Series challenges readers to imagine biblical times

*This review first appeared in The Budget’s Sept. 6, 2017, Local Edition.

By Pat Edgar
The Budget

Biblical scholarship takes many forms, but one thing is certain: The younger the student, the more time he or she has to learn the stories and wisdom of The Holy Bible.

It was with this in mind that author Matt Koceich began his “Imagine” series, books aimed at 8 to 12 year olds and designed to make those “tweens” and teens picture themselves in biblical situations.

First in the series, “Imagine: The Great Flood” was released recently by Barbour Publishing.

“Imagine: The Great Flood” by Matt Koceich (Barbour Publishing, 2017)

The story begins in present-day Texas. Ten-year-old Corey is walking his dog Molly accompanied by Corey’s mother. Despite the beautiful day and the chance to run with his dog in a well-kept park, Corey’s mind is bothered, and his heart is heavy. His family is planning a move to Florida in the coming week, and he fears the unknown. The prospect of making new friends, getting used to a new school and adjusting to new circumstances is daunting to Corey even though they’ve been preparing the move for two months. Sensing his unease, Corey’s mom counsels him that even though the circumstances of our lives change, God never changes. She explains that if we put our trust in Him, new experiences will be easier to maneuver.

Corey listens carefully to his mother’s words but doesn’t really believe them. How can he trust an unseen God more than he trusts himself? As he throws Molly’s ball and watches her chasing it, Corey wonders why he can’t be as trusting as his dog.

Just as Corey is throwing the ball towards the woods at the edge of the park, he hears thunder in the distance. Texas rains are infrequent this time of year and almost always come as deluges.

Before Molly runs to retrieve the ball, she looks at Corey as if questioning if the thunder is a danger to her. Corey encourages her to fetch the ball, and she disappears into the trees. When she doesn’t return, Corey and his Mom go after their pet so that they can get home before the storm hits. The last thing he hears before tripping over some tree roots as he chases Molly is the dog’s fearful bark.

The next thing he hears is the words, “Open your eyes” before waking up in a strange setting. The woods are gone, as is Molly. In fact, even his mom is missing in this strange new landscape. Corey watches as the leaves and twigs he’s accustomed to seeing change to gravel. He knows he’s not in Texas anymore.

Corey gets up and brushes himself off, checking for injuries. As he turns in a circle to try to figure out just where he is, he sees a huge male lion just a few feet away. Corey turns to run the other way and comes face to face with another lion, this one a female. Beside the second lion is a man holding a leather lead and a staff who calms Corey saying that the lions will obey him as long as he holds his staff.

Although Corey is dressed in strange garb, the man seems to take his appearance in stride and introduces himself as Shem. Then he asks for Corey’s help in getting the two animals to his father’s ark before the onslaught of the impending storm.

Corey’s eyes follow the path Shem points to and sees a massive wooden boat at least two football fields long and five stories high. Of course, he still misses his mom and Molly, but as he shepherds, one of the lions, the excitement of this new adventure overtakes his fear.

Even though Corey was very familiar with the story of Noah’s Ark from Sun-day School lessons, he can’t believe what he’s seeing. After all, that was more than 4,000 years ago. But when Corey questions Shem, he learns that all the details he hears about God’s instructions to Shem’s father match up to what he knows. In fact, he is much more familiar with the details than Shem is since rain has never occurred in this area before, and Noah and his family are proceeding by faith alone.

As they get closer to the Ark, Shem meets his brothers and introduces Ham and Japheth to Corey. With the brothers are pairs of elephants and horses. They encourage one another to hurry because they have heard that the scoffing villagers have enlisted the help of a tribe of warriors called the Nephilim to try to quash Noah’s plans. Corey searches his memory but can’t find a reference to the Nephilim any- where—even in the story of Noah’s Ark. But it isn’t long before Corey comes face to face with the enemy—heavily armored men at least 10 feet tall carrying spears as long and wide as surfboards.

Shem encourages Corey to run but to feel no fear since “The Lord is our shield.” This is a great help, as is his mother’s recent advice. When the Nephilim catch up and grab Corey, he remains remarkably calm as he hears the memory of his mother’s voice telling him to rely on the “never-changing” God.

At that moment, the lions attack the warriors, allowing Corey and his new friends to escape while Shem tells the attackers that they will never be able to stand in the way of God’s plans.

Soon, they are on the large ramp to the Ark, along with the lions, elephants, and horses. Corey meets Noah and agrees to help with God’s plan in exchange for their help in getting him back to Texas. Unfortunately, Noah and his family have never of a land called “Texas,” and as Corey tries to explain how he came to be there, he knows he sounds crazier and crazier.

Shem shows him around the ark and further explains their plan to find and board two of each animal, bird and reptile species. Since Corey knows that he is not a part of the Noah and the Ark story he remembers, he decides to trust God that he will find his way back to the life he knows. In other words, he “trusts.” Why is it easier to find trust in this unimaginable situation than it is to have faith that God has a plan for him in Florida?

Matt Koceich has crafted an exciting and very readable book that children and teens will love. He and his family live in Texas, where he teaches school in addition to writing. The next book in his series, “Imagine: The Great Plagues” is scheduled to be released in March of 2018.