The Poetry of the Bible

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The Scripture is full of poetry, and of poetry viewed under
these two aspects - sublime thoughts and impassioned
expression in a metrical, rhythmical form. As one instance
of sublime impassioned language, take the first chapter of
Isaiah. With what beauty and grandeur it begins! "Hear,
o heavens, and give ear, 0 earth: for the Lord hath
spoken; I have nourished and brought up children, and
they have rebelled against Me" (Isa. I. 2)

It would take us too far afield, and would sound too
pedantic, were we to enter into the subject of Hebrew
poetry as regards its metrical form. We shall, therefore,
only observe that its chief feature is what is called
parallelism, that is, that the lines of the strophe - in simpler
language the verse or stanza - correspond with, or are
opposed to each other. To make our meaning plain, we
give two verses of Isaiah arranged metrically:

"Hear, 0 heavens, and give ear, 0 earth:
For the Lord hath spoken;
I have nourished and brought up children,
And they have rebelled against Me.
The ox knoweth his owner,
And the ass his master's crib;
But Israel doth not know,
My people doth not consider."​

This peculiar form of poetry existed from the most remote
period. Its earliest use is Gen. 4. 23, 24:

"Adah and Zillah, hear my voice:
Ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech:
I have slain a man to my wounding
And a young man to my hurt.
If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,
Truly Lamech seventy and seven fold."​

Other early instances are the blessing of Jacob (Gen. 49);
the song of Miriam (Exod. 15); the song of Moses, (Deut.
32); and the blessing pronounced on the tribes of Israel,
(Deut. 33). Deuteronomy 32 is a beautiful instance of
Hebrew poetry. How sublime, how impassioned the
language; how full of tender pathos, glowing description,
striking figures and animated expostulation! How softly
and musically it begins:

"Give ear, 0 heavens, and I will speak;
And hear, 0 earth, the words of My mouth.
My doctrine shall drop as the rain,
My speech shall distil as the dew;
As the small rain upon the tender herb,
And as the showers upon the grass."​

Observe the parallelism, that is, how the thoughts and
words in one line balance and correspond to those in the
other. The "heavens" and the "earth"; "hearing" and
"giving ear"; the "doctrine" and the "speech"; the "rain"
and the "dew"; the "small rain" and the "'showers"; the
"tender herb" and the "grass": these words and ideas
mutually correspond to and, as it were, balance each other..
Take one more specimen from the same song at Moses at
unspeakable beauty and sublimity:

"For the LORD"S portion is His people;
Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.
He found him in a desert land,
And in the waste, howling wilderness.
He led him about, He instructed him.
He kept him as the apple of His eye.
As an eagle stirreth up her nest;
Fluttereth over her young;
Spreadeth abroad her wings:
Taketh them. beareth them on her wings:
So the LORD alone did lead him.
And there was no strange god with him."​

We have said enough. and more than enough. to indicate
the peculiar form of sacred poetry as enshrined in the
pages of the Old Testament; and we shall only make one
more remark on the subject, which is: tile peculiar
suitability of this form of divine poetry to translation. Had
the poetry of the Scriptures been in strict formal metre,
like the ancient. or in rhyme. like the modern. it would
have vanished when translated: but. being in parallel
sentences. it is independent of translation. It therefore
survives that great change which is usually fatal to all other
poetry. and its divine essence is not lost or evaporated by
being transferred to another language.

From: SIN AND SALVATION pgs. 156-158
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