6 Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say, “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—for how long?—and loads himself with pledges!” 7 Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them. 8 Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them. 9 “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! 10 You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. 11 For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond. 12 “Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! 13 Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? 14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 15 “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness! 16 You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! 17 The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them. 18 “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! 19 Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. 20 But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”
I am struck by a stunning painting painted in 1851-3 by the British artist John Martin entitled “The Great Day of His Wrath.”
The Tate website description of the piece is most helpful and interesting.
This is the third picture in Martin’s great triptych, known as the Judgement Series. Along with the other two vast panels, The Last Judgement and The Plains of Heaven…it was inspired by St John the Divine’s fantastic account of the Last Judgement given in Revelation, the last book of the New Testament. Martin’s aim in producing this series was highly Romantic: to express the sublime, apocalyptic force of nature and the helplessness of man to combat God’s will. Of all Martin’s biblical scenes, this presents his most cataclysmic vision of destruction, featuring an entire city being torn up and thrown into the abyss.
The Book of Judgement is sealed with seven seals. As each seal is broken, mysterious and terrifying events occur, culminating in the breaking of the sixth seal:
and, lo, there was a great earthquake’ and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; | And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. | And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. (Revelation 6:12-14)
Martin follows the biblical description closely, but adds his own sensational effects. A blood-red glow casts an eerie light over the scene. The mountains are transformed into rolling waves of solid rock, crushing any buildings that lie in their wake. Lightning splits the giant boulders which crash towards the dark abyss, and groups of helpless figures tumble inexorably towards oblivion.
The three pictures in the triptych became famous in the years after Martin’s death and were toured throughout England and America. They were described as “The most sublime and extraordinary pictures in the world valued at 8000 guineas”…Many mezzotints of the pictures were sold, but the vastness and theatricality of Martin’s visions now appeared outmoded to the mid-Victorians, and the paintings themselves failed to find a buyer. By the twentieth century, Martin’s work had fallen into obscurity and he became known as ‘Mad Martin’. In 1935 the triptych was sold for seven pounds and the separate panels dispersed. It was reunited by the Tate in 1974.
The painting itself is beautiful and powerful and captures something of the immensity and devastation of the day of judgement. I am intrigued by the painting, but I am also intrigued by the painting’s story. This astonishing depiction of God’s wrath and judgment went from being celebrated, valuable, and of interest to large audiences to being somewhat ignored, considered outdated, and of much less value.
What strikes me about the journey of this amazing painting of judgment is that, in some ways, it reflects the journey of the amazing doctrineof judgment. There was a time when preaching on judgment and the wrath of God was commonplace, was valued, and was appreciated by many, many people. This is much less so now. In many ways, it seems that the doctrine of God’s judgment and God’s wrath is much less valuable to many, even in the church. This is tragic because the jettisoning of divine wrath from one’s conception of God will inevitably lead to a warped and skewed theology.
In Habakkuk 2:6-20 the Lord declares five woes upon Babylon. Yes, God would use Babylon to chasten His own sinful people, but God’s pronouncement of woes on Babylon means that His justice is consistent, and that the wicked people He would allow to bring discipline would themselves be the objects of discipline in time.