The moment time stands still as you read the last word of a fantastic book is one of the best and worst feelings in the world. Why do all great books come to an end, and why do authors continue to put readers through the hurricanes of their imaginations only to spit us out at the last moment, leaving us to pick up the pieces? In a matter of a few pages, your heart can go from overflowing with love to breaking! Connilyn Cossette’s newest series, The Covenant House, is no exception, though don’t let that dissuade you from embarking on a fabulous new adventure into ancient Israel where Samuel is the judge, the Philistines have won a victory over the Israelites, and the Mishkan (temple) has been destroyed. Introducing the new characters and storyline, To Dwell Among Cedars immediately sweeps readers into its raging waters (literally) before taking them into the eye of the storm and then back into the category two hurricane that will only grow stronger as you get closer to the end.
Eight years ago, 1070 BC, the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant and brought it into the city of Ashdod, throwing it at the feet of Dagon in triumph. However, at the Ark’s presence, the Philistines’ god is thrust to its knees and plagues wash over their land, forcing them to return their prize to the Israelites. At this time, Eliora and her brother, Natan, flee from their family home in Ashdod and follow the Ark of the Covenant into Israelite territory, where they are rescued by a Levite and adopted into Abinidab’s household, whose family was given the charge to protect the Ark.
As the Fall Feast approach and the Levites gather to celebrate, everyone is busy making preparations and organizing the gatherings that will take place. It’s a time to be joyful and festive, yet unrest stirs within the Levitical tribe as they argue over where the Ark of the Covenant should be kept and who is the rightful high priest. Believing Samuel is a false prophet and that the priesthood should return to Eleazar’s line after the devastating defeat at the hands of Eli, son of Itamar, a plan is forged to steal the Ark of the Covenant and take it to where a group of Levites have begun reconstructing the Mishkan.
Returning to Kiryat Yearim, Ronen is at the center of the plot to steal the Ark. Determined to make his uncle proud and fulfill his duty of uncovering the hidden location of the Ark, Ronen is caught off guard when he is reunited with the Philistine girl he saved as a teenager all those years ago. Now grown up, Eliora is radiant and captures Ronen’s attention, testing his loyalties and belief in the mission. Will Ronen and his entourage succeed in their desire to move the Ark? Are they truly fulfilling God’s desire? And, what about Eliora, she’s lived among the Israelites for almost a decade, but has she truly found peace and identity?
A powerful story of adoption, covenant, promise, love, and war, To Dwell Among Cedars not only gives Biblical fiction lovers another amazing story to share with friends but is a narrative that will stay in your mind for days and months to come. I still have not recovered from this novel, and I don’t think I will until the next book is released (July, please hurry!).
To Dwell Among Cedars spoke to my heart and moved me to praise the Father for all the testimonies He has given us. Though this is a story that will entertain, it will also be an inspiration to draw closer to our Creator and learn who He truly is! While thousands walk away from their faith each year, plagued with doubt, I have never been more convinced of Adonai’s realness and presence. Connilyn Cossette did an outstanding job of showing what true faith and servitude looks like, dealing with doubt and identity through protagonists we can all relate to. I loved how each character was given a chance to experience the Holy Spirit, though not everyone accepted this opportunity. Too many authors tend to stay in the New Testament, believing that personal relationships with the Father only began after Yeshua/Jesus’ resurrection, but that’s not true. God has been using His people since the beginning of creation, and Connilyn Cossette never fails to display this in her novels.
If you have never read a novel by Connilyn Cossette and are looking for a thrilling, inspiring, and chain-breaking story that brings the Bible to life, To Dwell Among Cedars is the book for you! If you are familiar with Connilyn’s incredible books, I can assure you that you will not be disappointed by her latest release! Don’t miss your chance to experience Eliora and Ronen’s journeys into the depths of their souls as they discover what it means to be loved and accepted by a God of forgiveness and promise!
*Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a pre-release copy of this book. My thoughts and opinions are entirely my own!*
Q&A with Connilyn Cossette
What made you make this a duology?
I really just wanted to try something different and also wanted to highlight a close sibling relationship between the heroine of Book One and the hero of Book Two and I am really satisfied with how the two books play off each other, complete each other, and how everything ties together so well in the end.
What inspired you to write about the Ark of the Covenant at Kiryat-Yearim?
