23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they divided his clothes among the four of them. They also took his robe, but it was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24 So they said, “Rather than tearing it apart, let’s throw dice for it.” This fulfilled the Scripture that says, “They divided my garments among themselves and threw dice for my clothing.” So that is what they did.
25 Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” 27 And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.
28 Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. 30 When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
John 19:23-30 (NLT)
Dear God, as I sat down to look at this image this morning, even before reading the passage from John, I noticed something interesting. I noticed the circles around some of the characters’ heads–indicating they were saints, sanctified, or holy. One was Jesus. Two were obviously women (bottom of cross to the right). One was a man. At first I thought this might be the thief whom Jesus assured would be in paradise, but the face is clean and looking up–not dying. No, this is apparently John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. There is a fifth circle for the person on their knees to the left of the cross. It kind of looks like a woman, but I cannot be sure. Again, after reading the passage, I assume it is one of the other two Mary’s or Jesus’s mother Mary’s sister.
Other things I noticed that the artist, Eric Gill, chose to share with us (side note–I just looked up the artist for a link to share here and found that he apparently sexually abused his daughters. Completely heinous! But does it inform the art a little in that, while he allowed Jesus some modesty, he showed one of the thieves completely naked?): He portrays Jesus’s feet separately and not nailed together–I wonder why. He shows women and men who aren’t sanctified–no circles. I understand the man could represent the Pharisees, but who are the two women in front on John (in Gill’s mind). Who do they represent? It’s a reminder to me that it was likely both men and women who were glad to see Jesus die.
I confess, Father, that I know I would have been one of them had I been there at the time. I would not have believed. I don’t know that I’d have followed all of the way to the cross, but when I heard that the troublemaker, Jesus, had died I would have been happy. I am a fool, but knowing this about myself and how much I still love you gives me mercy for the non-sanctified people in the picture. I am sure you have mercy for them too. How do I know? Because Jesus asked you to. He did that so that every head in that picture would have a circle around it. So I join him in asking that you forgive me for what I am doing. Please allow for my foolishness and sinfulness in your plan.
In Jesus’s name, his wonderful, merciful, powerful, glorious name I pray,
14 My own people laugh at me. All day long they sing their mocking songs. 15 He has filled me with bitterness and given me a bitter cup of sorrow to drink.
16 He has made me chew on gravel. He has rolled me in the dust. 17 Peace has been stripped away, and I have forgotten what prosperity is. 18 I cry out, “My splendor is gone! Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!”
19 The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words.[a] 20 I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. 21 Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:
22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends![b] His mercies never cease. 23 Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. 24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”
Dear God, I think I have journaled about this passage and its associated image before, but I ran across it today and it reminds me a bit of my attitude towards this Thanksgiving. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like we have much to be grateful for. Our health is a mess with the pandemic. I talked with a woman yesterday who has known 7 people who have died from COVID-19. I stopped counting a year ago at 10. Our politics are a mess. The new COVID-19 vaccine mandates are causing pain. Inflation is rising. People cannot find housing. Businesses and other employers cannot find enough employees. Other than a solid stock market that seems to be divorced from the reality on the ground, causing the rich to just get richer while the gap between the haves and have-nots grows, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of good news. Even in my personal life, there are some tragic circumstances for which I am not grateful.
Then I remembered earlier today the first U.S. Presidential Proclamation for a National Day of Thanksgiving. It was October 1863. Written by Secretary of State William Seward, Lincoln released this proclamation, establishing the last Thursday in November to be set aside for Thanksgiving:
Washington, D.C. October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State
It’s really quite remarkable. The proclamation above and Prince’s depiction of the passage in Lamentations bear a striking resemblance. Of the image, Bustard writes:
This image shows a couple walking through a storm, which is symbolic of the suffering, pain, and destruction documented in the book of Lamentations. The husband clings to his wife as they move in faith through the storm. In the midst of the raindrops three elongated figural forms (alluding to the Trinity/Holy Spirit) create a covering over the couple. The woman clutching her abdomen is a symbol of hope and renewal as it represents the imminent arrival of a child. The presence of the Cross is created by the subtle placement of the woman’s finger overlapping the rod of the umbrella. It is by faith they walk, and the Holy Spirit amplifies their love through the storms of life.
