My Lord, you alone are God. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand. Be mindful of me, O Lord. Give me courage. Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion, and help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O Lord.
This powerful prayer might have been spoken by Queen Esther, the Jewish bride of the Persian king Ahasuerus, also known as Xerxes. She had learned that an evil member of court, Haman, had concocted a plot to have the king hang her uncle Mordecai and kill all the Jews in the land. The date for the massacre was determined by casting lots, or pur, hence the Jewish name for this festival is Purim. Esther was persuaded by Mordecai to try appealing to the king to save her people, though she could lose her own life in the process when it was revealed that she, too, was a Jew.
In the story, Esther invites the king and Haman to a banquet where she denounces Haman. Rembrandt has painted the three of them in his customary hazy manner. The king is at the center of the picture, taller than the others, but it is Esther who captures our attention as Rembrandt depicts her as luminous and lovely. She seems to have just finished speaking, as we see that her hands are about to rest on the table. The king, with his crowned turban and rod of authority, appears to be glaring at Haman, who slumps and shrinks into the shadows, recognizing his defeat.
The plot of the story has several elaborations that I haven’t listed here and is well worth a read. In the end, though, Queen Esther saves her people from certain doom through her courage. The prayer above does not actually appear in the Book of Esther, it is one I found in a Lenten devotional and it appealed to me.
Do you face a situation where you could be endangering yourself by speaking truth to power? Or perhaps where helping someone else places you in a precarious situation? Remember Esther and bring this prayer to mind. Call on the power of God to give you persuasive words and courage.
I love this prayer…thank you for sharing your art history knowledge and faith. I am enjoying this journey with you. Xo leann
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Thank you Leann!
[…] In Rembrandt’s painting, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee”, his only seascape, we see the disciples in the boat as it is violently hurled upon a wave in the storm-tossed sea and rocks loom in the left foreground. Several men are desperately trying to take down the sails and we can see a tackle line that has already ripped away from its mooring and a torn sail flying about in the wind. The wiry bearded man at the far right is determinedly hanging on to the rudder but we can see that his effort is futile since it isn’t even touching the raging waters. One man vomits over the side while another behind him huddles in prayer. The man holding his hat and staring out at us is the artist himself, who has included his self-portrait in this early work. The Dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn(1606-1669) is one of Europe’s greatest artists, though his life was haunted by tragedy and financial difficulties. He was known as a master of narrative paintings and stories from the Bible are among his favored themes. We have looked at other works by him here and here. […]