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A Note to Wrap Proverbs

One last effort to help Proverbs come alive for us all...

Shakespeare had couplets, Solomon (and the other authors of poetic Hebrew literature like Proverbs) had couplets, triplets, quadruplets and more. In this style of literature, the different lines of poetry act in parallel to teach the one truth.

This is called 'parallelism': when two or more lines are related to each other to teach the same truth.

Parallelism shows up in 3 main forms: synonymous parallelism, antithetical parallelism, and emblematic parallelism.

1) Synonymous Parallelism
The statements are synonymous, to emphasize one point. An example is Proverbs 3:11 in how Solomon tells his son to welcome the correction that comes from God.

My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline
or be weary of his reproof.

Other examples: Proverbs 10:18; Psalm 38:151:1; 120:2; Is 53:5

2) Antithetical Parallelism
The statements state the antithesis (opposite), to emphasize one point. An example is Proverbs 10:2 articulating the differences and costs/benefits of wickedness and righteousness.

Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit,
    but righteousness delivers from death.


Other examples: Psalm 1:6; 34:10; Proverbs 19:16Ecc. 10:2

3) Emblematic Parallelism 
(My favorite) The statements use an object, or 'emblem', to illustrate a point. Note how Proverbs 25:11 likens a kind, wise word to a common, well-known object to illustrate the truth.

A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

Other examples: Pr 27:15; 27:17

I should note that some scholars also recognize other forms of parallelism. "Synthetic parallelism", for example, is really a sub-type of synonymous parallelism. Some also note "climactic" (lines build to a climax/summary), "eclectic" (a combination of the above types), and "emphatic" (repetition of key words for the purpose of emphasis). I omitted them here for sake of simplicity.

If you know the three main types above, and trust the Spirit of God, you know enough to help Hebrew poetry come alive!

See you Sunday!
-Jim