Old Testament Survey - Lesson 35

Hebrew Poetry

In this lesson on Hebrew Poetry, you'll explore how poetry is intricately woven throughout the scriptures, with significant portions of the First Testament being cast in poetic verse. You'll discover the diverse forms of parallelism in Hebrew poetry, including synonymous, antithetical, and emblematic parallelism. You'll also learn about other distinctive features such as alphabetic acrostics, numerical construction, and repetition. 

Daniel Block
Old Testament Survey
Lesson 35
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Hebrew Poetry

I. Introduction to Hebrew Poetry

A. Nature, Goals, and Features

B. Prominence and Importance in Scriptures

II. Presence of Poetry in Scriptures

A. Major Parts of the First Testament in Poetic Verse

B. Proportions of Poetry in Various Books

C. Examples of Poetry in Different Books

III. Hebrew Poetry in the New Testament

A. Semitic Poetry Examples in New Testament Texts

B. Notable Instances of Hebrew Poetry in Luke and Paul's Epistles

IV. Importance and Relevance of Psalms and Proverbs

A. Reflection of Human Emotions and Experiences

B. Explicit Messages in Prophetic Poetry

V. Problems with Hebrew Poetry

A. Lack of Formal Distinction between Poetry and Prose

B. Differences from English and Western Poetry

VI. Basic Elements of Hebrew Poetry

A. Structure: Lines, Verses, Strophes

B. Types of Parallelism: Synonymous, Antithetical, Emblematic

VII. Distinctive Features of Hebrew Poetry

A. Alphabetic Acrostics

B. Numerical Construction

C. Repetition

D. Intense Emotion, Exaggeration, Vivid Imagery

  • Learning about the First Testament's language, geographical, and cultural contexts, and how these factors contribute to its frequent misinterpretation and underappreciation in modern times.
  • Gain insights into the literary and cosmic foundations of grace and glory in the Torah, understanding its role as more than law.
  • Learn that to be made in God's image entails embodying divine qualities and functioning as His representative on Earth, which extends a universal dignity upon all humans and shapes a theological ethic that influences how you treat others.
  • Genesis 1-3 frames human response to divine creation, emphasizing human dignity, work's moral role, free will's consequences, and the persistent grace amid sin.
  • This lesson reviews the Israelite covenant, understanding its stages, implications, and its role in God's redemptive plan.
  • Gain insights into Abraham's covenant with God, exploring his faith and God's promises.
  • Learn how the Exodus from Egypt marked Israel's transformation from a family to a nation under Yahweh.
  • Understand how the covenant at Sinai transforms Israel from slaves into a treasured nation destined for a divine mission, fulfilling God's ancient promises.
  • This lesson covers the covenantal expectations at Sinai. The covenantal agreement provided a constitutional and ethical framework for societal living, focusing on community rights and responsibilities.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into how the tabernacle was both a physical manifestation of God's presence and a profound symbol of His grace, emphasizing the holiness and detailed guidance He provided to the Israelites for worship and daily life.
  • Gain insights into Deuteronomy, recognizing its focus on teaching rather than legislation, and understanding Moses' role as an instructor of Yahweh's will.
  • In this lesson, you explore how to interpret the First Testament's historiographic writings, emphasizing the divine inspiration and literary artistry that guide the selective storytelling and theological themes.
  • Learn how the books of Joshua and Judges illustrate the fulfillment and failure of Israel's covenant with Yahweh, highlighting divine promise, cultural assimilation, and the cyclical nature of faith and apostasy.
  • The Book of Ruth, highlights divine providence, social justice, and personal righteousness while exploring the role of Boaz as a pivotal figure in maintaining the lineage of King David.
  • Samuel had a significant yet complex role in Israel's history; judge, priest, prophet, and crucial figure in establishing monarchy.
  • Learn of David's central role in the Bible, understanding his unique portrayal and the extensive attention he receives compared to other figures.
  • Learn about the Davidic covenant's role in shaping biblical history and theology, emphasizing its eternal impact on Israel and beyond.
  • The books of Kings and Chronicles use historical events to underline theological themes, highlighting the role of scribes in documenting Israel’s history.
  • In this lesson on 1 and 2 Kings, review the downfall of Israel through kings' forgetfulness of God's covenants.
  • Learn about Solomon's temple's historical and theological significance, its divine design and purpose, and its role in Israelite worship and communal life.
