Day 5 – God Will Provide A Lamb: Reflection, Questions, and Art During Advent

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About the Art: Caravaggio, The Sacrifice of Isaac, c. 1603, oil on canvas, 104 x 135 cm, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

Two paintings of the sacrifice of Isaac from Genesis 22 are attributed to Caravaggio (1571-1610) – one from 1598 and the other from 1603, although both may possibly be the work of Caravaggio’s students. Click here to see them both. Each canvas depicts the scene from a slightly different angle, but both use tenebrism (extreme contrast between light and dark), a technique Caravaggio pioneered.

In those days, young artists studied under masters like Caravaggio and Rembrandt, trying to imitate and even replicate their mentors’ work, often detail for detail. It was a mark of success for a young artist to have his work mistaken for his mentor’s. In this sense, artistic plagiarism was encouraged.

Some of these young protégés were so talented and technical that their work became attributed to the master they imitated—leaving German art historian Wilhelm von Bode to joke that “Rembrandt painted 700 pictures. Of these, 3,000 are still in existence.”

This later painting of the Sacrifice of Isaac was commissioned by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, who later became Pope Urban VII. Barberini had commissioned a self-portrait from Caravaggio a few years earlier.

Caravaggio appears to use the same model for both Isaac and the angel, giving them different hairstyles to mask their similarities. This fascinating little detail reminds us that master painters used live models to pose for many of the world’s most famous paintings. Ordinary people, whose names we may never know, are known and treasure around the world because a master artist made them in their image.

 

Consider

“Abraham had become a wealthy nomad. He had servants to tend his livery, so he almost never tacked his own mount. But on this morning Abraham saddled his donkey in solitude. This mission was particularly his own. Though two servants would accompany him and Isaac, no one could share the lonely, sacred mission burdening this old father’s heart.

“He gathered some clothes and some food and water. He cut and bundled wood for the sacrifice. And then he went to where he kept his knives. He studied them—their length, the truth of their edge. He chose one. It was heavier than he remembered.

“The journey took three days. With two servants and his inquisitive boy, Abraham led the way to a hill outside what would later become Jerusalem to offer up his son. His only son. The son he loved. How could he make sense of any of this? This son was the promise, born of supernatural, divine intervention. Wasn’t this the boy through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed? The one who would fulfill the covenant God had cut with Abraham? Had God really sent this child into the world to die as a sacrifice on a hill in the middle of the Promised Land, in effect killing the promise itself?

“No, there had to be another way. Perhaps, as absurd as it sounded, God would raise him from the dead.”[1]

 

Examine

What is the most difficult test of faith you have ever experienced? What made it difficult?

In what way does the story of the sacrifice of Isaac mirror the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus?

The story of salvation begins with the story of a supernatural birth (Isaac) and culminates in another supernatural birth (Jesus). What are some impossible or improbable obstacles you see facing your life right now, and how does Isaac’s story train your faith?

_________________________

[1] Ramsey, Russ. Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative. Nashville: Rabbit Room Press, 2011. pgs. 34-35.

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Russ Ramsey
Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.

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