One of Scripture’s recurring themes is this: God’s spiritual economy completely turns our expectations upside down. He uses the weak of the world to confound the strong, such as the battle of Jericho, Elijah on Mt. Carmel, or David defeating Goliath. He uses the least likely people—scoundrels like Jacob, prostitutes like Rahab, Moabites like Ruth—and plants them firmly into His Kingdom plans, even into the genealogy of the Messiah.
The pages of the Bible could read like The National Enquirer—just at face value. But the beauty is that God is orchestrating this story. He uses sinful, ordinary people—even Gentiles!—to accomplish His plans.
We find those plans in simplified ways throughout children’s Bible story books. I’ve read dozens over the years—as a kid with my mom, and years later with my own kids. All the typical stories have their place: Creation, the Fall, the Tower of Babel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob & Esau, Moses, the Exodus . . . and others. King David’s life is usually comprised of his anointing by Samuel, killing Goliath, his friendship with Jonathan, and running from King Saul.
These books do a great job capturing the overarching story of God’s people, the ones who usher in the Messiah generations later, through King David’s line.
But what about everything else? Without intensive Bible study, many of the “lesser” tales get lost in the archives of Biblical history. I’ve participated in a women’s Bible study for thirty-plus years and have plowed through the books of Judges, I Samuel, and II Samuel numerous times, yet still find “new” events and people that pop up with each reading. Which underscores the richness of the Old Testament.
Thanks to author Barbara Britton, the little known story of Ittai the Gittite comes under the microscope in her February 25 release, Defending David. It is derived from II Samuel 15-19:8.
This story illustrates how God’s love and mercy has never been reserved only for His chosen people. His arms are bigger, His love more expansive. He reaches outside Israel and brings people into His kingdom from all walks of life. Israel is merely a vessel, a means not an end. A light to the world, drawing people from all nations.
Ironically, one of David’s most famous battles is an encounter with the giant Goliath, a Philistine. Philistines were notorious enemies of God’s people. Yet along comes the Philistine Ittai.
Though David’s victory over Goliath brought death and defeat to Philistines, decades later Ittai pledges loyalty to King David and his God. He helps to secure a victory that preserves the Hebrew king’s life and rule. Read about it in II Samuel.
Then go read Defending David. Put yourself in Ittai’s shoes—sandals, rather. See the world from his perspective as a warrior. See what he’s up against, what he fears, Whom he serves. Taste what he eats, inhale what he smells. See, hear, and touch his world. Experience the whole story in the moment as he travels to Jerusalem seeking refuge—and inadvertently meets Rimona.
Back Cover Blurb
When a quiet journey to Jerusalem turns tragic, newly orphaned Rimona must flee a kinsman set on selling her as a slave. Racing into the rocky hills outside of Hebron, Rimona is rescued by a Philistine commander journeying to Jerusalem with six-hundred warriors.
Exiled commander, Ittai the Gittite, is seeking refuge in the City of David. Protecting a frantic Hebrew woman is not in his leadership plan. Although, having a nobleman’s niece in his caravan might prove useful for finding shelter in a foreign land.
Rimona and Ittai arrive in Jerusalem on the eve of a rebellion. In the chaos of an heir’s betrayal, will they be separated forever, or can they defend King David and help the aging monarch control his rebellious son?
One of the saddest Bible stories is the rebellion of King David’s son Absalom. When David sinned with Bathsheba, David’s contrition proved him to be a man after God’s own heart. Of course God offered forgiveness. Even so, God held David to a higher standard as king of his people. A consequence? The sword would not depart from David’s family. Thus, we have the story of Absalom.
That’s the story many people already know. What they might not remember is Ittai the Gittite’s role.
Kudos to Barbara Britton—again—for bringing a little known Bible story to life, this time through the eyes of a Philistine protagonist. Quite different from her Lioness and the “Daughters of Zelophehad” series (more on those next time) with Hebrew heroines.
Though I’d forgotten about Ittai, God hadn’t. But as Ittai treks cross country to Jerusalem, he wonders if King David will remember him from a childhood episode years prior. Ittai now serves the one true God and has pledged his allegiance to David, but will he—as a Philistine exile—arrive safely with his 600 warriors and their families and find favor with David? Especially after learning of Absalom’s treachery in planning to overthrow his royal father. Nobody is safe.
Writing historical fiction is always a challenge, even more so with Biblical fiction. Barb Britton definitely stays true to scripture while filling in the gaps with fictional Rimona and situations that heighten the danger and raise the stakes.
This is Rimona’s story, too. She’s a Hebrew from Beersheba, also on her way to Jerusalem for very different reasons. After her mother dies, her cruel relative Eglon starts escorting her to David’s palace to live with her uncle, a court official.
But Eglon changes his mind and decides to sell Rimona into slavery. She escapes and finds herself in the hands of Ittai.
Ironic that a Philistine convert would rescue her from her own kin.
