins with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

And various forms of repetition.

A key feature of this repetitive pattern is parallelism – reoccurring concepts to drive home a point. The verses from Psalm 19 above illustrate the concept.

David echoes the beauty and power of God’s Word in successive lines, referring to it as law, statutes, precepts, commands, and ordinances.

He holds up the written Word as a diamond, demonstrating its various facets: reviving the soul…making wise the simple…giving joy to the heart…giving light to the eyes.

The Psalmist provides a series of observations on the powerful affect of God’s Word to enrich those who read, meditate, and memorize from this collection of ancient poetry.

Takeaway: the healthy Christ-follower – like David – desires an increased capacity to appreciate the Bible as more precious than gold and sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:10), recognizing that the Lord’s precepts are protective, instructive, and nurturing…in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19:11).

 

~ this post first appeared in April 2018.