An Unheralded Significance

Show me a person who thinks that the Old Testament is only tales for children, and I will show you a person who hasn’t read the Old Testament. I am not referring principally to the fact that a lot of material in the Old Testament isn’t exactly family-friendly, though that is true. The larger point is that the Bible has far beyond enough to challenge and satisfy a grown-up intellect. Even the stories, the straightforward part of the Old Testament, hold more complexity and depth than is quickly unlocked.

A lot of people miss it, and not only children. One reason for this, of course, is that many people don’t really read the Bible. Another reason is that the style of the narrative (as opposed to the poetry and the prophecy) is concise and businesslike and occasionally so understated you can only marvel. You have to work harder reading it because many things will not be spelled out. It’s plain, for example, that Esther and Xerxes did not have a monogamous marriage – if you catch the devil in the details. (Many people don’t. This contributes to the popular misbelief that the Book of Esther is a beautiful love story.)

One of my favorite examples of this unheralded significance comes at the very end of 1 Samuel. It concerns King Saul (as so much in 1 Samuel does) and how he was buried by the men of Jabesh Gilead. Saul and three of his sons died in a battle with the Philistines. The Philistines – this is pretty much the textbook definition of being a bad winner – then pinned their bodies to the wall of a city. And this is how the story ends:

When the people of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12all their valiant men marched through the night to Beth Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and went to Jabesh, where they burned them. 13Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted seven days. (1 Samuel 31)

And you know at once that it was kind of them, but there is more beauty here than is readily apparent.

Jabesh Gilead played another, much earlier role in Saul’s story. His first true act as king was rescuing the people of Jabesh Gilead from an invader who had planned, after conquering the city, to gouge out the right eye of every man in it. Most debts are forgotten after forty years, but the men of Jabesh repaid the debt of the kindness Saul had shown them. Saul’s bread finally returned to him on the waters.

There is poetry in the fact that Saul’s reign, which began with him showing kindness to Jabesh Gilead, ended with Jabesh Gilead showing kindness to him. And it is all the more poignant because it is the last word in Saul’s story. There are few stories in the Bible darker or more tragic than Saul’s – the long descent, into murder and insanity and futile clawing to keep what God had given away. He had the peculiar torture of knowing the truth and not being helped by it. His last few chapters are filled with horror and despair, with the sense of being finally rejected by God and going helplessly into the end.

And then, to finish the story, the brave gratitude of the men of Jabesh – an act that looked wistfully back to a better past, a repayment of an old, old good deed that murmurs that Saul hadn’t wasted quite everything after all.

It is not redemption, not so little and so late. But it is a note of grace, at the very end.

Blog Tour: Hide it In Your Heart

front cover

More than just a coloring book, this inspirational activity book will help you relax, unwind, and enjoy some creative fun while hiding God’s Word in your heart. 

The 35 separate verses and passages are printed in colorable word art with decorative borders, blank on the back to make them easier to remove and frame or display, if desired. Each one is accompanied by two different activities or puzzles featuring the verse or key words from it. 

Hide it in Your Heart is an ideal Scripture memorization aid for Christian schools, homeschool programs, Sunday schools, or your own personal use. Children and adults will enjoy learning, practicing, and meditating on these artistically presented verses from the New International Version Bible. 

Proceeds from the sale of Hide it In Your Heart will be donated to www.Christar.org to help provide a translation of God’s Word for a particular people group in East Asia who do not yet have the Bible in their own language.

Here are a few sample coloring and activity pages from Hide it In Your Heart. If you’d like to color them or complete the word puzzles, click on the link to access a PDF that you can download and print.

Hide it In Your Heart is available in paperback on Amazon. Click here to order your copy for $8.99.

HOWEVER, you can get it for 15% off if you order it here on CreateSpace with coupon code JZBVVBH8! The code can be used an unlimited number of times and will not expire, so feel free to order as many copies as you like for family and friends. Hide it In Your Heart makes a great gift for anyone who enjoys word puzzles, coloring, or God’s word! 

You’re welcome to share the code with others, too.

Happy coloring!

 

About the Author:

Annie Douglass LimaAnnie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since her childhood, and to date has published thirteen books (two YA action and adventure novels, four fantasies, a puppet script, five anthologies of her students’ poetry, and a Scripture coloring and activity book). Besides writing, her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction), scrapbooking, and international travel.

 

 

Connect with Annie Douglass Lima online:
Email: AnnieDouglassLima@gmail.com

Blog: http://anniedouglasslima.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnnieDouglassLimaAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/princeofalasia

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LinkedIn: http://bit.ly/ADLimaOnLinkedIn

Sign up for author updates and receive a free ebook of “interviews” with characters from her fantasy series: http://bit.ly/LimaUpdates

Three Rules for Biblical Novels

It is natural – perhaps even inevitable – that the Bible inspire its own small genre of literature: biblical fiction, novels based on the people and events of the Bible. This idea has always appealed to me, but in reality, such novels have usually left me disappointed. I have read only two biblical novels that struck me as truly superior, and perhaps two others that came close. All the others I have read – and I read a fair number, before I conceded to the odds and gave up – ranged from poor to forgettably good.

