The Prophetess: Deborah’s Story by Jill Eileen Smith (review)

theprophetess_smith_revellPublisher’s Description:

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?

With her trademark impeccable research and imaginative storytelling, Jill Eileen Smith brings to life the story of Israel’s most powerful woman in this intriguing and inspiring novel.

◊   ◊   ◊   ◊

This is one of the best biblical retellings I have read.  The author takes what is a pretty bare-bones biblical story of the prophetess and judge and gives a definite sense of time and place.  The dangers posed by the oppressive Canaanites feels immediate, the world outside of Deborah’s hidden village dangerous.  The need for repentance and obedience are established early on and carry through the entire book, as God promises and then delivers victory over an evil king and his military commander.

“Have Mercy on us.” The words were a whisper and a constant prayer.  And how could she not pray?  Her people were like children to her as they came each day for judgement.  Even the warriors among them seemed so helpless, so lost, against this greater threat that was Canaan. (p.79)

Deborah herself becomes a three-dimensional character with faults, failings and self-doubt.  Also brought vividly to life are the military leader Barak and the Kenite woman Jael, who plays an important part in the fight to end the 20 years of terrorism carried out by the Canaanites.

Why, Lord?  Why her?  If she hadn’t been so outspoken, if she hadn’t listened to Lappidoth’s coaxing when he insisted God intended her to lead, if she hadn’t been called by the visions and dreams… Why, Adonai?  If she could have chosen, she would have picked a different way of life. (p.171)

Along with the active participants from the biblical account, the author has fleshed out families for both Deborah and Jael.   I found the characterization of Deborah’s husband Lappidoth as a quiet, supportive man to be an interesting foil to her.  The contentious relationship with her fictional daughter, Talya, also served to add a great deal to the story.

Memories of her own past and her compliance to her parents’ wishes caused another wash of anger to rush over her.  She had been obedient all of her life.  Why could her children not be the same? (p.131)

What I hope for in a retelling is that it will make people whose actual characters are little known feel real, and long ago action seem eminent and immediate without losing the message and meaning of the original story.  This novel is successful on all accounts.  The story felt like it stayed close to the biblical source, supplemented by research, and enhanced by a lively imagination.  Highly recommended.


The Prophetess: Deborah’s Story (Daughters of the Promised Land #2) by Jill Eileen Smith | Revell, Feb 2016 | paperback, 368 pages

This review refers to a finished paperback received from the publisher through the Revell Reads blogger review program in exchange for a review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

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