Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Poetry in Proverbs

I love studying my bible… It is the only book I know of that each time I pick it up I can see something new!! And yet what amazes me is that it has remained relevant for the last six thousand years when today we hardly have time to learn something before it is already outdated!

I love the wisdom in Proverbs and I decided I will in my next few posts focus on some of the themes that run through the book. Since it was written by the wisest man who ever lived… who received his wisdom from God Himself…. it should be a book that we consult often for our life choices and decisions, should it not?

The original language of the book was of course Hebrew which is naturally a poetic language.
In case you have never heard of the poetic patterns it employs or just need to be reminded I will use this post to refresh your memory and then tomorrow begin my posts on the themes of Proverbs.

Understanding the poetic patterns used especially in the book of Proverbs but not limited to it … is a tool in your hand to make the meaning more clear.
While in English we are used to poetry that is organized according to parallels in sounds (rhyme), in Hebrew poetry is arranged according to parallels in thought.

One thought parallel is called ‘antithetical parallelism’ which is simply the contrasting of two ideas – ‘anti’ meaning opposite and ‘thetical’ meaning laid down.
One idea is stated and then the opposite idea is stated along side, enhancing the reader’s understanding of the idea presented.
Often these two ideas are connected by the word ‘But’.
For example….
In Prov. 10:27 the statement is given “The fear of the Lord prolongs life.”
Then the ‘antithetical’ idea is expressed ….“but the years of the wicked will be shortened.”
Another example is in Prov. 11:1.
The statement is made… “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord”
Then the opposite laid down beside it, “But a just weight is His delight!”
Two opposite expressions used to drive home the meaning of the idea that God demands honesty in business!

Another thought parallel is called ‘synonymous parallelism’, which of course is restating the same idea using different words. The two thoughts are often connected by the word ‘and’.
For example….
In Prov. 22:17 the statement is made, “Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise.”
In case you aren’t clear as to the meaning let it be put another way…..
“And apply your mind to my knowledge.”
Another example in Prov. 8:21 states..”That I may cause those that love me to inherit substance.” Don’t get it? Then listen to it put this way….”And I will fill their treasures.”

A third thought parallel is called ‘synethetic parallelism’ which means making a statement and then adding to it a statement that expands the meaning. The second line gives you more information than you were given in the first line. ( 'syne' having the meaning of before and after and 'thetic' being laid down)
An example is in Prov. 3:30. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due” is the first or before statement. The second or after statement adds more information… “if he has done you no harm.”
The first statement on its own is open ended but with the information given in the second statement there is a qualifier in place, “if’ the person has done you no harm.
Another example is in Prov.16:4. The before statement is “The Lord has made all things for himself”, then the after statement leaves no doubt as to how inclusive this statement is, “Yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.”

The Hebrew language also used numbers in an expressive way to structure lists.
When we who speak English say ‘there were two, no maybe three’ it suggests a memory lapse and suggests uncertainty. In Hebrew it is used not to suggest uncertainty but rather the opposite as an emphasis of certainty!
And example is found in Prov. 30:21-23.
“Under three things the earth quakes and under four, it cannot bear up!” By stating there are three before stating there are four is to the Hebrew mind saying “This is important – there are FOUR things I am going to list!”

Next time you read Proverbs see if you can pick out these poetic patterns and if you are paying attention you will also find this poetic tactic used in other books of the bible.

Tomorrow - "Wise advice to a Son"

6 comments:

Lovella said...

Oh boy, it sounds like school.
Interesting, in the background, when I was cooking Seinfeld was on. The thing is two people were fighting over a bicycle and in the end the wise person that was asked to judge decided to cut it in half but of course the one that truly loved the bike said no, I can't stand to see the beautiful bike cut in two.
I just thought it was so interesting that most people will recognize this as a story originating from the bible. It truly is a work that is seen in even non spiritual arenas such as the TV.
Don't worry, I wasn't taking my daily devotion from the Seinfeld show. (smile) . .. silly comment

Julie said...

It is interesting, isn't it? when you take note of how much the world really does know about the bible...and Solomon's wisdom cannot be ignored...
Not a silly comment, Lovella!!

charlotte said...

julie
i was a retreat once where the speaker encouraged us to read a proverb for everyday of the month, so for example for june 5th you would read proverbs 5. it truly is a widom book. that weekend we had to read a verse out lou d and didn't you know that when it was my turn it was the verse that went sort of like this......it is better to eat dry bread than steak with a nagging wife,,,,we all laughed and i though ,boy God you sure know how to be subrle....our God has a sense of humour!!!!!!
I also wantewd to let you know that the retreat that i am speaking at is this weekend and that i have used some of your words in my talk. thankyou for your inspiration!!!bless you

Julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie said...

Charlotte, I will pray for you this week-end that God will bless you! and others through you!
If my 'words' were useful to you then I am honoured!!
(Since I am Celiac I can no longer eat 'dry bread' so that leaves me with the alternative!!)smile

Demara said...

Wow Julie that is so neat to know! I think I remember something like that in my Old Testament class at Bible College but then again it was 8 years ago now, so I forget.

I love seeing the close up of your face Julie, thank-you!!! Your skin is so beautiful, so full of life and it looks soft! Simply lovely~