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Old Testament Survey: Books of Poetry


In This Section
The Book of Job | The Book of Psalms | The Book of Proverbs
The Book of Ecclesiastes | The Book of Song of Solomon


Biblical poetry is different from most types of poetry because it is written in Hebrew poetic structure. Strong poetry usually displays or manifests strong emotions; and the poetic books of the Bible will not disappoint in that area. The five books of poetry show a progression of spiritual life and include the following.

  • Job
    This book focuses on the undeserved suffering of a righteous man. Understanding his pain and the reasons for it can help us all deal with our own pain, as the book of Job represents the death to the old life of self.

  • Psalms
    The entire range of human emotions may be found here, from the depths of despair to the pinnacle of passion and praise. The book of Psalms [songs] illustrates the new life in God, expressing itself in praise, prayer, adoration, supplication, confession, and intercession. Psalms is the hymn book and worship manual of the Bible.

  • Proverbs
    The book of Proverbs is not just a collection of facts and figures. Rather, it is knowledge applied to life. Proverbs gives heavenly, yet practical, wisdom for life on earth. Following the advice found here will help you walk closely with your Maker.

  • Ecclesiastes
    Solomon had it all — fame, fortune, power, and wisdom. Yet everything he had was, in his own words, "vanity" and "meaningless". Ecclesiastes shows how a life without God is a life of emptiness.

  • Song of Solomon [Song of Songs]
    God is love — and a lot of poetry is too. This book explores in intimate details a sensual, sexual relationship between husband and wife. It's about love and sex the way God sees it, the way God created it to be. Song of Solomon provides an example of life with meaning by a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

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A Survey of the Book of Job
AUTHOR: Unknown
TO WHOM: The book is not specifically addressed to anyone but is applicable to all believers who experience suffering.
PURPOSE: This book wrestles with the question, "Why do the righteous suffer?"
KEY VERSES: 19:25-27— "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!"
23:10— "But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold."
LIFE AND MINISTRY PRINCIPLE: There is a spiritual reason behind the suffering of the righteous. Suffering is not necessarily evidence of God's displeasure.
MAIN CHARACTERS: God, Satan, Job, Job's wife, and his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu.


  1. Prologue: 1:1-2:13
    1. Introduction: 1:1-5
    2. Satan's first appearance and accusation: 1:6-12
    3. Job's trial: 1:13-22
    4. Satan's second appearance and accusation: 2:1-6
    5. Job's trial: 2:7-13
  2. First cycle of speeches: 3:1-14:22
    1. Job's speech: 3:1-26
    2. Eliphaz's speech: 4:1-5:27
    3. Job's reply: 6:1-7:21
    4. Bildad's speech: 8:1-22
    5. Job's reply: 9:1-10:22
    6. Zophar's speech: 11:1-20
    7. Job's reply: 12:1-14:22
  3. Second cycle of speeches: 15:1-21:34
    1. Eliphaz's speech: 15:1-35
    2. Job's reply: 16:1-17:16
    3. Bildad's speech: 18:1-21
    4. Job's reply: 19:1-29
    5. Zophar's speech: 20:1-29
    6. Job's reply: 21:1-34
  4. Third cycle of speeches: 32:1-37
    1. Eliphaz's final speech: 22:1-30
    2. Job's reply: 23:1-24:25
    3. Bildad's final speech: 25:1-6
    4. Job's reply: 26:1-31:40
  5. Elihu's speeches: 32:1-37:24
    1. First speech: 32:1-33:33
    2. Second speech: 34:1-37
    3. Third speech: 35:1-16
    4. Fourth speech 36:1-37:24
  6. God's answer: 38:1-42:6
    1. First speech: 38:1-40:5
      1. God questions Job from the realm of creation: 38:1-38
      2. God questions Job from the realm of animals: 38:39-39:30
      3. God demands an answer to His questions: 40:1-2
      4. Job's first answer to God: 40:3-5
    2. Second speech: 40:6-42:6
      1. God tells Job to save himself: 40:6-14
      2. God compares the power of Job with Behemoth: 40:15-24
      3. God compares the power of Job with Leviathan: 41:1-34
      4. Job's second answer to God: 42-1-6
  7. Epilogue: 42:1-17
    1. Divine rebuke of Job's three friends: 42:1-9
    2. Job's restoration: 42:10-17

