Poetic Analysis of Ps 2:1-9

1 Why do the nations conspire,
     and the peoples mutter emptiness?

The question word at the beginning needs no repetition in the second line, but "emptiness" balances it and moves the thought forward, so that although the parallelism is synonymous the second line says more than the first.

2 The kings of the earth take station,
     and the rulers together take counsel,
   against Adonai and against his anointed,

The first pair of lines are synonymous, and the subjects and verbs correspond, but different parts of the clauses are expanded: "kings of the earth" - "together take counsel". So, there is variety within the synonymity; the third line does not repeat but simply moves forward, but is itself composed of two balancing parts.

3 "Let us break their bonds,
     and let us throw their ropes from us."

The verbs again correspond, as do the nouns, this time the second line is longer introducing a slight pause in the onward rush of the poem. This gives the next verse more "punch".

4 The one throned in the sky laughs;
     Adonai mocks them.

The two lines are of similar length in Hebrew, as in English. The first begins with a periphrastic reference to God. This slows the thought (as the hearer works out who is meant) before the quick conclusion "laughs". The reference to God in the second line is short, but the derision is now drawn out.

In these lines attention is drawn to the contrast between the earthly kings, whose pretensions have been recounted, and the heavenly lord who mocks them.

5 Then he speaks to them in his anger,
     and in his wrath he terrifies them,

His wrath and fury are at the center of the pair of lines, thus attention is drawn to this idea.

6 "and I, I have set my king
     on Zion my holy hill."

The lines are not semantically parallel, but move forward. However attention is focused on the speaker, with the pronoun expressed and not merely included in the verb, and the repeated possessive pronoun.

7 I will recount Adonai's ordinance,
   He said to me, "You are my son,
     today I have begotten you.

Again the lines are not semantically parallel, and the stress is on the repeated pronouns: "I, to me, You, my, I, you". Not this time to focus on one person but on the creation of a relationship.

8 Ask me
   and I will give the nations as your heritage,
     and as your property the ends of the earth.

After the shorter introduction the lines again become repetitive, note how the last line magnifies the thought, reaching to the "ends of the earth" and contrast the "nations" and the "kings of the earth" in vv. 1 & 2.

9 You will break them with an iron staff,
  and shatter them like a potters vessel."

The lines are synonymous, but each has a different way of intensifying the notion of destruction: the "iron rod" is a violent image. Compare the suddenness of the pot’s smashing.

Notice how words are echoed later from the beginning of the poem, and how the ideas connected with them have changed. In this poem there is a particular emphasis on the changes surrounding our feelings about the nations and the kings. Often words which are repeated, or whose synonyms and antonyms are used, in different verses, indicate the development of the thought and the theme of a passage.

This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos,

© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.