There is so much mystery surrounding the Ark of the Covenant and when I read somewhere that the ancient rabbis considered the loss of the sacred box to the Philistines in 1 Samuel 4-7 just as devastating as the destruction of the temple, I began to think about how this event might have effected the Hebrew people. They were already clamoring for a king that could stand up to their enemies, they’d placed their faith in priests who were corrupt and too arrogant to ask for the Lord’s guidance before the battle at Afek, and then after hearing for hundreds of years that Yahweh was for them and that the Ark was this powerful thing that would protect them, they lost horrifically on the battlefield and had their most holy object snatched right out of their hands. It must have been terribly demoralizing and as I’ve shown through the character of Ronan, many of them may have even begun to doubt whether any of the tales they’d been told were real at all. They were looking for human solutions to divine things and the Lord let them do so, precisely so he could come in and remind them exactly who he was. Yes, the loss of the Ark was a punishment, but it was also a gift to show them that he had not forgotten them after all. I was also inspired to think about what it must have been like to grow up in the household of Abinadab, whose family was in charge of watching over the most powerful and dangerous object on earth for seventy years and how their household might have been blessed by its presence.
What was something that has surprised you as you begin to journey into the book of Judges and Kings?
I’d never realized that there was a shift in the lineage of the Aaronic priesthood sometime before Eli became high priest (1 Samuel). Instead of the descendants of Eleazar (a son of Aaron), the descendants of Itamar (another son of Aaron) held the priestly seat for many years and the honor was not restored to Eleazar’s line until David put Zadok in that position. As with any shift in power, be it religious or civil, tensions were likely very high and according to ancient Samaritan writings there was even a civil war between the two factions during this time. Since that is not played out in the Word, we don’t know whether or not that actually happened, but it certainly fueled my imagination about what turbulence might have been going on in Israel at the end of the Judges era and into that of the Kings. Add in the Philistines, a stolen Ark, and a mysterious prophet and you have all the makings of some high drama.
Is there a moment in the novel that spoke to you as you wrote it?
Yes, there was a scene I wrote near the end of the book that had me literally sobbing as I wrote it. Perhaps not everyone will be affected as I was by this moment but as an adopted child it touched me deeply and reminded me just how much my Abba loves me. Of course I can’t say exactly which scene it is, since I want readers to experience it all without spoilers, but I can say that not only did I cry as I wrote it, I did so every time I edited it after that. And when I read it aloud to my daughter during editing I had to stop a number of times and catch my breath before I could finish.
Was there a quote or scene that you felt the Lord speak through?
“How marvelous that two enemy children, wild branches by any measure, could—like my father had said—become one with the sons of Avraham. Just as if we were born of the same blood.” -Eliora. This quote sums up not only the theme of the book, but the mystery of the Gospel itself.
Two of the main characters in To Dwell Among Cedars have a name change during the story, why did you choose to do this (especially when it can be confusing to readers)?
In the Word, there are a number of instances where God changes people’s names. Abram is changed to Abraham, Sarai is changed to Sarah, Jacob is changed to Israel, and Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter (although the Hebrew form of that name is Kefa, not Peter). These name changes were always accompanied with a change in the purpose of that person—a shift in identity, if you will. And when a child is adopted into a new family more often than not a name change is part of the union with their new family. And without giving spoilers, I will say that my characters have drastically different reactions to the change from Philistine to Hebrew names which are symbolic of their own unique journeys, so I felt this aspect was necessary to illustrate their internal struggles in accepting their new identities and purposes among the people of Abraham.
What do you hope readers will glean from this story?
My hope is that through this story of two enemy children adopted into the family of Abraham, readers will be reminded just what a privilege and a blessing it is to be grafted into God’s family through the covenant of Jesus’s blood. Both Eliora (also known as Arisa) and Lukio (also known as Natan) have different experiences when it comes to their union with the Hebrew family that watches over the Ark of the Covenant, and both take very different journeys to accepting their new identities as grafted-in and loved children but the redemption they discover along the way is worth the difficult path for certain.
I loved the theme of adoption and grafting into a family. What inspired that story arc?
Well, first of all, I was adopted myself at birth, so adoption is deeply entwined with my own story. My brother, too, was adopted from Korea when I was six (he was four) so there were some major cultural differences we navigated as a family over the years. As well, I am the adoptive mother of two precious kids, both of whom entered our family at birth. And since adoption is such a strong theme in the Word of God and we, through Jesus’s blood, are grafted into the family of God, when the idea sparked in my mind about two Philistine children following the Ark of the Covenant into Hebrew territory it was only natural that I would explore that theme in a physical, emotional, and a spiritual sense.
