In literary compositions, the Western approach is fairly linear. Meaning our thoughts flow from A to B to C to D and then comes a conclusion. Hebrew approach is quite different. The thoughts can flow from A to B to C and D, then making a reverse flow with corresponding thoughts of C' to B' and A'. Very fascinating. The key point or conclusion is found in C and C', or D. These are the parabolic, palindrome or chiasmus approach. I am beginning to sound intelligent and scholarly, right? :) Google the last two words and you will understand what the terms mean.
As an e.g. Gen 11:27-32
27 This is the account of Terah.
Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. 28 While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. 29 Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.
31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.
32 Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran.
Breaking down the verses into the parabolic form:
A. Terah and his family in Ur of the Chaldeans, v.29a
B. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai. v.29b
C. The name of Nahor's wife was Milcah. v.29c
C'. Milcah was the daughter of Haran. v.29d
B'. Sarai was barren; she had no children v.30
A'. Terah and his family set out from Ur of the Chaldeans for Canaan. v.31-32
This sounds academic until the lecturer Chai Hok explained the significance of this parabolic arrangement. The name of Sarai means 'princess'. Milcah means 'queen'. If you look at C and C', it would seem to suggest that Milcah should take center stage for two reasons:
1. She's the 'queen'. Naturally she should take center stage.
2. Her lineage was mentioned but not Sarai's. Lineage is important in the Hebrew culture because it gives belonging and identity, and it legitimizes her presence.
It highlights the 'nobodyness' of Sarai. Moreover, she was barren and it was mentioned twice. This is called pleonasm (repeat something in different words but gives no additional information). There is a double emphasis that this is a bad.
What's the learning? Abraham story's begins with a dead end. But see what happens out of the life of Abraham in the next chapter (12:1-3) when God covenanted with him.
The principle is simply this:
There's always a new beginning no matter what situation you are in!
Cheers! Theological studies can be fun!