Bible Study – Old Testament Poetry

Poetry is a highly stylized type of writing and is very different from prose. Poetry often follows a rhythm or beat. For this reason, sometimes words are used that would not normally be considered to get a clear point across. Also, sometimes words are left out that would normally be included in common speech. For this reason, poetry must be studied differently than prose.

The key to studying and understanding poetry is understanding how it works.

The most common types of poetry are:

Terseness –  short clauses or sentences  grouped by repetition and stanza. Psalms 23:1 is one example.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psa 23:1 KJV)

The conjunctions are left out. We understand the meaning that ‘because’ the LORD is my shepherd, ‘therefore’ I shall not want. Terseness causes us to read the passage more slowly and carefully.

Parallelism – repetition to get the point across. The repetition can be within a single verse or across many verses. Most poetic verses include parallelism. Two lines that are in parallel are not identical. They usually say the same thing in different ways. The second line of the parallel usually goes into a more detailed example of the first line. Psalms 9:1 is a good example.

I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works. (Psa 9:1 KJV)

The first line tells that David will praise the LORD. The second line, as a parallel to the first, says the same thing, but this time it is more specific in telling how David will praise the LORD.

Imagery – an indirect way of describing a situation. Imagery often uses examples and types to get the point across. This allows the author to make the point vividly and quickly. Song of Songs is filled with imagery.

There are other types of poetry, but these three are the most popular in Scripture. Understanding the types of poetry helps in interpreting and applying the Scriptures. Hebrew poetry requires the reader to slow down and understand how the lines relate to each other in order to get a deeper understanding. Since there is more poetry in the Old Testament than the entire text of the New Testament, it is worth the time and effort to study and understand the different types of poetry.


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