Canaan has ravaged Israel. The people are in hiding. All that stands between surrender and hope is one untested woman.
Deborah will never forget the day her father and brothers left to worship at the Lord’s tabernacle–or the wails of her mother after finding their bodies at the city gates. The memories of Canaan’s cruelty haunt her and all of Israel. Now in this dark time, the Lord calls on Deborah to lead His people away from the idols of other nations and back to Him.
Deborah never asked to be a prophetess or a judge over God’s people. Still, she cannot deny His voice or the visions that accompany it. Can her family ever understand? Will her people believe God’s calling on her life? And can the Canaanite menace be stopped?
“God has called you to lead us, beloved. The men all agreed that the vision gives you the right to speak for us, to pray to God for us. You are a prophetess, Deborah.”
“I am a wife and a mother. Nothing more.”
He shook his head, his hand softly cupping her cheek. A stirring filled her at his touch, and suddenly she wanted to simply be what she had said. A wife to him in a truer way than she had been all these years, and a mother to their three children.
“You are much more, beloved, though it almost pains me to share you. I dare not go against the will of our God.” He took her hand in his and stroked Talya’s head with the other. “The men will listen to you because you hear the voice of God, Deborah. You are called out for such a time as this, to help us during this awful oppression. God is going to use you, perhaps both of us, to bring about that deliverance.”
She shook her head even as tears slipped down her cheeks. “I cannot. I am a simply woman with fanciful dreams.”
“Who used to sing to the Lord songs that rivaled the trill of the birds, a woman who has lost too much joy since we wed.” He traced a line along her jaw. “You lost much when you lost your family, beloved. But I am here to tell you that we saw the fire of God surround you. God gave you that vision because He takes delight in you, and you must heed it.”
I cannot. But she did not say the words, for she could not look in those dark intelligent eyes and deny him what he believed to be true.
Forgive me, Elohim. Surely I am a woman of unclean lips, a woman who speaks words without thought. I am not a man to lead my family, worse yet Your people.
She turned to face the bright sky, caught by the brilliance of the sun overhead. Music swirled in and around her, and a voice, soft as a whisper, filled her ear.
Hear My words: if there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make Myself known to him in a vision. I speak with him in a dream.
In a heartbeat, she knew Lappidoth was right. The vision had truly come to her from the Lord. “If I am to be God’s prophet,” she said softly, “I think it is time I let you teach me to read.”
This novel is exactly what Biblical fiction should be – or any kind of historical fiction for that matter: History brought to life on the page; names given flesh, muscle, bones, and a beating heart; and a story that is completely authentic to its setting. This time in Israel’s history takes up a mere two chapters in the book of Judges – not a great deal for an author to go on, and yet Jill Eileen Smith has fleshed out an engaging and very believable account of the time leading up to and including the battle in which the Canaanites are routed by the Lord.
The story opens with a prologue where Deborah receives a vision from the Lord, and is given in marriage to Lappidoth. Both characters drew me in from the moment they appeared on the page, and the more I got to know them, the more deeply I became invested in their story. As it would be natural to suppose, Deborah is portrayed as having a strong personality, and yet the author never colours her with modern egalitarian notions. Deborah embraces her role as a wife and mother, even struggles against her disappointment at her husband’s eternal amiability and willingness to compromise for her sake, and her growth these roles form as much a part of the story as her roles as a judge and prophetess.
Barak, Talya (Deborah and Lappidoth’s daughter), and Jael (the wife of Heber the Kenite) are the other primary point-of-view characters. Barak lost his wife, Nessa, to Sisera’s sword and will not rest until her death is avenged, but he grows impatient for the Lord to repay Sisera’s evil. As the virgin daughter of a leader in Israel, Talya is at even greater risk of being a target for Sisera and his men, and Deborah continually worries that her headstrong daughter will not heed the danger as she should. Heber and Jael were forced to leave their extended family after a dispute over the treatment of a Canaanite slave. They have pitched a tent near Kadesh and seek to protect themselves against Sisera by making themselves valuable to him: as metalworkers, they supply him with weapons, and yet the threat of danger is never far away. Each of these characters were well drawn and added an important dimension to the story. I also thought the author did an excellent job of driving home the impact of living under the oppression of Sisera’s army without becoming too graphic.
It is impossible to read the story of Deborah and not wonder why God chose her – or more specifically, a woman – to lead Israel at this time. This book does not really seek to answer this question; it is irrelevant in many ways, because knowing the answer does not add to or detract from the fact that God appointed her. There is, however, some interesting conjecture in the novel about the significance of a woman being the one to defeat Sisera that I had not considered before.
I really cannot recommend this novel highly enough, especially for lovers of Biblical fiction. It is emotionally and historically rich, and hooked me from the first page right up until the last. I actually paused in my reading at one point to go back and read the two chapters from Judges because I was sure there must have been details there that I had forgotten about. There were not. I sincerely admire the thought and study that must have gone into not only conceiving such a realistic picture of these characters from the scant details available to us, but then also portraying them to the reader so convincingly.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell Books in exchange for my honest review.
Release date: 2 February 2016 (available on Kindle from 26 January 2016)
Publisher: Revell Books
Author’s website: http://www.jilleileensmith.com/