His Little Sister - Miriam And Moses
( Originally Published 1921 )
Two small figures crept cautiously along the banks of the river. The banks were wet and marshy and their bare feet sank into the muddy slime. Splash ! What was that? The girl drew the boy down beside her as she crouched low to hide herself and him among the tall, thick reeds. But it was nothing—only a bird flapping its wings in some shallow pool near by. The boy was wet and tired. He was but three years old and his little feet had dragged themselves through these rank marshes all day. Often his lips quivered as he looked up at his sister, and great tears silently rolled down his baby cheeks. Not a sound did he utter. No, little Aaron knew better than to cry. He and his sister and his parents were slaves. A sound from him and the Egyptians would know where he was, and even his baby heart knew what that meant. Had he not seen his father brutally whipped because he had not furnished his masters with all the bricks they had told him to make— that father who already staggered under labor that was too severe for him? Once, too, he had hidden his face in his mother's lap so that he should not see a young lad bound to the ground with feet upturned while the cruel bastinado or stick had beaten the naked soles until they bled, and the lad was whipped only because he had told the overseer that bricks could not be made without straw. It was the memory of these scenes that made the little fellow trudge silently on. Holding fast to his sister's gown with one hand, with the other he tightly clutched the hem of his loose cotton shirt, which, doubled up, held pieces of reeds he was carrying home to his mother. What she wanted of these coarse stalks he did not know, but he remembered that every time he had laid one in her hand she had kissed him.
As soon as the young girl was satisfied that it was a bird and not an Egyptian that had frightened her, she rose from the ground and went on breaking the great stalks of the tall reeds and putting them into the loose folds of the gown she wore. It was a very convenient dress, really a sack whose ample folds she could throw over her arm and use as a basket.
"We are nearly through, Aaron," she said to the boy, "and then we will go home to mother and eat some of that nice hot pottage."
"I don't want to come here any more," replied the child.
"No, we have enough reeds now—all that mother needs for the little boat she is making," answered his sister Miriam.
Farther and farther from the shore and into deeper water they waded, until Miriam, parting the bulrushes with both hands, looked out upon a quiet sheet of water. It was a peaceful little inlet away from the stronger current of the river.
Just the place in which to bathe, she thought, and it will be here that the princess will want to come for her bath. Reaching out her hands, she shook some reeds close by. Yes, they were firm and strong. The little boat could lie safely hidden among them and yet she could see it, for she was to watch and see what became of it. Miriam was a big girl. She must have been every day of ten years old, and that, for a little Jewish girl in those days, was almost a grown-up woman.
Satisfied that she had found the right place and that no more rushes could be crowded into their frocks, she caught the boy's hand in hers and together they sped swiftly homeward. Only once on their way did they dart behind some stones and wait for two surly, scowling Egyptians to pass.
"These Hebrews will do us harm if we do not destroy them," one of the men was saying angrily.
" They are more in number now than we are," added his companion.
"It is fortunate that Pharaoh ordered all of the Hebrew boy babies thrown into the river, " replied the first spokesman.
" That and bitter slavery will soon rid us of them," they both exclaimed together as they passed out of sight.
As their angry voices died away in the distance, Miriam and little Aaron slipped from their hiding place and ran swiftly across the meadows to the mud hut they called their home. Their mother was at the door waiting for them, and her tired face lighted with a smile as Miriam, holding up the reeds she had gathered, exclaimed, "We can finish the ark tonight and hide the baby as soon as the pitch dries!"
"The morning after to-morrow we will carry him to the river," said her mother.
I have found a fine, safe spot in which to place the boat. The river cannot harm him there," Miriam added.
The little group entered the house and soon all were seated before a large pot of steaming-hot pottage. Aaron fell asleep while he was eating and was tucked away under some hairy goatskins. Hard ground beaten down firmly answered for his bed, with perhaps, if the family was especially fortunate, a few more of the rough skins under him.
The night and another day passed. Then came evening, the last one in which the mother dared keep her child.
Miriam and her mother sat in the doorway, and started as two figures came toward them out of the darkness. But there was no reason for fear. The people were friends—just Puah and Shiphrah, the two kind Hebrew nurses.
One of them was carefully carrying a bundle which she unrolled before them.
"Oh, is n't he beautiful!" all exclaimed as the sleeping child, Moses, lay resting in her arms.
"Beautiful," said Shiphrah. "No baby in Israel is half so fair. The neighbors from every house, and even strangers, have begged me to show him to them."
"For three months we have hidden him," said Jochebed, his mother, "but I dare not do it longer. Tomorrow he must be put in the boat I have made for him and be laid in the bulrushes in the river."
As she spoke there was sadness neither in her face nor in her voice. All looked at her, surprised to see shining in her eyes a light that did not mean fear.
I have called upon our God, Jochebed said. "Day and night I sought His counsel, until one night when all was still, in my heart there spake His voice giving me my answer."
"To put the child in the river?" questions Puah. "Surely not ! "
"Yes, but not to be destroyed," answered Jochebed.
"I have been told,', said Shiphrah, "that Pharaoh's daughter grieves constantly because she has no child, and she has been married these many years."
"What has that to do with the baby?" inquired Puah.