Further Study
Following is the name of each of Job's friends and a brief summary of their arguments. The answers for the purpose of suffering are dealt with from different perspectives. They all agree that Job must have sinned, which we know is not true because God Himself called Job "a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil" (cf. Job 1:8; 2:3).

  • Eliphaz views the problem from the perspective of philosophy.

  • Bildad bases his advice on tradition rooted in history.

  • Zophar bases his ideas on assumption and is the voice of orthodox morality.

  • Elihu was an intellectual and bases his advice on education and logic.

Compare Job 1:21 with Philippians 4:11-12
"And he said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.'" (Job 1:21)
"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need." (Philippians 4:11-12)

The book of Job provides the most extended description of the world's history before man. See chapters 38-39. Other statements about the earth reveal it is suspended in space (26:7) and that it is a sphere shape (22:14).

The book of Job reveals two important truths:

  1. There is a spiritual reason behind the suffering of the righteous: Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6.
  2. Satan cannot afflict a believer without God's permission: Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6.
  3. God knows how much we can bear and He will not let Satan go beyond this point.
    1 Corinthians 10:13—

The book of Job reveals several reasons for Job's suffering, none of which in any way indicates that his suffering was a result of sin in his life:

  • That Satan might be silenced: 1:9-11; 2:4,5
  • That Job might see himself as he really was: 40:4; 42:6
  • That Job might see God: 42:5
  • That Job's friends might learn not to judge: 42:7
  • That Job might learn to pray for his critics rather than lash out against them verbally: 42:10
  • To show that God's plans for His children eventually result in happiness: 42:10

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Survey of the Book of Psalms
AUTHOR: All the Psalms were written by King David with the exception of the following:

  • Asaph: 50; 73-83
  • Heman: 88
  • Ethan: 89
  • Solomon: 127
  • Moses: 90
  • Hezekiah: 120-121, 123, 125-126, 128-130, 132, 134
  • Author Unknown: 1, 10, 33, 43, 66, 67, 71, 91-94, 96-100, 102, 104, 106-107, 111-119, 135-137, 146-150
  • TO WHOM: Israel, but the book has been used for devotion, prayer, and praise by believers down through the centuries.
    PURPOSE: The book of Psalms was known as the hymn book of Israel. The word "psalm" comes from the Greek psalmus meaning "sacred song". It is the prayer and praise book of the Bible.
    KEY VERSE: 95:1— "Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!"
    LIFE AND MINISTRY PRINCIPLE: Prayer, praise, intercession, and confession are all part of true worship.
    MAIN CHARACTERS: There are several people mentioned in the Psalms, either in an individual Psalm itself or in the title of the Psalm:
  • Abimelech (Achish): 1 Samuel 21:10-15
  • Absalom: 1 Samuel 13
  • Ahimelech: 1 Samuel 22:9-19
  • Aram-naharaim: Armeans of northwest Mesopotamia
  • Aram-zobath: Armeans of central Syria
  • Asaph: Levite, family of singers: 2 Chronicles 5:12
  • Bath-sheba: 2 Samuel
  • Cush the Benjamite (Shimel): 2 Samuel 16:5-14
  • Doeg the Edomite: 1 Samuel 22:9-23
  • Ethan the Ezrahite (A wise man in Solomon's time): 1 Kings 4:31
  • Heman the Ezrahite (Levite family of singers): 2 Chronicles 5:12
  • Jeduthun (Chief musician in the temple): 1 Chronicles 16:41-42
  • Korah (Levite, head of the temple musicians): 1 Chronicles 6:22
  • Nathan (Prophet of God): 2 Samuel 12:1-14
  • Sons of Korah (Musical Levite family): 1 Chronicles 6:22
  • Ziphites: 1 Samuel 23:19
  • Outline
    It is difficult to outline the book of Psalms, as each psalm focuses on a different subject matter. Many of the psalms have titles which either tell the occasion when the psalm was written or the purpose of the psalm. Some of the psalms were not given titles, so we can only speculate as to when and why they were written. The general outline of this book consists of five major divisions:

