Using Syntax in Exegesis and Preaching

For the past two summers, the church that I attend has had a series called “Summer of Psalms” as the basis of its evening services during the summer. They have someone (not the pastors) do a teaching from a psalm. It’s pretty fun, and we end up learning a lot from the different ways in which the lessons are presented.
This year, I taught during one of those services. My text was Psalm 20. And I couldn’t help myself; the teaching is heavily influenced by the underlying structure implied by the syntax of the Hebrew—even though I don’t really know Hebrew.
If you’ve read the blog for awhile, you know that I have some level of understanding of the Greek of the New Testament and its grammar and syntax. However, I’ve not been lucky enough to study Hebrew. I know the alphabet and can vocalize the letters, but I have no understanding of it.
I used the lesson as an opportunity to look at the structure of Psalm 20 using the Andersen-Forbes Phrase Marker Analysis (aka Hebrew Syntax Graphs). I’d always heard that Hebrew poetry was a beautiful thing, but using the syntax graphs I was finally able to see it for the first time. It gave me a newfound appreciation for Hebrew poetry.
I couldn’t help myself; the lesson I put together focused on the structure of the Hebrew of Psalm 20. I didn’t do a single syntax search; I just examined how Andersen & Forbes broke the text down (that is, I looked at the arrows) to get an understanding of the poetic structure of Psalm 20. Using the View | Interlinear feature, I throttled the Hebrew Syntax Graphs down to only display “Clause-Immediate Constituent” and “English Literal Translation”, so I could track clause constituents without worrying about the other levels (supra-clausal structures and phrase levels). So Psalm 20.7 (in the Hebrew it’s v. 8) looks like this:

Psalm 20.7 (v. 8 in Hebrew), click for larger image

I didn’t know what to expect from the teaching, but folks said they liked the lesson. That’s encouraging. So if you’ve ever wondered how in the world “syntax” could be directly useful to exegesis and preaching, well, this could be an example. I thought I’d upload the sermon so y’all could look at it and perhaps see how simply looking at the structure implied by the syntax graphs (and not actually searching for stuff) could be used in the context of exegesis and teaching — particularly by someone who has a basic understanding of language and syntax but no formal training in Biblical Hebrew.


  1. Jonely Moy says

    Thank you. I know nothing about syntax, language structure, etc. let alone how to use them in preparing bible studies, and sermons. Can you give more examples like your sermon on Psalm 20 on how to use syntax and all that good stuff in bible exposition, and sermon prep? Perhaps then I will be able to use the syntax “toys” included in my Gold edition of Libronix!

  2. Wow, singing in a sermon. That is pretty brave. :-) Thanks for posting your manuscript.

  3. Timothy Weeks says

    Hey, thank you for the example. Your example has stirred some longings that have long lain dormant in my soul. I am preparing a series on Daniel and there is much that could teach sound doctrine through syntactical analysis. Good stuff. Great job. I read the mss and it is well done. By the way singing during a sermon is not that far off the wall. Wish I would do it more often. I did so just recently. It certainly wakes people up and they seem to pay closer attention.

  4. I got so excited reading this, but I need help.
    When i go to View, Interlinear, I do not get all the options shown above. My only options are:
    Greek Lemma
    Literal Translation
    I have the Software 3 Edition Gold.
    How can I add the options under this drop down window, so I can see my structuring the way it appears on the blog above?
    Also, what 2 options were selected ~ the print is too indistinct for me to see. Old age!