Biblical Poetry

Why Some People Ignore the Poetry of the Bible

In this unit of the lesson we will give an airing to why many people disparage and ignore the poetry of the Bible.  These objections will be stated objectively, as people express them.  A rebuttal of these arguments will come in the next section of this lesson.  The “reasons” listed below should be understood as expressing reasons people give for not reading the poetry of the Bible and/or pressuring Sunday school teachers not to teach it.

Reason #1:  poetry is too difficult to understand.

Even though not all biblical poetry is equally difficult, most of it requires more analytic skill than ordinary people possess (says the person who does not value poetry highly).  Here is a specimen of the difficulty:

My soul is in the midst of lions;

I like down amid fiery beasts—

the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows,

whose tongues are sharp swords (Ps. 57:4).

No one’s soul is in the midst of lions, and there is no such thing as fiery beasts. Similarly, no one’s teeth are spears and arrows, nor are their tongues sharp swords. Ordinary people simply do not operate on this wave length.

Reason #2:  poetry is optional in a person’s life, not a necessity for everyone.

Given the difficulty of poetry as a form of communication, some people regard it as optional reading and a matter of personal preference. People who love poetry and have an aptitude for it are free to choose it.  Those who do not have the aptitude for it should feel no obligation to burden themselves with it, and they should not feel guilty about leaving poetry for people who relish it.

Alternatively, even if people feel obligated to have some contact with biblical poetry, they are content to receive a vague feeling of elevation or peace from reading a psalm.  They need not go to the effort of understanding a psalm in detail.

Reason #3:  poetry is an unnatural form of discourse and therefore does not appeal to ordinary people.

Prose is the normal form of communication, while poetry is an unnatural form. Just consider the following specimen:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;

my soul shall exult in my God,

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;

he has covered me with the robe of righteousness (Is. 61:10).

In ordinary discourse we do not say everything twice the way the poet does here.  In real life we do not wear garments of salvation or a robe of righteousness.  Any form of writing that deviates this far from the ordinary way of expressing ourselves is an unnatural form of writing.

Reason #4:  even though people in Bible times and through the centuries could handle biblical poetry, it is beyond people today.

There is a chronological factor that discourages us from mastering biblical poetry.  People today simply do not understand poetry and should not be expected to do something they find difficult.  Even the practices of dynamic equivalent Bible translations acknowledge that people today should be exempt from interpreting the poetry of the Bible.

Reason #5:  poetry is not worth the effort that it takes to master it.

In view of all that has been said above, poetry is more of a liability than an asset. There is plenty of other material in the Bible to keep us occupied and edified.