  • Gain insights into the transformation and resilience of the Judean people during their exile in Babylon from 586-539 BC, exploring their struggles and adaptations in a new socio-political and religious context.
  • Learn about Daniel's exemplary life in Babylon, his integrity, and his prophetic visions, which highlight divine sovereignty and the vindication of the faithful amidst calamities.
  • Review the Persian period's impact on the Jewish diaspora, analyze the Book of Esther's literary and theological significance, and reflect on divine providence and cultural identity.
  • Explore the crucial roles of Ezra and Nehemiah in reconstructing the Jewish community and faith post-exile, understanding their historical significance, source materials, and theological insights.
  • Gain insight into the roles and significance of prophets in ancient Israel, learning about their historical context, and their critical function in guiding and correcting the nation through direct communication from Yahweh.
  • Learn about the lives and ministries of prophets Amos and Hosea, their calls for justice and return to divine covenant amidst Israel's political and spiritual turmoil, through prophetic books that blend personal biography with national prophecy.
  • This lesson reviews Jonah's struggle with divine grace and Micah's advocacy for justice and the messianic hope.
  • In this lesson, you learn how Isaiah's vision portrays the Messiah as king, servant, and conqueror, emphasizing his divine roles and global mission.
  • Learn of the political and social contexts of Jeremiah and Ezekiel's exile, including Babylon's rise, Jerusalem's fall, and the crisis of faith portrayed in Lamentations, emphasizing hope amid despair through God's faithfulness.
  • Learn about Jeremiah's life and prophetic ministry, navigating challenges with kings, themes in the Book of Jeremiah, and profound passages on true religion and a future covenant, offering lessons on prophetic burdens, God's faithfulness, and spiritual transformation.
  • Explore Ezekiel's life as a priest in exile, his bizarre actions, and profound messages revealing Yahweh's passion and eternal promises of judgment and restoration.
  • Learn about Nahum and Joel's prophecies on judgment, hope, and Yahweh's character. Explore the day of the Lord and the expansion of the covenant community.
  • Explore Obadiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah's prophecies. Discover themes of judgment, faith, and restoration in God's plan.
  • Gain insight into Haggai's role in motivating temple rebuilding during the Persian rule. His brief yet impactful ministry fosters hope and action amid community disillusionment, recoginizing God's presence and reign.
  • Gain deep insight into Hebrew poetry: its forms, parallelism, acrostics, and emotional depth. Explore its celebration and lamentation of Yahweh's glory.
  • Gain insight into Psalms which reflect diverse emotions and experiences. Structured into five divisions, attributed to various authors, their interpretation involves understanding Torah context, literary devices, and applying timeless principles to life.
  • Explore biblical wisdom's depth: from practical skill to moral insight, rooted in the fear of Yahweh. It contrasts with secular knowledge, emphasizing God's order and universal application.
  • Engage with Proverbs to unravel its diverse wisdom, from aphorisms to discourses. Understand its practical guidance for righteous living and leadership.
  • Discover the Song of Songs, a rich exploration of love's nature. From its allegorical interpretations to its celebration of covenantal love, it examines human relationships with wisdom and depth.
  • The book of Job offers insights into faith and suffering, exploring theological themes and character dynamics. It emphasizes trust in God amid life's most difficult trials.
  • Uncover Ecclesiastes' profound journey from despair to hope. Koheleth's existential ponderings contrast with the narrator's faith, urging a shift from worldly pursuits to finding fulfillment in God's sovereignty.

This Old Testament Survey course offers a deep exploration of the Old Testament's literary structure, divine covenants, and historical context. Lessons cover the Pentateuch, emphasizing its narrative over legalistic interpretations, and extend through key biblical figures like Abraham and Moses. Topics such as the covenant at Sinai, the concept of imago Dei, and the tabernacle rituals highlight the continuity of God's grace and the ethical implications of divine laws. The course critically addresses common misconceptions, the role of the Torah as instruction, and the portrayal of God’s plan, underscoring the relevance and complexity of these ancient texts.

Dr. Daniel Block 
Old Testament Survey
Hebrew Poetry
Lesson Transcript


Introduction to Hebrew Poetry, Celebrating and Responding to the Glory and Grace of Yahweh. Let's begin by talking about the nature and goals and features of Hebrew poetry. The prominence and importance of poetry in scriptures is our first subtopic.

