Author Mesu (pronounced mee-sue) Andrews combines storytelling with lessons from Scripture in her biblical fiction, which often portrays little-known female characters from the Bible. Now, the ECPA Christian Book Award-winning author is exploring the life of Hephzibah, the wife of Hezekiah—one of the Kingdom of Judah’s best kings in Isaiah’s Daughter (WaterBrook, Jan.). Hephzibah was adopted as a child by the prophet Isaiah and went on to marry Prince Hezekiah before becoming queen, and the book depicts her long years of infertility, her capture by enemy soldiers, and the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians that ended with the miraculous survival of her husband.
What drew you to the niche category of biblical fiction?
I used to read Bible story books to my kids. Then, when they’d gone to bed, I’d get out my Bible and read about [the people in the stories]. As I read, I wanted to know what kinds of trees were there, whether it was hot or cold, what the air smelled like. My goal in writing is having readers smell and taste that history. Readers are interested in [seeing] characters in the Bible become real people.
Why focus on lesser-known women of the Bible?
The Bible was written in a patriarchal society, so when a woman is recorded in a story, either by name or role or position, she must have been important enough to include. I want to know as much about each of those barely mentioned women as possible, and then imagine the parts we don’t know by studying the history and culture surrounding them.
Who is Hephzibah and why did you select her for this book?
The Encyclopedia Judaica was the first place I found the Jewish tradition of Hephzibah as the prophet Isaiah’s daughter. Various commentaries also pondered the kind of familiarity Isaiah must have had with Hephzibah to use her name in Isaiah 62:4 as a moniker for the New Jerusalem. But most of the fascinating plot twists in the book are not my own. For example, the Bible tells us that she was married to the most righteous king of Judah, and the mother of the most-wicked one. We know she was Hezekiah’s queen during the Assyrian siege and likely experienced the same questions and tension he felt. She likely lived through the attacks on Judah by Israel and Syria—war and carnage [can] leave a mark on any eyewitness.
What do you want readers to learn from the book, or from the life of Hephzibah?
This woman’s trials would have put me in a [padded] room , yet she was called Hephzibah, which means “the Lord’s delight” in Hebrew. Names weren’t given lightly in biblical times. I must believe that even while she endured the harshest of lives, she remained “the Lord’s delight.” I hope readers come away from this story with a desire to be God’s delight—and maybe a few ideas on how to do so.
Which biblical characters are you focusing on next, and why?
The next book, with the working title Of Fire and Lions, focuses on the Old Testament story of Daniel and his wife, a completely fictional character I named Belili. I always thought Daniel was a eunuch, until I ran across a study note in my research that said the Hebrew word for “eunuch” used in Daniel is the same word that describes a married man in the book of Genesis. The project after that is a sequel to Isaiah’s Daughter, following Hephzibah to the end of her life as her son, Manasseh, becomes the worst king in Judah’s history.