Continuing with her third novella in her saga of biblical men, award-winning author Francine Rivers pens THE PRINCE, focusing on the life of King David's best friend Jonathan. It follows THE PRIEST (Aaron) and THE WARRIOR (Caleb) in the projected five-book Sons of Encouragement series.
If you're unfamiliar with the life of Jonathan, turn to 1 and 2 Samuel in the Bible. Israel is tired of letting God be their "king" and clamors for one of the men to be set up as a ruler over them. The wise prophet Samuel cautions that they'll be sorry, but God allows him to choose Saul, a handsome tall farmer, to be anointed king. The unhappy Saul (who initially has no desire to rule) cares little for God's law, but his young son Jonathan rather one-dimensionally has a passion for obeying God and following his word. But still he has questions. "…why didn't the Lord destroy their enemies? Why did He allow the Philistines to oppress them? If God still cared, why didn't he deliver them?"
Saul changes from a mild-mannered, rather cowardly farmer, to one who hacks his oxen to pieces (yes, it's in the Bible, but you won't see this story in a flannelgraph lesson). Once he's king, things move along a little better for Israel although we still don't understand much about what makes Saul tick. And sadly, Saul is still a tormented man. He can't sleep well at night. When a young shepherd boy, David, is brought in to play his harp for Saul to help him rest, it appears things might be redeemed.
When the well-known story of David's slaying of the giant Goliath takes place, jealousy pushes Saul completely over the edge. Although he arranged (reluctantly) a marriage between David and one of his daughters --- and David is now his son-in-law --- Saul eventually flies into a fit of rage and tries to kill him. This attitude toward David, who Saul eventually realizes will rule in his stead, continues until Saul himself is killed.
The story revolves around Jonathan, however: his troubled relationship with his father, Saul; his deep friendship with David; and the politics of Israel that will end in adultery, multiple wives, war, bloodshed, scheming, intrigue, and murder. It is also a story of the nation of Israel's selfishness, greed, and their turning away from the One who loves them the most. As Samuel tells Jonathan, "God does not abandon men, my son. Men abandon God."
There's not a lot of colorful details or character descriptions. Rivers relies mostly on dialogue to carry her tale. The reader is left with several questions about the characters. What makes Jonathan only care about obedience when his father does not? What was his relationship with his wife really like? What we get is a reasonably competent, yet sometimes lackluster story, even though all the material for a fast-paced, exciting narrative is in the scriptural text in abundance.
However, if you love Francine Rivers's novels, you'll want to add this to your collection of her books. Like other books in the Sons of Encouragement series (and her Lineage of Grace series about biblical women), a thorough set of discussion questions is included at the end of the book. Those who use the series as small group studies or with book clubs will find many interesting themes to investigate.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on August 22, 2005