Friday, November 06, 2009

Reading and Understanding the Psalms (part 4)

A Note Concerning Poetic Language in the Psalms

One feature that Hebrew poetry shares with Western poetry is the use of archaic words, or forms of words. This is a literary device used for effect. While emphasis is placed on words or phrases by means of structure, an additional emphasis can be made through the choice of words through the inspired writer. Understanding when these words occur takes a little bit of detective work, but the effort will be rewarding.

One other feature about archaic words to consider: during the time of King James (1611) "prevent" did not have the same meaning it does today, so the wrong understanding of meaning even in English can be disasterous. Compare Psalm 21:3, 59:10 and 79:8 in various versions, starting with King James.

Once we are able to identify the kind of parallelism (if any, see previous post), we will appreciate the need for synonymns and/or archaic language in the text. One simply cannot use just "ordinary" language in poetry.

Emotions of the Psalms

Poetry touches emotion. Through this means, we are able to personally identify with the experiences of the psalmists: the triumph of his victories, the marvel at the activities of God, the cry of distress and lamenting in hard times, the rejoicing in the blessings of God. Note some examples of range of emotion:

  • Ps. 2:2-4 Contempt in the mocking of God’s enemies
  • Ps. 8:3-5 Awe at how wonderful God made man
  • Ps. 13:1-2 Despair and lamenting in a situation
  • Ps. 73:3-5 Doubt
  • Ps. 116:1 Love

Longman quotes Calvin: “What various and resplendent riches are contained in this treasury, it were difficult to find words to describe . . .. I have been wont to call this book not inappropriately, an anatomy of all parts of the soul; for there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.” (p. 13)

(go to Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3)

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