It is the rare Bible class for older children and teens that contains more than a quick look into the poetry in the Bible. Since Bible classes are more about content – and preferably easy to understand content – than style, poetry in the Bible is often passed over for more concrete passages. While we don’t want to turn Bible classes into World Literature classes, young Bible students are missing a lot by avoiding the poetry in the Bible.
Here are some important points about the poetry in the Bible that even older elementary aged students need to know and can understand.
- Technically the books of the Bible known as poetry books (sometimes the word “wisdom” is added to the category) are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs and Lamentations. Poetry can also be found in other passages scattered throughout scripture including passages like Numbers 21:17-18 and the songs of people like Miriam, Deborah and Mary.
- Because the Bible is translated from other languages, the poetry does not have the rhyme and rhythm we expect when a poem was originally written in our primary language. This is mainly because the words and their equivalent in the new language do not sound anything alike. Other poetic devices like alliteration, assonance and acrostics are also often lost in translation. Similes, metaphors, repetition, personification and other poetic devices do translate, but may sound more awkward or not be quite as specific as in the original language. Translators do work hard to make sure the meaning of the poem is conveyed accurately even when other literary devices must be sacrificed.
- Poetry is a perhaps more imaginative way to express emotions or tell a story. The words used are often more descriptive and expressive than in prose writing. Just because a poem uses such language does not mean any story told is untrue or the wisdom or godly principles conveyed are inaccurate.
- Poems (in the Bible) during Bible times were often used as worship songs and prayers. Some poems were acrostics in the original Hebrew and were thought to have been written that way to make them easier to remember. (In synagogue schools entire books of the Old Testament were often memorized.)
- In Psalms, Proverbs and Song of Songs (and other poems) imagery is used to help readers better understand a concept or concepts by comparing them to something tangible and more easily understood. In Proverbs, some of the images are quite funny and memorable.
- Many of the poems in Psalms and Lamentations as well as the songs of various people throughout the Bible convey the strong emotions of the poet. When students are feeling those same emotions, reading those poems can help them better understand, process and appropriately express those emotions to God.
- Verses in poetry should be considered in the context of the poem. Job’s friends, for example, said some things that made God angry. Taking those verses out of context means they may be considered Truth, when they were actually upsetting to God.
- Just as in the prose writing in the Bible, it is important to consider what God wants us to learn from a poem, and what changes we may need to make based on what we learn from it.
Helping young Bible students read the poetry in the Bible and see the value of it can make it much more likely they will read those passages independently. This can be extremely healthy for the teen years when strong emotions are often felt. The poetry books can also be very helpful to young people from traumatic backgrounds. Many older children and teens love Proverbs for it’s easy to understand (and remember) wisdom. Exposing all of your young Bible students to the poetry in the Bible can give them more resources to help them live the life God wants them to live.