Sometimes the greatest victories are won through stealth and silence. Join our heroine as she courageously sets out to break a family curse armed with determination, fierce love, and a needle and thread. Did I mention she is also the all-time champion of the quiet game?
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Shield Maidens: Episode 4
“The Six Swans”: Her Royal Silence”
Welcome to Lost in the Woods: Finding Your Way as God’s Daughter Through Fairy Tales ™. I’m your host, Autumn Woods, and I’m so excited you’re here. We’re continuing our exploration of stories that show us what it means to be a warrior woman on the spiritual battlefield. Tales of women who protect those in their charge and use their skillsets to defeat the evil that would destroy them and all they love. As daughters of God, we are expertly fashioned to be women of war. This doesn’t mean we battle against all the men or use our weapons against each other. We may not even stand on a literal field of combat. The human heart is our fortress and battleground, and we are charged to defend it against the attacks of the enemy and fortify it with love, encouragement, and the Word of God.
Last time, we talked about choosing to fight for others even when they reject us, and about how our God-given gifts do not disappear when we fall out of favor with people. Most of the time, I focus on how our words are used to deliver people and defeat the enemy. This episode is a little different, because our heroine can only rescue the people she loves through silence. What happens when you can’t use the tools you are accustomed to wielding and have to rely on tertiary gifts to accomplish your purpose? What if you get to use what you’re good at but it takes a totally different form and absolutely no one understands it but you, a tight inner circle, and God?
To find the answer, we plunge deep into the forest with a young princess on a quest to set her brothers free from a wicked enchantment in the Brothers Grimm’s story, “The Six Swans.” We’re taken on the journey with her, as she survives an occult onslaught against her family and courageously sets out to break the curse, armed with determination, fierce love, and a needle and thread.
So, let’s get lost, as we read the story of (The Six Swans).
| Once upon a time, a certain King was hunting in a great forest, and he chased a wild beast so eagerly that none of his attendants could follow him. When evening drew near he stopped and looked around him, and then he saw that he had lost his way. He sought a way out, but could find none. Then he perceived an aged woman with a head which nodded perpetually, who came towards him, but she was a witch. “Good woman,” said he to her, “can you not show me the way through the forest?” “Oh, yes Lord King,” she answered, “that I certainly can, but on one condition, and if you do not fulfil that, you will never get out of the forest and will die of hunger in it.”
| “What kind of condition is it?” asked the King.
| “I have a daughter,” said the old woman, “who is as beautiful as any one in the world, and well deserves to be your consort, and if you will make her your Queen, I will show you the way out of the forest.” In the anguish of his heart the King consented, and the old woman led him to her little hut, where her daughter was sitting by the fire. She received the King as if she had been expecting him, and he saw that she was very beautiful, but still, she did not please him, and he could not look at her without secret horror. After he had taken the maiden up on his horse, the old woman showed him the way, and the King reached his royal palace again, where the wedding was celebrated.
| The King had already been married once, and had by his first wife, seven children, six boys and a girl, whom he loved better than anything else in the world. As he now feared that the step-mother might not treat them well, and even do them some injury, he took them to a lonely castle which stood in the midst of a forest. It lay so concealed, and the way was so difficult to find, that he himself would not have found it, if a wise woman had not given him a ball of yarn with wonderful properties. When he threw it down before him, it unrolled itself and showed him his path. The King, however, went so frequently away to his dear children that the Queen observed his absence; she was curious and wanted to know what he did when he was quite alone in the forest. She gave a great deal of money to his servants, and they betrayed the secret to her, and told her likewise of the ball which alone could point out the way. And now she knew no rest until she had learnt where the King kept the ball of yarn, and then she made little shirts of white silk, and as she had learnt the art of witchcraft from her mother, she sewed a charm inside them. And when the King had ridden off to hunt, she took the little shirts and went into the forest, and the ball showed her the way. The children, who saw from a distance that someone was approaching, thought that their dear father was coming to them, and full of joy, ran to meet him. Then she threw one of the little shirts over each of them, and no sooner had the shirts touched their bodies than they were changed into swans, and flew away over the forest. The Queen went home quite delighted, and thought she had got rid of her step-children, but the girl had not run out with her brothers, and the Queen knew nothing about her. Next day the King went to visit his children, but he found no one but the little girl. “Where are your brothers?” asked the King. “Alas, dear father,” she answered, “they have gone away and left me alone!” and she told him that she had seen from her little window how her brothers had flown away over the forest in the shape of swans, and she showed him the feathers, which they had let fall in the courtyard, and which she had picked up. The King mourned, but he did not think that the Queen had done this wicked deed, and as he feared that the girl would also be stolen away from him, he wanted to take her away with him. But she was afraid of her step-mother, and entreated the King to let her stay just this one night more in the forest castle.