Father, the passage in Lamentations ends with the words that have been made into a praise chorus. I sing them in my heart now, to you: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, never every morning. Great is thy faithfulness, oh Lord. Great is thy faithfulness.” Your faithfulness is great. Thank you for being my rock and my shelter. Thank you for everything you have given to me. Thank you for your mercy.
My own people laugh at me. All day long they sing their mocking songs. He has filled me with bitterness and given me a bitter cup of sorrow to drink. He has made me chew on gravel. He has rolled me in the dust. Peace has been stripped away, and I have forgotten what prosperity is. I cry out, “My splendor is gone! Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!” The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”
Dear God, yesterday, over lunch with a friend, I talked about how I’ve been disappointed with you in the past. I felt like you let me down when I had done my best to be faithful to you. My path got harder and more painful than I thought I deserved. What a beautiful portrait of that kind of pain this passage from Lamentations is! It expresses exactly what I was describing to my friend yesterday. I was filled with bitterness and felt you had given me a bitter cup to swallow. My peace (which I treasure from my relationship with you more than anything) was gone. “Everything I had hoped for from the Lord [was] lost!” But you used that experience to help me enter into a completely new place. I haven’t arrived. I’m not perfect. And I still can revel in self-pity with the best of them. Yet you taught me through that time to still “dare to hope.” You taught me to turn loose of what I thought I deserved at every level. Marriage. Children. Work. Money. Okay, like I said, I still fall into the traps of feeling like I deserve those things, but I can feel the progress I’ve made, and I’m grateful.
As for this image by Steve Prince, let me spend some time with it and see what be noticed and put into it.
It appears to be a tribals-type woman who is not fully clothed.
There is something ominous behind her. I originally thought she held the umbrella, but it is the mysterious figure behind her that holds the umbrella for her.
She has her right hand around her abdomen. Is she pregnant?
The train is not only falling, but it is blowing in from an angle. This isn’t just a shower. It’s a storm that requires the umbrella to be held against it.
It looks like umbrella is made of some time of leaves or thatch.
The man holding the umbrella has his left hand (with pretty gnarled fingers) around the woman’s waist.
The man is under the umbrella with her.
The man’s clothes cover more of him than her clothes cover of her. He even has a head covering while she has none.
Her scarf is blowing in the wind to support the idea of a storm.
It looks like she is trying to help with the umbrella, but it’s obvious that he is the one with control over it.
Her eyes are closed and she looks like she is just surviving, while the man looks confident and sure. His left arm around her indicates care.
The more I look at the picture the less ominous the man looks. He is becoming more noble in my eyes.
The piece is titled “Send Your Rain.” Is this storm from you for my good? Is this a rain that actually nurtures while it challenges? I like that thought.
Here is what Bustard says about the image:
This print is from the same series as Exodus: Bread from Heaven and therefore is intended to be a look at an Old Testament passage through the lens of a love story. This image shows a couple walking through a storm, which is symbolic of the suffering, pain, and destruction documented in the book of Lamentations. The husband clings to his wife as they move in faith through the storm. In the midst of the raindrops three elongated figures forms (alluding to the Trinity/Holy Spirit) create a covering over the couple. The woman clutching her abdomen is a symbol of hope and renewal as it represents the imminent arrival of a child. The presence of the Cross is created by the subtle placement of the woman’s finger overlapping the rod of the umbrella. It is by faith they walk, and the Holy Spirit amplifies their love through the storms of life.
So, I never thought of them as being a couple. I was thinking more of the woman representing your people and the man representing you. We are your bride. But you are in the umbrella? Hmm. That’s interesting. I have to admit, I really like the idea of this depicting my wife and me going through this together. Over the last 10 years, we’ve really needed each other in ways we never imagined. And we’ve needed you.
Father, help me to hold on to you. You don’t have to take away the storm for me to have faith in you. I’m slowly learning that. And help me to really believe and have faith in the fact that your steadfast love never ceases and your mercies never come to an end. You renew me every morning through your faithfulness to me. Great is your faithfulness, oh Lord. You are my portion, and I will hope in you.
Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. ” Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.
Dear God, before I get into the artwork that accompanies this story, I want to spend a little time with a revelation that I had. Christians/Jews in the Bible who were living in exile or under the rule of a non-Jewish/Christian king didn’t seem to complain about persecution. Whether it was Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in this story or Paul, Peter, or any of the other martyrs in the New Testament, they seem to take it in stride. Now, I’m sure they were scared and frustrated, but they seemingly dealt with that internally and with you. Externally, however, they just worshipped you through it.