As a genre, biblical fiction has its own peculiar challenges. And perhaps, as a reader, I make more demands of it than others would. Here, after reflection, are my three rules for biblical novels.

Fidelity to the Bible. The definition of fiction is that it is fictional; in accepting biblical novels, I accept their fictional element. I know the difference between a historical novel and a biography, between a movie based on a true story and a documentary about a true story. It doesn’t bother me that someone should write a historical novel of scriptural events, a story based on the true stories of the Bible.

But the fictional element should consist in elaborating on the true stories, not in changing them. Biblical novels should remain true to the Bible – not just in facts or events, but in its whole spiritual tenor.

Convincing and compelling elaborations. A biblical novel takes a story told in a few pages – sometimes only a few paragraphs – and tells it again in a few hundred pages. This requires significant elaboration. The elaboration must be true to the story, as I already said – keeping with the spirit as well as the letter. But it must also be compelling.

I have read biblical novels where characters stiffly act out their parts, without the sense of life and independent animation that, while always false, is the art and pleasure of the novel. Sometimes the elaboration falls flat, and of events as well as characters.

This is one of the peculiar difficulties of biblical fiction (though a similar one is found in, of all things, franchise novels). When writing a novel about the great men and women of the Bible, your portrayal must ring true with what we already know, and yet go beyond it. You must give life to characters you did not invent, rhyme and reason to events you did not choose.

When I read a rare excellent novel about King David (and what rich material his life provides), I thought to myself, “I don’t know if that’s the way David was. But it’s the way he might have been.”

So may all biblical novels impress us.

Fidelity to history. Biblical fiction must be regarded as a kind of historical novel, and therefore must be written with an eye on history. Canaan at the time of Gideon is a sketchier region of history than, for example, first-century Jerusalem, but do the research anyway.

I once read an author describe how she quit reading a novel about Joseph because of the appearance of steel knives. I wouldn’t go that far, and anyway it’s not relatively minor anachronisms that principally concern me. It’s the failure to make characters – inhabitants of places and of cultures so alien – children of their times.

One example: It is hard to find a novel about King David where a character does not outright state the superiority of monogamy. Now, David’s life does demonstrate the griefs of polygamy, and I yield to no one in condemning the selfishness and injustice of that form of marriage. But I always wonder at the casual condemnations of characters supposedly living in David’s world – would it really be so easy for them to see?

“It requires a fine effort of the imagination,” G. K. Chesterton once said, “to see an evil that surrounds us on every side.” And the evil of polygamy surrounded such people on every side. I don’t say it is impossible for one of them to see it as an evil, but I want to know how a flower like that grew out of such thin soil. At least I want the impression that it did grow out of thin soil.

These, then, are my three rules for biblical novels: fidelity to the Bible, fidelity to history, and compelling and convincing elaboration of both. I know it’s a tall order, but there are novels that deliver.

Such as the two I referenced earlier. These are The Miracle Maker, by Murray Watts, and The Stones, by Eleanor Gustafson. Just in case you were curious.

CSFF Blog Tour: Leviathan

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. (Revelation 12:3)

The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (Revelation 12:9)

The only time a dragon appeared by name in the Bible was in the dizzying visions of Revelation. But if you go by description and not only names, dragons appear in the Old Testament also.

In Job 41, God describes the Leviathan, and it sounds for all the world like a dragon: “Who dares open the doors of his mouth, ringed about with his fearsome teeth? His back has rows of shields tightly sealed together; each is so close to the next that no air can pass between. … His breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from his mouth. … Iron he treats like straw and bronze like rotten wood.”

Near the end of the chapter, God says that the Leviathan “makes the depths churn like a boiling caldron” – a connection between the Leviathan and the sea that is echoed in nearly every mention of the creature. Asaph, praising God in Psalm 74, writes:

It was you who split open the sea by your power;
you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.
It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan
and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert.

It is implied here that the Leviathan had, or could have, multiple heads – as the red dragon that symbolized Satan did. Another curious parallel to the vision of Revelation is found in Isaiah 27:

In that day,

the LORD will punish with his sword—
his fierce, great and powerful sword—
Leviathan the gliding serpent,
Leviathan the coiling serpent;
he will slay the monster of the sea.

“The great dragon” is also called “that ancient serpent” – and indeed, John uses serpent interchangeably with dragon near the end of Revelation 12.

It is common to see dragons portrayed as good in modern Christian fantasy. Yet the Bible symbolizes Satan with a dragon and calls the dragon-like Leviathan a monster.

I will begin by admitting that if Scripture uses a dragon as a symbol for Satan, it is because something in the nature of dragons corresponds to something in the nature of Satan. Allegories and symbols, similes and metaphors are all based on a real likeness.

