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Authors: Lynn Austin

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Among the Gods

A
MONG
THE
GODS

Books by

Lynn Austin

FROM BETHANY HOUSE PUBLISHERS

All She Ever Wanted

Eve’s Daughters

Hidden Places

A Proper Pursuit

Though Waters Roar

Until We Reach Home

While We’re Far Apart

Wings of Refuge

A Woman’s Place

R
EFINER’S
F
IRE

Candle in the Darkness

Fire by Night

A Light to My Path

C
HRONICLES OF THE
K
INGS

Gods and Kings

Song of Redemption

The Strength of His Hand

Faith of My Fathers

Among the Gods

www.lynnaustin.org

CHRONICLES
of the
KINGS

A
MONG
THE
GODS
LYNN AUSTIN

Among the Gods

Copyright © 2006

Lynn Austin

Cover design by The DesignWorks Group

Unidentified scripture quotations are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

The scripture quotation identified NRSV is from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

Published by Bethany House Publishers

11400 Hampshire Avenue South

Bloomington, Minnesota 55438

Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Printed in the United States of America

ISBN 978-0-7642-2993-0

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Austin, Lynn N.

Among the gods / Lynn Austin.

      p. cm.—(Chronicles of the kings ; bk. 5)

ISBN 0-7642-2993-1 (pbk.)

1. Manasseh, King of Judah—Fiction. 2. Bible. O.T. Kings—History of Biblical events—Fiction. 3. Israel—Kings and rulers—Fiction. 4. Religious fiction. I. Title. II. Series; Austin, Lynn N. Chronicles of the kings ; bk.5.

PS3551.U839A84     2006

813’.54—dc22

2006008821

Dedicated to my Canadian friends:

Illa Barber, Alma Barkman, Sharon Bowering,

Dianne Darch, Lynda Kvist, Estella Muyinda,

Heidi Toews, and Jan Wiebe.

You were with me at the start of this race.

Thanks for cheering all the way to the finish line.

The Lord is my strength and my song;

he has become my salvation.

He is my God, and I will praise him,

my father’s God, and I will exalt him….

Who among the gods is like you, O Lord?

Who is like you—majestic in holiness,

awesome in glory, working wonders?

E
XODUS
15:2, 11

LYNN AUSTIN is a three-time Christy Award winner for her historical novels
Hidden Places, Candle in the Darkness,
and
Fire by Night
. In addition to writing, Lynn is a popular speaker at conferences, retreats, and various church and school events. She and her husband have three children and make their home in Illinois.

Prologue

“I
HATE WAITING
,” Joshua mumbled under his breath. “There’s nothing worse than waiting.” He would give anything to get this meeting over with and learn what his future was going to be, but as the morning slowly crawled toward afternoon, he feared he wasn’t going to get his wish.

He glanced at the tall, dark-skinned sentries standing guard at the door to Pharaoh’s throne room, then turned his attention back to the multicolored murals decorating the walls of the anteroom. They depicted scenes of the pharaohs’ many conquests and the glories of Egypt’s ancient past. Memories of Joshua’s own past and of the loved ones he had lost were too painful to dwell on for very long, and he stared at the forbidden Egyptian images to push those memories from his thoughts. Violence and bloodshed marred his present life as a fugitive, and he was eager to leave that life behind him. He bore the scars of it on his face, the pain and guilt of it in his heart. He was no longer certain what God wanted of him or what the future would bring; perhaps before the day ended he would find out.

Prince Amariah fidgeted beside him as they waited, looking worried. “I wish they would hurry up and summon us,” he said. “I hate being surrounded by all these images and idols. How can you even look at them?”

Joshua glanced at Amariah, then at the delegation of chief priests and Levites who had accompanied them to Pharaoh’s palace. With no place to rest their eyes without sinning, they stared at the floor, silent and nervous. “If Pharaoh allows us to stay in Egypt, we’ll be living among these gods all the time,” Joshua told the prince. “You’d better get used to them.”

