Chaos (The Creation) by Ivan Ayvazovsky

Ivan Ayvazovsky

Chaos (The Creation), 1841, Oil on canvas, 106 x 75 cm, Museo Armeno, Venice, Bridgeman Images

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Ordering Chaos with a Spoken Word

Commentary by

Ivan Ayvazovsky’s depiction of creation imagines an instant in time, during the early stages of the Genesis creation account, when God is described as shaping and forming the world. The painting appears to show the moment when God utters the words, ‘Let there be light’, in Genesis 1:3. However, as opposed to the light of the sun and moon on the fourth day of creation, Ayvazovsky depicts a different light, one emanating from God himself, whose humanoid form, composed entirely of light, emerges like the sun from behind a dark cloud. This light marks the very beginning of the creation process, before God subdues the dark chaotic waters, shown at the bottom of the painting, and separates them, allowing the land to arise.

God’s spoken word in Genesis constitutes the primary means through which he fashions order from chaos, and it serves this function again in Job 38:1: ‘Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind’. Here, from the depths of a storm, God’s words once again bring order, not to creation, but to the heated discussions of Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Throughout the book, Job’s three companions all adhere strictly to the principle of retribution: God unfailingly blesses those who are righteous and punishes sinners. Consequently, they view Job’s physical ailments as resulting directly from divine wrath levelled against him on account of concealed sins in his life.

Job, on the other hand, vehemently protests his innocence, demanding an audience with God so he can vindicate himself in person (23:3–7). The ever-increasing tension from the back-and-forth arguments concerning the character and justice of God ends in chapter 38 because at this point God himself enters the fray, speaking on his own behalf. The verbally chaotic argument between Job and his companions abruptly ends, as God settles the dispute, silencing the incorrect perceptions of his character and justice portrayed by Job and his companions.

 

References

Chilvers, I. (ed.). 2004. The Oxford Dictionary of Art, 3rd edn. (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 12

Tsevat, M. 1996. ‘The Meaning of the Book of Job’, Hebrew Union College Annual 37, pp. 73–106


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