Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Gods and Kings: Young Prince Hezekiah

Lynn Austin’s novel Gods and Kings begins a new series "Chronicles of the Kings," telling the story of the Kings of Old Testament Judah. Drawing on material from 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, the author tells a story filled with danger and tragedy in a world of apostates and martyrs. Through excellent story-telling, Gods and Kings portrays a world not all that different from our own.

This first novel in the series covers the reign of King Ahaz, Hezekiah’s wicked father – of whom the Bible authors had nothing good to say. Much of the story focuses on Hezekiah as a young boy, traumatized from experiences of child-sacrifice to Molech, who then learns to call on Yahweh. The story ends at the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign, leaving several plots unresolved and awaiting a sequel.

In this story we see the common theme of a family member’s godly influence on a young child, who then forgets but later recalls the things of God as an adult. Gods and Kings also employs good language and story to relate the central issue – idolatry – to modern times. The gradual falling away of an apostate, and liberal characters who champion "change" to "modern times," are as relevant to our culture as theirs.

As with any Biblical fiction story, the original source material is limited (though much more in abundance here than, say, some of the characters from Genesis), and the author invents full stories about people who are only named in the Bible – Hezekiah’s mother Abijah, his grandfather Zechariah, his wife Hephzibah, and even Hilkiah (father of Eliakim). Unlike some works of Biblical fiction, all of these major and minor characters refer to actual names of people from Hezekiah’s day. Yet in the above cases, all that is known is their relationship to another person. Even Hezekiah’s wife is only named once, as the mother of Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son and successor. The author’s imagination supplies us, though, with very interesting characters and plots. The last part of the story (Hezekiah as an adult) seems less-developed and disjointed from the larger, earlier section of the story – perhaps largely because of the passage of time, with little reference to the earlier time, reflecting the adult Hezekiah’s spiritual condition.

Overall, though, this is an excellent book with well-researched history and plot relevance to our day, a great story that makes this period of Bible history come alive.