Genres of Poetry in Scripture


You’re listening to Tim Bulkeley’s 5 minute Bible This podcast should be the last of the boring stuff for a while I’m going to lead you through a brief
classification of some of the genres of poetry we find in Scripture. After this
we will get on to how some these genres actually work in practice much more fun! Biblical poetry tends to
get divided into two main branches poems and songs
we will look at the songs first. Because they are the biggest branch There are three main kinds of song in
Scripture by far and away the biggest group are the
Psalms in the Book of Psalms and elsewhere,
but there are also other kinds of songs found in narratives
and there are love songs let’s look at the Psalms first, I’ve grouped the psalms in four main sorts, you can use other numbers for your classification dividing things up evensmaller
you’ll notice I put laments and complaints together this strikes me as a division which is
useful and simple Let’s take those laments and complaints first there’s quite a debate over what exactly
you call them but all of these psalms, whatever you
call them are responses to a perceived wrongness
in the world in some of them the focus is on complaining in some the focus is on appealing for
help and in some the focus is on confessing one’s own sin which is the wrongness perceived in the
world! So, psalms that perceive a wrongness in the
world. Another major category of Psalms (complaints being the biggest) are hymns hymns aren’t old worship songs with lots of verses they are psalms that proclaim God’s glory and just do that they don’t focus on thanking God for the
good things he’s given us but simply proclaiming how great and
wonderful God is and more the most to the other kinds of psalms,
hymns a standard form they begin with either a call to praise “Let us worship the Lord” or an announcement of praise “I will praise Yahweh”
The call may go on for several verses or it may just be a line or something in between, it’s joined to the body if the psalm by conjunction: for or because what follows is almost entirely,
almost always the reasons for praising Yahweh. Another big category of psalms are the thanksgivings
these are psalms that thank God for what he’s done you also find bits of thanksgiving in psalms of other genres and that’s true of laments and complaints and of praise too, but psalms which are predominately about
thanksgiving make a useful separate category and then, there’s the grab bag, wisdom psalms, royal psalms, Zion psalms and load of other small categories with just a few psalms each As I said, you can make your classification more complicated, but this one is fairly
simple and fairly convenient.
Now about those love songs there s one book of love songs, the Song of Solomon and there is a parody love song in Isaiah 5
Prophets often do that, they take a genre which works differently and they twist it somehow, we’ll come back to that we talk about the prophets and then there’s the songs in narrative.
There are two main kinds of these ‘singing the story’ and ‘singing in the story’ are the way way I think of them there are usually longer songs
though sometimes they are very short that celebrate the story, some of the best-known long examples are the celebration at the exodus the chapter 15 in song by Miriam and Moses after we’ve heard the story of the Exodus in
chapter 14 Deuteronomy 32 the Song of Moses we get a celebration of all that God has
done for his people in the story so far Judges 5 celebrates the story that we read in Judges 4 but there are also shorter songs that appear as part of the action of the
story so some of the characters will sing work songs or war songs or whatever so ‘singing the story’, celebrating the story that’s been told and ‘singing in
this story’ people in the story who sing, as well as songs, though, there are poems these are of two main kinds prophecy and wisdom prophets used poetry, indeed there are
many scholars nowadays who speak of the prophets as poets or at least of the people who wrote the
prophetic books as poets I don’t want to get into that debate, what I want to notice is that the prophets regularly take, and adopt, appropriate genres to express their message but they often
use them in interesting ways laments – the singing of a dirge over someone who is dead they take and use in a fairly appropriate
way but they are doing it to imagine someone who is alive, or the whole nation, as if they were dead.
But on other occasions they will deform the genre even more Amos, for example, takes the genre of
instruction a priest would give in ritual duties, he takes it and twists it to hammer home his message variety and ingenuity are the spice of prophecy and that’s why or one of the reasons why, so much
prophecy is poetry. Wisdom: there are both longer wisdom
poems and there are short sayings proverbs for example, like the ones in
Proverbs 10ff. are short poetic sayings but there are also wisdom poems like those in
Proverbs 1-9 and in the case of the book of Job, the poems in the bulk of the book, the speeches of Job and his friends become almost like a play, that
explores the themes of the book Ecclesiastes is in some ways similar
though it’s a bit more dubious whether it is or isn’t poetry and it’s a bit less clear exactly what
Ecclesiastes is doing readers of the book really have to think
in that way it’s just like poetry So, we’ve explored the two main branches What about that little branch off to the
right? Blessings also usually in poetry So that’s the picture bye for now

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