Why Doesn’t It Rhyme? 7 Tips and Tricks to Reading Hebrew Poetry and Wisdom Literature

Margaret —  March 1, 2013 — 8 Comments

HEBREW POETRY

It’s almost time to check off Week Three of reading for the 40-Day Bible Challenge. Whether you’re reading the entire Bible or listening to an audiobible (free copies here!) during Lent, we’re excited you’re joining in. We never expected nearly 2000 people to download the free 40-Day Reading Guide in the first 24 hours. You can grab your copy by clicking here.

If you peek ahead at the reading guide, you’ll see that next week is almost completely poetry and wisdom literature.

The pages of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs may bring some of us a sigh of relief. Not too many unpronounceable names, unknown places, or foreign laws.

Others of us may feel dread toward the strange illusions, awkward sentence structure, and bizarre language. You may ask yourself, “If this is poetry, why doesn’t it rhyme?”

Wisdom literature and poetry ground us in the truth that our struggles are struggles that humanity has wrestled with throughout history. [Tweet this] Thousands of years ago, the Israelites wrestled with fear, doubt, insecurities, suffering, and sin—much like us, today.

The wisdom literature found in much of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Psalms is chock-full of God-centered guidance on how to parent, maintain healthy relationships, lead, and even handle finances.

The authors of both wisdom literature and poetry don’t hold back—no topic or emotion is off-limits. Reading this genre invites all of us to walk in greater discernment, understanding, and relief that we aren’t alone in our fears and doubts, sin and suffering. [Tweet this]

Here are 7 tips when reading Hebrew poetry and wisdom literature:

  1. Hebrew Poetry often features poetic attributes such as word pairs, rhythm, unusual word order and vocabulary, chiastic structure, figurative language, and parallelism.
  2. The beauty of Hebrew poetry is that it isn’t based on rhyme or meter as much as the repetitive nature of the words and ideas. Hebrew poetry transcends translation into different languages.
  3. The book of Job reminds us there aren’t simple answers to life’s tough questions—like why do bad things happen to good people. Instead, comfort is found in God’s presence.
  4. The book of Psalms displays different categories and types including songs of thanksgiving, royal psalms, laments, hymns, and many more.
  5. A proverb is a short, pithy saying that is easily remembered, recognizable, and grounded in experience. They are written to be practical, not theological. Guidelines, not guarantees.
  6. Ecclesiastes reminds us that life is meaningless unless centered upon God.
  7. Song of Songs has no direct references to God, but is a poetic celebration of love and marriage shrouded in mystery.

My hope and prayer is that in the next week, you’ll find yourself swept up in the emotion, beauty, and wisdom contained in the poetry and wisdom literature of Scripture. [Tweet this]

What tips and tricks do you have for others reading Hebrew poetry and wisdom literature? What are you looking forward to most as we move into wisdom literature and psalms?

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8 responses to Why Doesn’t It Rhyme? 7 Tips and Tricks to Reading Hebrew Poetry and Wisdom Literature

  1. This makes me think that God, wise and loving, wants His people to be smart and think. He gives us His Word so we can grow not only in knowledge but also in knowing and understanding Him and our fellow travelers.

    I’ve heard it said that the desire for children to read the word was a reason for starting public schools. Don’t know if that is true but it is true that without being schooled we would not be able to read the word and dig into its deep thoughts and truths. YEA for God!

  2. I am studying Biblical Hebrew and right now we are doing Hebrew poetry and will be doing the wisdom literature also. I like the different kinds of parallelism found in this literature.

  3. I am a little confused by what you mean by Proverbs being guidelines and not guareentees. If all of the Bible is God breathed, how do we know that this is a guideline and other passages are promises?

    • Great question, Tiffany. One way to know if something is a guideline or a promise is to read it in context. Read it with various commentaries nearby. This can help with any cultural issues or anything that was directed at just one person or people group.

  4. Thank you for the kind words!

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