    Part One: Psalms l-41
    Number of Psalms: 41
    Summary of content: Concerns man, his state of blessedness, fall, and recovery.
    Key word: Man
    Final doxology [praise to God]: 41:13— "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen."

    Part Two: Psalms 42-72
    Number of Psalms: 31
    Summary of content: Israel, her ruin, her Redeemer
    Key word: Deliverance
    Final doxology: 72:18-19— "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!"

    Part Three: Psalms 73-89
    Number of Psalms: 17
    Summary of content: The sanctuary, looking forward to its establishment.
    Key word: Sanctuary
    Final doxology: 89:52— "Blessed be the LORD forever! Amen and Amen."

    Part Four: Psalms 90-106
    Number of Psalms: 17
    Summary of content: The earth: The blessing needed, anticipated, and enjoyed.
    Key words: Unrest, wandering (which describes the believer's position in the present world)
    Final doxology: 106:48— "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, 'Amen!' Praise the LORD!"

    Part Five: Psalms 107-150
    Number of Psalms: 44
    Summary of content: The Word of God
    Key words: Word of God
    Final doxology: 150:6— "Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!"

    Further Study

    Instruments Mentioned in the Psalms

  • Alamoth: High-pitched harps
  • Gittith: Similar to the modern guitar
  • Mahalath: Flutes
  • Mahalath Leannoth: Special flutes played in times of mourning
  • Sheminith: A lyre or five-stringed harp
  • Types of Psalms

    • Psalms of Instruction: The word "Maschil" in the title means these and other psalms are to be used for instruction or teaching, for example Psalms 32, 44, 52, and 78.

    • Psalms of Adoration: In these psalms God's greatness, mercy, love, and power are the theme (see Psalms 8 and 29).

    • Psalms of History: These recall historical events of the nation of Israel (see Psalms 78, 105 and 106).

    • Psalms of Supplication [Prayer]: Making requests of God (see Psalm 86).

    • Psalms of Thanksgiving: (see Psalm 18).

    • Imprecatory Psalms: The word "imprecatory" means "calling down a curse". These Psalms are not for personal revenge nor do they use bad language. As a prophet of God, the writer speaks out against sin and the enemies of God (see Psalms 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 83, 109, 137, and 140).

    • Confession Psalms: Examples are Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143.

    • Messianic Psalms: These psalms, or portions of them, give prophecies related to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. They are recorded below to enable your further study.

    [Back to Top...]

    Survey of the Book of Proverbs
    AUTHOR: Solomon, the son of King David, wrote most of the proverbs. According to 1 Kings 4:32, Solomon spoke three thousand proverbs under the inspiration of God. Some of these are preserved for us by the Holy Spirit in the book of Proverbs. Solomon not only wrote the proverbs, but he also arranged them in the order in which they are presented in the Bible. Other proverbs of Solomon were put in their order by King Hezekiah's men. Two chapters in the book of Proverbs were written by two other authors: Agur wrote chapter 30 and Lemuel wrote chapter 31.
    TO WHOM: Israel, but the truths for practical living are applicable to all believers.
    PURPOSE: "To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth — Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles." (Proverbs 1:2-6) An introduction to the Proverbs is also given in Ecclesiastes 12:8-14.
    KEY VERSE: 3:13— "Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding..."
    LIFE AND MINISTRY PRINCIPLE: Vertical wisdom is necessary for horizontal living. Proverbs is a collection of wise principles given by God to man [vertical] to govern living with others [horizontal].

