Reading Like An Ancient Hebrew

When reading poetry in the Bible it can sometimes be confusing. In our modern world, we are taught to think in a linear format where 1 comes first, then 2, then 3, and so on, all leading up to the main idea. This style of writing is present in the Bible, but is not the only way ideas are presented. The ancient writers of the Bible had another tool in their belts called “chiasm.” In this style of writing the most important idea is in the middle of the passage with the surrounding lines connected by themes that add meaning to their corresponding lines. For example in a 7- line chiasm, line 1 goes with line 7, line 2 with line 6, line 3 with line 5, and then line 4 is the centerpiece. Let’s look at an example of this in one of my favorites, Psalm 8:

Line 1 (Line 7)
Lord, our Lord, how magnificent is your name throughout the earth! You have covered the heavens with your majesty.

Line 2 (Line 6)
From the mouths of infants and nursing babies, you have established a stronghold on account of your adversaries in order to silence the enemy and the avenger. When I observe your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you set in place,

Line 3 (Line 5)
what is a human being that you remember him, a son of man that you look after him?

Line 4 (centerpiece!)
You made him little less than God and crowned him with glory and honor.

Line 5 (Line 3)
You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:

Line 6 (Line 2)
all the sheep and oxen, as well as the animals in the wild, the birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea that pass through the currents of the seas.

Line 7 (Line 1)
Lord, our Lord, how magnificent is your name throughout the earth!

Notice that you can read Psalm 8 both in the linear way lines 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 AND in the chiasm way with lines 1&7, 2&6, 3&5, and 4.

Lines 1 and 7 praise God throughout creation.
Lines 2 and 6 show God creating his creation.
Lines 3 and 5 show God’s care for humans and the tasks given to them to rule over creation.
Line 4, the centerpiece, shows humanity at its best, crowned to rule God’s creation!

Take some time today and read through Psalm 8 again and begin looking for more “chiasms” or central ideas as you explore the scriptures!

By Lee Sharp

Lee and his wife Tess are members at our Armstrong Mill Campus. They have 2 children and another on the way! Lee and his wife both love board games, good movies, and above all Jesus.

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