Jochebed answered, "When I called upon God to help me and to save my child, he showed me the way. It was He who made me think of Pharaoh's daughter. It was He who showed me that if I hid the little one in the rushes, when the king's daughter came to bathe in the river she might find him and take him for her own."
"Surely no one can look at this child, fair before God, and not love him," they all said.
But Puah was not satisfied. It was dangerous, she thought, and besides, none of them was sure that Pharaoh's daughter would go near that spot or take pity on the baby if she did find him.
"The princess is an Egyptian and we are Hebrews. They have shown no mercy to us. Why do you expect it now?" Puah asked.
The mother heart of Jochebed knew more than Puah. Did she not know the charm that lay in little helpless hands and trustful baby eyes? ' The princess desired a child. Jochebed's must be spared the death decreed by an envious king. God's answer to the longing hearts of both women would lie in the ark hidden in the reeds of the rushing river. Jochebed had made the boat of papyrus. It was a light material often used for little skiffs because it floated so easily and swiftly on the water. The Egyptians and many of the Hebrews believed that the papyrus was a charm against crocodiles, with which the river Nile at that time was overrun.
"Let me see the boat you have been making," said Puah.
From under some goatskins Jochebed drew a small boat. Inside and out it was lined and daubed with tar and asphalt. Mother love and the mother's faith had enabled her to melt and mix these substances and make water-tight the tiny skiff. Jochebed had used her eyes well. She had seen the Egyptians make boats of papyrus and had noticed the way they had mixed the tar and asphalt in order to use it as a cement for boats and buildings. Night after night and day after day had she labored, only a little at a time for fear she might be discovered, until now the finished boat lay before her ready to receive the baby boy but three months old. Jochebed was obeying the will of Pharaoh in giving her child to the river. And had not her God in whom she trusted said that those who laid snares for others would themselves fall into the pits they had digged?
Yes, she was not afraid. God was watching, and that act which Pharaoh meant for evil would by God's help result in good.
The gray mist of morning was creeping up from the marshes and a few rosy 'streaks here and there showed that the sun was bringing in another day when Jochebed and Miriam came from their hut and walked swiftly toward the river. They soon reached the spot Miriam had found, and the mother carefully laid the boat among the strongest reeds. Then as she unwrapped the shawl, they both looked down at the tiny baby, so sweet as he slept restfully, unconscious of all about him. Miriam lifted one of the tiny hands and gently kissed it, while the mother, after pressing the baby to her, stroked his cheeks and silently laid him in the boat among the bulrushes. Placing the cover over him, she turned away and her lips moved in prayer. We may all know what that prayer was, for the New Testament has told us that it was by faith that Moses was hidden, for his parents, Amram and Jochebed, "were not afraid of the king's commandment.
Miriam, his little sister, was left to watch, and as the mist lifted and the sun shone clearly upon the dancing ripples of the river, her dark eyes searched every part of the shore and her ears were open to the slightest sound. Yes, she heard laughter, some talking, and then coming slowly toward her were Pharaoh's daughter and her maids. It was the hour for the morning bath. How carefree they were as they stepped into the waters gold-tinted by the sun. A little slave girl was watching. Would they see the boat? she asked herself, and if they did, what would be the result—mercy or sacrifice?
But what about our baby in the skiff? There was a gentle heaving of the water and a swish that made a fine lullaby, but even the best of lullabies grows tedious when baby has slept enough and knows he is hungry. Moses wakened. Instead of a smiling face above him as his eyes opened, there was nothing but darkness. What did it all mean? Never before had any-thing like this happened to him; not once had he been left to cry. He struck out his tiny fists. Nothing warm met them; only a hard, cold thing hurt the small arms as they stretched forward. The tiny feet drew themselves up and then kicked briskly at the foot of his water cradle. The indignant baby—if you children know anything about babies you know that one but three months old can be very indignant and let other people know it, besides—now felt that it was time he was being noticed, so feet and hands pounded with all their puny might against the sides of his boat.
How the cradle did sway and rock! Even the princess was noticing those ripples which came from that clump of tall rushes. Crack! Snap ! The reeds had broken, and out into -the river swept the boat and the baby. Something more than reeds snapped, O Egypt ! While the sound you heard may have seemed to you but the crackling of a rush, yet with it by God's hand were broken the bonds which held Israel captive. It was more than a help-less babe which the current of the Nile bore down to the watching princess. It was Moses, the deliverer of his people. As the small boat lodged in a mass of tangled rushes, the princess bade one of her maids reach out and draw it to shore. With eagerness she opened the box—it was really more like a box than a boat—and her heart warmed with love as two wet baby eyes looked trustingly into hers.
"This is one of the Hebrew children," she said, and over her face passed a look which Miriam, running toward her, saw and interpreted aright, for the little sister asked, "Shall I go and call a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?"
"Go," replied the princess, and Miriam's feet flew homeward. Jochebed, with Shiphrah and Puah, was waiting, but none was surprised as Miriam's flying figure came toward them with arms outstretched, calling out as she ran, "It is well, mother, all is well!"
Jochebed and her husband had trusted in God; they had believed His promises. Jochebed outwardly had obeyed the king, and God had given back into her arms the child she had trusted to Him.
Again by the riverside she received her child from the princess. His own mother was to be his nurse, while Pharaoh's daughter was later to claim him as her son. "I shall call him Moses," said the princess, "because I drew him out of the water."