David C. Hancock’s abstract depiction of the deity in this painting offers a jarring reminder of the absolute ‘otherness’ of God, whose nature and purposes are utterly inscrutable to humans. Here, Moses’s attacker is no anthropomorphized divine figure, but a mystifying, threatening conglomeration of geometric forms.
Dividing the canvas into two registers, the artist emphasizes God’s sublimity through contrast: the bright, colourful, sharp features of the divine assailant in the upper half of the painting are thrown into sharp relief against the dark, soft, cave-like character of the lower ‘human’ register. The piecemeal mass of angular shapes that represents God perhaps most closely resemble broken shards of glass; on one level, these sharp splinters remind the viewer of the very real threat against Moses’s life. On another level, however, these fragments also suggest that our human grasp of God is always finally ‘fragmentary’. The best we can hope to do in our quest to understand the ways of God is to assemble, shard-by-shard, what God has disclosed of God’s self through revelation. Thus, Moses’s expression captures, not only the terror, but also the wonder befitting a man faced with the terrible wrath of God: his eyes are startled wide open to behold God’s strange and terrifying revelation of God’s self.
19And the Lord said to Moses in Midʹian, “Go back to Egypt; for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.” 20So Moses took his wife and his sons and set them on an ass, and went back to the land of Egypt; and in his hand Moses took the rod of God.
21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22And you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my first-born son, 23and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me”; if you refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay your first-born son.’ ”
24 At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to kill him. 25Then Zippoʹrah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched Moses’ feet with it, and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26So he let him alone. Then it was that she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.
27 The Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went, and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which he had sent him, and all the signs which he had charged him to do. 29Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel.