Monday, August 18, 2014

review of Destiny's Hands by Violet Nesdoly

"When Israel was in Egypt's land, let my people go, oppressed so hard they could not stand, let my people go."


Many of us know that old song. We know that God delivered the Israelites from slavery and led them into the desert, where they built a tabernacle to honor him. I've read the story many times in the second book of the Bible, Exodus. However, I view the narrative in a new way after reading Violet Nesdoly's book Destiny's Hands.


She presents it through the eyes of Bezalel, a young Israelite skilled in designing and creating artistic works from precious metals, gemstones, and other materials. The Bible first mentions him near the end of Exodus: "See, the Lord hath called by name Bezalel…and he hath filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship." Exodus 35: 30, 31.


Nesdoly, on the other hand, introduces Bezalel at the beginning of the story. We encounter him working for the Egyptians, helping to form the gods they worship. His life is fulfilling, enjoyable, and not difficult. His Egyptian masters treat him well because they value his talents. On the other hand, young Bezalel is well aware of how his fellow Israelites suffer, forced to spend long days making bricks under the blazing sun.


Then Moses and Aaron arrive with an astonishing message: Trust and obey Yahweh. He will deliver you from slavery.


Bezalel is caught between the Egyptian world and the new life promised by Moses and Aaron. Though tempted to stay in Egypt, he accompanies his family and the other Israelites out of the land. During their escape and afterwards, he experiences one miracle of Yahweh after another. Nevertheless he still struggles with divided loyalties. Bezalel's conversion is no instantaneous, once-for-all event.


At the heart of many of his struggles is his ability to create with his hands. He wears an Egyptian amulet that he believes he needs in order to continue to be creative. The problem is, his faith tells him he should remove the amulet because it's a symbol of the old life. Finally he decides to shed it, though in doing so he thinks he may be saying goodbye to his talents forever.


The young man's courageous action reminds me of a story told about the brilliant Canadian poet Margaret Avison. Her decision to follow Christ was difficult because she felt that if she did, she'd never write again. She thought she'd need to leave her brains and imagination at the door when entering the Christian fold. As it turned out, she produced some of her best poetry after her conversion.


Similarly, Bezalel finds his greatest fulfillment after surrendering his abilities completely to God. In the end, he and his friend Aholiab are put in charge of other craftspeople in creating the beautiful things required for the tabernacle.


The author of Destiny's Hands is a good plotter, skillfully presenting conflicts in Bezalel's personal life within the larger context of the Israelites' experiences. She knows how to pace a narrative. Action is presented with just enough detail. A masterful example is her description of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. Yet she doesn't pile action on action without giving us time to think about it and its effect on the characters, especially Bezalel.


Nesdoly starts in his viewpoint and never strays from it. We as readers are there with him all the time, thinking his thoughts and experiencing his feelings.


I found the story inspiring spiritually. Nesdoly has a way of conveying big truths in small sentences. For example, regarding trust: "God has heard and will answer." Regarding commitment: "After I saw the power of Yahweh, I wanted to follow him alone." Regarding human responsibility: "God seems to require action on our part to bring his miracles to pass." Regarding the source and use of abilities: "Who created you with your talent? Yahweh has a destiny for your hands."


The prologue to Destiny's Hands shows us Bezalel at age ten. I enjoyed seeing him in the context of boyhood friendships and family. However, I think the prologue might have been omitted. It makes the reader suspect this is a story for children. It isn't. On the other hand, I'm not sure who the novel is aimed at, young adults or adults. There's something about its tone and sensibilities that make it seem like a young adult book. However, I as an adult enjoyed it and feel I'm a better person for having read it. That's no puny recommendation.





Elma Schemenauer, author of 75 books, editor of many others,,,




  1. Thanks for this review Elma! Your last sentence--indeed no "puny recommendation"--is most encouraging. I'm currently working on a sequel to Destiny's Hands. When it gets to the place where more eyes are needed, I'm thinking of becoming active in ReVision again so that I can get your valued feedback before the book is published.

  2. Destiny's Hands was one of my favourite reads! I can't wait to read the sequel.