Things You May Not Know About PSALMS #1 – Structure

This is the first in a series of posts about the book of Psalms. These posts are written with the lay person in mind, and seek to share useful information about the book of Psalms (succinctly) that may not be readily apparent to the reader.

Let’s talk about structure; and by structure, I do not mean the structure of the entire book, but rather the structure of individual psalms. Hebrew poetry (of which Psalms is an example), “is structured around poetic lines of verse rather than around sentences and paragraphs.”[1] That is to say, Hebrew poetry has a different structure than that to which a 21st century western reader is accustomed.

The defining structural feature of Hebrew poetry is parallelism, which is the grouping of two or three lines or together to express one thought. In Psalm 92:6 we read:

Senseless people do not know,
Fools do not understand,

This two-line repetition used to express a single thought is common and has been called ‘synonymous parallelism.’[2]

Another type of parallelism is ‘developmental parallelism,’ in which the second line builds upon (or develops) the first line[3], as in Psalm 121:3:

He will not let your foot slip –
He who watches over you will not slumber.

Other types of parallelism include:

Illustrative – in which the second line gives an example (or illustrates) the first line, as in Psalm 140:7[4]

Contrastive – in which the second line is contrasted with the first line, as in Psalm 1:6[5]


*  The information in this post, referenced below, was mostly taken from Grasping God’s Word, which I highly recommend.


[1] Duvall & Hayes. Grasping God’s Word (pg. 349)
[2] Ibid. 350
[3] Ibid. 350-351
[4] Ibid. 351
[5] Ibid.