Interpreting the Poetical Books for Preaching -- By: Lamar E. Cooper, Sr

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 13:1 (Fall 1995)
Article: Interpreting the Poetical Books for Preaching
Author: Lamar E. Cooper, Sr

Interpreting the Poetical Books for Preaching

Lamar E. Cooper, Sr.

Vice President for Academic Affairs
Dean of the Faculty
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
5001 North Oak Street Trafficway
Kansas City, MO 64118

I recall my first intensive study in Hebrew poetry as a young seminary student. The study focused on the Psalms, and my professor shared a story which adequately describes the allurement of this wonderful well of spiritual truth in poetic form. In one of his early pastorates, he had preached a series of messages from Psalms. An elderly woman inquired why he was so devoted to preaching from the Psalms. He replied that the Psalms were a fine area for exposition because the poems were so easily understood. This gracious lady was perceptive for she replied, “You do not love the Psalms because you understand them; you love them because they understand you.” The harmony of heart and spirit of both the human agent and the divine Author springs from the poetry of the Old Testament and strikes a kindred chord with our own. This is why preaching from the poetical books offers so much promise for those who will invest time and effort to search out and share the gracious truths awaiting discovery. The largest and best-known corpus of poetic material is the Psalms. Other books in which all or the major portion are written in poetic form are Job, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Lamentations.1

In addition to the poetic books are numerous isolated poems. These poems may be classified into at least five general categories: (1) tribal and local songs, (2) blessings and curses, (3) meshalim or comparisons, (4) paeans or victory songs, and (5) dirges or funeral songs.2

The Old Testament poetical passages have been compared to a house with many rooms. There are rooms for feasting and rejoicing such as Ps. 150: lff., and rooms for reflection and thoughtful introspection may be found such as Ps. 119:9. Some rooms are reserved for confession and repentance such as Ps. 32:1 or 130:1. Some rooms are set aside like Psalm 105, for remembering. Other rooms are filled with bitterness as Ps. 69:28. Still others are filled with the dark despair of the soul as in Psalm 88. Thankfully, many rooms are filled with hope and expectation.3

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