But now she has nothing—no home, no parents, no donkey. Even her last possessions are lost—her mother’s striped veil and a single earring with three emeralds. (Pay attention to that all the way to the end.) She was deceived and betrayed. And now she’s stuck in the wilderness with unfamiliar Gentile warriors, known to be enemies of her God.
Even with strong faith, Rimona is overwhelmed by her many losses. Why, God? Now she’s at the mercy of a Philistine. But she is shocked to find out that he worships Israel’s God and is loyal to King David—and can even recite Psalms!
And beautifully so at one point: II Samuel 22, a psalm of David, about God as a rock. But can Ittai get her safely to her uncle at the king’s palace? And will her uncle receive her so she can start over in a new home?
Things get complicated the closer they get to their destination, and learn of Absalom’s rebellion. Jerusalem is in chaos, and nobody knows who to trust. Expectations are dashed. Who is siding with the traitor Absalom? Who supports David? Rimona becomes privy to situations she’d rather now know, which leads to hard choices that could put her in more danger.
For the record, David’s righthand man Joab is one of the Bible’s really bad guys, and ranks up there with Absalom, in my opinion.
Barb Britton is good at coining new phrases. A few favorite similes:
- A ringlet of hair grew higher like a possessed vine
- Her stomach fluttered as if it contained a startled pigeon
- “You are wound higher than a rolled rug.”
- He could feel her elbow gently thumping against his chest like a rabbit burrowing into its hole.
- “Our king ate the victories like a fatted ram.”
Rimona often referenced God’s boundary lines. I love this concept. As mentioned in the author notes, this comes from Psalm 16:6:
“The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed,
I have a beautiful inheritance.” — Psalm 16:6
The story artfully goes back and forth between Ittai’s and Rimona’s perspectives as the heart-wrenching Biblical story unfolds. I’m grateful for this rendition of it. In the midst of betrayal by one’s own family (Rimona’s and David’s) is the certainty that God loves the “outsider” as much as His own people. In this case, it’s the outsider who is the most loyal.
Join me for some Q & A with Barb Britton
Questions about Defending David
I was recently reading through the II Samuel chapters about Absalom’s rebellion and was overwhelmed with all the details of events. Surely choosing to tell the story through Ittai’s and Rimona’s point of view helps greatly in narrowing your focus and selecting which scenes to highlight. How and why did you decide to make Ittai the hero of this story, and how did that affect your choice of scenes?
Barbara: I first heard about Ittai the Gittite in a sermon my husband preached. The sermon was titled “A Friend Who Sticks Closer Than A Brother.” The title of the sermon references Proverbs 18:24. You would think I would have run off and written about Ittai, this wonderful Bible hero, right away, but it took me a few years. Ittai is an unlikely friend to King David. Ittai is a Philistine warrior. David killed one of those as a boy. The faithfulness Ittai shows to David is groundbreaking. Ittai’s loyalty is overlooked in the story of the rebellion.
Rimona is not a historical character, but she gives me a romance angle, and she allows me to show what is happening in Jerusalem when Ittai leaves with King David. I can show the arrival and shenanigans of Absalom with Rimona’s placement in the city.
Since Rimona is fictional, you had some free reign with how to develop her while still making her relevant to the story. How did you decide on Rimona’s character and situation?
Barbara: Writers are told to place conflict and tension into a story. I made Rimona an orphan because women with no male family members to watch over them, could face hardship and trouble in Bible Times. Rimona does face trouble from a distant relative, and it forces her to flee into the desert in the dark of night. Rimona runs into Ittai—literally—when she flees her wicked relative.
Rimona has a compassionate side which she shows in her backstory by taking care of her infirmed mother. Rimona is quick to pick up on Ittai’s love for his own mother. Both Ittai and Rimona are orphans. As I mentioned above, Rimona is the reader’s eyes and ears in Jerusalem when Absalom arrives to seize the palace.
What were the challenges in portraying King David, a real person that many readers are familiar with?
Barbara: Readers think of King David as a powerful leader and fearless warrior. That was true in David’s younger years, but as he aged, the toll of his sin with Bathsheba and the chaos in his household weighed on him. He flees his own city barefoot and distressed.
Even though David’s son is trying to kill him, David desires to show mercy to Absalom. I tried to show the various emotions King David would be feeling at this tumultuous time in his life and in the life of his family.
Archeology and history help us dig into the past, both literally and figuratively, but it’s impossible to know everything. Which cultural details did you have to fill in with your imagination?
Barbara: When Ittai and his Philistine fighting men come before King David, the king wants to send them away. David doesn’t seem concerned that he is sending six-hundred warriors to fight with Absalom. It’s Ittai that refuses to be dismissed.
Ittai references the Lord and calls David, lord (Little l). How did a Philistine commander come to know the Lord? Have Ittai and David ever met? King David awards Ittai with a position that would be contrary to history. Why doesn’t anyone question Ittai’s position? I had to tackle all of these questions in my story by looking at Scripture and tracking David’s whereabouts over his life.