Contrast that with how a lot of Christians respond to what they call “persecution of Christians” in our country today. First, I hardly think it can be called persecution in light of what real persecution looks like. But I hear a lot of whining about Christians being persecuted. Outside of the enforcement of the separation between church and state rules that have been set up, I’m not even totally sure what they’ve been referring to. And maybe I have only a limited picture because I live in the South where there are still large parts of the community that honor faith, but even so, whining is not how to be a witness for you. In this case, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego influenced the king by their faith in action, not by complaining to him that he was being unfair. Paul and Peter were the same way. Letting our faith shine in the midst of trials is what changes hearts. Complaining only makes others tune us out.
Okay, with that being said, let me take a look at this image created by Bustard and see what I see before I read his description.
You are overlooking Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego with your arms out wide and your hands open. Everything about you is outstretched and present.
Your eyes are focused on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
The flames are very present. They have not been removed. The three of them had to go into the fire.
The three men are certainly given distinct looks and hair styles.
The one on the right with the curly hair seems to have a rye smile.
All three of the men are looking at us while you are focused on them.
The guard is dead and the fire had already skeletonized him.
The guard is holding a bellows, indicating that he was part of making the fire as hot as possible and he paid a priced for it.
He sacrificed his life out of obedience to a king/god that couldn’t save him from the fire that you saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from.
I just noticed a triangle behind your head. Is that a reference to the Trinity? If so, that’s a nice touch.
With that said, here is what Bustard said about his piece “Even If.”
The title for this piece comes from a different translation of the “But if not” protest against Nebuchadnezzar made by these three young men in this passage. And at the end of the passage above it looks like God will not save them. The poor Persian soldier on furnace duty that day lies on the ground, burned hallway to the bones by the incredible heat, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are doomed to be burned to death. But then the king was astonished to see four men unbound, walking unhurt in the fire. God had chosen to save them. He protected them from the king, from the heat, and from death. The appearance of the fourth man in the fire represents a theophany–God revealing himself in human form before the incarnation. Other such appearances include Genesis 32:24-30 and Joshua 5:13-15.
Father, I will follow you “even if” you choose not to save me from earthly situations. I will follow you “even if” I am disappointed with how things that I for which I’m praying turn out. I will follow you “even if” I am angry with you. I will follow you “even if” the road is hard. Let “even if” be my mantra today. I have nothing to prove to anyone else. I am following you “even if” they can’t understand why. But with that said, let my life be an example to others of why, and draw others to yourself through what they see of you in me.
After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows, attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke. And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh. Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “I remember my offenses today. When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, we dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.” Genesis 41:1-13
Dear God, it feels like it’s been a while since I really dug in and spent some time with one of the images from the Bustard book Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups. There is so much in this image, I might need to break my observations into categories.
Chief Cup Bearer:
The original dream had three branches on the vines and I see three clusters of grapes.
The cup bearer is small combed hair and clean shaven.
The cup bearer is dressed.
The cub bearer is obviously bearing a cup for Pharaoh.
The baker is hanging (some translations say he was impaled, but the artist went with the hanging translation).
The baker is naked.
The birds are literally eating his flesh while he is still hanging.
There is a basked by his feet to represent the basket that had been on his head in the dream.
In death, his face is turned towards Pharaoh.
Pharaoh is seen as being much larger than the cup bearer.
His headpiece has a cobra snake on it.
He has the traditional eye make-up to make it obvious to us that this is Pharaoh.
There is a fence as a backdrop in the image. I’m not sure what that is about. Could that represent the wall that Joseph is behind, still in prison. It’s interesting that Joseph is not represented in this image.
I’ve made these observations before reading what Bustard had to say about this piece and this story.
John Piper writes: “Life is not a straight line leading from one blessing to the next and then finally to heaven. Life is a winding and troubled road. Switchback after switchback. And the point of biblical stories like Joseph…is to help us feel in our bones (not just know in our heads) that God is for us in all these strange turns. God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ.” It is often difficult to see the point of the evil circumstances in our lives, but examples like the life of Joseph serve as reminders that God is actively working for our benefit. The sometimes circuitous paths he sets us on are to keep us loving him and depending on him. They are for our good and his glory.
