Lets consider one of the many pictures on biblical subjects which Blake created : David Delivered out of Many Waters, (circa 1805). This picture illustrates Psalm 18 and II Samuel 2 which present the same poem of David.
Verses from Psalm 18
/4/ The sorrows of death compassed me,
and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.
/5/ The sorrows of hell compassed me about:
the snares of death prevented me.
/6/ In my distress I called upon the LORD,
and cried unto my God:
/9/ He bowed the heavens also, and came down:
and darkness /was/ under his feet.
/10/ And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly:
yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.
/11/ He made darkness his secret place;
his pavilion round about him /were/ dark waters /and/ thick clouds of the skies.
/12/ At the brightness /that was/ before him his thick clouds passed,
hail /stones/ and coals of fire.
/16/ He sent from above, he took me,
he drew me out of many waters.
/17/ He delivered me from my strong enemy,
and from them which hated me:
for they were too strong for me.
/19/ He brought me forth also into a large place;
he delivered me, because he delighted in me.
/20/ The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.
/21/ For I have kept the ways of the LORD,
and have not wickedly departed from my God.
This image which Blake produced in response to the 18th Psalm demonstrates his habit of commenting on, as well as illustrating the material he was portraying. The most obvious impression the picture makes is that of the rejoicing and gratitude expressed in the Psalm. God has given David protection and a great deliverance when he was in great need. However when we look for David himself in the picture we find him inconspicuous at the very bottom of the picture, submerged in water, arms outstretched, bound in ropes.
David Delivered out of Many Waters
The rejoicing, the waters, the cherubim are clearly from the Psalm. What Blake adds is David being in the posture of Christ crucified, which reminds us that Jesus was a descendant of David. The restraining ropes must come from Blake's own concepts. Blake uses the ropes elsewhere to represent the net of religion whose misconceptions bind man to the material rather than the spiritual. How might the ropes have been appropriate to represent David's condition? Immediately after David expresses his gratitude to God he declares his own righteousness and claims that God's deliverance is a reward for his goodness. Blake objected to the Old Testament paradigm that obedience to the Law can earn salvation. So we return to David in the posture of the crucifixion as a reminder that God through Christ, freely gives salvation through faith. The net of religion is represented by the ropes binding David. The water, in which David is immersed, Blake uses as a symbol of the material world.
In the Book of Urizen, Blake express his views of the Old Testament concept of the law which, with its threat and punishment, traps man in a cycle of sin and death.
Book of Urizen, Plate 23, (E 81); Plate 25 (E 82):
"4. He in darkness clos'd, view'd all his race,
And his soul sicken'd! he curs'd
Both sons & daughters; for he saw
That no flesh nor spirit could keep
His iron laws one moment.
Where ever the footsteps of Urizen
Walk'd over the cities in sorrow.
7. Till a Web dark & cold, throughout all
The tormented element stretch'd
From the sorrows of Urizens soul
And the Web is a Female in embrio
None could break the Web, no wings of fire.
8. So twisted the cords, & so knotted
The meshes: twisted like to the human brain
9. And all calld it, The Net of Religion
5. For he saw that life liv'd upon death"