| The poor girl thought, “I can no longer stay here. I will go and seek my brothers.” And when night came, she ran away, and went straight into the forest. She walked the whole night long, and next day also without stopping, until she could go no farther for weariness. Then she saw a forest-hut, and went into it, and found a room with six little beds, but she did not venture to get into one of them, but crept under one, and lay down on the hard ground, intending to pass the night there. Just before sunset, however, she heard a rustling, and saw six swans come flying in at the window. They alighted on the ground and blew at each other, and blew all the feathers off, and their swan’s skins stripped off like a shirt. Then the maiden looked at them and recognized her brothers, was glad and crept forth from beneath the bed. The brothers were not less delighted to see their little sister, but their joy was of short duration. “Here you cannot abide,” they said to her. “This is a shelter for robbers. If they come home and find you, they will kill you.” “But can you not protect me?” asked the little sister. “No,” they replied, “only for one quarter of an hour each evening can we lay aside our swan’s skin and have during that time our human form, after that, we are once more turned into swans.” The little sister wept and said, “Can you not be set free?” “Alas, no,” they answered, “the conditions are too hard! For six years you may neither speak nor laugh, and in that time you must sew together six little shirts of starflowers for us. And if one single word falls from you lips all your work will be lost.” And when the brothers had said this, the quarter of an hour was over, and they flew out of the window again as swans.
| The maiden, however, firmly resolved to deliver her brothers, even if it should cost her life. She left the hut, went into the middle of the forest, seated herself on a tree, and there passed the night. Next morning, she went out and gathered starflowers and began to sew. She could not speak to anyone, and she had no inclination to laugh; she sat there and looked at nothing but her work. When she had already spent a long time there it came to pass that the King of the country was hunting in the forest, and his huntsmen come to the tree on which the maiden was sitting. They called to her and said, “Who are you?” But she made no answer. “Come down to us,” said they. “We will not do you any harm.” She only shook her head. As they pressed her further with questions she threw her golden necklace down to them, and thought this would satisfy them. They, however, did not cease, and then she threw her girdle down to them, and as this also was to no purpose, her garters and by degrees everything that she had on that she could do without until she had nothing left but her shift. The huntsmen, however, did not let themselves be put off by that, but climbed the tree and fetched the maiden down and led her before the King. The King asked, “Who are you? What are you doing on the tree?” But she did not answer. He put the question in every language that he knew, but she remained as mute as a fish. As she was so beautiful, the King’s heart was touched, and he was smitten with a great love for her. He put his mantle on her, placed her before him on his horse, and carried her to his castle. Then he had her dressed in rich garments, and she shone in her beauty like bright daylight, but no word could be drawn from her. He placed her by his side at the table, and her modest bearing and courtesy pleased him so much that he said, “She is the one whom I wish to marry, and no other woman in the world.” And after some days he united himself to her.
| The King, however, had a wicked mother who was dissatisfied with this marriage and spoke ill of the young Queen. “Who knows,” said she, “where she comes from? She is not worthy of a king!” After a year had passed, when the Queen brought her first child into the world, the old woman took it away from her, and smeared her mouth with blood as she slept. Then she went to the King and accused the Queen of being a man-eater. The King would not believe it, and would not allow any one to do her any injury. She, however, sat continually sewing at the shirts, and cared for nothing else. The next time, when she again bore a beautiful boy, the false step-mother used the same treachery, but the King could not bring himself to give credit to her words. He said, “She is too pious and good to do anything of that kind; if she were not dumb, and could defend herself, her innocence would come to light.” But when the old woman stole away the newly-born child for the third time, and accused the Queen, who did not utter one word of defense, the King could do no otherwise than deliver her over to justice, and she was sentenced to suffer death by fire.
| When the day came for the sentence to be executed, it was the last day of the six years during which she was not to speak or laugh, and she had delivered her dear brothers from the power of the enchantment. The six shirts were ready, only the left sleeve of the sixth was missing. When, therefore, she was led to the stake, she laid the shirts on her arm, and when she stood on high and the fire was just going to be lighted, she looked around and six swans came flying through the air towards her. Then she saw that her deliverance was near, and her heart leapt with joy. The swans swept towards her and sank down so that she could throw the shirts over them, and as they were touched by them, their swan’s skins fell off, and her brothers stood in their own bodily form before her, and were vigorous and handsome. The youngest only lacked his left arm, and had in the place of it a swan’s wing on his shoulder. They embraced and kissed each other, and the Queen went to the King, who was greatly moved, and she began to speak and said, “Dearest husband, now I may speak and declare to thee that I am innocent, and falsely accused.” And she told him of the treachery of the old woman who had taken away her three children and hidden them. Then to the great joy of the King they were brought thither, and as a punishment, the wicked step-mother was bound to the stake, and burnt to ashes. But the King and the Queen with their six brothers lived many years in happiness and peace.