One of the four major parts of the English First Testament canon is cast almost entirely in poetic verse. Psalms, Proverbs, Job, except for the prose, prologue and epilogue, song of songs, and much of Ecclesiastes. But a large portion of the latter prophets that we have been looking at is also cast in poetic verse.

Some estimate these proportions like this, Isaiah is 82% poetry, Hosea 94%, Joel 94%, Amos 80%, Obadiah 100%, Micah 100%, Nahum 100%, Habakkuk 100%, and Zephaniah 95%. The exceptions to this pattern are Jonah, 17% only, chapter two. It's cast otherwise as a biographical narrative.

And then the two exilic prophets, Jeremiah, or immediately pre-exilic prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, which contain major poetic sections, but a lot of narrative as well. The rest tend to be written in an elevated prose and in post-exilic prophecies, such as Haggai, where you have no poetry, Zechariah, 17%, and Malachi, again, no poetry at all. The narrative texts also, that is the stories, the narratives of the Pentateuch and the historiographic books that follow, also contain numerous embedded poems.

So whatever we have to say here about poetry in Psalms and Proverbs and Job also applies to them. So we've got poetry in Genesis 2, Genesis 3, 4, 8, 9, 12, etc. Genesis 49, Jacob's blessing of his sons.

Exodus 15, celebration of the Exodus. Numbers 6, 24, this is the Aaronic benediction. Balaam's oracles, Numbers 23, 25.

Deuteronomy 32 and 33. Judges 5, 1 Samuel 2, 1 to 10, Hannah's song or prayer. 1 Samuel 15, 22 to 23, and then 2 Samuel 1, 19 to 27, this is David's lament over the death of Saul and Jonathan.

2 Samuel 22 and 23, 1 to 7, and then in 2 Kings 19, 21 to 28, and Nehemiah 9, 5 to 38. There's lots of poetry here. These poetic texts involve short pronouncements by God, blessings, prayers, songs, hymns, laments.

These kinds of texts tend to be cast in poetic form. We also find numerous examples of Semitic poetry in the New Testament. In Matthew 6, 9 to 13, the Lord's prayer is really in poetic form.

Luke 1, ironically, Luke, the Gentile author, has more poetry, Semitic poetry, than anybody else, reminding us that he is actually quite devoted to his sources. You have this in Luke 1, 46 to 55, Mary's Magnificat, Zechariah's prophecy at the end of Luke 1, the angel's announcement in 2.14, and then Simeon's blessing in Luke 2, 29 to 32. As I said, ironically, the only Gentile author in the New Testament has the most typically Semitic poetry.

In Paul's epistles, we also find texts with the features of Hebrew poetry, as in Romans 11, 33 to 36, 1 Corinthians 15, 55 to 57, and Philippians 2, 5 to 11, the hymn to Christ. For most Christians, the Psalms and Proverbs are the favorite books of the First Testament. These literary works describe people's relationship with God from the perspective of the human experience.

Because they reflect the entire range of human emotions, there are passages that will minister to us in any situation in life. But the prophets also have direct and obvious relevance. In contrast to narrative historiography, in which the message is generally implicit, in the prophets, even in their poetry, the sermon is explicit.

The prophetic messages have a powerfully vocative and oral character, calling for direct application. The transference of the prophetic truth to the contemporary scene is often not that difficult. It's readily achieved.

While the technicalities of poetic, grammatical, and syntactical style may render these works more difficult to understand than narratives, assuming one is working from the Hebrew, there is no problem making the poet's messages relevant to our own day. But we need to deal with the problems represented by Hebrew poetry. Why are we even spending time on this subject? Well, there are several problems.

First, the First Testament, the Hebrew Bible, never formally distinguishes between poetry and prose. In fact, the boundaries between prose and poetry are quite imprecise. There are many texts in which it is difficult to determine whether the author is expressing himself poetically or prosaically.

But there are also many texts where the shift is so abrupt, even a novice will notice it. When I was working on my commentary on Obadiah, I operated on the assumption, I began with the assumption that this book is essentially poetry. By the time I was done, I concluded, well, this isn't ordinary prose, but it's not really pure poetry either.

