IMAGE OF THE WEEK
A Bruised Reed He Shall Not Break
This illustration was one of the more challenging assignments I’ve received. It depicts a passage from the Book of Isaiah that is dear to Christians and Jews alike. The prophet Isaiah, possibly a composite of two historical figures, lived in the sixth century BCE, in the time of the Jewish exile in Babylon which followed the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem in 586BCE. Isaiah was thought to be an educated man who wrote eloquently and poetically. Certainly his writing has had a big impact on Judeo-Christian history. Isaiah’s words are full of God’s wrath as well as a striking sense of justice, and seemed to reach into the future, resonating with what would later become the Christian prophecy of the coming of the messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
As a professional illustrator working for a religious publisher, I am challenged to create images that ring true. In order to serve my viewers, I seek what is universally human. That’s not hard to find in the teachings of Isaiah. Merely the beauty of the language is moving to anyone with a receptive ear:
“. . . My chosen one, in whom I delight,
I have put My spirit upon him,
He shall teach the true way to the nations.
. . . He shall not break even a bruised reed,
Or snuff out even a dim wick.
He shall bring forth the new way.
. . . Thus says the Eternal, the One who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who made the earth and all that grows in it,
who gives breath to its people and spirit to all who walk upon it.”
The commentary on this passage in my copy of the Hebrew Bible suggests that in serving life, we humans are charged with a special task: to proceed so gracefully that we will not not upset even fragile and unstable things. While a reed might not mean much to us today, in ancient times it was a symbol of weakness or vulnerability, as a reed is easily bent or broken. Today we might think of a reed as a symbol of the fragile ecosystems that we must tread upon with caution and grace, in order not to destroy our planet. I took this a step further and painted an infant, a candle flame, and a seedling as symbols of that which must be protected and cherished. Who is the protector? As an artist, I cannot depict God, but I can suggest an intelligence and intention that manifests through human hands. It is the question of how we do this that continues to matter today – just as it did in the time of Isaiah.