Similar to how I read ‘Dancing Through Life’, ‘31 Men’ has been a companion read of mine for the past year – there were moments where I could only focus on the artwork – as art in of itself is museful of pause as art has a way of speaking to your heart and to your spirit in a way which words cannot. I love art for this reason – everything you see can be interpreted differently per each pair of eyes cast on the same canvas. There is never a right or wrong way to observe art – but it’s how art ignites a murmuring of intuitive observation in the observer which strikes the most enjoyment out of seeing art in myself. Each time I find a painting which stays with me, I wonder about the artist who painted it. What was their process to bring the piece to life? Under what conditions did they work and were they living in a time where painting religious art was a pursuit without constrictions in society or fear of being condemned?
The art is what staid with me first and foremost, then I started to wander in and out of the biological sketches themselves – moving from one profile to the next, either through the Index in the front or simply randomly turning to different ‘starting pages’ and moving forward into the text from there. Occasionally, I would think harder about the ‘takeaways’ – sometimes even surprising myself for having a contrary reaction to the ‘takeaway’!
The men I want to focus on are the following: (I chose seven!)
6) Judas Iscariot
7) Simon Peter
Jacob is featured in a painting with other people in the background, standing in the foreground with livestock with his attention turnt away from us and his hand outstretched. He has a kindly face, full beard and appears most at home out-of-doors. The painting itself reminds me of the Pre-Raphelites period. I hadn’t realised the lineage involved in Jacob’s past – how he was the son of Issac and Rebekah nor of how scheming he was in life. I found it quite keen his folly would be taken against him – as I do vaguely remember reading about the plight of Rachel and Leah – of how they were switched before marriage and thereby, one sister was wedded against the will of the other. I simply had forgotten the layers of details – including how this led to the 12 tribes of Israel.
What interested me more than the overtures of how Jacob’s life fit within the timeline of Biblical History is how he personally was afflicted by the conflict with his twin brother Esau. The two brothers were at war with each other until the day arrived where they decided to make amends. It speaks to how distant relations can become and how wedges of distrust are woven within families; especially those who would rather never repair the disconnection and stay removed from one another. Theirs is a humbling story of how brothers can forgive each other but there are steps towards how this is possible which is revealled in their story. It’s fitting because I think the brothers could still offer a healthy influence for anyone who has tried and perhaps not yet succeeded in re-building the bridges to their loved ones.
Gideon’s profile is simply shown as a contemporary man who is blowing a horn – you do not see the whole picture of this, simply the hands and the raised horn. I hadn’t known Gideon’s story previously – only remembered his name. I have heard of him before, of course, but nothing stuck to mind. What I enjoyed most about his story is his humble spirit and his willingness to accept his destiny to release his people from opposition. What is further incredible is how he managed to do this and how God entrusted him with only 300 people to accomplish what should have taken many more men! It reminds me of how we can each accomplish more than we first believe – even with limitations nearly wrecking our chances to succeed – if we believe all things are possible rather than being improbable, we too, might find the faith to believe in the unexpected in a similar vein as Gideon. Keeping mind to how our lives can change in ways we are not expecting to find alighting on our path is another signal of how our lives are influenced by our faith and our will to respect how we are guided along our journey.
I admit, I wanted to read about Nathan because of the years I spent watching ‘Castle’. Call it a leftover unresolvement of the series finale – because similar to the fans in Brazil & South America – I refuse to accept the finale as the ‘true ending’ of ‘Castle’! In this painting, you find a man quite at a loss for words – his hands are on his cheeks and he’s in one of those moods of woe – struggling to sort his thoughts whilst another person is standing in front of him with open arms as if attempting to explain something. Ooh, my! This relates to BathSheba – a name I know well as it was given to a cat I knew once! This story has the most impact for how ‘words’ can have the strongest yield towards changing hearts than even actions because words speak to the soul by allowing the mind to think about what is being said and the fuller depth of why whatever is being shared is a truth needing to be surfaced. In this, Nathan is a warrior of skilled speech – who can internalise what is necessary to say but does so with the creativity of a story-teller who knows how to create allegory out of an analogy which strikes the heart with repentance!
Job has been a personal favourite of mine to read about since I was sixteen – his story had the most impact on me even then. I was curious to see which part of his life would be featured and re-instilled for a reader today in this collection. His painting shows him at his weakest where he is thinking he has lost more than he can bear and physically he does not will the strength to face what is happening to him. His spirit is lost in the grief of what has happened to him in other words. It is a beautiful eclipsed account of how faithfulness in the face of adversity can lead to new doors opening in your life which will lead you to a better tomorrow than you can fully understand in the present. It speaks to the heart of how we are tested in our lives and how we have to will ourselves to find even more strength to overcome what befalls us at times where we are at a loss to understand why our path has to be as difficult as it becomes. Through it all – what I love about Job’s story is how he remained steadfast in his faith and humbly tried to find reason out of the illogical ways his life was continuously affected by things out of his control. Here I say ‘illogical’ because he was being tested in a unique ‘test of wills’ as an example of man’s strength and fortitude to handle what happens throughout their lifetime without turning bitter and jaded.
