Stone by Stone

Spare narrative and a stoic reporting of the facts — this is the tone of the Old Testament book of Nehemiah:

“So I came to Jerusalem . . .”  (Five words about a dangerous two-month, one-thousand-mile journey.)
“I wept and mourned for many days.”  (Three months!)

Based on a careful study of Scripture, Lynn Austin puts meat on the bones without obscuring the truth or compromising biblical fidelity. On This Foundation, book three of The Restoration Chronicles, is a fictionalized rendering of Nehemiah’s journey and the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s shattered wall which can easily stand on its own.  Characters from the Old Testament book become more three-dimensional and their emotions and the events of the story more palpable since novelizing the story brings in the sights, sounds, smells, and energy of those tumultuous days.  For example, there is more to the role of cup bearer than I had realized, and Nehemiah’s duties in the citadel at Susa were a unique preparation for his position of leadership in Jerusalem.  Connecting Nehemiah and his brother Hanani with the events chronicled at the end of the book of Esther gives depth and family history which hint at a possible reason for Nehemiah’s strength of character and drive.

The mobilization of a ragtag assortment of refugees into an efficient construction crew and formidable fighting force along with the restoration of the wall in only two month’s time becomes a lush and layered tale.  Heart-breaking realities associated with bond servitude in Israel’s history and the grinding poverty that lay at its root are reported in Nehemiah 5, but On This Foundation gives the problem a face and a name in the person of Nava who must leave her family and her childhood sweetheart for a six-year term of servitude in payment of her families debts.

The tedious list of names in Nehemiah 3 and the details of who worked next to whom (and what they built) has been incorporated beautifully into Lynn’s story arc with flowing dialogue and imaginative scenes.  Best of all, the daughters of Shallum (3:12) explode the boundaries of their one-verse mention and are given an identity that fulfills the vision and courage which earned their mention in Israel’s historical account.

Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem are portrayed as the formidable and self-seeking foes that we see in the biblical narrative, adding to the intrigue of Nehemiah’s situation.  I was drawn into the tension of Nehemiah’s survey of his surroundings, his dawning realization that there was no one he could fully trust, and his fear that he was endangering his brothers lives as well as his own.  Was there anyone in all Jerusalem who was committed to the cause with unsullied motives?

My Sunday School class and I recently spent nearly six months studying the book of Nehemiah together, so, for me, On This Foundation felt like a visit with an old friend.  I encourage readers to accept the author’s invitation to explore the biblical text.  (She provides a list of all the passages she referenced in her research.)  Those who do will realize that Nehemiah’s trip to Susa and his subsequent return to Jerusalem in Nehemiah 13 have been omitted from the book.  Many of the reforms that Nehemiah addressed (Sabbath observance, marriage to unbelievers, temple worship, and provision for the Levites) occurred after his return, indicating that the slippage had actually taken place in his absence.  At 464 pages, On This Foundation is really a perfect length for getting lost in, so the inclusion of that journey would have been cumbersome, and its omission takes nothing away from the story.

As for sorting out the truth about Malkijah the wealthy land-owner:  Is he just another cruel and greedy rich guy who is hoping to increase his power by marrying one of Shallum’s daughters?  Is Chana wise to accept his proposal?  These questions nagged at me as I read, but even after the plot was resolved, and I was imagining the choral processions singing at the dedication of Jerusalem’s Wall, I couldn’t let go of that pair of complex characters —  Malkijah and Chana, so alike in their need for repentance and self-awareness.  The truth is that every one of us is a mixed bag of greed and loyalty; blindness and insight; charity and ambition.  Only God can change a heart, working from within, and like Nehemiah, we all must come to the realization that anything of consequence that we do, anything lasting that we build must be set on a firm foundation of faith in the Almighty One.

Interested in visiting the landmarks from my six-month journey through Nehemiah with my Sunday School class?  Click here to view a link to the series.

This book was provided by Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group,  in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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23 thoughts on “Stone by Stone”

  1. Good Morning, Michele!

    Over the past few weeks, I’ve been praying about a way that I could encourage other bloggers who have been encouraging me. Through your ministry, posts, words, comments, and faithfulness—your life has been a blessing to mine, and I wanted others to know about you!

    So, I compiled a list of those bloggers who I’ve personally found to be the MOST INSPIRATIONAL on the web.

    You are ONE Of these bloggers – in my estimation!

    You can find the link to the list where you are featured here:

    I’ve also signed up to get your emails, and tried to follow you on your social media outlets!

    I pray that God will encourage you today through these simple acts~

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, oh, yes. I’m always looking at the time I spend blogging and wondering . . . Lord, is this all about me just because I love to write, or can you use this even a little bit? So thankful for comments such as yours that keep me focused on the reason we write — or do anything on this planet!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This sounds like a wonderful book, Michele. I will definitely be looking at it. Yes, sometimes I *forget* that the people in the Bible were actual people – with thoughts and feelings and actions that actually happened. It’s interesting to “fill in the blanks” in the stories. For indeed, when you really think about it, Scripture is full of the most exciting and interesting narratives around – and they’re all true!!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s true. Sometimes we need a little help with our imaginations! I’ve found that reading this kind of “fictionalized” account is helping me to be more inquisitive in my reading of scripture!


  3. I dearly love the book of Nehemiah, so I would probably really enjoy this book. Thank you so much for sharing about it here, and thank you for your sweet visits to my blog….they are always such a dear encouragement to me! Sending you much love and many blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Michele, how are you?
    Are you getting ready for the holiday season?
    I like the Book of Nehemiah although it isn’t among the popular books of the Bible but there is a lot to learn from it.
    Many Blessings to you Michele

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Ifeoma! I’m actually trying to resist getting ready for Christmas until after we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.S. Right now is “Wizard of Oz” season in my home — two of my boys are in the musical with seven performances stretched over two weekends! Holding on for dear life right now!
      Thanks for dropping by!


  5. I love Biblical fiction, and this one looks really good! I really enjoyed the way Tessa Afshar wove Nehemiah into her Harvest of… books. Have you read those? I think you’d enjoy them. Thanks for being a part of Booknificent Thursday this week!

    Liked by 1 person

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