Friday, August 26, 2016

How the Psalms Rhyme and Why it's Awesome

I’ll be honest. This post is going to sound a lot like a high school English lesson.

But I promise that it will be worth your time to read! (or watch the video)

If you grasp this idea of Parallelism (Thought Rhyme) - it will help you unlock some of the beautiful mysteries God has hidden for you in His Word.

Last time, I mentioned how the psalms don’t have any rhythm or rhyme to them, but then introduced this literary tool called Parallelism, or “Thought Rhyme” to achieve a poetic effect with two key benefits:
  1. It is completely translatable from language to language
  2. It provides a “3 Dimensional View” of the topic

Your left eye and right eye see slightly different images of the same object, and your brain combines those two images to form a single image that has an additional sense of depth that one eye alone cannot give.

In the same way, Thought Rhyme gives two slightly different perspectives on an idea, and combining the two gives a deeper perspective.

Let’s take a look at some examples, as well as the different types of Thought Rhyme.

The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell therein. Psalm 24:1

Looking a little closer at this verse, try and get the deeper perspective that is available by comparing the two lines:

The earth
is the Lord’s
and all its fullness
The world

and those who dwell therein
Two slightly different views on the same object
The fact that the world is the Lord’s is implied in the second part, though not stated explicitly
Two slightly (though not obvious) different views on the same thing

So you can make a connection between the “fullness of the earth” and “those who dwell therein” - that’s us, God’s people!

This type of Thought Rhyme is called “Synonymous Parallelism” - that is, when the two thoughts say the same thing.

Another type of is “Antithetical Parallelism”. This is when the two thoughts contrast each other. It’s like looking at two different sides of the same coin. E.g.
A soft answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverb 15:1

Dissecting, we can make connections:

A soft answer
turns away
But a harsh word
stirs up
Opposite ways of responding to someone
Opposite results
Slightly different view on the same thing

I’ll leave it to you to meditate on that.

Yet a third type of Parallelism is  “Progressive Parallelism”.

In this case, there is a natural progression of the thought - going deeper on the same thought line by line.

Blessed is the man
​​Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
​​Nor stands in the path of sinners,
​​Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; Psalm 1:1

Do you see the progression? Walking to standing to sitting. It’s like stairs that lead deeper down into a single thought.

And a fourth type is Synthetic Parallelism. This is a cause & effect type relationship between the two lines:
The Lord is my Shepherd,
I shall not want. Psalm 23:1

The second line is a result of the first line. But they are still directly connected. They are not independent thoughts.

To summarize these types of Thought Rhyme:
  1. Synonymous - the thoughts say the same thing (left eye & right eye)
  2. Antithetical - the thoughts contrast each other (two sides of the same coin)
  3. Progressive - the thoughts have a natural progression (go deeper)
  4. Synthetic - the thoughts have a cause & effect relationship

Okay, so if you’ve stuck with me through this pseudo English lesson, it’s about to pay off. This is the punchline to the benefit of recognizing Thought Rhyme:

The two thoughts are sometimes not obviously connected. But because of the principle of parallelism, a connection can be made and insight can be gleaned.

Let’s look at two passages of Scripture that talk about this idea of “The Fear of the Lord”:

Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints!
​​There is no want to those who fear Him.
​​The young lions lack and suffer hunger;
​​But those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing. Psalm 34:9-10

“The fear of the Lord” can sound like a strange statement. But when you compare:

Those who fear Him
do not want (or lack)
Those who seek Him
do not lack

Do you see the connection? Seeking the Lord is part of what it means to Fear the Lord.

Yet another example:

The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him,
​​In those who hope in His mercy. Psalm 147:11

Again, these are not isolated statements. It’s not like the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him and those who hope in His mercy. This is parallelism at work, and you can combine these two slightly different perspectives into a single images.

As a result, we can see that “hoping in His mercy” is yet another aspect of what it means to Fear the Lord.

Again, if you really understand this principle, and observe it in the Scripture, it can fundamentally change the way you understand the poetry of the Bible.

I'll be referencing this principle of Thought Rhyme often in the devotions on the Psalms, so I just wanted to take the time to introduce it properly. I hope it helps!

God bless you!

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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