Which character was the easiest and hardest to mold?
Eliora (Arisa) was fairly easy for me to write since I think she and I have quite a bit in common—being introverted, not wanting the spotlight, a tendency to hide our talents away out of fear, and issues with rejection/abandonment. Ronen was a bit more of a challenge, as far as heroes go, since when he returns to Kiryat-Yearim, he is there for less than honorable purposes. Writing a hero who has some serious flaws is always a bit of a balancing act but I think it makes his transformation from anti-hero to hero really satisfying and I love to see how God gets ahold of his heart and reveals himself to Ronen in a miraculous way.
I read that you are writing in longhand now. What made you decide to do that and did you write this story in longhand?
This is true! Until last year I always did my brainstorming by hand, using mind maps and the like, but I read about how writing by hand lights up the brain and connects pathways that are not triggered by typing on a computer so I thought, why not try it? So I purchased some Focus Notes notepads and gave it a whirl. I could not believe the difference. I can write so much faster and focus a thousand times better—even in a noisy environment—and since I am editing as I input my written notes chapter by chapter the finished product is much cleaner. I don’t think I wrote any of To Dwell among Cedars by hand, but the majority of Between the Wild Branches was done this way and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to typing first drafts. You should see the stack of paper I tossed after I sent in my manuscript to BHP, it must have been six inches tall. Somehow writing by hand just shuts off my bossy inner editor, giving me the freedom to create without worrying about perfection on the first draft (and for this perfectionist that is a big deal!). I am hooked! I rarely go anywhere anymore without my notebook and my favorite comfy pen.
Did you find out anything unexpected about the Philistines that made it in the story?
One of the things that people don’t realize is just how advanced their civilization was. The Minoans and Myceneans (who were the early Greeks) had some seriously amazing architecture (some of which still stands at Knossos on Crete) and since the Philistines came from Crete they brought their gorgeous art/building techniques, distinctive pottery, advanced wine culture, and other aspects of their material culture along with them. The things we associate with the ancient Greeks, myths/art/governance/sports etc. all very likely were born during this time period even if they found their golden age a few hundred years later. Their cities were so well planned and their technology so advanced that there were even storm drains in the street and indoor plumbing in some places. The Philistines also brought their distinctive cooking practices with them, which involved round hearths upon which covered cook pots with narrow necks and lids would sit amongst low flames for long periods to tenderize even the toughest of meats. One disturbing thing about the Philistines, however, is that puppy sacrifice was very common and that dog meat was often in those slow cookers, which of course was abhorrent to the Hebrews whose law said never to eat animals with paws. The Philistines also were very fond of dice games, which readers will discover is a favorite past-time of one important character and they used dice that have the very same number of dots on the sides as the ones we use now.
What interesting facts did you learn about the settings of this book?
There are actually three main settings for this book. Ashdod was a coastal Philistine city (and still remains today) and from what archeologists know, the main city sat on the trade road that ran between Egypt and Tyre, called the Way of the Sea, but there was also a smaller city just a couple miles away that was the very busy port of Ashdod and a river connected the two. This port is where the book opens while Arisa and Lukio are exploring at the beach. This area is very beautiful and the land between the city of Ashdod and the foothills (which in Hebrew is called the shephelah) was very fertile during the late Bronze/early Iron Age. Beth Shemesh is another setting in TDAC and there have been some interesting recent discoveries there too, including a very large flat boulder inside a destroyed temple which has been speculated as possibly the same one the Ark of the Covenant sat upon for a short period after the Philistines sent the golden box back to the Hebrews. And lastly, Kiryat-Yearim (or Kiriath-Jearim), which means city of forests, is the mountainous city where the Ark remained for seventy years until King David took it to Jerusalem. There have been recent discoveries here as well, including a stone platform near the summit which could have been a resting place of the Ark (although the timing of the site is debated). It’s so cool to live in a time where so many ground-breaking discoveries are being made all the time in Israel, and everyone points to the true history in the Word!
What comes next in this series?
Between the Wild Branches will release July 6th of next year and is a continuation of the story of the two siblings featured in this duology. All I can say is that I am totally in love with the hero (shh, don’t tell my husband) and I’ve never had so much fun writing a book as I did with BTWB. Once readers finish To Dwell Among Cedars I am pretty sure they are going to be saying “hurry up July” like I am.