The Educational Genius of Hebrew Poetry

My two-year-old daughter taught me something about the Bible recently.

I read somewhere a while back about the nature of Hebrew poetry in the Bible. The structure is such that the first line will say something, and then the next line will say basically the same thing, but in a slightly different way. When I heard that, I wondered if Hebrew poets were simply given a needed word count for their poetry and were simply padding their poems with unnecessary lines. After all, it’s pretty redundant.

For example, here are the first few lines of Psalm 2:

1) Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
2) The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
3) “Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.”

Nations conspire = peoples plot, kings of the earth rise up = rulers band together, break their chains = throw off their shackles.

You get the idea. And it is all over the Bible.

9781419701511That’s where my two-year-old comes in. We’re big on reading at the Mosey house. So much so that when given the option between television time or reading together, my oldest daughter often chooses reading. It’s great. Anyway, we have a few really good books that feature opposites. My favorite one is Hippopposites, which features a fine collection of opposing words, including both types of “light” (heavy vs. dark). So, my daughter understands things in relation to its opposite.

When she wakes up in the middle of the night and we tell her to go back to sleep because it is still dark outside, she says, “It’s dark? Not light?”

But she also understands things based on their similarities to other things. As an example, my in-laws have a pool, and she knows that the swimming pool is like a bathtub, only bigger. She might say, “We go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and swim in the pool, like we swim in the bathtub? I’m excited!”

She understands by context and comparison to what things are and what they aren’t. Hebrew poetry, instead of being necessarily flowery, is very practical for teaching. In the example from Psalm 2, if you didn’t know what the word “shackle” meant, you could figure out that it had something to do with “chains”. Likewise with “kings” and “rulers”.

Whether or not you believe what the Bible says, you must admit that it is a useful educational tool, or for no other reason than to help you grow your vocabulary based on context.


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