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Rembrandt’s Birthday and Art in the Bible

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt

Last Friday would have been the birthday of Rembrandt, easily one of history’s greatest artists.

My church has a large copy of “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” one of Rembrandt’s more famous works, hanging in the lobby. It’s from his set of paintings depicting the parable of the prodigal son. (See also “The Prodigal Son in the Tavern,” for which Rembrandt and his wife posed).

“The Return” vividly captures a complex moment in the parable: the father gently embraces the son with a kind look on his face, while the son falls to his knees and buries his head in his father’s robes. It’s an image of the open-armed welcome we receive when we turn to God.

Thinking about Rembrandt, I turned to the Bible to see what artists and art it mentions. One such mention occurs early in the Bible in Exodus 31, where God singles out Bezalel and Oholiab by name and grants them artistic skill:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent—the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand—and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.”

I find it fascinating that they’re not just given the gift of simply “making things pretty” or “painting really well.” They’re given wisdom, understanding and knowledge. God, it seems, doesn’t feel that technical skill can be, or should be, separated from wisdom, understanding and knowledge.

Do you have a favorite piece of Biblically-themed artwork?

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