Zacchaeus is one of the men who is featured through stained glass rather than through a painting. I picked this man because I never saw his name before (at least, at first I felt this way until I heard his name spoken ‘aloud’) and wanted to know something of him. In his story, the key points are not fully explained or expounded upon until you reach the ‘takeaway’ section which I enjoyed more than the biological sketch as it put everything into better prospective. Sometimes I find a re-telling of a Biblical story has more weight than even the scriptures themselves as everything is open to interpretation and sometimes it’s nice to see someone’s take on what is being said. In this, what was most interesting is how this man was seeking redemption for his ways – whilst Christ sought him out as an example of how we take too much time to separate ourselves from each other. Society is famous for segregation – rich from poor and everything in-between! To see each other on equal footing and as living equals to one another (even then!) is extraordinary because society likes to place barriers between everyone which are hard to overcome. This man reached out to be forgiven and to find a way to redeem his past actions but Christ reached out to him in order to teach the people in his environ a lesson in empathy and tolerance of those around them. Further still, to seek to express how the walls built to separate us – whether seen or unseen, spoken or unspoken do more harm than good.
The artwork for Judas Iscariot appears to be a tapestry – as I have seen this art style previously but I am forgetting it’s origins and distinction. Therefore, forgive my short-sighted memory and know, it is an interesting form of art where there is a lot of interpretation to be had for it’s style but it’s also a style which is older than painting. It could also be an etching on a wall – similar to drawings in caves – it has an ancient art form appearance. The acts Judas did went against his soul directly – it’s a cautionary tale to end all cautionary tales but in the end, the sad part is how he tried to make amends (too late) and failed to preserve his own soul by taking his own life. You have to wonder if in the end, whilst he was dying if he finally found the peace he sought in life or if he turnt away from the Light and filled his last breaths with Darkness. What was so very despairing though is how little is understood of his actions and of his choices – there is a moment of foreknowledge, from Christ himself but there is no expansion on why Judas was allowed to carry out his path without intervention. It seemed interesting on that one thought – almost as if Christ knew more of his life than he tried to let known to those who followed him. As if his life was playing out as it was meant to but without consciously allowing himself to forewarn anyone because the burden was already too great on his own spirit.
There are moments where the Bible shifts in and out of purposeful insight – as if there is ‘more’ between the stories which are told and ‘more to’ the people who lived those lives – yet our view is limited. Our understanding is partial and our quest to understand ‘more’ remains evermore.
Simon Peter has such a likeness in his artwork – as if the painting is a photograph set in motion by the artist himself (or herself, but I believe the artist is male simply given the time frame in which I believe it was painted). The realism of this art is uncanny! His story is the story of ‘everyman’ of how the ordinary approach to how we view ourselves and our time on Earth can have a purpose not of our knowledge. His was a complicated journey – of following Christ and then unfollowing him if it suited him. One thing which stood out to me is how his walk was marred by his contrary reactions to everything he experienced! From his belief in Christ to his inability to stand his ground when called upon to be a voice of truth – yet in the end, he found his way (eventually) and led many to the truth he was given all along. It shows how each of us can be used for good even if we are not the best examples of how to live – either through the wrong choices or actions we continue to make or by our inability to trust what we know is true by turning away from what we believe.
These men are only a small handful of the men you will meet as you read and study the profiles of the ‘31 Men’ featured in this book. What makes their lives approachable is how their stories are broken down through referenced scripture and application to today’s world. This is something I appreciate finding because the principles of the past sometimes do not cross-relate in a way which is applicable today. In this, I felt B&H Publishing did a wonderful job at sourcing the men themselves but also, finding a way to make their lives conversational. I can easily see how if you were using this as a study book in a small group setting, you could have many different spin-off discussions. It lends itself to lead into different conversations simply by sorting out which topics correlate to which person you are highlighting. I could even see, how if you knew someone who would benefit from hearing one of their stories, this could be used as a blessing of inspiration – perhaps even lending itself to finding other books on the person in question and thereby, offering a positive influence of hope and inspiration to someone who needs it most as they would find a mirrored image of their own path through someone in the past.
I received a complimentary copy of the “31 Men of the Bible” direct from the publisher B&H Publishing, in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.