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Asbury Bible Commentary – E. Some Implications of Biblical Poetry as a Mode of Revelation
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E. Some Implications of Biblical Poetry as a Mode of Revelation

E. Some Implications of Biblical Poetry as a Mode of Revelation

First, consider Biblical poetry and theological reflection. The fact that God has chosen to reveal himself, among other ways, through the vehicle of poetic literature in both the OT and NT bears reflection. Not only what God says, but how he says it instructs us. For one thing, from God's revelation of himself in poetic form we can affirm his appreciation of beauty, for poetry (including biblical poetry) is art. Although there are numerous passages where the biblical poets use the various devices of poetry in themselves to signal or enhance meaning, e.g., marking the beginning and ends of passages and tying lines together, at many other points no semantic motivation for the poetic turn appears to be present. It is simply part of the art and beauty of the form. Why did the poet say it that way? Because of the beauty of the expression. Surely God can understand our attempts to be beautiful and to produce beauty in our work and world. Ugliness and distortion are sin's scars in this world, not the will of God. We reflect his person in this quest.

Second, from God's revelation of himself in poetic form, we can affirm God's desire to hallow both our intellect and our emotions for his use. Poetry expresses both emotion and intellect, inseparably combined in the production of powerful communication. The beauty, imagery, and balance tap the deep psyche of God's people in a way that simple theological essay would rarely do. Yet the psalms are not mere sentimental drivel or emotional effusion. Profound theology, often elaborately structured in intricately crafted poems betrays intellectual breadth and depth as well as strong feeling. False choices between a “warm heart” and a “clear mind” do not find support in these psalms or in God's very mode of revelation in them. God made both the head and the heart and relishes the opportunity to sanctify them for his use. The psalmist affirms God had made his “inmost being” (KJV “kidneys,” 139:13), the location of feelings, internal sensitivities in ancient physiology. The Wesleyan Revival in eighteenthcentury England illustrates this well, for it was not John Wesley's analytical, orderly sermons alone that spread the flame of renewal and the call to Christian perfection across the British Isles. Without Charles Wesley's hymns, passionately but intelligently touching the hearts of England, one may wonder how far the effort would have gone. The movement joined the head and the heart of the Wesleys. God calls us by this mode of revelation to surrender our whole being to him for his service.

Third, from God's use of Hebrew poetry in revelation we can affirm God's willingness to redeem all cultures and art forms by filling them with his Word. Of course, strictly speaking, we cannot speak of what God wishes to do with all cultures and art forms based solely on his use of this one. But we can infer his openness to do so with some art forms we might have considered “out of reach” to him or too depraved for his use. What we have called “Hebrew” poetry should more accurately be called “Northwest Semitic” or “Canaanite” poetry. The canons of Hebrew poetry (see A, B, and C above) are the same as those found in other Canaanite poetry, indeed in poetry pressed into the service of debauched idolatry. Our most extensive exposure to this larger body of Canaanite poetry has come from the city of Ugarit, where copious poetic epics predating David's time and telling of the gods El, Baal, Yamm (Sea), Mot (Death), and goddesses Anat, Shapshu (Lady Sun), and others have been found. Other poetic worship literature devoted to the Canaanite high gods is known from there as well. Considering the virulent rejection of that culture's faith and its depraved manifestations, one marvels at the Lord's appropriation of this very art form with all its disreputable associations to express himself. The move is analogous to the appropriation of “off-limits” music forms by the church from earliest times (again like Wesley's use of “pub music”). But there is more than mere “appropriation” involved. The art forms and the slice of culture they represent are not only appropriated, but redeemed; not simply neutralized, but pressed into the holy service of God. This feature of God's ways of revelation calls for artists among people of God to unleash their creativity in both redeeming and creating art forms to the glory of God.