Mr. Harts was my 5th grade teacher. He was an ultra conservative, insert-religious-denomination-here man who wore all black, had a big beard on his face, a wooden paddle in his room (public school, mind you), and a genuinely joyful laugh in his belly. Him and I used to have sneezing competitions, vying for the loudest in the school.
One afternoon in the fall of ‘91 I stood in front of Mr. Harts and my classmates to give an oral book report on Ramona the Brave. This lasted about 30 seconds as I basically gave a summary of the cover image. When asked about other details in the book, I said I didn’t remember anything else. That was because I didn’t really read the book. Mr. Harts grilled me for a minute or two and I think I ended up getting a C+.
I was more of a computer/science/math guy growing up, not giving much time to literary reading. But over the past 7 years or so of lightweight biblical scholar studies, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of literary devices in scripture. Not only is it interesting in itself to see the creativity of design and structure in techniques, it also helps to add layers of depth, both artistically and in articulation, to the truth of the text. Furthermore, it helps to train the mind and heart to see modern day creativity in good pop-writing (it’s sparse, but it’s out there). For me, this comes into personal play with watching movies and enjoying good screen/story-writing.
Psalm 29 is an excellent example of the use of literary techniques. Let me briefly point out three creative elements. You can read and make reference to Psalm 29 HERE.
Parallelism – Western poetry is more about rhyme and meter, while the Hebrews used repetition and corresponding concepts heavily. I see three types of parallelism in Psalm 29.
The climactic flavor builds upon itself, hinting on the first line and completing on the second (Verse 1).
The ever popular synonymous standard says the same thing twice with some variation in it’s voice, often expanding it’s notion. (Verses 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11)
Then the antithetical type, often found in Proverbs, contrasts its first line with its second, but not necessarily in a contradicting way (though sometimes). Rather, it shows a fuller picture… the ESV translation of verse 9 shows God in both giving life (causes the deer to birth) and taking life away (strip the forest bare).
Chiasm – This is a grander form of parallelism, going beyond verses and into larger chunks of text and narrative, even possibly spanning across multiple chapters. The pattern is something like ABCCBA, where the parallel portions are either similar to each other in content or contrasting. If a unique verse is found in the middle (ABCDCBA) it sometimes is the turn-and-repeat moment (v.7 in our Psalm) or points to the most important part of the whole story and needs to be remembered at the end. (See The Flood narrative from Genesis 6.10 through 9.19; 8.1 is the middle of the chiasm, “God remembered Noah.”) Anyway, here is one possible chiastic structure of Psalm 29.
A — give credit to the Lord for His strength (1)
B —– royal references, glory and splendor (2)
C ——- water (3)
D ——— power, splendor + nature references [trees] (4-5)
E ———– geographical reference, Mountains of Lebanon/Sirion
F ————- The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. (7 – the only single line verse)
E ———– geographical reference, Wilderness of Kadesh
D ——— glory + nature references [forests] (9)
C ——- flood (10)
B —– royal references, enthroned (10)
A — the Lord gives strength to His people (11)
Literary Warfare – Okay… I kind of made this last one up, but here’s the thing… Psalm 29, to some degree, acts as a creative weapon. Why do I think this?
First, while the Psalm is completely about God, notice who it is “addressed” to in verse 1. Depending on your translation this might be heavenly beings or mighty ones or sons of god. This could be interpreted a couple different ways, but one way is that the Hebrew Psalmist is confronting gods of other nations. Canaanite mythology in particular refers to “mighty ones” as lesser gods.
Secondly, the content of the Psalm has parallels to Canaanite hymns that were about their god (generically Baal, more directly probably Hadad). This god was known as… drum roll… the storm god… he also had a side job of working in the fertility field.
So the Psalm is indirectly addressing people who worship this “great” storm-god. It calls him a lesser god. It creatively uses the context of storm illustrations and says that the storm-god is junk compared with Yahweh… “You think Hadad is powerful? Please… he’s chump change compared with the life giving Yahweh whose voice alone is more powerful than any storm you can think of. Give credit (ascribe) to Yahweh where credit is due.”
The great thing about this is that the Psalmist takes a swing at these false gods not by focusing on them and trying to outright dismantle them (though sometimes appropriate), but by declaring and bringing into view the truth of the glory of Yahweh… showing that He is better and higher than the storm-god and is the one who deserves worship.
D. Jay (one of the other contributors) wrote a great song on Psalm 29 many months ago. The verses are straight from the text, and the chorus draws on Elijah’s experience with God in the quiet (1 Kings 19). Whether D. Jay knew it or not, his chorus displays a great parallelism where even the supposed “weaker” parts of God are greater than the “stronger” parts of other gods. This flows right in with the literary devices of Psalm 29 proper.
“Even His whispers are stronger
than our enemies scream.”
For better or worse, what are some historical speeches/writings
that could be considered literary warfare?
How have you misunderstood the Holy Trinity as boring, bland, or uncreative?