His Masterpiece


Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?
Matthew 21:42 (NKJV)

Michelangelo’s David in la Galleria dell’Accademia

Standing in the Accademai Galleria Museum in Florence Italy is the magnificent 17 foot tall statue of the Biblical hero King David. The opposing Carrara marble statue depicts the young David preparing for battle with the giant Goliath. Stone in hand and sling over his shoulder, David is portrayed as confidently knowing the outcome which God has rendered in his heart.

Truly an exquisite masterpiece by Michelangelo, his contemporary artist and painter Giorgio Vasari described the brilliance of the sculpture:

For in it may be seen most beautiful contours of legs, with attachments of limbs and slender outlines of flanks that are divine; nor has there ever been seen a pose so easy, or any grace to equal that in this work, or feet, hands and head so well in accord, one member with another, in harmony, design, and excellence of artistry.

However, it is the backstory that adds to the grandeur of the work. The statue was commissioned in approximately 1460 as part of a larger venture to sculpt twelve statues for the exterior of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

Originally, two artists were successively commissioned to create the “David” from a marble block known as the giant. Both of the artists, Agostino di Duccio and later Antonio Rossellino, deemed the massive marble block as inferior due to imperfections which they said would threaten the stability of the creation. After little progress was made separately by each, the giant block was placed in storage from 1475 until 1501. It was then that the young Michelangelo agreed to accept the challenge to sculpt the “David” from the marble regarded as unusable.

History tells us the rest of the story. At 26 years old, Michelangelo spends the next two and half years working day and night to craft his masterpiece considered one of the finest works of art created by man. It took the vision and craftsmanship of a master to see past the imperfections recognizing the potential and beauty that was in the flawed marble block. No doubt the vision to see beyond the unrefined exterior was an exquisite gift from God to the grand artist who would go on to paint scenes from the Book of Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and many other extraordinary works.

For us ordinary, less gifted it is not uncommon to only see what is rather than what could be especially when it comes to people. Our vision is often obscured by our biases, familiarity or a critical eye leaving us blind to potential God has wrought deep down. That was the case with the young, human David whose family could not see beyond the facade of the shepherd boy. Although history reveals a different story as David is remembered for his courage and leadership but most of all as the man who knew the Lord as his Shepherd (Psalm 23).

In the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel Chapter 16 the teenage David comes on the scene of history as the quest for a new King of Israel begins. The current King, Saul, has proved himself unfaithful so the Lord sends the prophet Samuel to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse to select a ruler whose heart is fully committed to Him. The Lord declares to Samuel “For I have provided for Myself a king among his sons” (v1). Jesse parades his sons in front of the prophet with the exception of one, David, his youngest. The seven sons are proudly aligned from oldest to youngest while leaving David in the fields to tend the family sheep.

Even as Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, presented himself to Samuel, the prophet said “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed”. Eliab’s stature and physical appearance obviously moved the prophet to react in haste. To the dismay of both Samuel and Jesse, Eliab is rejected by the Lord. One by one the other six sons are also not chosen to be king. It is only then David the shepherd boy is brought in from the fields to stand before the prophet. The Lord then commands Samuel “Arise and anoint him; this is the one” who will be the next King of Israel.

The event elucidates the difference between God’s vision and man’s sight. “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (v7) Obviously, even before the parade of Jesse’s sons, the Lord knew the outcome and the son who would be the next king over Israel. A lesson that was for all involved and even you and me.

The heart is the great mirror of our life reflecting our character, virtue and trust in the One who can shape us into the masterpiece He wills, if we allow. The young David had such a heart of trust in His God that allowed him to be molded into a “Man after God’s own heart”. This becomes clear as David prepares for battle with Goliath (1 Samuel 17) in his discourse with the spurned Eliab and the rejected King Saul. David declares “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine (Goliath).” (1 Samuel 17:37).

It is said David’s confidence and faith in God was Michelangelo’s inspiration for the statue’s extraordinary persona. There were many critics who believed Michelangelo missed an opportunity to portray David as the victorious slayer of the giant Philistine by not depicting him in a triumphant pose holding Goliath’s sword in hand and his head at his feet. But I believe Michelangelo understood that faith demonstrated before going into battle resonates louder than faith proclaimed when victory is already won.

The key to David’s victory was not a sling and a stone but his faith in his God who sculpted the heart of the shepherd boy. The God of the Bible calls all of us to the same courageous faith. For those who will put their trust in His Son, Christ Jesus, and His redemptive work, He will accomplish His good pleasure in us too. We become His workmanship, His masterpiece in Christ.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 
not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus 
for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.  Ephesians 2:8-10

Yes, David the human warrior King was very much full of flaws with many recorded and exposed on the pages of Scripture. All of us as humans are born with that same flawed nature subject to what the Bible calls sin. But in that battle David also triumphed because he trusted in the God who forgives, restores and declares us righteous through faith. In Psalm 32 David pens:

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. 
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit.  Psalm 32:1-2

It is through faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, that forgiveness, hope and peace become a reality. It is then the beauty of what we can be begins to take shape. No matter where you are in life, no one is too far gone, too flawed or too broken to let God accomplish His work in us. All it takes is faith in the One who is the true Master Sculptor of imperfect people.

M.P.Bramble / info@truevinetalk.com

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