Date Published: June 7, 2012
Number of Pages: 224
Print Price: $17.99
eBook Price: $8.09
Bezalel, a highly talented young Hebrew artisan, has been selected by his Egyptian masters to train as a worker in precious metals. Though he visits his family regularly, he is housed in a kind of dormitory attached to the studio where he and his co-workers make jewelry, furnishings for wealthy homes, and idols of the Egyptian gods. His remarkable talent has elevated him to a position of special favor with the overseer, and indeed, his work is admired to the point that he is assigned projects for Pharaoh himself.
All of this nurtures Bezalel’s pride, and along with it a cherished daydream that he might someday earn wealth enough to buy his freedom and save his family from slavery by buying their freedom, too. The pagan environment in which he is living has thinned his loyalty to his family-bequeathed faith in Yahweh; while he maintains a lip-service faith in Yahweh, he has many doubts about Yahweh’s reality and power, and has gone so far astray from his people’s faith as to wear an amulet of Ptah, the patron god of craftsmen, and to secretly ascribe his success to Ptah’s favor towards him. In other words, he is not so far removed from many young adults today who have been raised in Christian homes, but have gone out into the world and become enamored of the promises it makes.
Happily, Yahweh has other plans for Bezalel. To the great consternation of the Hebrew people, Moses returns to them after many years of exile, and promises that Yahweh has heard their sorrows and will now lead them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. What follows is the familiar and thrilling story of just how God does this, with the stubbornness of Pharaoh and the plagues that finally break his will. But this time, the story is told through the eyes of this young Hebrew whose faith is shaky at best, and who must find a way to make sense of the events in order to decide whether he will cast his lot with his own people and trust in Yahweh to bring them freedom, or remain in Egypt, trusting in himself, with the help of Ptah, to realize that dream.
One of the more moving passages of the book describes how Bezalel comes to understand the great Passover from a personal standpoint, as his little sister learns she must allow her pet lamb, Curls, to be sacrificed:“Zamri’s eyes were red and puffy, her manner subdued. But she also looked resolute as she went over to Uri. ‘Daddy, you can have Curls,” she said. “I don’t want Bezalel to die.’
A shiver went through Bezalel. But yes, this Passover, with its need for a perfect lamb and its blood painted on the doorposts, did affect him as the firstborn son. Suddenly, the whole thing didn’t seem like quite such an adventure. There would be a price to pay. It was already being exacted.”
Once Bezalel decides for Yahweh, all is not smooth sailing. The long journey through the wilderness tests his faith over and over, as he grows through hardship and budding romance, conflict and rejection, to a deepened faith commitment and, finally, understanding of the role Yahweh has chosen for him – a role beyond anything he could ever have imagined in Egypt.
Certainly, the overarching theme of the novel is faith and how it grows, as Bezalel displays for us in microcosm the faith journey of his people in the wilderness, and indeed, of all of us who struggle to believe and trust in God. Other themes would include the challenges of freedom, the awesome but loving power of God, and the value in family ties, as Bezalel finds a spiritual model in his grandfather, Hur, and the loyal support of family when those he thought were friends turn against him.
It is always a pleasure to find a novel that brings to life a familiar Bible story and makes it more personal and current, and the choice to write from Bezalel’s point of view is certainly an intriguing “take” on the magnificent events of the Exodus. We can relate to Bezalel as a fellow human being, someone like us with the same kinds of life issues that we face, and realize that the Israelites’ failures and foibles are very like our own. By seeing the Exodus through Bezalel’s eyes, we can imagine ourselves in its midst, and wonder how we would respond to those stunning experiences. What was it like to find a sea swept back so your people could pass through? And what was it like to stand at the base of Sinai and see Moses climb up into its heights?
“Then, even as the people watched, he made his way up the mountain, and the cloud that had hovered over the mountaintop moved down Mount Sinai toward him,” the author writes. “Finally he was engulfed in it, no longer visible.
“Bezalel felt a shiver as rumbles came from the cloud. He heard Moses speaking faintly. From a distance, their leader was answered by a thunderous voice, though Bezalel couldn’t understand its words.
“People all around were shocked and dumbfounded at what they were seeing and hearing.
“’It’s Yahweh!’ one whispered. ‘He’s speaking with Moses.’
“’Who knew that Yahweh spoke directly with him?’asked someone else.
“’I’ll listen to him more carefully from now on,’said another.”
This reviewer would have welcomed more vivid descriptions of people and settings, along with greater depth and color in portraying various aspects of the story, such as the characters’ developing states of mind, the change in attitude of the Egyptians toward the Hebrews, or the fatigue of the journey. Sub-plots that could be allowed more freedom to grow organically would expand our knowledge of the larger picture and make the whole story more colorful and believable.
One pitfall in enlarging on Bible stories is the temptation to so modify the Biblical account that the novel is in conflict with it. Ms. Nesdoly successfully avoids this; her story stays faithful to the Bible narrative and will please the Bible-literate reader who would be jarred by any story straying from it. But in doing so, she has fallen into the corollary danger that the characters, as well as any subplots treating their personal narratives, will be too tightly controlled in order to “fit” with scripture, and lose their own vitality. The unfortunate result is that the characters seem two-dimensional, and the plot and subplots contrived. Another, and perhaps smaller, criticism is an apparent lack of care in researching the geography and culture of the area. Goshen, which is a whole region of northern Egypt, is presented as a “settlement,” something like a village or ghetto. Hathor, the cow goddess on whose idol Bezalel is working, was very much a female figure, but is referred to as a steer. These questionable references raise doubts about the accuracy of geographical and cultural details described during the journey.
Those observations noted, this book will be an enjoyable light read for someone interested in imagining the story of the Exodus on a more personal level, and would be appropriate, as well, for older children or young adults. It comes with a list of study questions, which would help make it a useful tool for Bible study classes.
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
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