Joshua understood the shock the Judean exiles were experiencing. In the month since he and more than three hundred priests and Levites and their families had made their daring escape from Jerusalem at Passover, their euphoria had slowly ebbed away as they began to comprehend all that they had lost. For many of the priests, the physical separation from the Promised Land had been as painful and traumatic as severing a limb. Abandoning Solomon’s Temple on God’s holy mountain left them stunned with grief. For centuries, God’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery at Passover had defined who they were as a people, yet now God had apparently reversed His redemption plan and returned them all to Egypt. Joshua couldn’t promise them that the sojourn would be temporary.

At last the massive door swung open and a chamberlain beckoned to them. “Pharaoh will see you now.” Joshua touched the leather eye patch he wore, making certain it was still in place over his sightless right eye; then he and the delegation followed Prince Amariah into the throne room.

Dust motes danced in thin beams of sunlight as Pharaoh’s slaves fanned the air with palm branches. The palace wore a faded look of aging glory—the paint dingy gray, the plaster flaking in spots, the air musty with the scent of damp stone. Joshua stifled a cough as he bowed low before Pharaoh Taharqo, the third Nubian king to reign as Pharaoh of Upper and Lower Egypt. Taharqo had the flawless ebony skin, broad nose, and full lips of his Cushite ancestors, but his impassive features revealed nothing of his response to the Judeans’ request for sanctuary in Egypt. When Joshua first presented their petition a week ago, he had told Pharaoh that he and Amariah were former officials in King Manasseh’s government; he hadn’t disclosed the fact that Amariah was a royal prince of the House of David.

“Pharaoh has considered your request for political asylum,” Taharqo’s spokesman began. The sheet of papyrus crackled like dry twigs as he carefully unrolled it. Clean-shaven, bare-chested, and dressed in a white linen kilt, he and the other Egyptians standing on the dais beside Pharaoh gazed down at the Judeans’ bearded faces and long robes with obvious distaste. “His Majesty offers you the following terms of refuge. You will have two days to either accept them or to leave Egyptian territory permanently.”

Prince Amariah nodded slightly. “We understand, my lord.”

There was little doubt in Joshua’s mind that the terms would be acceptable. The priests had consulted God’s will before their escape using the Urim and Thummim, and God had made it clear that it was His will for this remnant of believers to find sanctuary in Egypt. Isaiah’s prophecy confirmed it.

“Pharaoh Taharqo has generously granted you a portion of land on which to establish your exiled Jewish community. You may erect an altar there to worship your god.” One of the chief priests standing behind Joshua expelled a sigh of relief. “We have three seasons in Egypt,” the official continued. “You have arrived during
shemu,
our harvest time. Therefore, Pharaoh has graciously agreed to provide your followers with grain, oil, and enough food supplies to last through
akhet,
when the Nile River will flood once more. We use that season for building, since no farm work can be done. That will give you four months to settle into your new homes before
peret,
the season of plowing and sowing.”

“We are very grateful,” Prince Amariah said, bowing again.

Joshua knew this offer had nothing to do with generosity. Pharaoh would surely demand something from them in return. “How may we repay Pharaoh for his benevolence?” he asked.

“The land deeded to you is on an island in the Nile River known as Elephantine,” the spokesman said. “It is an important military outpost, and Pharaoh expects it to remain so. The terms of the treaty are these: First, Pharaoh requires all the young men of your community to enter into military training in order to staff Pharaoh’s fortress on Elephantine.”

The demand stunned Joshua. He couldn’t believe that Pharaoh would require military duty. The priests and Levites would never agree to it.

“Second, this Jewish garrison will come to Pharaoh’s defense if Egypt is attacked by a foreign nation. Third, you will join with Pharaoh’s other armed forces if our great god Amon-Ra should decree that the Egyptian empire must expand … even if this means going to war against your former countrymen in Judah.”

“We aren’t soldiers—” one of the chief priests began before Pharaoh’s spokesman cut him off.

“Pharaoh knows who you are: experts on Jewish Law and displaced priests without a temple.”

“Then why would he want us to command a military garrison?”

The hall fell silent, as if the Judean priest had committed a grave sin by questioning Pharaoh’s decision. Pharaoh himself finally broke the silence.

