Saturday, July 26, 2014
'In the Shadow of Jezebel' by Mesu Andrews
Trained as a priestess in the temple of Baal, Princess Jehosheba strives to please the demanding Queen Athaliah, daughter of Jezebel. But when a mysterious letter from the dead prophet Elijah predicts doom for the royal household, Jehosheba realizes that the dark arts she practices reach beyond the realm of earthly governments.
Forced to marry Yahweh's high priest in order to further Athaliah and Jezebel's power plays, Jehosheba enters the unfamiliar world of Yahweh's Temple. Can her new husband show her the truth and love she craves? And can Jehosheba overcome her fear and save the family--and the nation--she loves?
With deft skill, Mesu Andrews brings the Old Testament to life, revealing a fascinating story of the power of unconditional love.
This novel follows the events given in a couple of chapters found in 1Kings and 2Chronicles. Jehosheba's story is summed up in a few neat sentences, and I've always wished somebody would highlight how this bold young woman almost single-handedly saved the royal line of King David. I'm so glad it's now been done.
King Jehoram's daughter always thought life under the thumb of her stepmother, Athaliah was normal, being trained as a Baal priestess. Athaliah's mother, the evil Queen Jezebel, also has a profound negative influence on whoever she can get her hands on, always wanting to wipe out the knowledge and worship of the true God of Israel. Each for their own reasons, Jehoram and Athaliah decide that Sheba must marry Yahweh's high priest, Jehoiada. Although she considers this a grim destiny to begin with, it becomes obvious that God's holy Temple is the right place for her. And as scripture reveals, she's the woman who saves the royal lineage of Judah when she hides her baby nephew from the murderous Athaliah for several years.
I wondered whether Sheba's love for Jehoiada develops a little too quickly, considering how strongly she resisted initially, but decided no. She'd been starved for proper love from the people who were supposed to her guardians for so long, it's reasonable that she would quickly warm to her husband, when she discovers that the love he offers is genuine and deep.
Jehoiada is a great hero. At first, I wondered how the marital union of a crusty old priest and a beautiful princess could possibly work in fiction. Mesu Andrews pulls it off brilliantly. Jehoiada is certainly not doddering (as the scene when he arm-wrestles Hazi proves). As well as treasuring his young wife, he is concerned and empathetic to everyone. I love his relationships with the young men in his life; Nathanael, his second in command, Zabad, the chief guard, and of course, Ahaziah the crown prince.
I think Prince Ahaziah (or Hazi for short) is one of my favourite characters, giving the story a lot of depth. The Bible simply tells us that under the influence of his evil mother, Ahaziah went off the rails and followed the customs of those around him. Mesu Andrews' Hazi is a warm-hearted, witty young man who simply wants those he loves to remain safe and happy. It's hard to forget what his mother, Athaliah, does to make him cooperate with her stinking plans in this book. Let's just say she knows what buttons to push.
The lifestyles of those faithful believers who live within the Temple precincts shine like a beacon. Without being haughty, pushy or depressed, they wake up to complete their sacred tasks day after day, choosing to trust Yahweh's good intentions to them, even though the nation seems to be going crazy, following their corrupt leaders and the worshipers of Baal and other foreign gods who have all sorts of bizarre, sensual rituals. It's a good example for any of us, who plod along doing what is right, even though it may seem to be achieving very little.
The powerful moments included Jehoiada telling the wriggling lamb, 'I know you don't deserve it, but that's the point.' It's good to see the passages from our Bible brought to life in biblical fiction.
In the Shadow of Jezebel: A Novel available from Amazon