What the Bible & Jewish Culture tell us about creativity, art and beauty

Check out this beautiful chart about creativity, art and beauty seen through the lenses of Scripture and Jewish culture.

God made us in His image (Genesis 1:27), which is why we are able to create. He has gifted specific people with different creative abilities, including music, dance, visual art, poetry and storytelling. The Bible reveals much about creativity, art and beauty, and you can see parallels between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Jewish artists and sages have made thoughtprovoking statements about them as well. Most of the quotes offered in the third column are not meant to parallel Scriptures, but they do add some spiritual insights. While creativity, art and beauty are not interchangeable, they are a group of related blessings from God that transport us beyond the ordinary. In this chart, we refer to them collectively. These two pages are not meant to be comprehensive. We hope you’ll continue the study on your own, with a good concordance and a nice cup of coffee or tea.

(page 4 of this month’s newsletter pdf)

ASPECTS OF CREATIVITY, ART & BEAUTYHEBREW SCRIPTURESNEW TESTAMENTJEWISH QUOTES
Testifies to God’s existence and character“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). “The heavens declare His righteousness, and all the peoples see His glory” (Psalm 97:6).“Because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19–20).“This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They have always accepted the word of the Bible: In the beginning God created heaven and earth… [But] for the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; [and] as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”—Robert Jastrow (an American Jewish astrophysicist, as quoted from God and the Astronomers [New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1978]
Gives us ways to express/share our joy with God and one anotherMoses and the children of Israel sang a celebration song to the Lord after being redeemed from Egypt (Exodus 15:1–19). Miriam added dance to the celebration song (Exodus 15:20–21).Miriam (mother of Jesus) sang in response to the news of the child she would miraculously conceive (Luke 1:46–55). Communicating to one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs goes hand in hand with singing to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19).“There is an inner connection between music and the spirit. When language aspires to the transcendent, and the soul longs to break free of the gravitational pull of the earth, it modulates into song.” —Chief Rabbi (UK) Jonathan Sacks
Provides a fit setting for worshipGod especially gifted some people to create artistic works for the tabernacle (e.g., Bezalel, Exodus 35:10, 30–34). Solomon used precious stones in the temple for beauty and employed all kinds of carving and artwork (see 2 Chronicles 3). Holiness is linked with beauty and worship. (See Psalm 29:2.)The new heavens and new earth are described as very beautiful (see Revelation 21). Whether or not these descriptions are metaphorical, they convey that magnificent beauty beyond imagining will be the eternal setting for enjoying the presence of God.“The whole world is nothing more than a singing and a dancing before the Holy One, blessed be He. Every Jew is a singer before Him, and every letter in the Torah is a musical note.” —Nathan b. Naphtali Herz
As worship is useful for battle, be the battle physical, spiritual or both2 Chronicles 20:21–22 demonstrates this unusual battle strategy, as King Jehoshaphat “appointed those who should sing to the LORD, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: ‘Praise the LORD, For His mercy endures forever.’” And the results: “Now when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushes against the people… who had come against Judah; and they were defeated” (v. 22).In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were praying and singing in jail when a great earthquake shook loose everyone’s chains and all the doors. This led to a series of events that resulted in the salvation of the jailer and his whole family.“O Music! miraculous art! A blast of thy trumpet, and millions rush forward to die; a peal of thy organ, and uncounted nations sink down to pray.” —Benjamin Disraeli
Communicates God’s messages powerfully, and sometimes propheticallyGod commanded the use of an artistically rendered bronze serpent in Numbers 21:8. It was His way of healing the Israelites from the fiery serpents He had sent as a judgment during the wilderness wanderings, but it had significance beyond that. Nathan created a story to confront King David in the matter of David’s sin regarding Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Samuel 12). God often used “performance art,” staging His prophets in various ways to make a dramatic statement or prediction, as with Ezekiel (chapters 4, 5, 12, 20, 21 and 24). The Psalms convey praise, worship, spiritual seeking and repentance with intricacy and intensity, as poetic works of art (examples too numerous to list).Jesus often used parables, creative storytelling, to convey spiritual truths (see especially the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 13, 21, 22). Jesus referred to the bronze serpent as having been prophetic of His crucifixion (John 3:14–15). Jesus referred to how beautifully the lilies of the field are “arrayed” to assure people of God’s care and provision for them (Luke 12:27–28). The crucifixion itself was a drama that God staged to show His judgment on the sin of the world, as well as to convey His mercy in taking the consequences of sin upon Himself.“Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” —Leonard Bernstein
Has positive, refreshing effects on usThe “beauty of the Lord” is desirable and something that we equate with His presence and our well-being (Psalm 27:4–5). David was called to sing and play when King Saul had a “distressing spirit”; hearing the music Saul would become refreshed and well (1 Samuel 16).There is a connection between wisdom, grace and sharing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with one another as we sing to the Lord with grace in our hearts (Colossaians 3:16). There is an inner, incorruptible beauty that a quiet, gentle person possesses, that is said to be precious to God (1 Peter 3:3–4).“The artist creates his arts to soothe his nerves… He writes, paints, sings or dances to shake off an oppressive burden of ideas and feelings.” —Nordau “When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other.” —Anonymous
Can become a temptation to disobey GodPart of the temptation Eve succumbed to was that the fruit “was pleasant to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6). We are warned in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) to worship God alone and not to worship what He has made, or, by extension, our own art (images of what He’s made). Ironically, the creation and worship of the golden calf proved this warning all too necessary (Exodus 32). The bronze snake of Numbers 21 was eventually smashed because the people had made it into an idol (2 Kings 18:4). Proverbs warns against temptation to lust after a beautiful but adulterous woman (Proverbs 6:25).Romans also warns about the temptation to worship the creation rather than the Creator (Romans 1:22–24). The dance of Herodias’ daughter shows the potential to use art seductively, which can tempt people to do wicked things (Mark 6:21–28).“Beauty aims at neither morals nor truth.” —Spingarn, Creative Criticism, 1917