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Previous Challenge Entry
Topic: Poor (10/25/04)

TITLE: Poor Babes in the Woods
By Karen Treharne


I remember a song my mother used to sing to my brother and me when we were children. It was called “Poor Babes in the Woods”* and it went something like this: “My dear do you know, how a long time ago, there were three little babies, whose names I don’t know. Who were stolen away on a fine summer’s day, and were lost in the woods, so I’ve heard people say.”

As the story goes, they spend a night in the woods and die. Later, they are found by robins who gather around and shelter them with leaves. The ending is: “And when they were dead, the Robins so red, brought strawberry leaves and over them spread. And all the night long, they sang them this song, Poor Babes in the Woods, Poor Babes in the Woods.”

Yes, I agree that this isn’t your typical bedtime story. But for me, at least, it was a lesson about the “poor”.

As you might expect, when mom first sang us this song, we cried. And we asked, how could such a thing happen. Where were their parents? Were they cold when it got dark? Were they scared? Why didn’t God save them?

Mom agreed that it was indeed very sad. But at least the children weren‘t alone she said. She pointed out to us that they were able to keep each other warm when the sun went down, and she assured us that they prayed together.

“But, why didn’t God save them?”

Her answer was, “He did. He brought them home to be with Jesus”. She went on to explain how special these children were to God. How He had sent the birds to watch over them and cover them with the delicate leaves from the wild strawberry plants that grew in the woods. And, she also told us that even though they were lost and alone, even though they missed their parents, and even though they were probably scared, God blessed them by ending their suffering and bringing them to His home for safe keeping.

Now, I won’t tell you that I understood all of what mom explained to us at that first moment. But through the years, I remember begging her to sing that song again and again. And each time, she would explain what the song was all about. I was somehow drawn to its sadness and memorized the words, which I later sang to my own children and now to my grandchildren.

For whatever reason, God spoke to me through this song about the poor in general. Those lost in the streets of our cities, those without food or warm beds or clothing. And when I sang to and taught my loved ones about this song, it was an opportunity for me to talk to them about the many blessings we had received from God. How lucky we were to have parents who cared for and protected us; how fortunate we were to live in a home with heat; how God had provided us with food and clothing…and loving relationships. How Jesus gave us the greatest gift we’ll ever receive…His life. And how it is because of His love and sacrifice that we will live with Him in heaven for eternity…just like the three poor ones in the song. It was a blessing for all of us to discuss how God cares for His children.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus speaks of the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3, NIV) who have little help and little hope except to call on God and to trust in His goodness. Psalm 91:4 (LASB-NLT**) says “He will shield you with his wings. He will shelter you with his feathers.” And in Psalm 91: 15, we are told that “When they [the poor] call on me, I will answer;” (LASB-NLT**)

He answered the prayers of the babes in the woods by rescuing them from their earthly suffering and giving them His eternal protection. He blessed them when He shielded them from further pain with the help of the robins who represented His wings and His feathers. And He took them to the safest place possible…cradled in the warmth of His arms in heaven.

I still cry when I sing this song…and I still feel richly blessed by it.

*By Charles Wayne Barnum for his wife
**Life Application Study Bible-New Living Translation

Member Comments
Member Date
Corinne Smelker 11/01/04
I never could get into that story! But I am glad it brought you closer to God.

This is a well written story, and I enjoyed the scripture references you used.
Lucian Thompson11/01/04
Karen, I never heard this song. Loved the way you tell the story. Thanks.
Phyllis Inniss11/05/04
What a lovely thing your mother did by bringing out the spiritual aspect of the song and using it as a lesson to you when you were children. You were richly blessed.
Hope Horner11/06/04
I have never heard the "Poor Babes in the Woods" song, but now I want to! I think it would be neat if you could actually write the story of the "babes" using the song as a guide. I am sure I am not the only one who would be interested in reading it. Great job! Thanks for sharing and God bless.
Debbie OConnor11/06/04
I like this. I am amazed at how many children's songs/stories have really frightening messages. Your mother did a wonderful thing in using it to teach you a valuable spiritual lesson. What you said about not entirely understanding what it was all about, but wanting to hear it over and over reminds me of my son's four year old obsession with the crucifixion. He wanted to hear the story repeatedly and would look at the pictures in his children's Bible for so long I was concerned. Then one night he told me that the part of the story he liked best was that "He saved me!" Your article was great!
Cyndy McNaul-Nelson11/07/04
My mother did the same. She always sang us ballads. We would climb into her lap saying,"Sing us a song Mommy. Sing us a song."
We would cry,ask her questions,and she would answer in the same way.