“The Prophetess” by Jill Eileen Smith || Review
“Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera…” Judges 4:4 – Judges 4:7 (NIV)
Have you read the story of Deborah in the Bible? As a kid, whenever the girls got to read a Bible story in Sunday school, Deborah was almost always the one picked. I was more on the side of wanting to hear the love story of Ruth, or the story of Queen Esther. The idea of a leader never really appealed to me; in hindsight, this is probably because I had no interested in leadership myself. I was far too obsessed with unicorns and poodles.
Now, having prefaced this review, I think that it is only fair to say that it is entirely because of this bias that I avoided reading this story for so long. Of course, I’m older now and hopefully wiser. Deborah is “way more cool” to me now than she was when I was hosting tea parties in my imaginary castle tower. Still, the book didn’t appeal to me AT FIRST because of my childhood bias, but when I started reading it recently I had a much greater depth of respect and understanding of Deborah.
I finally did get around to reading it, and it absolutely blew my expectations away! This book feminized Deborah, in a way my Sunday school classes didn’t when I was growing up. As a kid, Deborah was often presented as a kind of warrior or a cardboard cutout of a superhero, without any flaws or anything to make her relatable to me. Jill Eileen Smith endows Deborah with far more realistic qualities: a romantic relationship, marital distress, disconnect between a mother and her daughter, anxiety, fear, and a desire to remain in the background; not to lead.
All of those struggles give Deborah’s character arc a lot of potential to grow. To realize that God called her to something in her life, and that she must rise above her self-doubt to fulfill His great plan and give her life over to Him. But for me, the character development wasn’t there.
When I reached the end of the book, I felt somewhat let down. I didn’t really feel like Deborah had triumphed over her struggles, but rather that she had settled into a more comfortable rhythm in her life. There wasn’t a lot of noticeable change between the version of Deborah we are introduced to at the beginning of the story, and the version of Deborah we see at the end of the story, except for the fact that she is older. At least, that’s how I felt. I’ve read a lot of different reviews that had different takeaways from the novel (which is what I love about books. They’re art and can be interp so many different ways).
She finds balance at the end, but as a reader I was not able to take any life lessons away from her journey. I didn’t feel particularly inspired or motivated as I had hoped I would.
Now I promise you, about 100 pages into the story, I was so excited to see how it would all pan out! Any previous misconceptions about Deborah were gone, and I was overwhelmed with anticipation for the end of the story. I just found the end, well, less satisfying than I had desired.
Overall it was a good book, with a good story. There were several subplots I enjoyed very much, but Deborah’s specific arc was underwhelming for me. I guess you could say it was mediocre. 3.5-4/5 stars from me.
If you’re interested, you can watch my video review on YouTube where I discuss the book and my feelings about it at this link:
Of course I will continue to read Jill Eileen Smith’s books in the future! Her Wives of the Patriarchs series remains one of my favorite Biblical fiction series of all time! This book just wasn’t for me, and that’s okay. Maybe it was for you! I would love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read it, or if you’ve ever felt a similar way about another book! Let’s chat about it! It’s really easy to connect with me. You can comment on this post, use the contact form on this site, or follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jennavanmourik.
As always, keep reading and keep living your life for the One who made it all!