“A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother” (Prov. 10:1b).
Having knowledge does not necessarily make one wise; however, one cannot be wise without having some knowledge of God and the world around us. Wisdom applies knowledge rightly so that we might live in a manner that pleases God.
There are a few books in the Old Testament that are known as wisdom literature because of their explicit references to wisdom. These books are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. For the most part, these books use the format of poetry to convey their wisdom teachings. Because of this, we will not be able to understand these books correctly if we do not understand how Hebrew poetry operates.
Unlike much English poetry, Hebrew poetry does not usually contain meter or rhyme. Rather, it is parallelism that sets Hebrew poetry apart from Hebrew prose. Parallelism occurs when we find two or more lines in a poem that correspond with one another in order to make a point synonymously, antithetically, or synthetically.
Synonymous Parallelism. In synonymous parallelism, the lines of poetry say the same thing in different ways in order to make a point. A good example is found in Matthew 6:13 where Jesus prayed, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” In this phrase, Jesus is saying the same thing two different ways by using synonymous parallelism. Thus, Jesus is asking God to keep us from the ravages of evil; He is not teaching that God Himself can tempt us.
Antithetic Parallelism. In antithetic parallelism, two lines are contrasted with one another in order to make a point. We see a good example of this in Proverbs 10:1, where the opposite behavior of the wise and foolish sons. are compared in order to describe the types of children that are pleasing to their parents.
Synthetic Parallelism. In synthetic parallelism, the successive lines build on, and intensify, the first line. Proverbs 6:16–19 exemplifies this as the list of the things God hates grows from six items to seven from verse 16 to verse 17.
If we are to be passionate in our pursuit of wisdom, then we must understand the forms that wisdom literature may take. The study of things like parallelisms will greatly benefit us when we sit down and read the poetry found in the wisdom literature. Take some time to read through the forms listed in today’s study, and then read Proverbs 20. Try to find one example of each, and ask how the parallelisms help to clarify the meaning of the entire chapter.
Passages for Further Study
- Pss. 1:6; 2:1–3 3:4
- Prov. 10
- Eph. 4:8 2
- Tim. 2:11–13