I’ve been researching my next book, spending a lot of time on ancient warfare. I now know more about siege towers, casemate walls, and revetments than I should ever have need for. I even know where the word undermining comes from, and it has nothing to do with psychology.
I’ve also been looking at tells in present-day Israel—hills created by many generations of people living and rebuilding on the same spot. When people keep rebuilding on the same spot over the ruins of the previous city or town, eventually a mound is created. Archaeologists excavate these sites very carefully, and they can tell by the strata who lived how, and for how long, and when.
One of the most famous and most thoroughly excavated sites in Israel is Tell Beit Mirsim, which was excavated from 1926–32 by W.F. Albright. He identified ten different layers, representing ten specific times of occupation from before Abraham to Nebuchadnezzar. They are detailed in the book Excavating Kirjath-Sepher’s Ten Cities by Dr. Melvin G Kyle (Eerdmans, 1934). Kyle financed the excavations as well as taking part.
The book is absolutely fascinating—spellbinding to a historical novelist like me. It will probably become my favorite book of all time. (Could I be any more of a geek?) My children get very annoyed, and quite confused, when I read something I’ve discovered I can use in my book to them. Lots of eye rolling. “Yeah, that’s good, Mom. Can I get back in the pool now?”
As I read the descriptions of each successive level, I was slightly miffed about the description of the Israelites’ building after they conquered the Canaanites. Kyle described their pottery as “markedly agricultural,” simple and utilitarian, as compared to those left by the previous inhabitants of the Late Bronze Age, which Albright himself describes as “markedly superior,” “quite natural when one remembers the difference between a Canaanite ‘royal’ city and a provincial Jewish town.” He also referred to the masonry of the gate as “relatively inferior in every respect.”
That stung a little. I took offense at that. I’m not really sure why, but it felt insulting. I didn’t like hearing my characters, the people I’ve come to love so much, spoken of like that.
Then I read this comment by Kyle:
The whole of this history and instruction teaches, not that they were to come into the land a highly cultured people to teach the world arts and crafts and all the elements of civilization, but that they should be in their homes a God-fearing and worshiping people, and that they should have for themselves and for the world a religion which for its purity and it uniqueness, should excite the wonder of the nations … and that through Israel all the world might know the Lord to the end of time.
That hit me square on the head. I loved it. I had never thought about it that way. My first book was all about Bezalel, and I had never thought about what would have happened to his skills once the Tabernacle was completed. With nothing to work on, how would he have passed on his craft?
Was the forty-year sojourn part of the plan all along? Whether it was, or whether God only used it, I don’t know—that’s above my pay grade. But what Kyle says makes perfect sense to me.
Our lives should be like that, I think. Or I should say, I want my life to be life that. That no matter what else I do, or don’t do, or do well, or do poorly, through me those around me may know the Lord. I want that to be all I care about. That may not get me another book contract, but it will get me, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”