Poetry and Prayer, Wisdom and Worship

The books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon are commonly considered the Scriptural books of the poetic genre.  They are also classified as “wisdom” literature.  Lamentations in the Old Testament and Revelation in the New Testament could also be considered along with these.  These writings explore the wide range of human experience and why it all matters in our relationship with God.  Nothing is omitted or slighted.  It is good to read the Psalms through over and over for a lifetime, while you weave the other four books in with them.  This sets the table for any other study that you do in the Scriptures.

The Psalms are at the center, drawing every dimension of human experience into the presence of God. The Job-Proverbs polarity sets the extraordinary crisis experience of extreme suffering over against the routine experience of navigating the affairs of everyday life .The Song of Solomon sets the ecstasy of love in tension with the drudgery of life in Ecclesiastes.  Consider the following concepts when reading these masterful writings:

  • Respect the poetic genre. Poetry is not meant to be dissected or analyzed.  It is to be experienced.  Remember that Hebrew poetry is not based on rhyme or meter, but upon parallelism of thought and vivid imagery.
  • Regard them as wisdom literature. In Hebrew thought, the concept of wisdom has to do with living life skillfully in response to a sovereign and saving God.
  • Be responsive to the hand of God. Job is the believer in trial by the divine hand of God.  The Psalms is the believer in transformation by the delivering hand of God.  Proverbs is the believer in training under the disciplining hand of God.  Ecclesiastes is the believer in travail under the deliberate hand of God. The Song of Solomon is the believer in touch with the directing hand of God.
  • The human experience can be prayed. The Psalms are the language of prayer.  In Job we see desperation in prayer.  We walk in prayerful wisdom in the Proverbs.  In Ecclesiastes we see the vanity of prayerlessness, and in the Song of Solomon there is the intimacy of prayer.
  • Realize the futility of life without God. You will recognize the caution that illusion and idolatry will diminish and destroy human dignity.

Next time…How to read the Prophets.