The Bronze Bow
This story is a powerful one, using Israel at the time of Jesus not as a backdrop but as a fully manifested world. Daniel, a teenager by our standards but a grown man by theirs, makes a vow to live and to die for God’s Victory, a victory he believes can only be achieved when the despised Romans are driven from their land. His desire for his people to be free quickly and characteristically becomes marked by an intense hatred for the Romans, and this hatred becomes the very fabric of his existence. However, as his friendship with scholarly twins Joel and Thacia develops and he adopts the responsibility of caring for his sister, he bruises himself against the rigidity of his own resolve, all the while being lured inexplicably to the words of the teacher Jesus. The tension between his longing for the destruction of the oppressor and Jesus’s countercultural message of a Kingdom already come wage a war in Daniel’s mind as he gathers recruits to fight for The Cause. But it requires everything that Daniel had put his hope in — The Cause, his self-sufficiency, and his hatred — to fail him before he encounters Jesus radically and transformatively, giving him a way to be at peace with everything he had run from and with everything he would now live into.
Reading this book made me feel a kind of pained longing that I don’t usually feel. I read it in a time of my life marked by dryness: the absence of a pulsing, vibrant relationship with God. And every time Speare depicted Jesus speaking to the children, whispering to the crippled, or touching the lame, my heart ached. I began to crave that Jesus, the giver of life and hope to the lonely and rejected. I wanted so badly to see him more — much more than Daniel did most of the time, which left me frustrated in watching Daniel accidentally but continuously perpetuate the very brokenness that haunted him instead of turning to the one that breaks every chain.
As frustrated as I was with Daniel, it’s clear that the Jews of Israel were much more frustrated with Jesus. The Zealots wanted him to repel the forces of Rome, but he would not fight. The people of Capernaum wanted him, but not all understood him. The crowds wanted to crown him king, but instead he slipped away into the hills at night to pray. And yet, he upheld that the Kingdom of Heaven had come. While much of the “history” is familiar and biblical, The Bronze Bow provides a window from which to watch people grapple with their own expectations as they looked for deliverance from a situation they deemed “all wrong,” “backwards,” and “not what God would want.” I think there’s an important lesson to be learned there.
“If he is the Messiah, how soon will he lead us against the enemy?” Simon walked on for a time without answering. Finally, he spoke. “He will never lead us against Rome, Daniel. I have given up all hope of that.”
[…] “Then why do you stay with him?” All the boy’s bitterness broke through the reproach.
“Where else could I go?” Simon answered.
“What has he offered you that is worth more than Israel’s freedom?”
“He has offered me the kingdom.”
Daniel’s anger was rising. “When do you think you’ll have this kingdom?”
“You will not understand this,” said Simon. “In a way, I have it already.”
“That’s fine!” the boy’s scorn was close to tears. “You have the kingdom! You can shut your eyes while all around you–”
“I have not shut my eyes,” said Simon. “I know well enough that nothing in Israel is changed. But I know that it will be, even if I never live to see it with my own eyes.”
“Listen to me, Daniel,” he went on. “You’ve seen him caring for those people — the ones so low that no one, not I or anyone else, cared what happened to them. When I see that, I know that the God of Israel has not forgotten us. Or why would He have sent Jesus to them, instead of to the rich and learned? Like a shepherd, he says, who will not let any of his sheep be lost. I’m a poor man, and ignorant, but I know now that with a God like that I am safe.”
[…] “What has he done to prove it? How do you know you’re not risking your life for nothing?”
“We can never know,” Simon answered slowly. “God hides the future from man’s eyes. We are forced to choose, not knowing. I have chosen Jesus.”
— The Bronze Bow, pages 243–244.