Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Strength of His Hand: Chronicles of the Kings, #3

Lynn Austin continues her “Chronicles of the Kings” series with The Strength of His Hand, the third in this series. This novel covers Hezekiah’s later years as king, beginning with his serious illness from which he miraculously recovered and was granted another 15 years. Hezekiah’s testing, his pride during a meeting with the Babylonians, and further Assyrian threats also enter this story, crafted around yet another conflict – Hezekiah’s idolatrous wife Hephzibah, and the lack of an heir to Hezekiah’s throne.

Early in the story, Hezekiah confronts the possibility of not having an heir, and considers various scriptures and their meanings. Thus he learns that God’s promise to David – that David would always have a descendant on the throne – does not necessarily mean that Hezekiah must have a son to continue the line. When Hephzibah again urges Hezekiah to take another wife, in hopes of producing an heir, Hezekiah considers again the Jewish law that a king must not have “many” wives and concludes that not having “many” does not mean only one. Soon thereafter, however, Hezekiah takes ill and nearly dies as a result of an accident. As with so much of the story, the author fills in the gaps, providing an exciting story full of tension and betrayal to explain the cause of Hezekiah’s illness referenced in the Bible.

The Strength of His Hand picks up plot threads and characters developed in the previous two books, so that again Hezekiah himself has a rather minor part. Jerusha is back, now as Eliakim’s wife and a mother to several children. The conflict between Eliakim and Shebna continues, along with embellished accounts, based on verses from the book of Isaiah, regarding Shebna’s monument to himself and the subsequent exaltation of Eliakim.

Overall, the story presented is entertaining and dramatic, along with the message of God’s forgiveness and compassion. However, in several aspects the story remains shallow, especially in its poor application of Old Testament scripture. For example, scripture passages from Isaiah about Israel as the barren wife, rejoicing in the many children given her – clearly understood by Biblical scholars as referring to the returning exiles from Babylon almost 200 years later – are completely misinterpreted and applied directly to Hephzibah for her own personal meaning. The characters present to each other not an Old Testament understanding (the historical setting), nor even a New Testament one, but a weak, modern-day “God loves you” theology. The “gospel” presented to Hephzibah -- who has worshipped an idol and vowed to sacrifice her first child to Asherah – is the weak, modern-day evangelical message that she is a child of God and God forgives her, and so she must forgive herself. Nothing is said about repentance, or an understanding of who God is (versus the idols) including His sovereignty and holiness – much less the required sacrifices for sin that were still required of His people under the Mosaic law during this time.

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