I like the line “…examples like the life of Joseph serve as reminders…” because the structure of the Bible is such an interesting way for you to have communicated with us and laid out the bread crumbs for us to find our way to you. I was thinking about this recently. How else would I have done it? If I were God, would I have just laid out a manual with a bunch of rules or would I just give example after example of how I have interacted with my people over thousands of years? Obviously, you picked the latter, and while that certainly gives impacts the way we develop as individuals and corporately as the church it also gives us greater insight into you. In storytelling parlance, you show more than you tell.
Father, help me to remember that you are sovereign and that there is a plan. Let that faith in something I cannot always see sustain me in my pursuit of you and the peace I experience in you. Be glorified in me so that others might be drawn to you as well.
So she went down to the threshing floor that night and followed the instructions of her mother-in-law. After Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he lay down at the far end of the pile of grain and went to sleep. Then Ruth came quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. Around midnight Boaz suddenly woke up and turned over. He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet! “Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she replied. “Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer.” “The Lord bless you, my daughter!” Boaz exclaimed. “You are showing even more family loyalty now than you did before, for you have not gone after a younger man, whether rich or poor. Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman. But while it’s true that I am one of your family redeemers, there is another man who is more closely related to you than I am. Stay here tonight, and in the morning I will talk to him. If he is willing to redeem you, very well. Let him marry you. But if he is not willing, then as surely as the Lord lives, I will redeem you myself! Now lie down here until morning.” Ruth 3:6-13
Dear God, I’ve spent some time looking at Ruth and Boaz, but I don’t know remember spending too much time thinking about Boaz himself. You know, trying to get into his skin. To do that, we have to go back to his introduction in chapter 2. Here are some verses in chapter 2 that are striking me about him and his character:
Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields Stay right behind the young women working in my field. See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to water they have drawn from the well.” (Ruth 2:8-9)
Not only did Boaz provide food for her, but he also cast a net of physical protection over her. I have been reminded over and over again how vulnerable women are to physical harm. I was talking with a friend yesterday morning about our daughters and wishing we could protect them better. My wife and I have talked about her uneasiness walking in crowds and fear of being groped by an anonymous man walking by. These just aren’t fears that I have, but they are real and legitimate fears for women. In fact, until this morning, I don’t think I’ve ever given much thought to the physical danger Ruth was in by going out to glean in the fields. But Boaz thought about it. Why did he care so much? What was it about Ruth that got his attention?
“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” (Ruth 2:11-12)
I think that speaks for itself. So I guess my question is, were Ruth and Naomi manipulating Boaz in chapter 3? At the end of the day, I suppose this was part of the culture at the time. In fact, I don’t know that I’ll ever fully understand this story because I don’t understand the culture of that time and place enough. But I do know that this ended up being part of your plan because these two people became David’s great-grandparents. Boaz did a lot of wonderful things, but he never knew he had done this. He was faithful in what you had given to him to steward, and the results would have been beyond anything he ever would have dreamed.
I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t go back to this image by Bustard and at least say what he had to say about it in his book:
Ben-Zion Weinman (1897-1987) was a sculptor, painter, and printmaker. An emigrant from Ukraine, he came to the United States in 1920 and was a founding member of a 1930’s avant-garde group called “The Ten.” Curing the 1950s he completed several portfolios of expressionistic etchings/aquatints. This print is a reworking of one of those pieces from The Books of Ruth, Job, and Song of Songs portfolio. The Bible is ambiguous about what may or may not have happened that night on the threshing floor: Weinman leaves the way open for either reading of the passage in his visualization of the famous night. He depicts both people asleep under the starlight, the future great-grandmother of King David under a blanket at the feed of Boaz, who snores against a heap of grain.
I looked for the original, and I couldn’t be sure which image was the one that Bustard used as the inspiration, but it’s interesting to consider that the author of Ruth left the events of that night vague. I’d never considered that before. I just took it for what was written on the page. Perhaps I’m naïve.
Father, help me to be faithful this day. Help me to not look to my legacy or my future because I have zero idea how you might be using me. The author Gary Thomas said in one of his books (it might have been Sacred Parenting) that our role in history is to be born, possibly procreate, and then get out of the way. What you do with our lives after that is up to you. Help me to embrace that simplicity and to offer you this one life that I get on earth to further your kingdom and your glory.
