I’m no Greek or Hebrew scholar. Fortunately, I know some folks who are. Thanks to these language geeks, I have a much greater appreciation for some passages of Scripture.
Hendiadys and Chiasm: Two strange words that refer to literary devices. Understand these devices, and you will have a greater appreciation for Scripture.
How do you describe something when one word won’t do it? In this case, we use two words; both nouns joined by a conjunction, usually “and.” In our text for this week, we are looking at the central characteristic of God’s name, steadfast love and faithfulness.
I used to assume these were two separate things, and they are, except in this case. Together they are describing something that neither of them alone is capable of describing.
Both terms are used many times to describe God, so each is valid on its own. But what we see here is greater than either word standing alone. At his core, God reveals himself as “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” I hesitate to try to describe what God is saying to us here with other words, but here goes: God’s covenant devotion to his people and his absolute credibility in doing what he has said he will do.
A chiasm is a literary device in which a sequence of ideas is presented and then repeated in reverse order. The result is a “mirror” effect as the ideas are “reflected” back in a passage. Each idea is connected to its “reflection” by a repeated word, phrase or concept.
It looks like this:
Or, in this week’s passage of Exodus 34 6-7.
A. “A God merciful and gracious”
B. “Slow to anger”
C. “Abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”
B1 “keeping steadfast love for thousands”
A1 “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin”
So, we see “a God merciful and gracious” as parallel to “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” “Slow to anger” is parallel to “Keeping steadfast love for thousands.” And, that leaves “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” as the central thought and the main point of the passage.
You will find chiasms, or a chiastic structure, throughout Scripture and especially in the poetic books like Psalms.
For me, this was a terrific insight. God has used two literary devices to underscore his central focus in declaring his name to Moses (and to us). Sure, we could probably appreciate the wonder of God’s abounding steadfast love and faithfulness without knowing about these devices, but for me, it placed a great deal more emphasis on God’s character.
How about you, has this opened any new insight to you? Have you noticed these devices elsewhere in Scripture?