In the southern kingdom of Judah, around 597 BC, famine overtakes as Babylonian troops close in at the borders with raids and threats from King Nebuchadnezzar—mirroring Assyria’s invasion of Israel centuries earlier. Now it appears to be Judah’s turn.
Ezekiel had been warning them all along to repent of their evil ways, but to no avail. So foreign soldiers swoop in and divide Judah’s inhabitants into 1) the useful who will go to Babylon and 2) the poor and farmers who will stay to till the land.
So Ezekiel finds himself in Babylon as God’s mouthpiece to Judah, still a rebellious people despite judgement.
Author Naomi Craig has brought this Old Testament story to life in Ezekiel’s Song, just released in August. If you want to know how it might have felt for Ezekiel and his family and friends, read on. But only if you want to feel the angst, sway with the music, shudder from terror, or taste the dust.
A prophet’s heart broken, a woman’s joy gone. What does Yahweh have planned for His people?
On the brink of Jerusalem’s demise, devoted priest, Ezekiel, sees the insincerity of Judah’s worship. Despite his efforts to call the people back to true worship of Yahweh, priests, artisans, valiant warriors, and royals are exiled to Babylon. When God gives him messages of continued judgment for the people in his homeland, his heart breaks. How can he minister to the people from so far away?
The presence of the Lord is tangible when Shiriel sings in the temple, and her voice prepares the hearts of many to worship. When she is exiled to Babylon, her faith is shaken. Does the Lord’s presence extend beyond Jerusalem and His holy temple?
Ezekiel is struck mute and paralyzed as he begins his prophetic ministry, and Shiriel devises a plan to get the Lord’s message back to the unfaithful people of Judah. Shiriel struggles with discontentment as serving the Lord looks nothing like she’d imagined. Can she provide for her family and carry out her husband’s ministry when her joy is gone, and her own dreams are placed on hold?
How will Yahweh save His people from themselves? Find out in Ezekiel’s Song!
As this story progressed, I couldn’t help but think, “Be careful what you ask for!” Ezekiel, now a priest without a temple, captive in foreign Babylon along with his countrymen, wants to be used of God for something greater. God answers his prayer. God doesn’t require him to marry a prostitute—as Hosea did centuries earlier—but Ezekiel becomes a living object lesson to a stiff-necked people.
It’s one thing to read the Old Testament account of Ezekiel laying on his side for 390 + 40 days, but quite another to capture the depth of his experience. The author effectively conveys this. Ezekiel’s aggravation, sorrow, discouragement, and discomfort were palpable, as well as the toll it took on his family. This surely wasn’t the life he anticipated by serving Yahweh. As the Judahites back in Jerusalem continue in their evil ways, not honoring God’s holiness, God commands Ezekiel to do more strange tasks that demonstrate future disaster.
This story employs three points of view: Ezekiel, Shiriel, and Gilead, a soldier skilled in archery. I was invested in each character with his/her fears and challenges. Encountering what Ezekiel had to deal with was enriched by his wife’s and friend’s perspectives. Also, the historical context includes ties to the prophet Jeremiah as well as Daniel and his friends. Numerous engaging descriptions bring this story to life, from the daily activities of flute-making and Shiriel’s inspiring music during temple worship to the awe of Ezekiel’s visions.
This author doesn’t shy away from the harsh providences of God—which seem to impact Ezekiel and his family more than his fellow Jews who ignore his warnings of impending judgement and exhortations to repent. At times, the grief, anguish, and futility Ezekiel experienced weighed heavy while reading this story. Yet this is balanced by hope, most fully seen in the powerful description of Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones, from Ezekiel 37. God will not only save His people, but He promises more than they can ever fathom.
Despite a few confusing incidents regarding chronology, geography, or ruling kings, the key characters and their plights compelled me. Even if you know the Biblical story, this book is worth reading. You’ll experience Ezekiel’s life and the Old Testament like never before. More importantly, you’ll see how the hand of God was upon him and the nation that was breaking His heart. Craig does this by staying true to Scripture and filling in the gaps in believable, relatable ways. Be sure to read the book of Ezekiel afterward.
Join me for some Q & A with Naomi Craig.
