Which poems in the Bible are acrostic poems?An acrostic poem is a poem where the first letter of each line spells out a word, phrase, or the alphabet when read vertically. The Bible contains many poems in both the Old and New Testaments, some of which are acrostics. Due to translating the poems from their original ancient languages into the modern languages that are read today, the acrostic poems are often difficult to recognize.
Perhaps the one acrostic poem most likely to be recognized as such is Psalm 119. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, made up of twenty-two stanzas of eight verses each. All of the eight verses in each stanza start with the same Hebrew letter with the stanzas progressing through the twenty-two successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Psalm 37 is similar in that two lines, rather than eight, begin with the same Hebrew letter and the poem progresses through the entire twenty-two letter alphabet. Psalms 25, 34, and 145 all advance through the Hebrew alphabet one line at a time. In contrast, Psalms 111 and 112 move through the Hebrew alphabet by clause, with two clauses per verse (and three clauses in the last two verses) to make it through the twenty-two letter alphabet in only ten verses each. Psalm 9 uses the first half of the Hebrew alphabet to start each verse and Psalm 10 uses the second half of the alphabet to finish the pattern. Even when read together, however, these two poems form an irregular acrostic because some of the Hebrew letters are skipped or missing. Nevertheless, the structure and pattern of these two psalms categorize them as acrostic poems.
Acrostic poems are found outside the book of Psalms as well. The poem about the wife of noble character found in Proverbs 31:10–31, often recited in Jewish homes on the Sabbath in honor of the woman of the house, is an acrostic poem with each of the twenty-two lines beginning with sequential letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Additionally, the book of Lamentations is organized acrostically. Chapters 1, 2, and 4 are twenty-two verses each with each verse beginning with successive letters. Chapter 3, however, goes through the Hebrew alphabet with three verses per letter, taking sixty-six verses to complete the sequence. Chapter 5 of Lamentations is not an acrostic, leading some scholars to suggest this chapter was written at a later time and added to the book afterwards.
Using alphabetical order helped students of Scripture in its original language to memorize the lines more easily. It symbolizes a completeness in the teaching as well as bringing organization and order to a world that often seems chaotic. Learning about Scripture in its linguistic context can bring new insight to readers who desire to study the Bible more deeply. Reading God's truth expressed in poetry and music in one's own language can enhance a student's ability to retain the teaching. What a gracious God to give us His Word and provide methods to help us remember it.
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