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The plates that Blake made for the Book of Job are very descriptive and fairly true to the word of the Bible. I do like his interpretation in pictures what is written in words.
For this blog entry, I am concentrating on the first and last plates of the book. I intend to point out various aspects of the plates and try to explain just what Blake was trying to get at when he engraved these images.
In Plate 1, the day is ending, and night is coming. If we think that Light is good and dark is bad, you can see that this is a forewarning of the doom to come. Life in Plate 1 is “nice”. Job is content with his life, surrounded by his pious children and his loving wife. the open book, representing the word of God sits on Job’s lap. the family is wealthy. The flocks of sheep are deep around them and beast and man alike are content. In the background we see a church and also a town or community. Does this signify that these things, although present in Job’s life, do not take priority over his flocks and family which are displayed further in the foreground?
We see too, that it is a passive scene. Everybody, and all the beasts are at rest. The musical instruments are hanging in the tree like ornaments. Did Job take his faith for granted? Was he passive in his faith?
The Book of Job in the Bible tells the story of a man of faith. Faith that could not be broken. The Devil then goes to God and says, ” I can cause any man to stop following you, and follow me instead”. (this of course is a Dave’s paraphrase and not a literal translation). God answers Satan saying “You wanna bet? Consider my servant Job. You wont break him”. God gave Satan permission to try Job. He told him he could do anything he liked to Job except not take his life.
The book of Job tells of the trials that Job goes through. He loses all his family and flocks. His friends ridicule him and give him bad advice. They mock him and say “Listen, you follow God, but still all this bad stuff happens to you. Curse God and live!”
Job answers “Go away, what should we expect, that only good should come from God, shouldn’t we also expect some troubles?”
The whole story is depicted in 21 plates engraved by William Blake.
Plate 21 shows us the story after Satan has given up. God has won the bet. Because Job was faithful, God allowed him to live another 140 years and see 4 generations of his family following. His farm prospered and again he was highly regarded amongst his friends.
Look closely at Plate 21 (above). We can see that the night or darkness is ending, and day or good times are coming. The flocks again lay at the feet of the family. But the family itself, Job included, is not passive in their worship of God, or their spiritual life. Where before, in plate 1 the family were all seated and at peace, this new family is active in their worship of God. They are all on their feet, worshiping, playing music to God. Job himself is depicted not only holding a harp, but has his hand raised in worship to God.
Blake was telling the story of Job through the plates, but I also think he was trying to tell the believers who followed not to be passive in your life with God. If you do that, disaster may strike. Are you ready for it? Be fervent in your following of God. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. It is the prayer and worship of God that will help us to overcome the hard times. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, I fear no evil. The rod and thy staff, they comfort me”. The Rod represents the punishment or correction of God, the staff of a shepherd is used to keep the sheep on the right path.
Blake quotes on the top right corner of Plate 21 ” Just and True are they Ways, O thou King of Saints. Job is telling God that he knows that God was with him through all the trials. God did not desert him and so Job, will not desert the True and Just God.
I loved seeing these plates in person in the Art Gallery of NSW. I would have loved some extra time to study them. Thank God for the internet. I can look into them all I desire.
Sometimes, I think we can all relate to Job. There are times when we think that God may have deserted us. Recently, I had a fall. My health was bad. The bank made a mistake that meant I was without money. My car started to fail. But I held on. I am glad I did. My health improved, the bank issue was sorted in my favour, I bought a new car and sold the old one… I was not expecting to get money for it. I won a national photo competition, I am getting good grades at Uni, and in November, I am going to Rome to sing with my choir. So hang in there, it does get better.