    MAIN CHARACTERS: The authors Solomon, King Lemuel, and Agur. The woman apart from God is called the "strange woman". The final chapter of Proverbs presents a contrast to her by describing the "virtuous woman" who knows God.

    The word "proverbs" comes from Latin proverbium from verbum meaning "a short forceful saying". Each verse in Proverbs is a concise summary of an important truth. It is difficult to make a general outline of the book because each chapter, and sometimes each verse within the chapter, deals with a different subject. The reason for writing these brief sayings or "proverbs" is to condense wisdom to help us remember spiritual truths better. The proverbs are short summaries of great spiritual truths. Here is a general outline of the book:

    1. Introduction: 1:1-6

    2. Lessons on wisdom: 1:7-9:18
      1. The call of wisdom: 1:7-33
      2. The rewards of wisdom: 2:1-7:27
      3. Praise of divine wisdom: 8:1-9:18
    3. Miscellaneous proverbs of Solomon set in order himself: 10:1-22:16
      (From this chapter through chapter 25 are various observations about Christian virtues and their opposite sinful attitudes and responses.)
    4. Collections of proverbs of wise men: 22:17-24:34

    5. Proverbs of Solomon set in order by Hezekiah's scribes: 25:1-29:27
      1. Observations about kings, quarrels, and relationships with others: 25:1-28
      2. Comments on fools, sluggards, and busybodies [person who meddles in the affairs of others]: 26:1-28
      3. Self-love, true love; offenses; thoughts on household care: 27:1-27
      4. Contrasts of the wicked and righteous: 28:1-28
      5. Proverbs about public government and private affairs: 29:1-27
    6. A proverb of Agur: Confessions and instructions: 30:1-33
    7. A proverb of Lemuel: A lesson in chastity and temperance; praise of a good wife: 31:1-31

    Further Study

    Key words to study in Proverbs include:

  • wisdom
  • knowledge
  • instruction
  • folly
  • fear, fear of the Lord
  • life
  • law (commandments) righteousness/evil/justice
  • my son
  • Study and list the following groups mentioned in Proverbs:

    • Seven things God hates: 6:16-19—

    • Two things the author requests of God: 30:7-9—

    • Four things which are never satisfied: 30:15-16—

    • Four things which the earth finds unbearable: 30:21-23—

    • Four wonderful things: 30:18-19—

    • Four small but wise things: 30:24-28—

    • Four stately rulers: 30:29-31—

    Study the different fools mentioned in Proverbs:

  • The simple fool: 1:4,22; 7:7; 21:11
  • The hardened fool: 1:7; 10:23; 12:23; 17:10; 20:3; 27:22
  • The arrogant fool: 3:34; 21:24; 22:10; 29:8
  • The brutish fool: 17:21; 26:3; 30:22
  • Record what the book of Proverbs teaches on the following subjects:

    • A good name:

    • Self control:

    • Masters/servants:

    • Youth and discipline:

    • Strong drink:

    • Anger/strife:

    • Business matters:

    • Friendship:

    • Rich/poor, poverty/wealth:

    • Marriage:

    • Words/tongue:

    • Women:

    • Immorality:

    • Wisdom and folly:

    • Oppression:

    • Evil companions:

    • Laziness/work:

    • Scorners:

    • Wisdom:

    • Pride and humility:

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    Survey of the Book of Ecclesiastes
    The word "ecclesiastes" comes from the Greek ekkl e-'sia meaning "church" or "organized worship".
    AUTHOR: Solomon
    TO WHOM: Israel and believers in general with a special emphasis toward youth.
    PURPOSE: A description of the quest for quality of life apart from God.
    KEY VERSE: 12:13— "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man."
    LIFE AND MINISTRY PRINCIPLE: Life apart from God is futile.
    MAIN CHARACTERS: Solomon. No other characters are mentioned by name.


