DAUGHTER OF LACHISH
by Tim Frank
Reviewed by Patricia O’Sullivan
Itur-Ea is a soldier in the Assyrian army who specializes in operating siege machines. He worships the goddess Ishtar and follows his king, Sennacherib without question. Rivkah is a young woman from Lachish, one of many walled cities in Judah the Assyrians seek to conquer. After the Assyrians break through the walls of Lachish and begin to systematically, rape, torture, and execute Lachish’s citizens, plunder its wealth, and burn what they will leave behind, Rivkah escapes to the hills with the help of a prostitute who sacrifices her life to save the young woman.
In the hills Rivkah meets other refugees who work together to survive in the wilderness and to avoid Assyrian patrols. Rivkah, a city girl, learns how to find edible herbs and to milk goats while wondering why the God of her people seems to do so little to help them. She wonders if the refugees should invoke other gods who might be more powerful or willing to come to their aid.
But her steadfast hostess, Ayalah responds, “We do not know what we will bring upon us. Those gods and demons not only give, they also take. And they are capricious, full of greed and fancy, fickle and demanding. If you rely on other gods, you have to continually please them. They may help you briefly, but then they turn against you and cast you into utter ruin and torment. Here in Judah we pray to the LORD, for he is the God of this land and this people. We cannot escape him. He is our hope.”
But Rivkah is not convinced of God’s faithfulness. She clings to a pendent of Isis her mother had given her and decides to travel to Jerusalem. But along the way she is taken in by the family of the prophet Micah in the settlement of Moresheth-Gath where she befriends Micah’s granddaughter, Leah, and the handsome Nadab. Rivkah finds herself falling for Nadab, confiding in Leah, “I’ve never met such a strong and considerate man before, a man who can really understand me.”
But Rivkah discovers that Nadab has been wooing Leah as well. Even worse, Rivkah overhears Nadab tell Leah that he has no feelings for Rivkah. “Yuck! My attention must have totally confused Rivkah. Who would want to kiss a girl like her? Skinny little thing with that weary, drawn-out face. She looks dreadful. Not only that, she has no passion at all, no sense of beauty, no time for fun. No, don’t you worry about her, Leah.”
Rivkah’s heart is broken and she takes comfort in the words of old Micah, who assures her that she can take comfort in God. “Take your sorrows, your pain and anger to the LORD and he will hear you.” Later, Nadab goes to Jerusalem, and Leah realizes that he was dishonest all along, playing both her and Rivkah for fools. Leah and Rivkah become as close as sisters, Rivkah even marrying Leah’s brother, Meshullam, who also has his doubts about God’s justice and mercy for his people.
Rivkah and Meshullam’s life seems blessed, but when roaming bands of soldiers threaten the settlements and then tragedy strikes the family, Rivkah struggles to understand how God can allow such sorrow and hardship. But once again, Rivkah turns to Micah who tells her that God has a purpose, even though it is not always clear. Strengthened by Micah’s words, Rivkah begins to see the world through eyes of faith rather than doubt. “Arms outstretched, she worshipped the God whose faithfulness she had come to know, who had been with her through hard times and good and whom she trusted to lead her in the future.”
Tim Frank’s story is soundly based in the kind of historical research that will delight readers who enjoy a narrative that teaches them about the daily life of ancient peoples. His details concerning military life and seventh-century BC warfare are particularly impressive. In addition, the narrative of Daughter of Lachish is interspersed with long Hebrew prayers and biblical passages rendered into English that allow the reader eager for plot to slow down and contemplate how these ancient writings meant so much to those living through the events that inspired them.
I confess, I’d grown to like the character, Itur-Ea, and looked forward to the sections of the novel that contained his story. So when the story began to be exclusively about Rivkah, I was a bit thrown, but, after completing the novel, I see why Tim Frank made that decision. Thankfully, Rivkah is a likable character whose faith journey is propelled by uncertainty and tragedy, making for a strong plot that carries the novel to its conclusion.
Tim Frank is a staff member of the Lahav Research Project Phase IV archeological excavations at Tell Halif, Israel. He studied theology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and is a currently a graduate student at Mississippi State University.