Day 16 – I Have Loved You: Reflection, Questions, and Art During Advent
About the Art: Rembrandt van Rijn, Belshazzar’s Feast, 1635, oil on canvas, 167.6 cm × 209.2 cm, National Gallery, London.
This Rembrandt comes from the story in Daniel 5 in which the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar stole sacred furnishings from the Temple for his own personal use. His son Belshazzar held a feast and, after tasting the wine, sent for the gold and silver cups his father had stolen so he and his guest could drink from them and worship the gods of gold and silver.
As they did this, a divine hand in human form appeared and wrote a message on the wall about the king’s impending doom so terrifying that Nebuchadnezzar lost his color and fell down in fear.
This canvas captures that moment when the revelers see the writing on the wall. Fear grips them all as they shrink back from the hand of God. The large size, range of color, and precision brushwork make this one of Rembrandt’s most exceptional works. Few compare with it on a technical level.
The era Rembrandt captures from Israel’s history was one where the people of God were lost in the world—exiled, soul-weary, and filled with doubts about the faithfulness of God. They did not know that they were on verge of seeing the Messiah come into the world. We today are often just like them—so removed in our hearts from a sense of the nearness of God that we begin to forget who we are.
“A page in history was about to turn. Though Israel’s world was in the throes of upheaval, it was only a matter of time before the sun of righteousness would rise. These people needed rescue, but they weren’t waiting for the stars to align or for the political climate to change. They were waiting for God. They were on his timetable. He was sending his Messiah—Immanuel, ‘God with us.’ It was a plan in motion. It would take some time—longer than anyone imagined. But deep inside the smoldering stump of Israel, a remnant of life was rising to push back the darkness and break through the crust of the desolation of the people of God to find the light of day.
“Though they struggled to see it, God loved them. He loved them with an everlasting, unfailing love. Salvation was coming, and when all was said and done, ‘He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God him- self will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.’
“‘Behold,’ he says, ‘I am making all things new.’”
The book of Malachi opens with God’s people asking God how he has loved them, as though they cannot remember. The rest of the book is God’s answer. He chose them. He did not abandon them when they abandoned him. He has kept a remnant of hope alive, a promised Messiah. Still, when the people of God asked, “How have you loved us?” they asked it rhetorically, as though they were not interested in the answer. But God answered them anyway. Where in your life are you asking God rhetorical questions, like “How are you good to me?” or “Where were you when…” What would it look like to wait on the Lord for an actual answer to your otherwise rhetorical questions?
By what criteria do you assess whether or not God is being kind to you?
Do you receive the discipline of God as a manifestation of his love or his anger? Why?
 Ramsey, Russ. Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative. Nashville: Rabbit Room Press, 2011. pgs. 118-119.