In A Lineage of Grace, Francine Rivers carries the reader to biblical times, bringing to vivid life several women whose deep faith holds lessons for modern readers. This volume draws together five novellas, and tells the stories of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.
Each woman’s story is told through a mix of details from the Bible and socio-historical information about the time period in which she lived. The customs and mores of the ancient world provide critical background. When reading these stories, I was palpably aware that these five women all lived in a patriarchal society during violent times. There were moments in the stories when a woman’s vulnerability, or a man’s abuse of power, made reading very difficult. However, the emotions that a woman feels, no matter when or where she lives, are universal. Through the emotional life of these historical figures, and the hardships they endure and overcome, Rivers has provided strong examples for inspiration along the journey of faith.
In the story of Tamar, we meet the daughter-in-law of Judah, one of the sons of Jacob. Her story appears in Genesis 38 as a fairly matter-of-fact sequence of events, and she is portrayed in a negative light as a seductress. Through the pen of Rivers, the conditions of life endured by Tamar become very vivid. Widowed before she had a child, the customs of the day could result in her living as a beggar or prostitute. Considered a failure by her own father, she was unwelcome in her childhood home. Her father-in-law behaved unethically and did not practice his religion; Tamar asks him repeatedly, “When will you do what is right?” Her courage and faithfulness astonished me. Under great duress, she held to her faith and determined to do what was right. I came to love and admire Tamar by the end of the story, even as I marveled at her choices.
For me, living in the relative comfort of a loving home in North America, the fruits of Tamar’s story were the spiritual lessons. However, the story also caused me to reflect on the plight of women living in very difficult circumstances—enduring domestic violence, sexual assault, forced marriage. These conditions, so pervasive in biblical times, are still the reality for many women today. One way to honor their struggles is to what we are able to transform injustice.
Unlike Tamar, Ruth has a whole book in the Bible to tell her story. Yet that book is a mere four pages long—eight columns of text. Rivers makes the story of Ruth more vivid by providing historical context and showing the reader the longings of Ruth’s heart. For me, the most familiar portion of this story is when the recently-widowed Ruth says to Naomi, her mother-in-law, “For wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” (Ruth 16)
The magnitude of these words had not sunk in before I read this novella. Ruth left behind the land and family of her birth, and made a dangerous journey; she chose poverty and the unknown, confident that God would look after her and Naomi. I tried to imagine myself in Ruth’s place as I read the vivid descriptions of her inner struggles.
Rahab’s story was one of my favorites. While the author of the book of Joshua primarily provides battle details of the fall of Jericho, Rivers focuses on the deep faith of this Canaanite woman who helped the Israelites. Although she did not grow up with faith in one God, as an adult God spoke to her heart. Rahab says, “I know this is God the only God, and I’ve chosen to put my faith and hope in Him.” The Israelite soldier who becomes her husband notes that “God could write his name upon the heart of anyone he chose.”
I have to admit, Bathsheba’s story was very difficult for me to read, as it told so much of the corruption in the palace of David. I wanted to think of David as the psalm-writer, not as a person who would take another man’s wife, endangering her life. However, here, too, there were many lessons, as when David wondered, “How was it possible to love God so much and be captured so completely by sin?”
In the story of Mary, it was interesting to read so many familiar Gospel stories intertwined with a tale of family life. As Jesus struggled with the demands of his calling, his mother had to see him suffer. This experience, the hardship of seeing a child in pain, is something with which any mother can identify. I appreciated the development of Joseph as a strong, supportive husband and father, as well.
At the end of each novella is a six-part Bible study section, Seek and Find, prepared by Peggy Lynch. This includes passages from the Bible, questions to reflect on the novella and the scripture selections, and ways to apply the lessons in one’s own life. I found the suggested questions to be thought-provoking and helpful tools for personal reflection. This book would be an excellent choice for a book club or study group.
While addressed to a Christian readership, these stories could inspire women of all three Abrahamic faiths, and would be of interest to anyone who enjoys stories set in the ancient world. I highly recommend it, and look forward to exploring more of the work of Francine Rivers.
Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2009.