Yesterday we looked briefly at parallelism. The main point we want to remember is that biblical poetry makes use of repetition to enlarge and amplify ideas.
Besides parallelism, the other main characteristic we see in Hebrew poetry is imagery. The poetry of the Bible is filled with vivid pictures that speak not only to our minds, but also to our emotions and our imaginations. We’re going to look for some of those pictures in Psalm 91 today.
Imagery makes a comparison between two things that are similar in some ways but very different in other ways. These obvious differences grab our attention and cause us to stop and contemplate the meaning of the image. These comparisons come in two different forms — as similes and as metaphors. (Yes, we’re doing grammar again.)
A simile says that one thing is like another. The comparison is clearly stated, using the words like and as. This sort of imagery is used throughout the poetry of the Bible and extensively in the book of Proverbs.
For example, Proverbs 26:22 tells us, “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.”
“Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I am only joking!'” (Proverbs 26:18). The word like again helps us recognize the comparison being made.
“As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.” (Proverbs 26:21) In this example the word as helps create this simile.
Metaphor, another form of imagery, simply calls one thing something else. The similarity between two things is implied. We will not find the words like or as in metaphors.
Metaphors abound in the book of Psalms. For example, Psalm 23 tells us, “The Lord is my shepherd.” It doesn’t say He is like a shepherd. It simply states that He is our shepherd. He is not a real shepherd, taking care of sheep, but He is similar in some way. Our task is to think about this statement and discover the similarities between God and a literal shepherd. This may require some study, since most of us don’t have a great deal of knowledge about shepherds and their duties.
Assignment: Pray, thanking God for His Word and for His Holy Spirit who makes that Word clear to us.
- Read the entire psalm, looking for metaphors that refer to God and to His character. To what is He likened? To what is His character likened?
- List each of these metaphors in your notebook. Don’t stress over this. If you’re not sure if something is a metaphor, don’t write it down. Some comparisons should be fairly obvious. Those are the ones to record.
- Let’s look at verse 4 together since it does use metaphor, but perhaps less clearly. The psalmist speaks of God’s feathers and wings. The verse doesn’t outright call God a bird or a mother hen, but it does say He has feathers and wings, likening Him to a bird. This is metaphor, and it is a reference to God, We should include this in our list of metaphors.
- See if you can find at least five obvious metaphors that liken God and His character to some other object.
- We’re going to use some study tools next week to help us better understand these comparisons. For today, pick at least one of these metaphors and draw a picture of it in the margin of your Bible or printout. (You can do it!)
- If you don’t know how to draw something, or if you’re like me and realize you don’t really know what something looks like when you go to draw it, use Google Images to help you. For instance, if you want to draw a hen protecting her chicks, search for “hen and chicks.” If you want an actual drawing to copy, add the word drawing to your search — “hen and chicks drawing.” Then look for the simplest drawing to use as an example. This should help you draw basic shapes and key features.
- Keep it simple (unless you enjoy getting into the details). You really don’t have that much room in the margin of your Bible to get very detailed anyway. Remember, this isn’t a drawing lesson. It’s a tool to help you think about and remember what God is saying to you through His Word.
- Spend some time, as you draw, thinking about the meaning of the particular image you are drawing. In what ways is God like this object? How might that impact your view of Him and the way you live as His child?
For your children:
- Work on memorizing at least one new verse from Psalm 91 today. Then review the other verses you have already memorized.
- When you have finished, read Psalm 91:1-5 aloud to your children, or take turns, having the children read aloud with you.
- Ask them to listen for what God is called in these verses and to raise their hands every time they hear one of these words.
- Write each word down where the children can see the list.
- Then give them paper and drawing materials and have them each choose one of the images to illustrate.
- When they have finished, let each child share his drawing with the others, and discuss briefly how God is like each of these things.
(We’ll study these images in more detail in future lessons.)