Understanding Old Testament Poetry
For many centuries, poetry has been a form of not just literature, but also expression in general. From ancient love letters to the bed time stories of Mother Goose, literature brings us many of the good things of life back to memory. The poetry of the Old Testament Bible and Hebrews has many of the same impacts. Just as any other form of the Word of God, Old Testament poetry was ordained and inspired by God. In this examination of Old Testament Poetry we will examine the concepts of metaphor, the major structural devices, and the different types of parallelism within it.
Concepts of Metaphor
Long before metaphor was used in the local pastor’s sermons, it could be found within the Old Testament poetry such as the book of Psalms. “Metaphor” as defined by Scott Duvall and J.Daniel Hays, “make the analogy between items by direct statement without the use of like or as.” Examples of metaphor in the Old Testament can be found in Psalms such as 23:1 where it is said, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Other books of the Old Testament contain metaphor as well such as Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” Metaphor is valuable to poetry as it allows us to draw understanding by paiting a picture for the mind. Pictures speak volumnes by themselves that take words many paragraphs to explain. Metaphor helps bring about the author’s, “way of stating their thoughts so concisely that the result is a polished and succint presentation free of unnecessary details” as Köstenberger and Patterson would describe the terseness that is provided by metaphor.
The Major Structural Devices of Hebrew Poetry
The structure of the Hebrew poetry is of the utmost importance as it determines how that poetry will be read and understood. Hebrew Poetry’s form can greatly impact the interpretation of its text. Upon researching the major structural devices of the poetry, it is obvious that not everyone agrees upon what to call the main elements of it’s structure, but there are some common elements and themes througout. There are what Mr Köstenberger and Patterson refer to as “building blocks” which are, “monocolon, bocolon, tricolon, tetracolon, quatrain, and pentacolon (rare).” These simply refer to the lines and number of words in the poem structure. The Oxford Biblical Studies Online mentions, “The nature of the correspondence between the lines of a couplet or triplet (also called “bicolon” and “tricolon” respectively) can be described in terms of both the grammatical and semantic dimentions of the language and may be active at the word and line levels.” These are elements that determine the line structure of the poetry unlike “parallelism, terseness, concreteness, and imagery” which are characteristics that the poetry contains.
There are also what the author mentions as “structural indicators” such as bookending, stitching, chiastic structure and bifid structure.” Our lecture on poetry refers to such devices in more plain terms such as, “word pairs, merism, chiasm, inclusio, repeated refrains, and acrostics.” These structures simply relate directly to different elements of the structure within the poetry itself such as the number of lines and words that are paired together to form thoughts. They help to establish the thought process in order to interpret the verse of Scripture.
Types of Parallelism of Hebrew Poetry
Just as important as the structural devices of Hebrew poetry, are the types of parallelism used within it’s text. The use of parallelism helps the reader draw conclusions and theological assumptions based on how it is used. For example: Dr. Köstenberger and Patterson define parallelism as, “the practice of using similar language of approximately the same number of words and length, and containing a corresponding thought, phrase, or idea over succeeding lines.” The authors also reference the types of parallelism as being, “similar, antithetic, progressive, and emblematic.” Dr. Duvall and Hays also introduce some types of parallelism by different terms such as, “synonymous, developmental, illustrative, contrastive, and formal.” Not all parallelism references display the same method of reaching a common conclusion, but some such as antithetic parallelism, “display a sharp contrast” in their metaphors or word choice. Although there are many characteristics and elements to consider when reading poetry, it is recommended that due to its complicated matter that parallelism brings to the table that it is read slowly. Dr. Duvall and Hays also further advise us, “So train your eye to read line by line rather than sentence by sentence.”
Regardless of what genre of the Bible is preferred, we can always find a source of wisdom and encouragement from the wisdom of Old Testament poetry. It is obvious that God has carefully crafted each line of poetry in perfect harmony with the creativity and personality of the author who wrote it down. I pray that we can all appreciate the concepts of metaphor, the major structural devices, and different types of parallelism used within the Hebrew poetry. Without the clever lines of poetic Scriptures like the Psalms, we would miss out on much emotion, wisdom, prophecy, and mental pictures of the stories from the Old Testament. From such a gift as poetry, we can appreciate how much God loves us to leave behind a valuable treasure as these.
 J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. Grasping God’s Word: A Hands On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012) 382.
 The Holy Bible, KJV (unless noted differently)
 Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011), 271, accessed June 21, 2017, GCU eBook.
 J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. Grasping God’s Word. 279-281
 John R Levinson, ed. 1996. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Theology: Oxford Biblical Studies Online. Accessed May 14th, 2017. http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com.lopes.idm.oclc.org/article/opr/t264/e405?_hi=0&_pos=2
 Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation. 266-277.
 Ibid. 282-285
 Grand Canyon University, “Old Testament Exegesis: Exegeting Poetry” (lecture 3, Biblical Hermeneutics, Grand Canyon University, 2016).
 Ibid. 266
 Ibid. 266-271.
 Ibid. 377-379
 Ibid. 268
 Ibid. 377