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Being a poet myself I am greatly appreciative of the poetry found in the Bible and how it can be used to convey vast concepts in an efficient and beautiful manner. However, one must not discard what is taught by Biblical poetry simply because it is poetry and therefore not to be taken seriously. Poetry is a form of writing that relies greatly on the reader's knowledge to teach the ideas that it is being used to teach; it is, for lack of a better example, a more "emotional" method of communication and as such can often be used to say in a word or two what prose would require sentences or paragraphs to communicate. Poetry is used in the Bible in much the same way as hymns are used in our churches or songs, such as "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know," are used to teach our children the truths of God. Poetry is not necessarily to be taken literally as it often employs imagery and other literary devices to transmit its message but some poetry, such as Psalm 139, is extremely literal in their presentation of truth. It is very important to keep in mind the context of the writer, as it is with any style of writing, in order to best understand the idea that the writer is trying to communicate.
The chief characteristic of Hebrew poetry is that it is written not to rhyme as is our western poetry but rather as a progression of thought or ideas. This form of poetry is called parallelism and refers to a style of writing that makes use of couplets, two lines usually but sometimes three or four, that vary in their relationship to each other. A tremendous asset of this style of poetry is that it is translatable into a form that retains the splendour of the original since it is not a system of rhyme and rhythm so much as a sequence of thought that is being translated. In western culture we consider poetry (or song) as nothing more than entertainment but poetry is no less important a means of communication than, say, a historical narrative. Neither is poetry less capable of conveying information than a newspaper although it is in a more subtle form. Words are used sparingly in poetry and frequently convey ideas larger than they would if used in prose. Each word in a poem is therefore of utmost value and has far greater significance than it would normally have if found in any other form of writing. Poetry is a largely symbolic form of expression; each line of a poem may have greater impact and depth than paragraphs of prose (though it is possible for prose to take on some of the aspects of poetry).
Some of the various types of Hebrew poetic parallelism are:
A) Antithetic parallelism - each line expresses opposing, or contradictory thoughts.
The sacrifice made by the wicked is an abomination to Yahweh,
but the prayer of the upright is his delight.
B) Synonymous parallelism - each line expresses a similar thought, the second repeating the first for purposes of emphasis or clarity. The second line thus often sheds additional light on the first.
Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
There are several variations of synonymous parallelism, two of which are listed below:
a) Climactic parallelism – the second line echoes a portion of the first and adds to it.
Yahweh, in the morning you shall hear my voice.
In the morning I will lay my requests before you, and will watch expectantly.
b) Emblematic parallelism - one line is literal and the other is figurative or symbolic.
I am weary with my groaning.
Every night I flood my bed.
I drench my couch with my tears.
c) Synthetic parallelism - the first line is added to by the second which expresses a complimentary thought and often gives the reason for the first.
Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stand on the path of sinners,
nor sit in the seat of scoffers;