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him:9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth.11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come:13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds,15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life…
20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard.21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside.23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked. Genesis 9:8-15, 20-23
Dear God, when I opened Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups this morning, this is the first image I turned to. I’ve never liked this story, and I almost turned away. But then I got to thinking that perhaps I should explore this story more. Why does it hit me that way?
I’ve never liked the image of the human Noah. Why tell us this story? Why not just leave it at verse 19 and the part about you putting your bow in the sky as a reminder of your covenant with us? I really don’t need to know about Noah getting blackout drunk and being discovered by his son. Or do I?
My first inclination was to focus on Noah’s shame in this image and the reaction of his sons (and then his subsequent response to them). When I looked at Bustard’s image, I saw:
A fat old man passed out.
An umbrella. I thought it was a clever nod to the rain and a way to use it to give Noah a little modesty. Obviously, Bustard wasn’t going for a period piece.
The wine bottle and glass are also obviously not period, but communicate that the subject of the image is drunk and passed out.
The life preserver was a nice nod to the ark.
That’s what I saw. But here’s Bustard’s description of the piece:
Hebrews 11:7 states that “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” But although he was instrumental in saving all of the living, Noah was not the promised Savior. Noah is shown here drunk, lying in a cruciform, and with a life preserver forming a halo of sorts around his head. He is an inebriated old man, and the symbol of his saving work is broken and covers him as poorly as the fig leaves covered the shame of Adam and Eve.
Hmm. I had never thought about comparing Jesus and Noah. I hadn’t thought about Noah being your “savior” for the remnant of humanity and comparing that with Jesus being our Savior. The halo. The cruciform. The fact that the umbrella is broken. I had missed all of that. Interesting.
Father, there is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10). Except for Jesus, of course. Thank you for a complete savior. Thank you for an inclusive savior. Noah was an exclusive savior, sent by you to preserve the remnant of mankind. Jesus was sent to rip away the veil between you and us and present all of us to you as an unblemished bride. Help me to live into that and to carry that to others who need you today.
Dear God, I looked at this passage this morning and looked at the picture for a while and, frankly, I was having trouble getting anything from it. Then I read Bustard’s commentary in the bottom paragraph on the left. It says:
This large woodcut lifts the wave from the famous Ulithi-e woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai Katsushika and the ark from a small Washington print by Saadi Watanabe to create an image intended to communicate the idea of God’s goodness as seen through the preservation and redemption of the unworthy. The animals on this ark are not the cute, innocent animals found in a Noah’s Ark play set. According to the traditional symbolism in Christian art, these animals are all evil: the bear (evil influence), the cat (laziness), the goat (the damned), the blackbird (temptation of the flesh), the ape (malice), the leopard (cruelty), the owl (devotion), the hog (gluttony) and the fox (guile). The passengers on the ark that God chooses to save are undeserving–as are the people described in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
So, of course, after I read that, I went to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral nor idolators nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor greedy nor dunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (NIV)
Yes, I like this. I like Bustard’s idea that you saved the unworthy with the ark and you saved me, the unworthy, with Jesus. The trick is, how do I stop grieving you with wickedness in my heart. And it’s not just the obvious that sticks out on the Corinthians passage like the idolatry and sexual immorality, but it’s the seemingly little things like slander, drunkenness and stealing. No one is innocent. We love to judge others, but none of us are pure.
Father, help me to embrace your forgiveness and pursue you. Help me to forgive others as you have forgiven me, extend grace when it isn’t deserved and being your light of love, joy, peace, gentleness, faithfulness, kindness and self control into the world.
Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the shore. He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one: “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant. He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: ‘When they see what I do, they will learn nothing. When they hear what I say, they will not understand. Otherwise, they will turn to me and be forgiven.’” Then Jesus said to them, “If you can’t understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables? The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to others. The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”
Dear God, I used to pray this parable a lot when my children were little. I prayed that the seeds my wife and I were planting each day would find good soil. I prayed that we would be able to plant good seeds in the first place. I loved this illustration.
