Thursday, January 15, 2009


Since mankind is created in the image of God, the calling to imitate Him applies to all of us as we live our daily lives and pursue our respective vocations. We are all called to be, as it were, “God’s shadow” simply on the basis of our creation in His image.

If it is true, however, that man as man is called to imitate God, the text of Exodus 31 would seem to indicate that the artist fulfills this calling in some unique respects. The Hebrew name Bezalel literally means “in the shadow of God”. As hinted above, the name itself has certain reverberations with respect to mankind’s original calling as established in the early chapters of Genesis. Moreover, it is interesting to note that this is the first instance we find in Scripture (following Genesis chapter 2) of a man being filled with God’s Spirit. And, as is most often the case, particularly in the Old Testament, we find that this unique gift of the Spirit is given with respect to a particular calling or duty to which that individual is appointed.

Bezalel was the man assigned by God to oversee the design and construction of the tabernacle (the tent in which God's presence accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness during the period of the Exodus) and all of its furnishings and associate articles. This task encompassed a number of different crafts and artistic disciplines - virtually all of them in fact: sculpture, carpentry, wood carving, metalworking, weaving, embroidery, gem cutting, jewelry design, engraving, calligraphy, and (broadly considered) graphic design. The overall plan called for the implementation of both representational and non-representational (abstract) art. Without doubt Bezalel would have relied upon skills and canons of visual representation which had been acquired in Egypt, and yet he was also to follow a detailed pattern which had been divinely revealed through Moses. (Exodus 25:40; 26:30; 27:8) The principles of form and function are in constant interplay and (Modernist assertions to the contrary aside) it is often difficult to ascertain which is in the driver’s seat.

There are many rich truths here and in related passages which I hope to explore further in some future posts.

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