Thursday, May 5, 2011

Prelude to The Promised Land

I stumbled across this painting a few weeks ago, and fell in love with it immediately.  I'm still not even entirely sure what it is about it that demands my favorable attention...But it also makes me curious because of its title: "The Promised Land."  What about this painting represents the Promised Land?

My mild attempt to study the painting as a result of this question has led me to these observations:

  • The painting is...exotic, vibrant, fluid, and teeming with life.
  • It contains hidden symbols in the low center: 
    • The Star of David has 6 points which symbolize God's authority over the entire universe (the 6 points of north, south, east, west, up, and down).  The star is made up of 2 interlocking triangles, which, among other things, represent God's communal relationship with His people.  (Click the "Star of David" link above for an article with more interesting symbolism!)  This symbol speaks loudly to the Jewishness of the painting. 
    • There are three ankh symbols.  The ankh is the "key of life" and is the Egyptian hieroglyph that represents eternal life.  The number three, in Jewish tradition, represents holiness (look through your Bible for this number--it may be enlightening!).
    • The infinity symbol "houses" the other symbols and (per Wikipedia) indicates "a quantity without bound or end."  The symbol could also be interpreted as the number eight, which in Jewish tradition symbolizes new beginnings, the return of the Messiah, and creation's restoration to its original perfection.  To indulge a bunny trail...People ask me all the time why, historically, Christians began worshiping on Sunday (the 8th day, the first day of the new week) instead of the Biblically encouraged 7th day.  I never had a good answer, because I never really bothered to research it properly.  Anyway, according to this article, early Christians chose the eighth day, the first day of the new week, specifically and intentionally because it represents the new covenant established by Jesus' death and resurrection.  I like that...a lot.  (I like the Biblical reasons for worshiping on the 7th day, too, but I think the main point is that we are worshiping.)
    • At the center of the infinity symbol, of eternal life, is love (notice the heart).
  • There are lots of eyes...eyes on birds, eyes on fish, eyes on butterflies, eyes on peacock feathers.  The whole painting seems to watching.  It brings to mind 2 Chronicles 16:9--"For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him..." And Psalm 33:18-19--"But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine."
  • Even while the painting overall is bright and hopeful, the background fades away into darkness, danger, the whole painting is one gusty breath away from being displaced or scattered to the wind.  Or like being one disobedient act away from being scattered to the ends of the earth?  (It IS a Jewish painting, after all.)
  • There are fish, a staple food in Israel.  There are date palms, from which comes honey.  There are butterflies, which can symbolize resurrection, new life, freedom, etc.  (Apparently it's also a symbol of the Holocaust because of a poem a Jewish man wrote at that time.)  The center of the most prominent flower seems (to me) to be filled with pomegranate seeds, a symbol of fertility and potentially eternal life.  I found this really cool blog that has a fantastic discussion on pomegranates, if you're interested!  
  • There is Hebrew writing in the top right...I would love to have a bigger/clearer copy of this print to see what it says--so curious!
  • Please share your own observations!
    How to make all of these disparate ideas cohesive?

    The Promised Land is a real, physical place in which God reigns supremely and is supremely responsible for sustaining all life.  It is a place where God embraces reciprocal relationship with His people.  It is place where the Lord watches over all in love and in holiness and offers new beginnings and eternal life.  It is a fragile existence, that needs to be maintained. 

    But wait--there's more...(tomorrow).

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