Now that they are in their 20’s, my prayer has shifted a little. They are on their own paths now. They struggle. They succeed. They have revelations and they have blinders. Just like me. I have all of those things in my life as well. But my prayer for them is slightly different. I am not the one doing much planting in their lives so I end up praying over the seeds that were planted long ago, some of which I am hoping are still there, but dormant with roots that are reaching for good soil. I pray for those who are planting seeds in their lives today. I pray for the soil in their heart.
Sometimes I have the presence of mind to pray about the soil in my own heart. Am I able to listen to those who bring your word to me, or do I dismiss them? Does Satan steal away the seed? Do I allow selfishness and pleasures of the world to choke it the seeds that get through? Do I intentionally cultivate the soil of my heart and make it seed-ready?
Now, for this image from Bustard. I guess one thing about this story is that the sower is not very discriminating. He is very generous with his seeds, scattering them everywhere. He doesn’t seem to care what kind of soil it finds. He’ll put some on the path. He’ll put some on shallow soil. He’ll put some in the thorns. And it seems that, just as randomly, some will find good soil. But the sower doesn’t seem to care. He just throws it out there. I should probably be more conscious of how I sow seeds. Am I stingy with them, or do I just spread them everywhere?
Another thing about this image is that I can see a big crop in the background. I think Bustard must have thought about what a 100-fold crop looked like and included it in the image. The Sun and the sky are there. The ground where the sower is walking is there. But the crop in the background is our goal.
Bustard says that his rendition of this story is inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s painting. Here it is for reference.
Apparently, according to Bustard, van Gogh’s piece was inspired by Jean Francois Millet’s piece describing the same parable Here is Millet’s image.
I guess the last thing I will notice about all of the art is that none of them created an image set in Jesus’s time. They are all more modern than that. I suppose Millet is the one who started with that concept. This isn’t just a story with a lesson for 2,000 years ago. It is a modern story.
Father, I will have opportunities to spread some seeds today. I will also have opportunities to prepare the soil of my heart to receive the seeds you have for me. Help me to be mindful of that. Help me to embrace this whole concept. Help me to give you a great harvest that will help your kingdom to come and your will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.
Dear God, I was flipping through the Revealed book this morning and this image struck me. It was the broken piggy bank that got my attention. My first thought head, Oh, I’ll bet there’s a story in this.
Then I read the passage. Once again, this seems to go with the theme of my prayers to you lately about how we just don’t know what the future holds, and even though my circumstances might look bad to me my worship of you will remain.
In this case, Habakkuk is praying and he is worshipping. This whole chapter is actually a prayer to you. These last three verses bring it all together. Basically, even if everything around me is falling apart, I will rejoice in you. I will take joy in you because you are God and the God of my salvation. You are my strength and my security, even if my earthly security seems in doubt.
As for this image, here are a few things I notice. First, I doubt Habakkuk had a piggy bank, so this is given to me to make a point that I get as a 21st-century American. Habakkuk would have looked at this image and not understood the shattered pig, but I get what Bustard is communicating to me here. My money is gone. My earthly security is gone. The last of my back-up plan is gone. I didn’t just take money out of the bank. I irrevocably broke the piggy bank as a last resort. Now it’s all gone. And yet, Habakkuk is worshipping. His arms could be up in despair, but the key is in the expression on the face that Bustard gave Habakkuk here. He is smiling (I think) and his eyes are looking at heaven. He has the halo around his head to signify that he is a holy man/saint/prophet.
And then there are the words that Bustard chose to you: Righteous//Shall Live By//His Faith. This is a call back to Habakkuk 2:4 when he says, “Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.” By including part of this passage in the image, I think Bustard is also contrasting this image with the actions of the proud. A proud person would be sitting in front of a broken piggy bank with their head down in despair, weeping. But Habakkuk is advocating that the righteous person will live by his/her faith. When the piggy bank is broken and all of the earthly resources are exhausted, the righteous person will be found worshipping you.
Father, there have been several times over the last year when I’ve turned to you in faith. There were some instances when I hand’t even gotten around to bringing the need to you yet, and you were providing anyway. But there have also been times when I was at the end of my resources and I was discouraged and depressed. There have been times when I didn’t live by my faith and worship you. Thank you for this image by Ned Bustard. Thank you for reminding me this morning that you are sovereign and my hope. Thank you for reminding me that there is more to my life than what I see with my eyes and can process with my brain. There is faith, and when I live by that then I don’t need to understand what is happening around me. I just need to worship you.