    1. Searching by personal experimenting: 1:1-2:26
      1. By wisdom: 1:12-18
      2. By pleasure: 2:1-11
      3. A comparison of the two: 2:12-23
      4. The first tentative conclusion: 2:24-26
    2. Searching by general observation: 3:1-5:20
      1. Of natural order: 3:1-22
      2. Of human society: 4:1-16
      3. His advice in view of these two: 5:1-17
        1. Regarding religion: 5:1-7
        2. Regarding society: 5:8
        3. Regarding riches: 5:9-17
      4. The third tentative conclusion: 5:18-20
    3. Searching by practical morality: 6:1-8:17
      1. Economic level: 6:1-12
      2. Reputation: 7:1-22
      3. Education: 7:23-8:1
      4. Social position: 8:2-14
      5. The third tentative conclusion 8:15-17
    4. The search reviewed: 9:1-12:12
      [Solomon concludes the following about life apart from God (references relate back to his discussion of these facts)]
      1. It is utterly futile: 2:11
      2. It is filled with repetition: 3:1-8
      3. It is filled with sorrow: 4:1
      4. It is grievous and frustrating: 2:17
      5. It is uncertain: 9:11-12
      6. It is without purpose: 4:2,3; 8:15
      7. It is incurable: 1:15
      8. It is unjust: 7:15; 8:14; 9:11; 10:6-7
      9. It is on the level of animal existence: 3:19
    5. The search concluded; A final conclusion: 12:13-14
      1. What we should do: 12:13
      2. Why we should do it: 12:13b-14

    Further Study

    The Ten Vanities

    • 2:15-16— ________________________________________

    • 2:19-21— ________________________________________

    • 2:26— ________________________________________

    • 4:4— ________________________________________

    • 4:7— ________________________________________

    • 4:16— ________________________________________

    • 5:10— ________________________________________

    • 6:9— ________________________________________

    • 7:6— ________________________________________

    • 8:10,14— ________________________________________

    The word "heart" is used 40 times in Ecclesiastes. Read the book to discover what the Lord has to say about your heart.

    Make a list of all of Solomon's possessions and experiences in chapter 2. Note in verse 10 that he had "whatever he desired." Notice the results in verse 11: All was vanity. Note the steps that made him realize this: He looked, he turned, he saw, he said in his heart.

    Study the key word "vanity" (other translations/versions use "no purpose", "meaningless", "useless", "pointless"), which is used 37 times. Write four of the verses here.

    Note the phrase "under the sun" ("done on earth", "done on this earth", "done in the world"), which refers to life when spiritual values are ruled out and one dwells only in the secular world. This phrase occurs 25 times. As you study Ecclesiastes, list Solomon's conclusions about life apart from God (for example 2:11). Compare or contrast this kind of life to the life found in Jesus Christ.

    The Bible records that King Solomon tried all of the following things trying to give meaning to his life:

  • Human wisdom: Ecclesiastes 1:16-18
  • Wealth: Ecclesiastes 2:7-8
  • Alcohol: Ecclesiastes 2:3
  • International reputation: 1 Kings 10:6-7
  • Pleasure: Ecclesiastes 2:1-3
  • Music: Ecclesiastes 2:8
  • Building projects: Ecclesiastes 2:4
  • Literature: 1 Kings 4:32
  • Beautiful gardens and parks: Ecclesiastes 2:4-6
  • Military power: 1 Kings 4:26 and 9:26
  • Personal indulgences: Ecclesiastes 2:7
  • Natural science: 1 Kings 4:33
  • Sex: 1 Kings 11:3
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    Survey of the Book of Song of Solomon [Song of Songs]
    AUTHOR: Solomon
    TO WHOM: Israel and all believers
    PURPOSE: To show the relationship between Jesus and the Church as demonstrated by the human marriage relationship.
    KEY VERSE: 8:7— "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised."
    LIFE AND MINISTRY PRINCIPLE: The divine model of love between a man and his wife is the pattern for relationship between Christ and the Church.
    MAIN CHARACTERS: Solomon who represents the bridegroom [Jesus Christ]; the Shulamite girl who is the bride [the Church]; and the daughters of Jerusalem [the world].

