Engaging Exposition (12): Analysis of Poetry

The development of a thematic outline will help you discover the author’s MIT when you encounter Poetry in the Scriptures. It is essential to consider rhyme and meter and the use of figurative language when interpreting Poetry.

Poetry Type and Pattern
There are a variety of poetic styles in the Scriptures. Determining the type and pattern of a poem is one of the most challenging aspects of studying poetry, especially for young interpreters. For instance, Psalm 4 is a Psalm of trust-it reminds the reader of God’s faithfulness in life’s trials. If you do not know what type of Psalm you are studying, you will run the risk of misinterpretation.

Produce a Thematic Structural Diagram

When dealing with poetry, you are not attempting to identify the plot like you would in a narrative. You are not concerned with producing the kind of intensive structural diagram required by an epistle. Rather, you are attempting to trace the development of the poem’s themes and movement. As a result, you want to produce an analysis of the poem that will identify these.

In Psalm 4, David addresses several primary themes: a) God is righteous, and he hears the prayers of his people (4:1); b) man’s natural inclination is to participate in destructive activities (4:2); c) God’s people fear and trust him (4:3-5); d) God alone is the source of provision and safety for his people (4:6-8).

Identify Figurative Language

Poets use figurative language to describe the issues and emotions of life. Furthermore, the theological content of poems is often contained in their poetic devices. Consequently, interpretation requires an ability to understand a poem’s figures of speech and their connotations.

Identify the Theological Themes
As is true for every other genre, biblical poetry is about God and humanity. Consequently, it contains theological themes about God and his work among his people. The thematic structure that you develop will reveal the theological themes in the poem. Trusting God is the overarching theological theme of Psalm 4. He can be trusted to hear our prayers, to set us apart to fulfill his purposes, to infuse our hearts with joy, and to provide safety and security as we follow him.

Analysis of Wisdom Literature
Wisdom literature is a genre that incorporates both narrative and poetic elements. When you are studying in either Job or Ecclesiastes, use the narrative analysis form in the appropriate places and apply the appropriate criteria. When you are studying Song of Solomon, Proverbs, and the poetic parts of Job, use the poetry analysis form and apply the appropriate criteria. Note that there are significant similarities between Poetry and Wisdom Literature.

Analysis of Apocalyptic Literature

Apocalyptic literature is a very challenging genre to interpret. Because of its unique forms and language, Apocalyptic literature incorporates both narrative and poetic elements. As is the case with Wisdom literature, use the analysis form that works best for the text under consideration, whether narrative, epistolary, or poetic. To see how I have treated this genre, you can go to www.danielakin.com where you will find almost 40 verse by verse studies of Revelation.


Every biblical genre requires a unique model of outlining. You must properly identify the key elements used by the author in his writing. Rushing through the inspection stage may rob you of the joy and significance you will find in letting a text “speak.” Your haste, often influenced by personal presuppositions, may hinder you from “hearing” the text in the way God intends. Make the commitment to study the Scriptures carefully. Your close inspection of every biblical text will help you discover the author’s MIT. It will also yield rich expository fruit!

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