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Pastor Boyd Personett: (610) 287-8082
Pastor Greg Hufstetler: (215) 257-4148
Pastor Fred Zaspel: (215) 368-0190
Or call our church at: (215) 723-5979

Bible Survey 5 - The Old Testament Books of Poetry
The OT Books of Poetry(Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon)by Pastor Fred Hebrew PoetryWe do not know as much about ancient Hebrew poetry as we would like, and it is not always clear what portions of the Old Testament might be classified as “poetic.” Still, Hebrew poetry is clearly found extensively throughout the Old Testament. Job through Song of Solomon, however, are distinctively poetic in form (as is Lamentations) and so are known properly as the Old Testament poetic literature.              The principle elements of poetry include the line (sometimes called stiches), the verse (a combination of lines), the stanza (a grouping of verses), the poem (the complete composition), and the song (made up of a series of verses).              Some of the distinct forms of poetry found in the Old Testament include the psalm, drama (Job, Song of Solomon) and prose (Ecclesiastes), and the acrostic poem (Psalm 119). One difference between Hebrew and English poetry is that characteristically Hebrew poetry is not as often built on rhyme or meter as is English poetry. The most noted distinctive of Hebrew poetry has to do with balancing ideas in (usually) pairs of lines. This is called parallelism. Parallelism is extremely important in Hebrew poetry, and with its emphasis on content it is a very effective vehicle for communicating truth. 1.  In a synonymous parallel the second line simply repeats the thought of the first, only with different words.                        *Ps. 2:4; 6:1; 19:1;  49:1;  *Prov. 14:17; 16:18 2.  In an antithetic parallel the second line states the obverse side of the same idea; it restates the thought of the first line from a contrasting viewpoint.                         *Prov. 11:1; 15:1; 18:14; 28:13;  *Ps. 37:9 3.  In a synthetic parallel the second line amplifies or expands the meaning of the first line.                        *Ps. 1:3;  *Prov. 10:10            *Note that a climactic parallel proceeds a step at a time to a climax                                    *Ps. 29:1 4.  In an emblematic or comparative parallel the second line draws a comparison between some basic ethical or theological truth and some illustration, usually from nature. These parallels are generally marked by the use of “like” or “as . . . so.”                         *Prov. 25:12, 19, 20, 25; 27:17, 21;  *Ps. 42:1   5.  An enjambment has no real parallel at all, but both (or all three) lines simply form one complete sentence.                         *Ps. 121:8;  *Prov. 4:23  Hebrew Wisdom The Nature of Wisdom In the Hebrew world “wisdom” had to do not so much with abstract, philosophical thought as it did with “skill” — skill in living before God. The primary Hebrew word for wisdom (Hokma) is used of the builders and artisans employed in the building of the tabernacle — they were “skillful” in their respective trades. In a broader sense, Hebrew “wisdom” literature provides instruction on how life may be lived successfully and be made the most rewarding. Accordingly, the books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon are known as the books of wisdom because they provide instruction (in one form or another) concerning the skill of living successfully before God. Some of the Psalms are recognized as wisdom literature also, such as Psalm 1 with its instruction concerning “the two ways” of living. In wisdom literature life is viewed as responsible to God yet endangered on every side by sin and distractions from that which makes life godly — and, therefore, blessed and happy. Wisdom points us to God and counsels us how to steer our lives successfully away from these dangers. Wisdom is seen in proper behavior, doing what is right, wholesome, and pleasing to God. Wisdom is morality and sound judgment that results in fulfilling relationships with God and with men. Basic to wisdom is the fear of God. God is both the judge and the source of understanding, and to be successful life must be rightly oriented to him. This — rightly orienting life toward God — is the function of the wisdom literature.             The opposite of wisdom is folly. The fool does not fear God or seek God, he is not rightly oriented to God, and he does not seek to live according to God’s will. The fool and his folly, therefore, are to be avoided at all costs. This contrast between wisdom and folly, the wise man and the fool — “the two ways” — is a dominant theme in the wisdom literature.              The truly successful life is the life that is ordered by our creator, and this life of obedience and faithfulness is the only life that is truly rewarding. Hebrew wisdom, therefore, insists that right living is both right from a moral and vertical perspective and rewarding and in our own best interest. For both of these reasons folly is to be carefully avoided at all costs, and wisdom is to be pursued and valued above all else.  General Distinctives of the Poetic and Wisdom Literature The poetic and wisdom literature of the Old Testament is obviously cast in the world of ancient Israel, and it will sometimes review the great acts of God in history. But its principles transcend Israel and are transcultural. The authors reflect virtually every human emotion and grapple with issues that are common to people of all cultures and times — issues of sin, suffering, loneliness, love, the meaning of life, and so on. These questions concern us all and are of more personal than national or political interest. This literature is practical, experiential, very life-oriented, and it has a “familiar” tone as well as a sometimes disturbingly searching effect. Doubtless, this all contributes to the “favorite” status it enjoys with so many.  