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“It’s a boy!” the midwife announced, then as she gave him to his father she added, “This is terrible. The king has decreed that all baby boys in Bethlehem are to be killed. The soldiers know I help women deliver babies and they know I’m here tonight. Just yesterday they took a newborn baby from me.”

“Put the baby to his mother’s breast and hold him there. Your wife is too weak to hold him. She is losing blood rapidly and I have to stop the bleeding. When the baby stops nursing, put him on the other side. Then wrap him up and leave this village tonight or he will surely die!”

The baby was covered in its mother’s blood, so Jacob began wiping it from him with the cloth he was holding when the midwife gave him his son. Giving the bloody cloth to his nine-year-old daughter, Martha, he put the baby to his mother’s breast and covered him with a clean cloth. Martha didn’t know what to do with a bloody cloth, so she folded it neatly, and put it on a chair next to the table. She didn’t know what the midwife was doing, but from her cries of “No! This is not good!” and “I can’t stop it!” she knew her mother was in danger.

Finally the midwife stopped, and turning to Jacob, between sobs, she said, “You have to get this baby out of Bethlehem now or you will lose him as well as your wife. I can’t stop the bleeding and I can’t save her. No one can save her life now. It will be daylight soon and the soldiers will be here.”

Jacob was crying too, but through his tears he turned to Martha and said, “Martha, I cannot leave your mother now. And if I’m not here when the soldiers come, they will know I have a baby boy and will come after me. You have to take your baby brother to Bethany to your Aunt Chloe’s home. I will wrap up your little sister, Mary, in the baby’s bloody cloth. She is small, and I will convince the soldiers that she is the newborn baby. They won’t kill her. They have orders to only kill baby boys.”

Jacob wrapped up his baby boy tightly, then put him in a sackcloth. Placing the baby on Martha’s back and tying the front of the sackcloth in front of her chest, he handed Martha a small bag with some fruit and a small skin bag with goat milk in it. “When the baby starts crying,” her father said, “Step away from the road and into the shade of a bush or tree, then drip some of the milk slowly into the baby’s mouth until he won’t take any more. The fruit is for you. Then continue your journey.

When you approach Jerusalem, don’t go into the city. Stay on the road through the Kidron Valley until you reach the great oak tree north of the city where the road splits. Remember the tree where we stopped and ate lunch on our way here? That’s where you take the road to the right. It will take you straight to Bethany. Can you do this?”

“I don’t know.” Martha said, beginning to cry.

“As you walk,” Jacob continued, “Remember, and keep on silently praying the words of a Psalm we memorized together. Say it with me. . . ‘In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my refuge, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth. . .
In the shelter of your presence you hide me from the intrigues of men; in your dwelling you keep me safe from accusing tongues.’”

“Now go, my daughter, and God be with you. I love you and I trust you.”

Martha stepped out into the pre-dawn darkness. Circling around to the back of the house, she set out on a north-bound path that paralleled the street, but was less likely to have a patrolling soldier. As she neared the edge of town she saw a fire at the side of the road with three, maybe four men standing around it. “Are they soldiers or shepherds?” she asked herself in a whisper.

She could make out the low wall of a sheepfold ahead and to her right. Heading for the wall, she could hear the men talking and laughing, and she hoped the baby would stay silent. Reaching the south wall, she slowly lifted herself up to the top, lay on her stomach, then let herself down into the sheepfold, feet first.

Sneaking along the inside of the sheepfold, she was almost to the northern wall when a dog ran toward her, barking furiously. Stifling a scream, Martha froze and whispered, “In your dwelling you keep me safe from accusing tongues.” The dog stopped abruptly less than three feet from her. Martha was sure the men heard the dog and was afraid they could hear her pounding heart. Slowly she reached out the back of her hand toward the dog. It sniffed her hand, licked it gently, then turned and trotted away. “Thank you, God of my fathers,” she whispered, and climbing the north wall the same way she had entered the south wall, she let herself and the sleeping baby out.

