As I translated Proverbs 2 in preparation for my sermon, I was struck by the literary artistry and tight organization of the poem. As I mentioned in the sermon, the entire chapter in Hebrew is one giant sentence, broken up into several parts:
2:1-4 – “If”
2:5-8 – “Then”
2:9-11 – “Then”
2:12-15 – “To”
2:16-19 – “To”
2:20-22 – “So”
Each “paragraph” within the mega-sentence relates to the others. “If” the son searches for wisdom (2:1-4), “then” the Lord will give him wisdom, which will build character (2:5-8 and 9-11), in order “to” deliver him from evil perverts (2:12-15) and “to” deliver him from the adulteress woman (2:16-19), “so” that he will be among those with integrity who will remain secure in the land (2:20-22).
What I didn’t mention on Sunday was that the poem may be alphabetically-shaped. An acrostic poem is one that uses a word or the letters of the alphabet in a creative way to begin each sentence of the poem. There are a few acrostic poems in the Bible, the most famous perhaps in Proverbs 31 or Psalm 119.
Proverbs 2 is not formally an acrostic, but many scholars have noted that it has acrostic characteristics. It has 22 lines, matching the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Furthermore, and more significantly, each major section in the first half begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet – aleph. Each major section in the second half begins with the 12th letter of the Hebrew alphabet – lamed. Aleph might represent the first half of the letters, and lamed – being the first letter of the second half of the Hebrew alphabet – could represent the second half of the letters.
Here’s what the first word of each of those sections looks like. I circled the opening letters (remember, Hebrew reads right to left):
The most we can say is that Proverbs 2 has alphabetical qualities, though it’s probably not strictly an acrostic poem. This speaks to the careful structure of the text as composed by Solomon.
Last week’s Cutting Room Floor focused on a larger chiasm in Proverbs 1. Proverbs 2 has multiple chiasms at a single-verse level. One commentator, Michael V. Fox (Proverbs 1-9, Anchor Yale Bible Commentary, pg. 126), finds about half the verses in Proverbs 2 displaying this chiastic pattern (vss 1, 4-5, 7-9, 12, 15-18, 20).
Here’s just one example from 2:4 (translated into literal English):
This verse has an ABBA pattern (verb-noun-noun-verb). Each of the hyphenated phrases translate a single word in Hebrew. A great number of verses in this chapter are constructed in this way, providing balance and artistry to the poem.