It is an elevated register for a profound theological agenda. A second problem with Hebrew poetry. Hebrew poetry is different from English and other Western poetry.

Intentional rhyme is rare, and the meter rhythm is often irregular. Specific patterns such as 3-3 accents are not uncommon, but variations such as 2-2 and 4-4 occur frequently as well, and sometimes they're all mixed up. One verse can be 3-3, and the next one 3-2, and the next one 4-4.

Laments tend to follow a 3-2 pattern. The stress in Hebrew poetry is not on these artificial things like we have in Western poetry, but it's on literary symmetry, the harmony of ideas, the harmony of concepts rather than sounds. To that extent, we might say it is less phony than English poetry.

What are the basic elements of Hebrew poetry? The basic unit of Hebrew poetry is the line. Verses are made up of lines in varying combinations. Monadic verse is one line, dyadic verse, two lines, triadic verse, three, and we have quadratic verse, four lines, etc.

Poets may switch within a poem from one pattern to another for the sake of interest, to highlight an element, to create an envelope around a core, and for many other reasons. An example of a dyadic verse is this one. Where there is no guidance, the people fall.

But in the abundance of counselors, there is victory. Two parallel lines. The secondary unit of Hebrew poetry is the strophe.

If a verse is a combination of lines, a strophe is a group of lines intentionally arranged to develop one general idea. What a paragraph is to prose, the strophe is to poetry. It may consist of more than one verse.

These strophes are easily recognized in many texts as in the following. In Psalm 42 to 43, you have a common refrain separating the strophes. In Psalm 119, you've got 22 strophes, each of which consists of eight lines beginning with successive letters of the alphabet.

It's an acrostic, but the A-A-A-A-A-A, B-B-B-B-B-B, those are strophes marked by the letters of the alphabet. Psalm 19 has two major strophes. One is about a natural revelation, and then is the grace of God in the special revelation that is his word.

We need now to talk about parallelism in Hebrew poetry. What separates Hebrew poetry from prose more than anything is the heightened use of parallelism. Parallelism is found in prose, but it is more common pervasive in poetry.

By parallelism, we mean the structuring of lines in such a way that they exhibit patterns of literary symmetry and balance. This involves balance of vocabulary, of form, of meaning, and thought. While the patterns of parallelism vary greatly, we may identify the following major types.

First, in synonymous parallelism, the meaning of line two does not merely repeat the meaning of line one. The two lines may be more or less equivalent in meaning, but more or less is the operative phrase. Seldom is the relationship so synonymous that one can reverse the line without affecting the meaning.

Notice the following example, Psalm 19, 1 and 2. The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the work of his hands declares his firmament. You can't start with, and the work of his hands declares the firmament, because A, it's got a conjunction, and B, it's got a pronoun which needs an antecedent, so there is a shift. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.

More or less equivalent, but there's generally some kind of progression. Or here, Isaiah 1, 3, Israel does not know, my people do not understand. Notice the first has a name, the other one is a theological word that adds significance to the word, the name Israel.

Or Psalm 51, 1. Be gracious to me, O God, according to your loving kindness, chesed, according to the greatness of your compassion, blot out my transgression. Notice that. Blot out my transgression is a concretization of be gracious to me.

But you see also in a text like this that you have an A, B, B pattern. I should say A, B, B, A pattern. The request is the first element and the last element, but the standard, according to your hesed and according to the greatness of your compassion, these are in the middle.

Few poems are consistent in the patterns of semantic parallelism employed. The interest of the reader or hearer is maintained, sometimes by varying the arrangement, as in Lamech's sword song. The first, the second song in the Bible is a song of violence.

From Genesis 2, we learn that the first song in the Bible, the first poem in the Bible is actually a love poem, but this is a song of violence. Ada and Zillah, listen to my voice, you wives of Lamech, give heed to my speech, for I have killed a man for wounding me, even a boy for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.

We've got three different kinds of parallelism at work here, as we can readily recognize. So-called synonymous parallelism, as I mentioned, is rarely really synonymous. Rather, line two is added to specify, intensify, concretize, and heighten or heighten the meaning of line one.

Deuteronomy 3230. How could one pursue a thousand and put ten thousand to flight? Notice, you won't go from ten thousand to one thousand. He's heightening it.

