Friday, September 20, 2013

RETURN TO ME (The Restoration Chronicles) Book One - (LYNN AUSTIN)

Story Description:
Baker Publishing Group|October 1, 2013|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-7642-0898-0
Bestselling Author Lynn Austin Launches New Biblical Saga
After years of watching his children and grandchildren wander from their faith, Iddo’s prayers are answered.  King Cyrus is allowing God’s chosen people to return to Jerusalem.  Jubilant, he joyfully prepares for their departure, only to learn that his family, grown comfortable in the pagan culture of Babylon, wants to remain. 
Zechariah, Iddo’s oldest grandson, feels torn between his grandfather’s ancient beliefs and the comfort and success his father enjoys in Babylon.  But he soon begins to hear the voice of God, encouraging him to return to the land given to his forefathers. 
Bringing to life the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah, Return to Me tells the compelling story of Iddo and Zechariah, the women who love them, and the faithful followers who struggle to rebuild their lives in obedience to the God who beckons them home. 
My Review:
Eighty-two-year-old, Daniel was awoken in the middle of the night by loud pounding on his door.  It was two of the King’s servants come to tell him he was wanted at the palace.  King Beshazzar and the queen mother were summoning him to come immediately.
When Daniel arrived at the palace banquet hall, a large gathering of people were enjoying food and wine.  The King asked if Daniel was one of the exiles his forefathers had brought from Judah and Daniel confirmed that he was.  The King said: “I am told the spirit of the gods is in you…they say you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom.”  The King pointed to the wall behind him and told Daniel that the fingers of a hand had appeared and wrote markings on the wall and he wanted Daniel to tell him what it said and what it meant.  Daniel stepped closer to the wall and saw they were letters and words, writing of some sort.  Daniel silently prayed for wisdom. This is what these words mean Daniel said: “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.  Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and the Persians.”  Daniel turned away from the writing readying himself to leave. 
Daniel went home realizing that God had made it clear tonight, that the kingdom of Babylon was finished, Belshazzer and his father, Nabonidas were doomed.  What their downfall would mean for Daniel’s own life or for his people, he couldn’t guess.  Ever since the Babylonians had taken him capture in Jerusalem as a young man, his life had been in God’s hands – the same hand that had written on the wall tonight.  No matter what came next, Daniel rested safely in the grasp of his Sovereign God. 
Iddo and Dinah lived in Babylon.  Iddo was suffering from dreams and woke gasping.  The nightmare had almost devoured him.  Dinah tried to soothe her husband resting her head on his chest as if she thought she could calm his pounding heart.  But for, Iddo, they weren’t dreams, but instead visions that made no sense in the daylight hours.  He relived memories, powerful memories, as real as on the day he’d lived them as a child.  Iddo got up from his mat to make something warm to drink telling, Dinah to stay in bed and keep warm. 
During daytime hours he could control the visions he saw in his mind’s eye, but at night when darkness descended the visions and images pounced on him again.  Once they pounced, they would reduce him to the ten-year-old boy he had been when Jerusalem fell – helpless, terrified, naked, and shivering before his enemies – Forty-seven years had passed since he’d lived through that, and Iddo spent those years in Babylon.  He had his wife, Dinah, children and grandchildren, all born here.  But the nightmare of Jerusalem never faded, never blurred. 
Iddo knew it wasn’t his sons fault that they didn’t believe because when they were young, Iddo’ own faith had been too weak to support their doubts and questions.  But, Iddo felt he had a redeeming grace, he would teach his 11-year-old grandson, Zechariah to believe as perhaps then, God would hear their prayers and end His people’s exile from Jerusalem. 
Iddo asked Dinah if she was unhappy about maybe returning to Jerusalem someday.  Dinah told, Iddo that she was born in Babylon and it was the only home she’d ever known.  She said she never experienced what, Iddo had, what he did or known his grief – Dinah said she wished that Rebbe Daniel and the other prophets had never offered this hope of returning to Jerusalem to him saying that Babylon would fall and they would be free from exile to return from whence they came so long ago.  She asked Iddo: “What if they’re wrong and this turns out to be another loss in your life?”  Iddo replied: “They won’t be wrong.”  Dinah feared that if his hopes were thwarted, the disappointment would kill him. 
Zechariah asked his Abba how seventy years of exile had already passed when Abba wasn’t even the age of seventy.  Abba explained that their captivity began before he was born and that groups of their people were forced into exile three different times in a little more than twenty years.  Abba didn’t remember the first two invasions, but when Judah’s King last rebelled against the Babylonians, their armies demolished everything and brought him there.  Abba told Zechariah he was ten-years-old when the Babylonians broke through the walls and destroyed the temple, and now he and Zechariah would be among those blessed to return and rebuild it.  Zechariah felt pulled in two directions – Babylon was his home, Jerusalem a distant place he knew only from the Torah. 
After their move back to Jerusalem, Dinah was very unhappy.  She didn’t want to leave Babylon but because, Iddo was her husband, she had no choice but to go with him.  Jerusalem had been so destroyed that there was nothing left but ruins and rubble.  Rebuilding was going to take years but, Iddo was adamant that it would be done and they would accomplish their goals for God so He would be pleased with them. 
As the days wore on, Dinah became more and more despondent and she was truly beginning to hate, Iddo.  They used to have such a close and happy marriage but now they barely talked.  Dinah missed her other children and grandchildren who had chosen to stay back in Babylon.  It bothered her that, Iddo never even so much as mentioned them nor even seemed to miss them at all.  Iddo, knew, Dinah was unhappy and finally confronted her, asking why she was so unhappy and what he could do to help her feel more invested in what they were doing.  Dinah told, Iddo that Babylon was where she truly wanted to be.  Iddo responded with: “And so now you’re simply going through the motions without love in your heart?”  Dinah told, Iddo there was nothing in her heart, that her heart was still in Babylon. She then turned the tables on Iddo and asked: “Why are you enduring hardship?  Why do you want to perform all these rituals at the temple?  Is it love or from duty?  Is it merely to appease the Almighty One because you fear more punishment if you don’t?”  Iddo, didn’t know what to say.  Was it true that he served God only out of fear?  Could he say that he loved God or that he believed God loved him? 
It is clear to me that, Iddo is confused and needs to sit and do some serious praying and soul searching. 
To give, Iddo more food for thought, Dinah said: “Why don’t you ask Zechariah the same questions?  Why don’t you explain to him why you treated him so harshly after he was attacked?”  Iddo’s only response was: “I was only doing what any father would do.”  Dinah couldn’t believe what she was hearing and continued: “You believe that’s how God treats us.  We have to follow all the rules, do everything exactly right, or He’ll punish our smallest misstep.  And so you made the boy limp up the hill for prayers when he was in pain, and you humiliated him in front of all the others…” 
Dinah, here has certainly given, Iddo food for thought.  But, I personally have known many people who believe exactly what Dinah has said to Iddo.  They believe it’s true that we are meant to never make an error, to follow all the rules without making a mistake or we can expect a huge and severe punishment from God. 
After years of exile the Jewish people were finally allowed to return home to Jerusalem but it wasn’t without problems as we read through the story.  They faced much turmoil and many hardships that shook even the most faithful of people. 
Return to Me is really the story of Iddo and his grandson, Zechariah who live by faith in the midst of doubt.  Book One of Austin’s ‘Restoration Chronicles’ makes for some compelling reading and I can’t wait for Book Two.  Excellent job, well-done!!
Thank you both to Lynn Austin and Bethany House for the advanced copy.

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