But not a complete likeness. That is the other side of the coin. The Apostle Peter famously wrote that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. And for all that the devil is like a lion, Jesus Himself is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah”. The lion as predator – brutal and devouring – resembles Satan, but the lion as the king of the beasts – strong and majestic – resembles Christ.

Like the dragon, the serpent is used to represent Satan, and imagery throughout the Bible associates snakes with evil. Jesus more than once used the denunciation “brood of vipers”. And He still commanded His followers to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Satan may be an ancient serpent, but serpents are not all bad.

Doves prove the same principle from the other side. As the Bible usually invokes snakes negatively but may invoke them positively, so it usually invokes doves positively but may invoke them negatively, cf. Hosea: “Ephraim is like a dove, easily deceived and senseless.”

To think that Satan’s representation as a dragon is a commentary on the intrinsic evil of dragons ignores both the logic of symbolism and the richness and diversity of Scriptural imagery. Perhaps it ignores, too, the truth that since God is the Creator of all things, nothing is intrinsically evil.

Many things are evil, and some things are evil without redemption. But nothing is evil in its original nature, because that nature comes from God. The fierce and powerful Leviathan – the “monster of the sea”, fire-breathing, invincible, and undeniably dragonish – has another side. Psalm 104 has what may be the only gentle imagery of the Leviathan:

There is the sea, vast and spacious,
teeming with creatures beyond number—
living things both large and small.
There the ships go to and fro,
and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.

Gentle – and also mighty. Like the lion laying down with the lamb, gentleness and strength may be the truest nature of Leviathan, and even of dragons.

CSFF Blog Tour: Angels in Art and Reality

A few months ago, the CSFF toured Eye of the Sword. The book’s “angels” set off discussions as to what angels really are and if the beings in Eye of the Sword merited the name (you can guess, by the quotation marks, where I came down on the question). Now, for Angel Eyes, I would like to consider different aspects of the angels’ portrayal and what foundation they have in Scripture.

Angels are sometimes female – From the Victorian era onward, much of angel iconography has been of beautiful women with wings. Some Christians have said, in reaction, that all angels are male. This is not quite the whole truth.

All angels shown in the Bible are male. But, as Donald Rumsfeld once said, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” The fact that the Bible does not prove the existence of female angels is not itself proof that no female angels exist.

I will, then, classify Shannon Dittemore’s use of a female angel as “speculative”.

Angels have wings – Ezekiel, in his extraordinary call to prophethood, witnessed the four living creatures – cherubim, with four wings. Isaiah, in his commission, saw seraphs with six wings flying around God’s throne. Daniel wrote that Gabriel came to him in “swift flight”.

The four-winged angels of Angel Eyes are, then, a mixture of the Scriptural (at least some angels have wings) and the speculative (we do not know that all have wings, or any beside the cherubim have four wings).

Angels have halos – Ah, no. This is another idea about angels we derive from art and not from Scripture. But since the Bible never counters the idea, it comes under “speculative”.

Angels are beautiful (and demons are hideous) – As far as I can recall, the Bible says nothing about the appearance of demons. Angels are sometimes described – the four living creatures in great detail. They made a strong impression on Ezekiel; I daresay they would make a strong impression on all of us.

I cannot do justice to the description of the cherubim in Ezekiel 1 and 10; I will only mention the premier facts: the cherubim had four wings, four faces, forms like a man’s, feet like a calf’s, and were covered with eyes. I am sure that if we ever saw the cherubim, merely aesthetic beauty would fall into its true insignificance, but no one will consider this description one of beauty.

Daniel also described an angel he saw in a vision: “I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. 6 His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.”

The appearance of angels often had a kind of radiance. When the angel appeared to the shepherds, “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” Of the angel who rolled the stone from Jesus’ tomb, we are told, “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.” When the women went to the tomb, they were met by men in “clothes that gleamed like lightning”. Jesus Himself said that He would return in His glory, and the glory of the Father, and “of the holy angels”.

Perhaps the angels were beautiful, but what most struck those who saw them was light, brightness, glory – and what such people usually felt was fear.

Yet I wonder if Christians’ fantasy-novel descriptions are – at least in part – consciously metaphorical. C. S. Lewis wrote that “Devils are depicted with bats’ wings and good angels with birds’ wings … because most men like birds better than bats.” Perhaps Christian novelists portray angels as beautiful, and demons as hideous, for the same reason.

So to finally reach the conclusion, Shannon Dittemore’s descriptions are speculative, with a measure of Scriptural truth.

C. S. Lewis also wrote that angels “must be represented symbolically if they are to be represented at all.” And it is surely true that if we are to write novels about angels, much of what we write must be speculative. Angels remain hidden from us. I do not mind the speculation, though I believe Christian writers should refrain from contradicting what the Bible reveals to us. And in that, Angel Eyes holds true.