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Barnhoorn, Steven - VM - Jan Ridderbos

Steven Barnhoorn: The Sacrifice of Abram
The Cost of a Covenant
by Jan Ridderbos
This is an exceptionally powerful image, this painting by the Dutch painter Steven Barnhoorn. But what is actually portrayed here?
The image consists of two halves, or maybe one should say: four parts. The right side is the half of the naked man. The upper part of this side is dominated by the torso. Especially the averted face stands out. The lower part is enigmatic. One sees two crossed legs, but where one would expect the foot of the left leg a hand with a stone knife juts out. The upper part on the left side vaguely reminds one of meat or hams hanging in a butcher’s chimney. The lower part could be a painting for Pentecost. It is on fire.
This might be a good question for a Bible quiz: which story contains 1) a man, 2) a knife, 3) a slaughtered animal and 4) a fire? The answer is Genesis 15. But I am afraid you may not know by heart which story is told there.
For Steven Barnhoorn it is a story that he remembers from his youth. It was read to him in the lofty Dutch of the old Statenvertaling, comparable to the King James Version in English. Here it is in the words of the KJV:
[7] And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.
[8] And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
[9] And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.
[10] And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.
[11] And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.
[12] And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
[13] And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
[14] And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
[15] And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.
[16] But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.
[17] And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.
[18] In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:
[19] The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,
[20] And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,
[21] And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.
This passage is about the sacrifice of Abram. Yet it is about something totally different than what we tend to think about when we hear the words ‘sacrifice of Abram’. Probably we would think about that other story about a father and a son who make a journey together up a mountain, the sacrifice consisting of Abram’s son (Genesis 18).
This story deals with something quite different. The point of the story is located in verse 18 in Genesis 15. And even the good translations of the Statenvertaling and the King James Version miss the point here, as they translate ‘In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram.’ The Lord actually does something else here: he cuts a covenant according to the Hebrew text. Thus it is not without reason that a modern interpreter of Scripture can see a connection between Genesis 15 and Golgotha. In each of these accounts there is shedding of blood.
Is Genesis 15 a story for children or a childish story? No, certainly not! Genesis 15 alludes to that other story about Abram that involves a knife. Indeed, the well-known account of the sacrifice of Abram. Why does Abram averts his gaze in this painting? Because he suspects that God, as the Psalmist says, is a blazing fire? To covenant with God implies knowing that our faith can have deeply wounding consequences.
Steven Barnhoorn: The Sacrifice of Abram, 80 x 110 cm, acrylics, 2011.
Steven Barnhoorn was born in 1964 in Katwijk, The Netherlands. His interest in art came from within; nobody in his pietistic Reformed surroundings stimulated him in any way. He chose for an art education that would allow him to be an art teacher. After his studies he taught young and old people, drug addicts and disabled people. He loves to share his talent with others. Besides nature as a source of inspiration biblical stories have become increasingly dear to him. He likes to paint with acrylics for its capriciousness and various technical possibilities. Sometimes, however, he works with oil paint on wood out of respect for the old craft of painting.
Dr. Jan Ridderbos is emeritus minister of the Reformed Church (PKN) in The Netherlands.
ArtWay Visual Meditation October 7, 2012