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Those Juniors, Part 40: Story-Telling Stratagem, #4

by Eric B. Hare

Last week: Story-telling is one of the best ways to impress a lesson or point on others. There are many wholesome, true stories out there for all ages. When telling a story, there are certain things you must do: know your story, see it, adapt it, tell it, live it, feel it, and have a climax.

Now let us come back to the story of Jochebed and her baby boy, and let us demonstrate the color that can be added to the picture by probable conversation.

In a few short verses, Exodus 2:1–10, is given to us the outline of one of the greatest stories in the world. The facts, which we may not add to or take from, are: A baby boy was born to Amram and Jochebed.

He was hidden for three months.

Jochebed made an ark of bulrushes.

She placed him in it and laid it in the flags by the river’s brink.

Miriam was told to watch.

He was found by the princess.

Miriam called her mother for a nurse.

He was named Moses, and adopted by the princess.

Now let us mix our colors from life and its varied experiences, and see how we can make this outline pulsate with life.

From related scriptures we gather there are three children in the family of Jochebed and Amram. Miriam, about twelve years, Aaron about three years, and a little baby boy.

What kind of house did they live in? Most likely it was an adobe house of sundried brick.

How far from the river was it? Not too far, as most likely they went to the river to draw their water and to bathe.

What kind of beds did they sleep on? Most likely straw mats or pallets were laid on the floor at night and rolled up around a pillow and placed on a shelf during the day.

What kind of bed did the little baby boy sleep in? As some kind of hammock is almost universal for babies in the Orient, it was no doubt a basket, suspended from the rafters by ropes, and probably Miriam kept this hammock swinging most of the time, and thus they kept the baby quiet for three months.

Did Amram go to the river with Jochebed? It sounds more as if Amram stayed behind to watch, and Miriam went with her to carry the basket.

What time of the day did they go to the river? Just before dawn I think.

What woke Jochebed up that morning? Did she have an alarm clock? If I know anything about mothers, I believe Jochebed didn’t sleep that night at all, and it was the roosters’ crowing for the third time just before dawn that very likely told her it was time to go.

All right, now let us put the color to our story:

Jochebed sat up on her little straw pallet, leaned over, touched Amram on the shoulder, and whispered, “Amram! Amram! I must go now. The rooster has just crowed for the third time. In just an hour the village will be all astir.”

Amram roused quickly from a troubled sleep and answered, “Dear Jochebed, shall I come with you?”

“If anyone chanced to see, it would look less suspicious if only Miriam and I go,” she replied with a sigh. “They might even think we were going to draw water or wash our garments.”

“Then be it so, dear wife,” whispered Amram, “and God go with thee.”

“And Amram, my beloved, will you not watch? Watch the street and little Aaron, too, and if any soldiers come this way, send him with speed by the little trail, to tell us.”

“Miriam! Miriam, my daughter! Come, we must be going. You carry the little basket, the one we have made watertight with mud. What could I do without you, my daughter! I will carry the baby boy in my arms, and we will take the little trail through the garden, lest we rouse someone from his slumber.”

So, quietly and sadly, Jochebed and Miriam slipped outside of their small adobe hut and into the shadows of the little trail that led through the garden to the river. The warm, sleeping babe snuggled comfortably in his mother’s arms. “He is so good,” sighed Jochebed. “How can I give him up?” and her tears fell fast. A hundred times she had put off this evil day, and now her steps faltered again. Behind her, Miriam cried and sobbed. “Hush! Hush! my darling,” she whispered, then tried to comfort both herself and Miriam by saying, “Hasn’t the time come for us to be delivered? Has not God promised to hear when we cry to Him day and night? Let us hasten on, lest the morning break upon us. There, dear girl, weep not; put the basket on the water. It floats—fix the pillow.”

Then she held her babe tight for one more moment and prayed, “O Lord God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, hast Thou not heard how Thy people cry unto Thee day and night? Hast Thou not seen our distress? Are our tears nought to Thee? O God, how can I give up my son—my little son? And yet didst Thou not give back to Abraham his son? Send the angels, O God, send the angels to keep watch over him. And, God, if it can be Thy will, give him back to me again, I pray.”

Quickly she kissed her slumbering babe, laid him in the ark, patted him gently, and closed the lid. “Miriam, my dear—hide yonder in the bulrushes and watch. Watch to see what happens, and if anyone comes and sees the basket, note carefully what he does and says, then come speedily and tell me.”

Turning, she fled quickly through the thinning darkness, toward her home, torn with fear and faith, struggling between despair and hope.

Why, no, of course the words may not be accurate, as Jochebed’s words were never recorded, but the color is correct, and as nearly accurate as my experience can make it.

Have a ClimaxEvery story that illustrates must have a theme to illustrate. The focusing of the story on this theme is called the aim. The conclusion of the aim is called the climax. Spalding expresses it thus: “ ‘Aim’ is the road, and ‘climax’ is the end of the road.”1 The storyteller has not succeeded unless, when the story is told, the lesson, or theme, stands clear and shining bright in the mind of the child.

Nearly all books on storytelling emphasize the fact that it is a mistake to moralize, but let us not mistake moralizing with the stating of the theme. Over that word “moralize” draw a hammer or a harp, for the moralizing that storytellers are warned against is the hammer, hammer, hammer, hammering in of the lesson, the harp, harp, harp, harping on the theme, that makes the youngsters “fed up.”

Usually the theme can be developed in the conversation toward the end of the story, and if not in the story itself, it is perfectly proper to state the theme in a well-chosen sentence at the close.
John Adams tells a story of a missionary who used to tell his school children stories, then have them write the story in their own words, to make sure that they got it.2 One day he told the story of a man who, while he was walking along the banks of the Ganges River, was chased by a tiger. The poor man didn’t know what to do. There seemed no way of escape. As the tiger was about to pounce on him, the man thought of prayer and dropped on his knees. At that very moment the tiger leaped into the air, but because the man had dropped to his knees, the tiger jumped right over him into the river, where a crocodile quickly killed it. In the telling of this story evidently the missionary did not develop or emphasize his theme sufficiently, for one boy not yet too proficient in his English, wrote this composition, developing his own theme:

“A good man who was going along the Ganges. He saw a tiger. The tiger was going to jump. So the man did not know what to do. So he went down to prayed. And the tiger it jumped and the man was down to pray. And the tiger missed the man. But the krokidile opened its mouth. And the tiger was eaten up and the man was saved. Moral, look before you leap.”

“The great motive powers of the soul are faith, hope, and love.”3 Therefore on these great motive powers, and their related virtues, purity, kindness, truth, obedience, prayer, trust in God, let our stories be focused, that the mysterious power of faith, adoration, and love may be awakened in the soul, and the gaze of our juniors be fixed on Christ, till the beholder grows into the likeness of that which he adores.

(Next week: “Master Crooked Ears.”)

1. A. W. Spalding, Christian Storytelling, p. 114.
2. John Adams, Primer on Teaching, p. 128.
3. Ellen White, Education, p. 19.

Copyright © 1973 by Eric B. Hare. Used by permission

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