    To understand this book, you must realize that it has four levels of interpretation:

    1. It is a model of the relationship that should exist between a man and his wife.
    2. It is an example of God's relationship with His people, Israel.
    3. It is an example of the relationship between Christ and the Church.
    4. It is an example of the individual relationship between Christ and the believer.

    This book is written in conversational form. The best outline for study is in terms of this dialogue. The characters and the order in which they speak are as follows:
    Bride 1:2-7
              Bridegroom 1:8-11

    Bride 1:12-14
              Bridegroom 1:15

    Bride 1:16-17; 2:1
              Bridegroom 2:2

    Bride 2:3-6
              Bridegroom 2:7

    Bride 2:8 to the word "me" in verse 10
              Bridegroom 2:10 from word "rise" to verse 15

    Bride 2:16-17; 3:1-4
              Bridegroom 3:5

    Bride 3:6-11
              Bridegroom 4:1-5

    Bride 4:6
              Bridegroom 4:7 to the word "out" in verse 16

    Bride 4:16 from the word "let"
              Bridegroom 5:1

    Bride 5:2-8
                        Daughters of Jerusalem 5:9

    Bride 5:10-16
                        Daughters of Jerusalem 6:1

    Bride 6:2-3
              Bridegroom 6:4-9
                        Daughters of Jerusalem 6:10
              Bridegroom 6:11-12
                        Daughters of Jerusalem 6:13
              Bridegroom 7:1-9

    Bride 7:10-13; 8:1-3
                        Daughters of Jerusalem 8:5 to the word "beloved"
              Bridegroom8:5 from the word "I"

    Bride 8:6-8

    Bride 8:10-12

    Bride 8:14

    Further Study
    Study the characteristics of the bridegroom as described by the bride. These are natural parallels or descriptions of the spiritual qualities of our Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ:

  • Swift as a gazelle [animal similar to a deer] leaping over the hills: 2:9
  • Ruddy and handsome, the fairest of ten thousand: 5:10
  • His head was covered by wavy, dark hair, pure as gold: 5:11
  • His eyes were deep and quiet, like doves beside brooks of water: 5:12
  • His lips were like lilies and his breath like myrrh: 5:13
  • His cheeks were like sweet beds of spice: 5:13
  • His body was bright ivory with jewels: 5:14
  • His arms were like round bars of gold set with topaz stones: 5:14
  • His legs were like pillars of marble set in sockets of finest gold, like the cedar trees of Lebanon: 5:15
  • Study the natural characteristics of the bride as described by the bridegroom. Remember . . . these are symbolic parallels of spiritual truth. How do these relate to you spiritually as part of the "Bride of Christ"?

  • She was the most beautiful girl in the world: 1:8
  • She was like a bouquet of flowers in a garden: 1:14
  • Her eyes were like those of doves: 1:15
  • She was like a lily among the thorns: 2:2
  • Her hair was like flocks of goats which played across the slopes of Gilead: 4:1
  • Her teeth were as white as sheep's wool: 4:2
  • Her lips were like a thread of scarlet: 4:3
  • Her lips were like honey: 4:11
  • Her neck was as stately as the tower of David: 4:4
  • Her bosom was like twin fawns feeding among the lilies: 4:5
  • She was like a lovely orchard, bearing precious fruit: 4:13
  • She was like a garden fountain, a well of living water, refreshing as the streams from the Lebanon mountains: 4:15
  • Her thighs were like jewels, the work of the most skilled craftsmen: 7:1
  • Her waist was like a heap of wheat set about with lilies: 7:2
  • Her navel was as lovely as a goblet filled with wine: 7:2
  • Her nose was like the Tower of Lebanon overlooking Damascus: 7:4
  • He was overcome by just a glance of her beautiful eyes: 4:9
  • [Back to Top...]

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