The peculiarity of the Hebrew poetical age is that it was always historical and true, never mythical, as the early age of national lays in all other nations, as Hindostan, Greece, and Rome. The oldest portions of Old Testament history, namely, the Pentateuch, have the least of the poetical and imaginative element. Elijah, the father of the prophets, was no poet; nor were the prophets poets strictly, except insofar as in their teachings they were lifted up to the poetic modes of thought and expression. The schools of the prophets diffused a religious spirit, lyric instruments were used to accompany their prophesyings; but David it was (Amos 6:5) who molded lyric effusions of devotion into a permanent and more perfect style.
Poetry in other countries was the earliest form of composition, being most easily retained in the memory; and compositions in the early ages were diffused more by oral recitation than by reading, books being scarce and in many places unknown. But the earliest Hebrew Scriptures (the Pentateuch) have less of the poetic element than the later; so entirely has the divine Author guarded against the mythical admixture which is found in early heathen lays.
HEBREW VERSIFICATION. Oriental poetry embalmed its sentiments in terse, proverbial sentences, called mashal.
I. Acrosticism or alphabetical arrangement was adopted in combining sentiments, the mutual connection of which was loose (Lamentations 1). No traces of it exist before David, who doubtless originated it (Psalm 25; Psalm 34; Psalm 37; Psalm 145). In later alphabetical psalms there is more regularity than in David's, and less simplicity; as Psalm 111; 112, have every half verse marked by a letter, and Psalm 119 has a letter appropriated to every eight verses.
II. The same verse in some cases was repeated at regular intervals (Psalm 42; Psalm 107).
III. Parallelism is the characteristic form of Hebrew poetry. Its peculiar excellence is that, whereas poetry of other nations suffers much by translation, (for the versification depends on the recurrence of certain sounds at regular intervals), Hebrew poetry suffers but little, for its principle is the parallel correspondence of thoughts, not sounds, thought/rhythm Ewald designates it; a remarkable proof that from the first the Spirit designed Holy Scripture for nations of every tongue. Rabbi Azariah anticipated Bishop Lowth in the theory of parallelism. Parallelism affords a clue to the meaning of many passages, the sense of a word being explained by the corresponding word in the parallel clause. The Masoretic punctuation marks the metrical arrangement by distinctive accents; the thought in the inspired volume is more prominent than the form. The earliest instance of parallelism is in Enoch's prophecy (Judges 1:14) and Lamech's parody of it (Genesis 4:23-24). (See LAMECH.) The kinds distinguished are:
(1) the synonymous parallelism, in which the second repeats the first with or without increase of force (Psalm 22:27; Isaiah 15:1), sometimes with double parallelism (Isaiah 1:15);
(2) the antithetic, in which the idea of the second clause is the converse of that in the first (Proverbs 10:1);
(3) the synthetic or competing, where there is a correspondence between different sentences, noun answering to noun, verb to verb, member to member, the sentiment in each being enforced by accessory ideas (Isaiah 55:6-7). Also alternate (Isaiah 51:19), "desolation and destruction, and the famine and the sword," desolation by famine and destruction by the sword, introverted, where the fourth answers to the first and the third to the second (Matthew 7:6). Epic poetry, as having its proper sphere in a mythical, heroic age, is not found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Nor is the drama; though dramatic elements occur in Job, the Song of Solomon, and some psalms, as Psalm 32, where occur transitions, without introduction, from speaking of God to speaking to God; Psalm 132:8-10; Psalm 132:14, where the psalmist's prayer and God's answer beautifully correspond. The whole period before David furnished no psalm to the psalter, except Psalm 90, by Moses, and possibly Psalm 91. The book of the wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14; Numbers 21:17; Numbers 21:27) and the book of Jasher (the upright) or the worthies of Israel (Jeshurun: Deuteronomy 32:15, compare 2 Samuel 1:18; 1 Samuel 18:7) were secular.
David's spiritual songs gained such a hold of the nation that worldly songs thenceforth held a low place (Isaiah 5:12; Amos 6:5). Israel's song at the Red Sea (Exodus 15), the priests' benediction (Numbers 5:22-26), Moses' chant at the moving and resting of the ark Numbers 9:35-36), Deborah's song (Judges 5), and Hannah's song (1 Samuel 2) laid the foundation for the full outburst of psalmody in David's days; and are in part appropriated in some of the psalms. The national religious awakening under Samuel, with which are connected the schools of the prophets (1 Samuel 10:5-11; 1 Samuel 19:19-24) having a lyrical character, immediately prepared the way. David, combining creative poetical genius with a special gift of the Spirit, produced the psalms which form the chief part of the psalter, and on which the subsequent writers of psalms mainly lean. Persecution in part fitted him for his work; as was well said, "where would have been David's psalms if he had not been persecuted?"
