A while back, I said I was done with (Christian) fiction. I changed my mind, making an exception for five short and (mostly) sweet novellas by Francine Rivers. I have been her fan ever since I read the Mark of the Lion series when I was newly arrived in Rome. That series was set in 1st-century Rome, and it was exciting for me to recognise locations either because I’d been there or because I’d studied them in the History of Ancient Architecture class I was taking. Since then, I’ve read almost all of her books, loving each one with the exception of The Scarlet Thread—though I don’t remember why. My favourites, though, are Redeeming Love and The Last Sin Eater. Redeeming Love, written as a statement of faith after she accepted Christ, is a re-telling of the story of the prophet Hosea set in the Californian gold rush. The Last Sin Eater tells of the transformation of a rural Appalachian community with the realisation of a foundational biblical truth.
Alright, enough with this encomium and on to the object of this post.
The five historical fiction novellas I recently read belong to two series: Sons of Encouragement and Lineage of Grace. I had begun reading both years ago, but hadn’t finished, as my church library hadn’t purchased them yet. Sons of Encouragement is about men who served God in the shadow of others. In this series, I had previously read The Priest (Aaron), The Warrior (Caleb) and The Prince (Jonathan). Lineage of Grace is about the women in Christ’s genealogy as recorded in Matthew 1. In this series, I had previously read Unveiled (Tamar) and Unashamed (Rahab).
This follows the story of the prophet Amos. It starts off with a section on Amos the shepherd, which I found rather slow. Mrs Rivers was setting up the shepherd-sheep metaphor that is so prevalent in the Bible, but I just wanted to get on with the story 😦 I’d have to say that my main problem with reading the book was that I’m not familiar with the book of Amos (entirely my fault). Nonetheless, I enjoyed it and give it a 4-star rating.
This tells the story of Silas. At first I was worried that Francine Rivers was setting up a sort of The Gospel According to Silas; the story is largely a harmonised retelling of what we have in the Synoptics and Acts. In the last chapter, she banished my fears: she didn’t let a good story get in the way of the authority and integrity of the Bible. Others may have justified themselves saying, “It’s just fiction.” The problem is that quite a few Christians today would rather get their knowledge of God from sources other than the Bible, which is problematic even when those sources are true to God’s Word. Long story short, the last chapter was my favourite in the entire book. 4 stars.
The story of Ruth. Rivers manages to get most, if not all, of the text of the book of Ruth into her re-telling of it. I loved her portrayal of Ruth and that of her relationship with Boaz. That she was the daughter of wealthy Moabites was a little harder to believe, but that was a very minor subplot. Also, the portrayal of Boaz as a man who’s been single too long made me smile! 5 stars.
The story of Bathsheba. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I’d have liked. There was too much “setting-up”, a lack of subtlety. For example on page one, we’re introduced to eight-year-old Bathsheba who has a crush on a much older David. Predictably, she never gets over it. Elsewhere, when David sees off his army (just before the incident) one character says to another, “No good comes from an idle king.” Well, that was the first part of the book. After Bathsheba enters the king’s palace as his wife, the focus shifts to court intrigue and the story is a little more bearable.
I read this book at the same time I was going through Leviticus, and so I was dismayed when the author stated that only the adulteress was to be put to death, and not the man as well (Leviticus 20:10). Mrs Rivers did get other minutiae however, such as the ban on sexual relations for warriors (not in Leviticus, don’t know where). I know the biblical account doesn’t mention sacrifices being made, but I doubt David and Bathsheba just prayed a prayer and were forgiven. God’s Law demands blood be shed for atonement; thankfully on this side of the cross, Christ’s perfect sacrifice once for all is sufficient. But for them, some bulls would have had to have been a sin offering (Leviticus 4). 3 stars.
The story of Mary, mother of Jesus. Francine Rivers gives us a Mary who struggled with “my will vs. God’s will” in relation to Jesus and His purpose, which I found rather credible. As for the other characters in the book, Joseph was a little too good to be true; James was a little obnoxious and Jesus was somewhat aloof and detached. Regarding the plot, I doubt 1st-century Jews had in mind a crucified, suffering Messiah as one of the characters in the book points out in a particularly preachy passage. As with some of the books above, the second half of the book was better than the beginning.
Mrs Rivers steers clear of the apocryphal writings about Jesus’ childhood, which have him bringing clay pigeons to life and the like. However, she has Him perform one healing miracle. As soon as I read that, John 2:11 popped into my mind. Unless the apostle John was ignorant of Jesus’ childhood (or worse, lying), we have to throw such ideas out the window. 4 stars.
If you want to know more about God’s servants in the Bible, go read the Bible. Period.