Advent offering – December 10

My advent image today comes from that most wonderful illustrator of biblical texts, William Blake. I’ve chosen one of his watercolours from the illustrations he did to accompany the book of Job. This biblical story is brimming with pain, loss, grief and anger. Job rails against God for his unjust suffering – and who can blame him? The divine response, coming at last in chapter 38, can leave us both perplexed and awed, as God appears to ignore Job’s complaints and instead, takes him on a vast tour of creation, dazzling him with cosmic wonders, both earthly and heavenly. Blake’s painting below – entitled “When the Morning Stars Sang Together” – is an illustration set at the very start of this divine speech:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” (Job 38.4-7)

In this painting, Blake shows Job, his wife, and his friends, huddled beneath the feet of an energetic deity, who sits above them, orchestrating day and night with verve and enthusiasm, hands waving like a maestro conducting a symphony of cosmic creativity. You get the sense that God really is having a great time. To God’s right, the sun rides by on majestic horses; to the left, the moon scurries off, urging on its serpentine mounts, while above, the stars “sing together,” and the heavenly beings – who look a little like showgirls from an old Buzby Berkley extravaganza – perform a perfectly choreorgraphed dance of joy. With his beautiful detail and glorious use of colour, Blake captures perfectly the sheer wonderment that we are meant to feel when we read this opening to the divine speech – even Job, in the midst of all his suffering, appears to have momentarily forgotten his woes to gaze, with astonishment, at this most creative and vivifying deity.

William Blake, “When the Morning Stars Sang Together (1805)

2 thoughts on “Advent offering – December 10

  1. cedar51 December 10, 2013 / 5:21 pm

    Lots of questions that one day I might find the answer during this study time, but one that springs to mind is there any book in the OT dedicated to a man whereby they have an entirely joyous time of life in Ancient Israel? ( apologies on grammar, life in my current time, is a little distorted, brain not with the planet and certainly not with the word processor)

    On a lesser note, the painting certainly is astonishing but also full of images which is how life should be – both there and now…thanks


  2. Caroline Blyth December 10, 2013 / 9:31 pm

    Glad you found the picture interesting! I think life in the OT/HB is usually presented as a mix of good times and bad – times when everything seems to be going wonderfully well, and times when things could not be much worse. The book of Psalms shows this up particularly well, I think, as its poetry displays the whole range of human emotions, from soaring joy to absolute, unremitting despair. I sometimes think of the individual psalms as spoken/sung by the same person at different moments in their life – psalms of praise for when things are going well, and psalms of lament when life sucks. The ancient Hebrews did not seem to blanch away from complaining to God, as well as praising God – they incorporated it into their worship and it was a legitimate and important part of their understanding of their relationship with God.


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