SACRED SINGERS. When David became king be gave psalmody a leading place in the public liturgy. A sacred choir was formed, himself at its head; then followed the three chief musicians, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun; then Asaph's four sons, Jeduthun's six, and Heman's 14. Each of these sons had 12 singers under him, 288 in all. Besides, there were 4,000 Levite singers (1 Chronicles 25); Asaph with his company was with the ark on Zion; Heman and Jeduthun with the tabernacle at Gibeon (1 Chronicles 16:37-42).
MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS. Stringed instruments predominated in the sacred music, psalteries and harps; cymbals were only for occasions of special joy (Psalm 150:5). Trumpets with loud hoarse note accompanied the bringing in of the ark (1 Chronicles 15:24); also at the temple's consecration (2 Chronicles 5:12); also at the restoration of temple worship under Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:26-27); also at the founding of the second temple (Ezra 3:10). David invented, or improved, some of the instruments (1 Chronicles 23:5; 2 Chronicles 7:6; Nehemiah 12:36). The poetical books are Job, Psalms. Proverbs, and the Song of Solomon. Simplicity and freshness are combined with sublimity. "The Spirit of the Lord spoke by" the Hebrew poet, "and His word was upon his tongue" (2 Samuel 23:2). Even the music was put in charge of spiritually gifted men, and Heman was "the king's seer in the words of God" (1 Chronicles 25:1; 1 Chronicles 25:5). The sacred poet represents the personal experiences of the children of God and of the whole church.
Scripture poetry supplies a want not provided for by the law, inspired and sanctioned devotional forms to express in public worship and in private the feelings of pious Israelites. The Psalms draw forth front beneath the legal types their hidden essence and spirit, adapting them to the various spiritual exigencies of individual and congregational life. Nature's testimony to the unseen, God's glory and goodness, is also embodied in the inspired poetry of the Psalms. The psalter is the Israelite's book of devotion. enabling him to enter into the spirit of the services of the sanctuary, and so to feel his need of Messiah, whose coming the Psalms announce. Christ in His inner life as the Godman, and in His past, present, and future relations to the church and the world, is the ultimate theme throughout. It furnishes to us also divinely sanctioned language to express prayer and thanksgiving to God and communion with our fellow saints. Besides parallelism, poetic expressions distinguish Hebrew poetry from prose.
David's lament over Jonathan is a beautiful specimen of another feature of Hebrew poetry, the strophe; three strophes being marked by the thrice recurrence of the dirge, sung by the chorus; the first dirge sung by the whole body of singers representing Israel; the second by a chorus of damsels; the third by a chorus of youths (2 Samuel 1:17; 2 Samuel 1:27). The predominant style of lyrical poetry is apparently derived front an earlier terse and sententious kind, resembling that of Proverbs. The Eastern mind embodies thought in pithy maxims; hence maashal, "proverb," is used for poetry in general.
Solomon probably embodied in Proverbs preexisting popular wise sayings, under the Spirit's guidance. Finally, Hebrew poetry is essentially national, yet universal and speaking to the heart and spiritual sensibilities of universal man. The Hebrew poet sought not self or fame, as the pagan poets, but was inspired by God's Spirit to meet the want which his own and his nation's aspirations after God created The selection for the psalter was made not with reference to the beauty of the pieces, but to their adaptation for public worship. Hence several odes of the highest order are not included: Moses' songs (Exodus 15; 30), Deborah's (Judges 5), Hannah's (1 Samuel 2), Hezekiah's (Isaiah 38:9-20), Habakkuk's (Habakkuk 3), and even David's dirge over Saul and Jonathan.
Fausset's Bible Dictionary Home
Bible History Online Home
Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE)
Online Bible (KJV)
Naves Topical Bible
Smith's Bible Dictionary
Easton's Bible Dictionary
Schaff's Bible Dictionary
Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Matthew Henry Bible Commentary
Hitchcock's Bible Dictionary
Meaning and definition of fasting, what is fasting in the bible, fasting definition, why should I fast, the power of prayer and fasting, Location of Galilee, where was galilee in the bible?, fasting definition, Galilee region, cities of Galilee, Sea of Galilee, Definition of biblical fire, what is fire in the bible?, fire and brimstone, fire meaning, baking bread with fire, Definition of the biblical firmament in Genesis, what is the firmament in the bible?, was the firmament the third heaven, firmament meaning, did the firmament bring the flood of Noah?.