“Because I am a student of history,” he said. It was the first time he had spoken to them on either visit, and his voice resounded powerfully in the great throne room. “Twenty years ago when Pharaoh Shabako reigned, you Judeans accomplished something no other nation has ever done—including ours. You defeated Sennacherib and his entire Assyrian army. Your king Hezekiah made it very clear that the victory was not won by his own sword but by the sword of Yahweh, his god. Now you come to me claiming to be true priests of Yahweh. You ask to build an altar to him in Egypt. I have granted your request. But in return, I ask that Yahweh’s military power be made available to me.”

One of the chief priests started to protest, but Joshua stopped him with a warning look. “Where is Elephantine Island located, my lord?” he asked the Egyptian official.

When Pharaoh’s spokesman replied, his cold smile offered Joshua the first hint of his fate. “You will find it’s a considerable distance upstream from here, near the first cataract of the Nile, approximately four hundred miles due south. The journey requires a week’s travel by boat.”

Joshua nodded, struggling to prevent his shock and disappointment from registering on his face. One of the priests behind him moaned. They all knew without consulting a map that they were being exiled to the extreme southern border of Egypt, much farther from home than any of them ever imagined. Joshua glanced at Prince Amariah and saw stunned disbelief reflected on his face. It was the prince’s duty to respond for the group, but he seemed incapable of answering. Joshua stepped forward.

“Your Majesty Pharaoh Taharqo, please accept our gratitude for your abundant generosity,” he said. “But we won’t require two days to reach a decision; we gratefully accept all of your terms.”

The priest beside Joshua inhaled sharply.
“What!”

Amariah gaped at him in alarm. “Joshua, wait. We can’t—”

“I know what I’m doing,” he whispered. “Trust me.”

The Egyptian official studied the murmuring priests with an expression of boredom. “Since it seems there is some disagreement among you, the chamberlain will escort you to the hallway to continue your discussion. Pharaoh has other petitioners waiting.”

The delegation was quickly ushered from the room. The chief priests turned on Joshua as soon as they reached the outer doors, everyone talking at the same time. “What were you thinking? We can’t possibly accept such conditions! This isn’t an offer of asylum; it’s military enlistment and banishment.”

“We aren’t soldiers, Joshua,” one of the chief priests said. “Our sons are dedicated to God’s service, not Pharaoh’s. And Yahweh won’t be manipulated like a graven idol to fight for the Egyptians.”

“Besides,” Amariah said, “we can’t ask our people to move so far into the interior of Egypt. We’ve already moved them three hundred miles from home as it is.”

Joshua folded his arms across his chest as he battled to restrain his temper. “Did you imagine that the Egyptians would offer us the well-watered plains of Goshen, like they offered Joseph and our ancestors?”

“I’m sure many of us saw the lush, green lands of the delta and did think that,” Amariah said. “How am I supposed to tell everyone that we’re moving to the border of Cush? We both know from our studies with Lord Shebna what the land is like down there—beyond the narrow strip of flood plain there’s nothing but Sahara desert. We won’t be able to plant vineyards or olive groves in that climate or—”

Joshua gestured impatiently. “I know all of this, and I also know that Yahweh doesn’t make mistakes. If He wants us to be trained as warriors, then it must be for a good reason. I’m not any happier than you are about moving to an island four hundred miles farther upstream. But don’t you see how perfectly it fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy? ‘There will be an altar to the Lord in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the Lord at its border.’”

The priests stared at him, uncomprehending. “Listen, we thought this prophecy meant that there would be
two
shrines, one in the middle of Egypt and one at the border,” he explained. “But if we build our altar on Elephantine Island it will fulfill
both
conditions at the same time. The island is on the southern border of Egypt, but it’s also close to Cush—and Pharaoh Taharqo’s empire consists of Egypt and Cush. Therefore, Elephantine Island is right in the heart of that empire.”

Amariah closed his eyes. “But it’s so far from home,” he said softly.

“Yes, but it’s also an island. Can’t you see God’s wisdom in giving us an island, all to ourselves? We can live separate lives—holy lives. Not contaminated by all of this.” He gestured to the images painted on the walls.

No one spoke for a moment. Joshua drew a deep breath. “We’re going back in there, and we’re telling Pharaoh that we accept his terms. Any objections?”

When no one uttered a sound, Joshua caught his first glimpse of his future, and he neither liked nor understood it. He would be a soldier in Pharaoh’s army, stationed on the island of Elephantine, more than seven hundred miles from his home in Jerusalem.

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