John T. Willis

Monday, August 24, 2009

Setting the Stage for the Book of Job--Part III

Large sections of the Bible are in POETRY. MOST of the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible are in POETRY. MOST of the WISDOM LITERATURE of the Hebrew Bible is in POETRY. PSALMS is totally in POETRY. In addition, there are several lengthy POEMS sprinkled along in narrative sections of the Hebrew Bible. A few examples are: Genesis 49; Exodus 15:1-18; much of Numbers 23-24; Deuteronomy 32-33; Judges 9:8-15; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; 2 Samuel 1:19-27; 22; 23:1-7; 2 Kings 19:21-28; etc.; etc. The New Testament also contains several significant portions of poetry. A FEW examples are: Matthew 6:9-13 [the prayer Jesus taught his followers]; Luke 1:46-55 [the Magnificat], 68-79Philippians 2:6-11; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; etc. You will notice that MANY quotations from the Hebrew Bible in the New Testament are from texts in the Hebrew Bible, and hence are in POETRY [here I am not listing these].

NOW, the Book of Job is almost entirely in POETRY. The ONLY prose sections of the Book of Job are Job 1-2; 32:1-5; 42:7-17. Accordingly, it is IMPERATIVE to understand Hebrew poetry IF one wishes to understand the Book of Job. Unfortunately, the old King James Version and American Standard Version printed these texts as PROSE, and thus did not faithfully present the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible. YOU MUST use a good translation that presents POETRY in CORRECT POETIC form. Otherwise, often you will not see the thrust of the text.

There are some "very minor" features of biblical POETRY, as "recurring refrain" or "chorus" occasionally, alliteration, and the like. However, THE PRIMARY CHARACTERISTIC of the Bible [Hebrew Bible and New Testament] is PARALLELISM. ONLY by learning and observing the principles of PARALLELISM that one may understanding the biblical text. Biblical poetry is NOT like well-established modern poetic forms, like sonnets and the like. Your properly equipped teacher and preacher will help you learn and appreciate and understand biblical PARALLELISM.

Briefly, in this blog, it is absolutely necessary to introduce PARALLELISM for a proper understanding of the Book of Job. As we work through the chapters, we will keep returning to applications of parallelism to specific texts. But, as an introduction, here are the SIX MAJOR types of biblical PARALLELISM. I will give only one example of each, with a few comments. As a broad definition: Parallelism is the repetition of similar or related thought or grammatical structure in adjacent lines or verses. Often, parallelism consists of TWO LINES, but this may be THREE LINES or FOUR LINES, and sometimes more.

1. Synonymous Parallelism. This consists of two parallel lines which essentially have the same meaning.
Proverbs 16:18: "Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall."
When I first began preaching, I made this into a FOUR point sermon. I could WOW my audience to distinguish between "pride" and "a haughty spirit," and between "destruction" and "a fall." Now that I have learned Hebrew, and STUDIED the Bible more correctly, it seems laughable to me at my former ideas. This is "synonymous parallelism." These two lines essentially SAY the same thing: If a person is "proud" or "haughty," that person is destined to "destruction" or "a fall." This is simply HOW God works in human life.
For the Book of Job--Job 3:25: "Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me,
and what I dread befalls me."
This is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL IN THIS TEXT, because here "fear" clearly means dread, terror, horror, and the like. In later blogs, I will try to demonstrate that "fear" has various meanings. So by no means does "fear" always or even regularly mean "dread" in the Bible or in the Book of Job. But sometimes it does, as in Job 3:25.

2. Antithetic Parallelism. This consists of two lines in which the second line stands in contrast to the first line. This is NOT a CONTRADICTION. Here is one illustration.
Proverbs 10:7: "The memory of the righteous is a blessing,
but the name of the wicked will rot."
Such a passage sharply distinguishes between characteristics of the righteous and the wicked from the biblical perspective. Further, in THIS verse, "name" MEANS "memory" in the obvious sense of "track record." In other passages, "name" has other meanings. Each text must determine the meaning, and PARALLELISM is IMPERATIVE for correct understanding.

3. Emblematic Parallelism. This consists of two lines in which the alternate line offers a simile [using "like" or "as"] or metaphor [a comparison not using "like" or "as"].
Proverbs 25:14: "Like clouds and wind without rain
is one who boasts of a gift never given."
This simile is very appropriate for West Texas. Often, we have rising clouds with lightning and thunder, but it does not rain. This is LIKE a person who promises to give a gift to a friend, but never does that.

4. Stairlike or Climactic Parallelism. This consists of two lines in which the second line goes back to the first line and completes the incomplete first line.
Psalm 29:1: "Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength."
As the hearer listens to the first line, he or she is leaning forward to completing the statement, but it never happens. Then, the composer starts again in the second line and completes the thought of the first line. "Ascribe to the Lord . . . " [WHAT? Line one never says]. BUT, line 2 completes the thought: "Ascribe to the Lord GLORY AND STRENGTH."

5. Alternating Parallelism. This consists of alternate half-lines or lines, giving an a-b-a-b structure. Here is a clear example.
Micah 1:4: "Then the mountains will melt under him [God]--a
and the valleys will burst open--b
like wax under the fire--a
like waters poured down a steep place--b"
This alternations makes clear that the idea is:
The mountains will melt under God like wax under the fire;
and the valleys will burst open like waters poured down a steep place.
[Some modern poems follow an abab pattern, and this often happens in the Bible].

6. Inverted Parallelism. This consists of half-lines or lines which have an abba pattern. One example is Psalm 137:5-6b:
"If I forget you, O Jerusalem,--a
let my right hand wither!--b
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,--
If I do not remember you--a"
It is very easy to see that "forget" and "not remember" in verses 5a and 6b are parallel--they have the same meaning. The two middle lines are a little more difficult in verses 5b and 6a. Actually, a withered hand and a tongue cleaving to the roof of the mouth is quite parallel and equivalent WHEN one realizes that the composer of Psalm 137 is a "singing" (with the mouth) "harp player" (with the right hand)--the two things which are nearest and dearest to his profession and ministry (note verses 2-3).

As we work "tediously" through the chapters of the Book of Job, you will find quickly that PARALLELISM is IMPERATIVE to understanding this book. Be patient. Study. Pray. Read different English translations. Study commentaries [not just one] and scholarly articles.

This may be "academic" for some of you. Please forgive me. But, this is absolutely essential to understanding the Book of Job properly.

Let me hear from YOU. Share your thoughts with those around you. I need to learn. Give me your insights. Blessings to all.

John Willis


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