1 Samuel 18.1. Saul has slain his thousands, David his ten thousands. That's what all the women of Judah are singing about David's defeat of Goliath. Now that is a great compliment for David, but it's an insult for Saul.

Ten thousand is far greater than a thousand. That's synonymous parallelism. Again, using synonymous in quotations, relatively synonymous.

Second, antithetical parallelism. In this sort of parallelism, line two is the opposite of line one. The key to identification is often an opening, but in the second line, though these are not always present.

Hosea 14.9. Whoever is wise, let him understand these things. Whoever is discerning, let him know them. That's kind of synonymous.

For the ways of Yahweh are right, and the righteous will walk in them, but transgressors will stumble in them. Or Proverbs 14.31. He who oppresses the poor reproaches his maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors him. Proverbs chapters 10 to 20 contain long lists of these kinds of antithetical parallel verses.

A third category is emblematic parallelism. Typically with this kind, line one contains a figure of speech with which the reality of line two is compared. The key to identification is an opening, like or as.

Psalm 103.13. Just as a has compassion on his children, so Yahweh has compassion on those who fear him. Psalm 42.1. As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for you, O God. Proverbs 11.22. There's often humor in these.

Like a ring of gold in a swine's snout, so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion. There's something wrong with these pictures. Proverbs 25 to 26 have long lists of these kinds of emblematic parallel verses, but there are other features of Hebrew poetry that we need to be aware of.

Biblical poetry reflects Hebrew literary creativity at its best. In addition to the features of parallelism mentioned above, poets often express this creativity in a variety of ways. We've already talked about alphabetic acrostic.

An acrostic is a composition artificially constructed according to an external pattern of letters. For example, note the popular definition of grace, g-r-a-c-e, God's riches at Christ's expense. All the biblical acrostics, however, are based on the sequence of letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

They are remarkably common. A fourth kind of parallelism is what we call comparative parallelism. An element in line one is compared with something in line two.

The key to identifying in English these kinds of verses is often the presence of the word better. Proverbs 15 to 16. Better is a little with the fear of Yahweh than great treasure and turmoil with it.

Or 16, 17. Better is a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it. Or Proverbs 19, 1. Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than he who is perverse in speech and is a fool.

Or 21, 9. It is better to live in the corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman. Those are the kinds of poetry, of parallelism in poetry, to which we need to have our eyes opened. This is really rich, rich literature.

If we start responding to that germ of curiosity, literary curiosity, that is already in our minds. In addition to parallelism, there are other distinctive features of Hebrew poetry. Biblical poetry reflects Hebrew literary creativity at its best.

In addition to the features mentioned above, parallelism, poets express this creativity in a variety of ways. The first of these is alphabetic acrostics. An acrostic is a composition artificially constructed according to an external pattern of letters.

For example, note the popular definition of grace, G-R-A-C-E, God's riches at Christ's expense. Or when I was growing up, the ethic my mother tried to install in us is represented by the word joy. Jesus, others, and you.

That is the key to a satisfying and a fulfilling life, as opposed to what we have in our day is yog, you, others, and God. That will not bring joy. Biblical acrostics are all based not on the sequence of letters of words, letters in words, but the letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

These are remarkably common. We have them in Psalm 119 and in the five laments of the book of Lamentations. We've already talked about these.

They are governed by the alphabet, even the fifth lament, which has 22 verses that correspond to 22 letters in the alphabet. They are governed by the alphabet in their length, but not in their content, because here in translation and even in the Hebrew text, he actually, the author, has thrown you a curveball. It looks like an acrostic to a novice.

Twenty-two letters? Think the letter. But of course, unlike the other laments, one to four, it is not a true acrostic. In Proverbs 31, 10 to 31, we have an alphabet of wifely nobility.

These verses, 22 verses, all following the letters of the alphabet. Try and write poetry like this. It's actually very difficult.

It takes great skill, creativity, and ingenuity. An alphabet of wifely nobility. Everything from A to Z, we would say.

And we have acrostics in Psalms 9 to 10, Psalm 25, Psalm 34, 37, 111, 112, 145, but especially 119. This 176-verse psalm is divided into 22 strophes based on the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, but in each strophe, each line begins with the same letter, and they are successive. You can learn your Hebrew alphabet from this psalm.

Why Hebrew poets should have chosen such interest in acrostics isn't clear, but we may propose several explanations. I mean, we could say, well, because they have lots of time. It's very difficult.

