By Travis Lauterbach
Poetry fills the Bible.
One example similar to common modern forms of poetry is wordplay. Just as poets today like to rhyme, so various authors of Scripture liked to play with word sounds.
When reading the Old Testament in Hebrew, a reader can see that writers enjoyed matching sounds and using puns every bit as much as people do today. Authors liked to use words that sounded like other words for irony, humor, and especially to make a point.
Old Testament names for people and places often involved this kind of wordplay, adding a bit of humor and learning to the text.
One of the most famous examples, is the son born to Abraham and Sarah. When God promised that the unlikely couple would have a son, there was laughter. So fittingly, when the son was born, he received the name Isaac – a play off of the Hebrew word for “laughter.”
Another example of poetry in Scripture is most famously found in Psalm 119. The whole psalm features acrostic poetry. Each eight-verse section of the psalm begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The Psalm is so long because the writer used all the letters of the alphabet.
A third example of the poetry used in the Bible, especially the Psalms, is called step-poetry. A psalmist writes one line; and then the author writes a second line that, though very similar, is a tweak of the first line.
Sometimes step poetry can lead people to consider something from a different angle. Other times, step-poetry may add layers of depth to the meaning of what the author is saying.
Here’s an example: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1).
On the basis of God’s lovingkindness, David pleads for mercy. Adding depth to the first line, David confesses that the one from whom he asks mercy is the merciful One. And the mercy that He gives is the forgiveness of sins.
These are a few examples of the Bible’s poetic richness.