Psuper Psalm 119: The Measure of a Man
Because Psalm 119 is an acrostic psalm, the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet appear on the blocks, with the first Hebrew word of each eight-verse stanza painted on the parchment that hangs from each block.
The figures on the four corner blocks are from Ezekiel’s vision of the four-faced cherubim, who had the face of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. John saw the same four faces on the living creatures in Revelation 4:7. These four faces traditionally correspond respectively to the four Gospels.
At the top of the painting, we see an old man evaluating his life and himself as a younger man. The units of measure he uses to judge himself are the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Letters are combined to make words, and words are combined to express the Word of God. The Hebrew letters are regarded as the building blocks of creation. This idea is expressed in the very first chapter of the Bible, where each creative act of God is introduced by the phrase “And God said....”
As the old man evaluates the life that he lived as a young man, he asks himself questions. How well did he live his life? Was he faithful to God? Did he overcome temptation?
Just as the young man in the painting is encircled by a serpent, so every man is constantly surrounded by temptation and evil. Throughout his earthly sojourn, man lives in a world filled with temptations and evil. Temptations continue even in old age. The serpent never sleeps. But the serpent can be overcome.
In Genesis 3:15 the serpent in Eden was told that the seed of the woman would bruise his head, and that the serpent would bruise the heel of the woman’s seed. Genesis 3:15 speaks of a man who crushes the serpent’s head with his foot, but in the process of destroying the serpent, the serpent bites the man’s foot and wounds his heel. Redemption comes through suffering.
Ultimately this speaks of man’s final redemption and deliverance from evil through the suffering of the Messiah. It also speaks of man’s ability to overcome temptation in this age. Even though we live in a world encircled by the serpent, we can overcome the serpent through faith in the Messiah, the seed of the woman, who suffered to obtain our redemption. “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20).
The details of Genesis 3:15 can be seen at the bottom of the painting. The young man’s heel is wounded, but the serpent is defeated. The young man suffered, but he overcame the power of the serpent. He did not always live a perfect life, but he lived a victorious life. He overcame.
After I had sketched this on canvas and started painting it, I noticed that the Hebrew letter directly below the young man’s feet was nun. I did not plan it that way. It was not intentional, but it might have been Providential. I say that because nun is the first letter of nachash, the Hebrew word for “serpent.” This provided me the opportunity to write the word nachash on the block below the young man’s feet, and to add an eye and a forked tongue on the head of the nun, thereby transforming the letter into a serpent rising up from the ground.