We got nothing better to do. Let's create an acrostic. I don't think that's the actual reason, but here are some possibilities.

One, they did it for sheer aesthetic delight. That's one. Second, to facilitate memorization.

You know we need 22 verses, and so we go from A, B, C, D, E, F, G, all the way to the last letter of the alphabet. But third, I think also we need to understand that the acrostic conveys comprehensiveness, the completeness of the statement. This is evident in Revelation 21.6, I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, by which Jesus announces not simply that he is the framework.

He is, in fact, everything. Accordingly, Proverbs 31 represents a complete, should we say domestic, catechetical statement on wifely excellence cast, probably for a young man to memorize so that when he is contemplating marriage, he considers these characteristics. Some have proposed that that is a domestic catechism that women would use with their girls when they're trying to train them to be noble women.

Psalm 119 gives us a complete exposition of the goodness and the life-giving nature of the Torah. There are other forms of construction. We have numerical construction.

This form of verse involves the counting and listing of items. For purposes of interpretation, in such lists, the last item is always most important. So when you hear, for three things and for four, I will not revoke the punishment in Amos, by that he means that fourth one is actually the point he is trying to emphasize.

Numerous examples are found in the First Testament, Proverbs 6, 16 and following, Proverbs 30, 11 to 31, Job 5, 19 to 23, Amos 1 to 2. Here is an apocryphal reference from Ben Sirach, Ecclesiasticus, 2316. Two sorts of men multiply sins, and a third incurs wrath. The soul heated like a burning fire, number one, will not be quenched until it is consumed.

A man who commits fornication with near of kin will never cease until the fire burns up, number two, and a man who breaks his marriage vows and says to himself, nobody's looking. Who sees me? He's really talking about the last one. This is numerical kind of parallelism.

Another feature of Hebrew parallelism is repetition. This is common in poetry and takes many forms, as we see in a few illustrations. Ascribe to Yahweh, O sons of the mighty.

Ascribe to Yahweh, glory and strength. Ascribe to Yahweh, the glory due his name. Worship Yahweh in holy array.

Or Psalm 135, 19 to 20, O house of Israel, bless Yahweh. O house of Israel, of Aaron, bless Yahweh. O house of Levi, bless Yahweh.

You who revere Yahweh, bless Yahweh. This is for everybody. Psalm 42 to 43 contains the following refrain, which appears three times in verse 42.5, 42.11, and then 43.5, suggesting to most people that originally 42 and 43 are actually one psalm.

The refrain that appears three times is, Why are you in despair, O my soul, and why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him the help of his face. This is like our refrains in the hymns that we sing. Psalm 136 repeats the following refrain in every other line.

Every verse has this, For his hesed endures forever, or unfailing love, or however. Loving kindness is the traditional King James English translation. Psalm 8 is framed by this verse.

You have it at the beginning and at the end. O Yahweh our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. Repetition is common, and this is because poetry focuses on or poetry seeks to build and create the proper emotion, the passion, and it's an emotional interpretation of facts, and that has to have some color.

Which relates to the next feature of Israelite poetry, intense emotion, exaggeration, vivid imagery. On the use of imagery, see especially the emblematic parallelism of the Proverbs we've looked at. Metaphors and similes are found all over the place giving color to this literary canvas.

So is hyperbole, exaggeration. I've told you a million times not to exaggerate. In poetry, that sort of thing is common.

Hebrew poetry is intended to evoke feeling. See especially a poem like Psalm 137. Poems like this we have to hear aloud, and in the hearing, in the reading, we have to communicate the passion of the author.

Let me just find this example here as we flip our pages. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst of it, we hung our harps, for there our captors demanded of us songs, and our tormentors mirth saying, sing us one of the songs of Zion.

But how can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy. Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom the day of Jerusalem, who said, raise it, raise it to its very foundation.

O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, how blessed will be the one who repays you with a recompense with which you have repaid us. How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock. Really? Really? Do we interpret this literally? What is happening here? We need always to ask, why is the poet so exercised about what he is saying? He is trying to create a mood, a feeling, a reaction to what is happening.

This is the poetic celebration, or should we say lamentation, over what the person is experiencing, responding to the grace and the glory of God. And unfortunately, sometimes it's also responding to the judgment of God.