A little later Martha was beginning to see the path ahead of her, bushes and trees further away and she hurried north, knowing she could be seen as well. Then she could see people walking on the road, both directions, and decided she would be less conspicuous if she walked on the road too. Just before sunrise Martha looked back and could see the outline of Bethlehem behind her in the distance. But just as she began to relax, she saw four soldiers approaching her along the road. Run? Faint? Turn around? Keep walking? Afraid to do anything else, Martha bowed her head so they wouldn’t notice her face. “Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth.” she whispered, and she continued walking. The soldiers passed her only a few feet away. It was several minutes before Martha felt she could breathe normally again.

It was mid-afternoon when Martha walked into Bethany and came to her Aunt Chloe’s house. By now the baby had been crying for quite a while because Martha had given him all the milk in the skin throughout the morning. Martha was also hungry and very weary when her aunt opened the door and opened her arms to her. Martha’s relief at delivering her brother safely to her aunt was so great she began sobbing.

Three days later, on the first day of the week just after sunrise, Martha heard a knock. Chloe opened the door, and there stood Martha’s father and behind him their donkey with Mary in a basket on its back. Seeing Martha, he threw his arms around her, lifted her off her feet and between sobs, said, “Oh Martha, I knew you could do it! I didn’t want to send you out on your own, but I was desperate. I couldn’t think of another way to save your brother from the soldiers.” Chloe approached holding the baby. Reaching for the baby, Jacob said, “Let’s hold him together, Martha.” The baby was awake, looking back at them and her father said to Martha, “Let’s call him Lazarus. Is that OK with you?”

Martha nodded, then asked, “May I take him again, Papa?” Her father gave baby Lazarus to Martha, and the baby stopped crying almost immediately. “You have your mother’s touch,” Jacob said as he took Mary out of the basket on the donkey’s back.

“Did the soldiers come?” asked Martha.

“Yes, not long after you left, even before dawn,” he answered. I had Mary in my arms in the bloody blanket. A soldier approached dagger drawn, and I showed him that she was a girl. He never even saw her face, and the soldiers left saying, “You are a lucky man.” I didn’t answer, but I knew that I was in the shelter of God’s presence and He had hidden us from the intrigues of men.

As time passed the danger to baby Lazarus disappeared, but Jacob’s grief over losing his wife became overwhelming. He couldn’t sleep at night, so he volunteered to be the night watchman over the town’s sheepfold. In the daytime he would sleep. Chloe was always busy making and selling robes, so she couldn’t care for her brother’s children. Jacob began to give more and more of the work of caring for Mary and Lazarus to Martha until she was like a mother to them.

When Lazarus was twelve and Mary fourteen, Jacob took Martha, Mary and Lazarus to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. They stayed in Jerusalem for the first three days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread as well. Martha took care of the room they stayed in, bought the food and cooked the meals, but Mary kept going to the Temple to listen to some of the priests and Rabbis.

One day, standing beside the door between the Court of Women and the Court of Israel, she began witnessing something no one had ever seen before - a boy about Lazarus’ age at the center of a circle of men, listening, asking questions and answering their questions. Not only was she amazed, but the men who were talking with him were also amazed.

Then, for just a few seconds, he turned and looked straight at her - right into her eyes. His look was brief, but she felt it way down in her soul - a warm feeling of being loved she would never forget, a look she hoped she would see again, a memory that would give her a sense of belonging for the rest of her life.

Family Discussion Questions
Little Sisters

This story is fictional, based on the true account of the events recorded in Matthew 2:16-18 and Luke 10:38-42

Q. What words did you hear in the story that you didn’t know?
A. Give your children the meaning of each word they remember but can’t define.

Q. Have you ever been given a task or assignment you thought you would never be able to do? If so, what was it? If not, please describe something you have overcome by not giving up even though you were afraid.
A. Listen for experiences leading to guilt, shame, fear, self-doubt or affirmation, overcoming or even bravado and boasting.

Q. How might this story help you understand Luke 10:38-42?
A. Possibly: Martha and Mary responded to Jesus intuitively, as they had learned through experiences growing up.

Q. What experiences growing up have been the kind of experiences that have begun to explain your character in difficult situations?
A. Listen for pivotal experiences where kids promise they will “always” or will “never.”

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Copyright © 2015 by Dr. Rex Johnson
All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used with author’s permission.

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