Benjamin Hart: Art Based on Third Isaiah (Isaiah 65:19-23, 61:1-11, and 63:2-6)
My student Benjamin Hart, a Middler VTS seminarian, is both an accomplished artist / printmaker and an excellent student of Hebrew and Hebrew Bible. Among the courses he took with me this past semester was my seminar in Apocalyptic Literature. This very special work of art (chalk) emerged as his final project for the seminar (click the image above to enlarge it). It captures many apocalyptic themes, including the dualism between the forces of darkness (left plate) and the forces of light (right plate). The inspiration for the artwork was the apocalyptic imagery in Third Isaiah, particularly Isaiah 65:19-23, 61:1-11, and 63:2-6. Benjamin explains as follows:
Isaiah 65:19-23 is a promise of hope. [In God’s reign, people] will build houses and keep them, plant and harvest. It says that the numbers of their days shall be like that of trees. Here in this passage is the hope for a new, perfected life. No longer will their lives be captivity and living in a foreign land. This message also speaks to me now. We can hope for the fulfillment of God’s already begun redemption of the world. This world wasn’t meant to be broken and sinful, just as the Israelites weren’t meant for captivity in Babylon. I hope for a time when God’s re-creation of the world is complete.
In the drawing, this idea can be seen in the two worlds in juxtaposition beside on another. Between the worlds stands God, the bridge from one reality to the other. The world on the left is the present time. This is a world of decay and ashes and bent people [detail image immediately below.] On the right is the promised world to come, with life and light, tall people and a new shining city.
Benjamin continues: The second passage that I took for inspiration is Isaiah 61:1-11. Here a single voice is speaking about the spirit of the Lord being upon him. He comes with a mission to declare this new age. There will be “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise rather than the spirit of despair” [Isa 61:3]. This can be seen in my drawing in the comparison of the two foregrounds and cities. The one on the left is ashes and death while the one on the right is a “crown of beauty.”
Tall oaks rise around the people on the right, mirroring later in the same passage where the writer says “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” [Isa 61:3].
Benjamin also explains the divine figure in the center of the artwork: the “divine warrior” of the ancient Near Eastern combat-with-chaos mythic-poetry, which is so prevalent in apocalyptic. He writes: The final passage that I took inspiration from was Isaiah 63:2-6. This is a very apocalyptic image in which the Lord’s robes are splattered with the blood of the nations. This talks about the “Day of Vengeance” and the year for the Lord to redeem. In my drawing, this figure of the Lord stands between the two worlds, in the liminal space. The Lord is the bridge between this present reality and the future, promised, reality. It is through the Lord’s work that this future is possible.