Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Holy Perspectives on Life

"Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck" (Proverbs 1:8–9).

Since almost all biblical wisdom is written in a poetic form, today we shall consider the essential character of Hebrew poetry. Hebrew poetry does not rhyme in the way English poetry does. English poetry rhymes in sounds, while Hebrew poetry rhymes in thoughts. Instead of repeating the same sound twice, Hebrew poetry repeats the same idea twice. Similarly, though there is a kind of rhythm in Hebrew poetry, it does not have the same kind of repetitive beat that English verse does. Instead, again, the rhythm lies in the repetition of thoughts.

We call this repetition of ideas “parallelism.” There are three kinds of parallelism found in Hebrew poetry. The first is synonymous parallelism, in which the same idea is expressed twice. Consider Proverbs 1:8–9, printed to the left of this essay. The son is told to listen to his father, and then in parallel fashion, to his mother. The father’s words are called instruction; the mother’s are called teaching. Such teachings will be a garland for his head, and (parallel) a chain for his neck. In synonymous parallelism, the second phrase can expand the idea of the first, or restate the idea of the first in different words, or provide an implication of the first. In every case, we get two (and sometimes more) perspectives on truth.

The second kind of parallelism is antithetical parallelism, in which the second phrase states the opposite of the first, or at least provides a strong contrast. Proverbs 3:1 says, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart.” Forgetting is the opposite of keeping.

The third type is synthetic parallelism, in which the second phrase carries forward the thought of the first but adds a substantially new idea to it. Proverbs 3:6 is an example: “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” If this were synonymously parallel, the second phrase might read, “and bow before Him every day.” As it stands, however, the second phrase adds a new idea.

Both God’s world and God Himself are too vast to be understood from only one perspective. Parallelism provides us with a multiplicity of perspectives on reality and makes us sensitive and wise.

Yet another form of parallelism is climactic parallelism, as we see in Proverbs 30:21–31. Read a chapter in Proverbs closely, making careful note of the types of parallelism you see in the text. Consider how these poetic forms help drive home the wisdom God has for us.