The Oak of Weeping
George Everard, 1871
"Now Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died and was buried under the oak below Bethel. So it was named Allon Bacuth." Genesis 35:8
We see a company of mourners. They are standing near a tree, beneath whose shadow they have laid the remains of an aged woman. She has been Rebekah's nurse. It is likely that she came with her from Mesopotamia, and had lived with her many a long year. She is spared to see the children and grand-children of her mistress grow up, and now in her old age she has been called to her rest, and is buried in Bethel, amidst the tears and lamentations of a family that had long known her worth.
The oak tells its own tale. It was called Allon Bacuth, or the Oak of Weeping; and it tells how greatly Deborah was prized by Jacob's household, and how her death was felt to be a family misfortune, a sad and painful loss. She was doubtless precious in God's sight likewise. Her name and the grief caused by her death are written on the page of Holy Scripture for our instruction. "The memory of the just is blessed!"
The example of Deborah bears especially upon those who have the charge of children. As far as I know, it is the only mention of a nurse in Scripture, except for the mother of Moses, who was bidden by Pharaoh's daughter to take the child and nurse him for her. Such a position has an importance distinct from that of any other servant. If you have the charge of the young, remember that your words and your every day life will have a lasting influence upon them. For hours together you are in the place of a parent. In little matters, and often in greater ones, you have a power to enforce obedience to your wishes. Hence you are continually molding the character of the little flock around you.
If in any case you act without right principle, who can calculate the harm you may do to them?
I will not speak of the injury that might come to their health through any neglect on your part — how a limb might be injured, or an accident might prove their death. But consider how impressible are the minds of the young. You may pollute them by a word lightly spoken. You may terrify them by threats which you do not mean. You may make them deceitful by teaching them to hide their own faults or yours. You may destroy their confidence in their parents by speaking of them in a way that you ought not. If you are selfish, or slothful, or yield to an unruly temper — they may learn to walk in your crooked footsteps.
But rather strive to follow in the path of Deborah. Be thoroughly conscientious. Act always in the fear of God. Let your conduct be the same in the absence, as in the presence of the mistress. If she should come in unexpectedly, let it not be necessary that you should change your voice or manner.
Consider the real interest and welfare of the children, rather than their present gratification, or your own ease and comfort. Combine firmness with love. Never let them have their own way, when they wish to do wrong. Never let a serious fault, a lie, or an act of positive disobedience pass by without being punished. Yet strive also to brighten their young lives with the sunshine of perpetual kindness. Avoid rough handling and hasty words when you are upset. Find out little ways of making them happy, and never frighten them with ghost-stories or the like.
Teach them in spare moments short prayers, or Scripture texts, or hymns; and when you kneel down in prayer for yourself, mention the names of each of the little ones before the mercy-seat.
If only you have the love of Christ in your heart, who can tell how wide an influence for good you may thus exert? Who can say but someone of those whom you now strive to nourish with the sincere milk of the Word, may through your instructions and prayers become a blessing to tens of thousands?
Only consider the influence exerted by the Earl of Shaftesbury in improving the condition of the poor in London and elsewhere; and what was the source and origin of it all? Thus he writes to one who had sought information: "My daughter has asked me to tell you something about the dear and blessed old woman (her name was Maria Millas) who first taught me in my earliest years to think on God and His truth. She had been my mother's maid at Blenheim before my mother married. After the marriage she became housekeeper to my father and mother, and very soon after I was born, took almost the entire care of me. She entered into her eternal rest when I was about seven years old; but the recollection of what she said and did and taught me, even to a prayer that I now constantly use, is as vivid as in the days that I heard her. The impression was, and still is very deep that she made upon me; and I must trace, under God, very much, perhaps all, the duties of my later life to her precepts and to her prayers."
Another example might be given of a nurse whose efforts for the good of those under her care were crowned with much success, and several of whom became very earnest Christians. In early days, when about fifteen, she found peace with God through the Savior's blood. She thus speaks of herself:
"On hearing the words of twenty-fifth Psalm sung in church, the words, 'Good and gracious is the Lord' sounded so sweet to me, and melted my heart with a sense of pardoning mercy."
After many trials she found a comfortable home. She spent many hours in communion with God. Walking with her mistress's child, she loved to meditate on the Savior's love. "Every day," she would say, "was to me a Sabbath, and every Sabbath like a communion day." Then her master and her mistress died, and she manifested a most unselfish spirit in bringing up the orphan family. All day long she would labor for them, and then spend sometimes half her night in prayer for their spiritual well-being.
She fell asleep in Jesus after a life spent in serving God, and declared with her dying breath, her confidence in the Word of God: "There is not one promise of this blessed book which can be experienced in life, but I have experienced it. Not one has failed."
May your life, dear reader, be spent in the same happy service. May your last testimony be, like her's, a witness of the faithful love and care of God.
Go labor on; spend and be spent —
Your joy to do the Father's will:
It is the way the Master went,
Should not the servant tread it still?
Go labor on; 'tis not for nothing:
Your earthly loss is heavenly gain;
Men heed you, love you, praise you not:
The Master praises — what are men?
Go labor on; your hands are weak,
Your knees are faint, your soul cast down;
Yet falter not: the prize you seek
Is near — a kingdom and a crown.
Toil on, and in your toil rejoice;
For toil comes rest, for exile home:
Soon shall you hear the bridegroom's voice,
The midnight cry, "Behold I come!"