Was it more difficult writing from the perspective of an Old Testament warrior than from a woman’s, even in third person. How did you tackle achieving Ittai’s personality and voice, as well as the warrior point of view?
Barbara: I tend to write strong men. Israelite men had to learn to fight since Israel had numerous enemies. I’m also the mother of boys, so I am surrounded by man-speak. Military men and women don’t like to be caught by surprise. I kept Ittai on his guard and thinking about how to survive. I really didn’t find him any harder to write than Rimona.
Men tend to speak in shorter sentences, and they aren’t keen on flowery details. Ittai is a man that gets right to the point. One of his phrases is, “I don’t do flattery well.”
In contemporary fiction, we can distinguish characters’ personalities easily—not just by character traits but by personal opinions, preferences, habits, clothing, and other things related to our particular culture (eats junk food, has to have her cappuccino every morning, loves cats, afraid of making left turns, plays tennis, always wears fashion boots, is a night owl, wears black, etc.) How do you figure out how to distinguish Biblical characters from each other when it doesn’t seem like they had as much variety and choices in their daily lives?
Barbara: When a society has uniform dress and cultural norms, you have to rely on personality and skills to make your characters unique. Ittai is a man of few words, but Rimona has a full vocabulary. Where Ittai is bold in battle, Rimona is bold in her concern for others.
When I wrote my daughters of Zelophehad series, I had five girls. I crafted each of their personalities differently and gave them jobs to do. Hoglah was an excellent cook whereas Noah was not. Noah could herd sheep, but Hoglah would balk at spending time with animals.
Barbara on Writing
You’ve ventured outside of Biblical fiction, too, with Until June. How did that novel come about? What made you choose Alaska in 1918 as the setting?
Barbara: Until June was the second novel I wrote. The manuscript needed a lot of work, and it didn’t sell right away. I worked on it over the years and made the story stronger. The story has a similar caregiver trope to Me Before You except my novel has a happy ending. When the movie of MBY came out, I sent Until June to my publisher and received a contract. Until June is based on a true story about a WWI veteran who lived in a remote Alaskan lodge after the war. The time period was baked into the story.
Do you want to venture more outside Biblical fiction, stick with it, or do a bit of both? What projects are you working on now or in the near future?
Barbara: I will write whatever God places on my heart to write. I love writing Biblical Fiction. You could say that is my go-to genre.
I was propelled to write Until June due to my soft spot for wounded veterans. I recently finished a contemporary story. I felt God wanted me to share what it is like to be a breast cancer survivor whose body has changed. Though, I will always have another Bible story in me.
What’s the most important advice you like sharing with aspiring novelists?
Barbara: Pray before you begin to write. Pray over your published works. Pray to be the best author and author friend you can be.
Publishing is a difficult business with a heap of rejection. I received over two hundred rejections over four books before I received a publishing contract. I still deal with rejection as a published author.
Find some writing buddies to take this journey with you. You will need friends who understand the business to bolster your spirits and pray for you.
Never stop learning and giving back to other writers. Belonging to professional organizations and getting involved in their local chapters can help you find your writing tribe.
God tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:1 that “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (NIV). Only God knows when your time to be published, or multi-published, will be.
Barbara visited me in 2018 on my Journey to Imagination blog:
- An author’s unconventional toolbox — Tribes of Israel series
- When is it good enough? Finished or abandoned?
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you enjoy Biblical fiction such as Defending David, you might enjoy my novel, Rain in the Wilderness. I’m seeking a publisher for it. Here’s the blurb:
One night in Bethlehem, Rebekah’s son Matthew is wrenched from her and killed in a massacre of infants ordered by Herod the Great. Thirty years later, as a widow with three grown children, she is still a victim of treachery as the Jews writhe under the oppressive Roman Empire. Her son Jonathan serves a Roman centurion in far off Galilee. Another son, Kaleb, awaits a warrior Messiah and loathes all things Roman, including his brother the traitor. Her kind son-in-law Malchus serves the unscrupulous high priest Caiaphas.
Who will free Israel from Rome’s heavy yoke? Where is the promised Messiah? At the center of controversy, Jesus of Nazareth seems an unlikely prospect. Ruthless debates unite his enemies while dividing Rebekah’s family.
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Barbara M. Britton lives in Southeast, Wisconsin and loves the snow—when it accumulates under three inches. She is published in Biblical Fiction and loves bringing little-known Bible characters to light in her stories. Her WWI Historical Until June released in 2020. Barb is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and Romance Writers of America. She has a nutrition degree from Baylor University but loves to dip healthy strawberries in chocolate. You can find out more about Barbara’s books on her website, www.barbarambritton.com. You can also follow Barbara on Twitter, Facebook, or BookBub. Libraries can order her books, too.
Check out the Defending David book trailer here—on Barbara’s Amazon page. Click on the first video.
Join me next time for another visit with Barbara.
Meanwhile, what Biblical fiction have you read? Is there a Bible story you’d like to see come to life in a novel? Answer in the comments below.