Questions about Ezekiel’s Song
The book of Ezekiel is heart-wrenching, with so many devastating events in Judah, as well as in Ezekiel’s personal life. How and why did you decide to tell his story?
Naomi: I was reading Ezekiel in my Bible plan, and I realized his primary messages of judgment were intended for Jerusalem…and he is already exiled in Babylon…with extenuating physical circumstances like temporary paralysis and muteness. Reading further on, the Bible mentions Ezekiel has a wife. As a pastor’s wife, I understand the needs of sharing in the trials and the ministry. That influenced my book tremendously.
With little to go on in the Bible, you had some free rein to develop the fictional Shiriel. How did you decide on her character, interests, and background?
Naomi: Ezekiel 33:32 says, “Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them.”
Like prophets before him, Ezekiel is told the people won’t listen to the admonitions. Having Shiri sing was a way to bring that to a personal level. Back in the time of King Solomon, Hemen’s daughters were listed as singers in the temple, so I carried on that tradition.
What were the challenges in portraying Ezekiel, a real person that many Bible readers are familiar with?
Naomi: I strove to maintain what the Bible and Jewish tradition said about Ezekiel. The Lord called him a Gatekeeper for the people. I gave him the occupation in the temple as an aide to the chief governor. He had an active role in protecting those who came to worship, pleading with the apathetic to return their hearts to true worship.
Archeology and history help us dig into the past, both literally and figuratively, but it’s impossible to know everything. Which cultural details did you have to fill in with your imagination?
Naomi: I had to imagine what the exiles did for living expenses. The host nation of Babylon would have had some structure in place that allowed each person a ration of food. There is Babylonian record of rations going to the Hebrew king Jehoiachin and his sons. So what did the exiles have to do to get their daily food?
Do you find it more challenging to write from a man’s point of view? How so? Do you have a preference of writing from a man or woman’s perspective?
Naomi: That’s a great question. For me it seems more natural to write the men’s perspective. Perhaps it’s because the majority of people mentioned in the Bible are men.
In contemporary fiction, we can distinguish characters’ personalities easily—not just by character traits but by personal opinions, preferences, habits, clothing, and other things related to our particular culture (eats junk food, has to have her cappuccino every morning, loves cats, afraid of making left turns, plays tennis, always wears fashion boots, is a night owl, wears black, etc.) How do you figure out how to distinguish Biblical characters from each other when it doesn’t seem like they had as much variety and choices in their daily lives?
Naomi: Partially by occupation choices. Along with Shiri and Ezekiel, you also see the perspective of Gilead, a fictional valiant warrior exiled at the same time. He was entirely made up, so I imagined him as a skilled archer.
As we are in his perspective, I tried to filter his reactions through his occupation, what he was most Familiar with. When his thoughts are jumbled and tumbling around, I would put something like “a thousand arrows whizzed through his thoughts and one lodged deep.”
The same for Shiri and Ezekiel with their respective occupations.
Ezekiel’s Song is 2nd in a 3-book series, Yahweh’s Legacy. Share something about Rahab’s Courage (2021).Also tell us about the 3rd book due in August 2023, about Sheerah from I Chronicles 7. How did you choose to focus on these particular women?
Naomi: In Rahab’s Courage, I explored the potential trials that would come from a Canaanite harlot integating into the ultra-conservative nation of Israel. Just on the other side of the Jordan, the Israelites lost 20,000 people because of their interactions with harlots.
Also puzzling is her Biblical husband’s position. Salmon was the son of Nashon who was the leader of the tribe of Judah when they all left Egypt. How does a leader of the tribe of Judah—who has seen firsthand the consequences of sin and loose living—end up with a Canaanite Harlot?
Coming up next is She’erah’s story from 1Chronicles 7. In a list of Ephraim’s genealogy is a little section about this woman who is credited with building three cities, two of which are still standing today. Her brothers are also mentioned as being cattle thieves, so there are a lot of interesting tidbits in that one! I have had to study up on ancient architecture.
Most of the time I notice little details mentioned in the scripture such as a woman building cities. These pieces of trivia always make me question. Why did they make this choice? What led up to this historical fact? What are we looking at culturally? And then the story takes off from there.
Questions about writing
Which books and/or authors have most inspired you in your writing journey?
