Today’s offering comes from an artist who is a particular favourite of mine, Rembrandt van Rijn. Rembrandt was a prolific painter of biblical scenes and characters, imbuing them with meaning through his use of colour, tone, light, darkness, and detail. So today and tomorrow, I will consider two of his paintings: for today’s offering, I’ve chosen his wonderful portrait of the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah.
Rembrandt has depicted the prophet at the moment of Jerusalem’s destruction by invading Babylonian troops. He sits a distance away, head in hands, affirming his reputation for being one of the gloomiest biblical prophets in the Hebrew Bible. With his bare feet, he appears to have rushed off at short notice from the burning city (which we glimpse in the background), but not before he has salvaged some precious remnants from the now-decimated temple. A gold dish and jug, some books, and a velvet embroidered cloth lie by his left side – all that is left of the house of God, in which Jeremiah would have served as priest. His deep sadness is contagious here – the sombre tones reflect a sense of loss and grief, while his small bundle of salvaged treasures are but a cruel reminder of how utterly comprehensive the overthrow of Jerusalem, and its temple, has been. No wonder then he lamented wih such ferocity throughout his prophetic ministry, no wonder his words were so bitter and heartsore:
My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!
Oh, the walls of my heart!
My heart is beating wildly;
I cannot keep silent;
for I hear the sound of the trumpet,
the alarm of war.
Disaster overtakes disaster,
the whole land is laid waste...
…I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.
For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.
Because of this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above grow black;
for I have spoken, I have purposed;
I have not relented nor will I turn back. (Jeremiah 4:19-28).