The OT Poetic and Wisdom Books The story of Job is presented as a drama that explores the question of God’s justice in relation to the suffering of his people. Why do his people suffer? Is God fair? He is certainly sovereign over all, so then why do his people suffer so? What does Job’s suffering — and ours — say about God? In a series of acts and speeches the story of Job displays God’s sovereignty and justice in all things and challenges us to a robust faith that trusts God tenaciously in his ordering of our lives. And at the conclusion of the book in Job’s restored prosperity we are reminded of the final triumph of justice. Indeed, in the end both God and his people are vindicated.             The Psalms teach us how to live before God (wisdom Psalms), and they reflect our own complaints (“laments”) and praise to God. The Psalms inspire our hope in God and remind us of his righteous and sovereign rule (Kingship Psalms). And they call us to submit to God and rest in his covenant faithfulness. The Psalms provide some of the most beloved passages in all the Bible. Throughout the history of the church Christians have turned to the Psalms to find expression for every emotion in every circumstance of life. The Psalms — the hymns of ancient Israel and of the church — reflect the passion of the believer’s heart for God.             Proverbs, as the name indicates, is primarily a collection of brief, pithy sayings that provide instruction for successful living. The proverb is perhaps the most basic form of wisdom instruction. Our more contemporary proverbs usually consist of one line — “A stitch in time saves nine!” “A penny saved is a penny earned!” But Hebrew proverbs are generally constructed with two lines in parallel — “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he that wins souls is wise.” “A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother.” The second line restates or otherwise completes the thought of the first. “The wages of the righteous bring them life, but the income of the wicked brings them punishment.” Usually by way of comparison, a proverb captures and summarizes some life truth or situation and thereby directs us away from the way of folly and darkness to a life that is blessed. Major themes in Proverbs include the fear of the Lord, the value of wisdom, sexual purity, justice, personal relationships, and right and wrong kinds of speech.              Ecclesiastes seeks to unmask the emptiness of life without God. Its repeated refrain — “vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” — insists that there is nothing “under the sun” that can bring us fulfillment. Only as life is pursued in a God-ward direction do we find ultimate meaning and satisfaction. After exploring all the best that this world has to offer the writer concludes that our wholeness is found only as we learn to live in the knowledge and fear of God. Apart from this perspective, life is a meaningless waste of time.             Song of Solomon, a poem about love, explores and extols the beauty of passionate marital intimacy. God created humanity male and female, and he himself authorized the “one flesh” relationship within marriage. Sexual love within marriage, therefore, is a good thing. The most intimate relations between husband and wife are intended for their pleasure and are to be enjoyed fully and appreciated as God’s good gift.  Larger Role and Contribution of these Books In the Pentateuch the law of God is given. In the historical books we are shown Israel’s response to that law as a nation. The poetic books express the devotional impact of God’s law in the individual lives of his faithful people. More reflective in nature the poetic-wisdom literature counsels us to faithfulness to God in all of life and to worship God in all of life’s varied circumstances. In our suffering, our business, our relationships, our home, our worship, and every aspect of living God is to be honored. We must be always aware that we live before him and that he, our judge, has commanded us how to live. Moreover, it is only in following this instruction that we find the life that is truly satisfying and blessed — to ignore or turn away from God is folly indeed.             But the poetic books are not duty oriented only. They remind us vividly of great themes such as God’s sovereignty, the reliability of his word, his love, faithfulness, justice, grace, providence, the resurrection, and so on. And in their reminder of God’s promise we find again the foreshadowings of the coming redeemer. Ecclesiastes’ quest to know God and Job’s quest for final vindication before God are answered finally only in Jesus Christ who suffered in our place in order to bring us to God. The Messianic King, Jesus, is a recurring theme in the Psalms. And the marital love of Song of Solomon must be read in the larger flow of Scripture’s presentation of the deep love between God and his people. That is, the Song is picturesque first of Israel’s messianic hope and finally of Christ and his bride the church. Wisdom itself finds its personification — indeed, its incarnation — in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 2:2). Like the rest of the Old Testament, the poetic literature has a forward look that centers ultimately on the person and work of our Lord.