Naomi: As far as craft books, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel is excellent regarding story structure.
Are you an outliner or a pantser? Explain your novel writing process.
Naomi: An outliner for sure. I like to know all the details.
Not everybody embraces fictionalized versions of Bible stories. What concerns do you have about writing Biblical fiction?
Naomi: I would be concerned if people took my books as absolute fact and replaced the Bible’s account.
Do you see yourself writing only Biblical fiction? Share more about the direction you want to go as an author.
Naomi: As of now, yes, I will stick with Biblical Fiction. If I ever went another direction, perhaps middle grade chapter books like the Penderwicks Series by Jeanne Birdsall.
Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
Naomi: Find a critique group of like-minded authors. Write the best story you know how to. Learn more and constantly improve your craft.
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you enjoy Biblical fiction, you might enjoy my novel, Rain in the Wilderness. I’m seeking a publisher for it. Here’s the blurb:
One night in Bethlehem, Rebekah’s son Matthew is wrenched from her and killed in a massacre of infants ordered by Herod the Great. Thirty years later, as a widow with three grown children, she is still a victim of treachery as the Jews writhe under the oppressive Roman Empire. Her son Jonathan serves a Roman centurion in far off Galilee. Another son, Kaleb, awaits a warrior Messiah and loathes all things Roman, including his brother the traitor. Her kind son-in-law Malchus serves the unscrupulous high priest Caiaphas.
Who will free Israel from Rome’s heavy yoke? Where is the promised Messiah? At the center of controversy, Jesus of Nazareth seems an unlikely prospect. Ruthless debates unite his enemies while dividing Rebekah’s family. And why did Jesus survive the Bethlehem massacre while her own baby was killed?
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Naomi Craig Bio
Author of Biblical fiction, avid reader, pastor’s wife, Naomi loves reading the Bible and imagining how things were at the time. When she’s not serving in various areas at church or trying to stay on top of mountains of dishes, you’ll most likely find her enjoying a good book and a cup of coffee. Naomi co-hosts #BehindTheStory, an author interview show on YouTube, and Biblical Fiction Aficionados Facebook Group. Learn more on her website.
Join me next time for another visit with author Lori Altebaumer.
Meanwhile, have you read Ezekiel’s Song? What Biblical fiction have you enjoyed? Answer in the comments below.
I’m in Ezekiel right now in my Bible reading plan. Oh man, the first 30+ chapters were rough going! Gospel Coalition has a good accompanying devotional that really helped me discern what was going on—I probably knew Ezekiel was in captivity but never really gave it much thought. Now, though, I’m reading about God being Israel’s shepherd, and replacing the heart of stone with a heart of flesh, So important for us to see the bad news (why we deserve judgment) so we can comprehend just how good the good news is!
SO…it’s pretty satisfying to read that Naomi got the idea while reading the book of Ezekiel in her Bible reading plan. And that she is so open about the challenges of writing about such a distant era and crucial time in Israel’s history. Kudos to Naomi for taking up the challenge. Wishing great success in her writing!
Yes, Ezekiel and Judah’s time of captivity are tough things to tackle in historical fiction, yet Naomi does it well. It’s hard enough reading the book of Ezekiel. Yet those chapters of 34 – 37 are so full of promise and beautiful imagery that give us a wonderful glimpse of God’s heart for His people.
This sounds like a great book. I find biblical fiction so helpful to wet my imagination for the times and make the REAL biblical characters come to life.
I really enjoyed Angela Hunt’s story, Dreamers, about Joseph in Egypt.
I agree. I have a lot more empathy and appreciation for people of Bible times after reading Biblical fiction. Angela Hunt has many good ones. I’d also like to read Naomi’s novel about Rahab: Rahab’s Courage.
Biblical fiction brings so much to ponder, especially for someone like Ezekiel whose story is rarely broached. I have several Old Testament figures I want to write about, but I find myself shying away for all sorts of research fears. It’s great to see a writer go for it and make the characters come to life. I had a prof in college who described Ezekiel in a way that made us want to read the actual book. Sounds like this novel would do the same.
Yes, I think that’s what good Biblical fiction does–sends us right back to the source. It revives our interest in Biblical stories, in seeing the way God orchestrated His story among His people.