I always feel bad for the sixth brother who still carries the mark of the ordeal. The queen could have finished his shirt if her evil mother-in-law hadn’t been so eager to destroy her. But real-life endings are not always clean and perfect. Someone is always left with battle scars to remember what happened so that stories and experiences can be passed on and others can learn from mistakes before repeating them. Plus, we live in a broken world, and even the happiest of endings come with a price. Don’t wander away from the campfire. We’re about to shed some light on the incredible treasure hidden in this story.
We begin with a king lost in the woods. He has been pursuing his quarry so enthusiastically that he cuts himself off from his companions and loses his way. I’m sure you heard the red flags popping up within the first few seconds of this sequence. He is distracted and isolated, easy prey for the enemy. Remember that the adversary’s pattern is to deceive, isolate, distract, immobilize, and destroy. This poor man has unwittingly done most of the devil’s work for him. Frightened and disoriented, he ignores the discernment beating furiously inside him like a caged bird and, upon meeting the witch, succumbs to her cruel assertion that without taking her daughter as his wife, he will never know the way out of the forest and “die of hunger in it.”
There are several things wrong with this picture. First of all, he is the king. He has final authority in his realm and should not be compelled to do anything contrary to the kingdom’s best interest. Second, he has gone to a witch for help. Third, the king has been hunting. That means that he has the tools on his person to catch food for himself. He will not starve to death if he can’t find his way out of the forest tonight. We’re not even a full page into this story, and already the king has forgotten who he is and what he is capable of and surrendered his authority to the wrong party in order to save himself. And, he has agreed to endanger his children by bringing a witch into his home. What a fantastic precedent to set!
Two biblical accounts come to mind reading this part of the story. The first is obviously the story of the fall in the Garden of Eden. Satan appealed to the weak points in Eve’s armor in order to convince her that without eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, she and Adam could never be like God. The sick joke was that they were made in God’s image. They were already like Him! But when you get a desperate idea in your mind, it’s hard to shake it until you bring it to fruition and in your franticness to meet the need you think is being ignored, it gets easier to make poor choices because you forget about what you do have and what you are already capable of. Adam and Eve were king and queen of creation with the Great I Am as their father. They had a close relationship with Him and could ask Him for anything. They had been given dominion over creation in Genesis 1:28 and provisions for food in 1:29. They didn’t need to seek help from themselves or the adversary to get what they needed. It was all right there. But that’s not how it looked when Satan presented them with the idea that God was holding out on them. And so, they abdicated their positions, making a decision that endangered themselves, their kingdom, and their future children by allowing sin into their home.
The second is the story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a pot of stew in Genesis 25. Esau was the hunter in the family. He was fully capable of taking care of himself and as Isaac’s oldest son, was set to inherit most of the family assets. One day, he came in from the fields weary and exhausted, and asked Jacob for some of the stew he was making, swearing that he was going to die from fatigue if he didn’t eat immediately. Jacob cunningly offered to give his brother some of the stew in exchange for his birthright. Esau agreed, despising his birthright for the sake of meeting his immediate needs. He chose instant gratification over legacy.
In the same way, the king in our story has put his momentary relief before the security of his children and his kingdom. He regrets it almost instantly but does nothing to mitigate the situation. By agreeing to marry the young witch, he abdicates his posts as king and father. His decision has opened the door for occult influence to be exercised over him and his country the way the Romanovs allowed Rasputin to run amok. The king also puts his children at risk. Hiding them in the forest castle is a temporary solution. We know that according to fairy tale rules, forests are places for transition and transformation, where lost things are found; the spot where secrets are revealed for good or for ill. It’s the place that shows us what we’re really made of. The forest has proven that the king is a coward, giving in to the old witch’s demands, selling out his kingdom for his safety, and concealing his family in hopes that a band-aid will staunch the flow of a severed jugular wound. Later, the woods prove the bravery and determination of the princess as she tracks down her brothers and works diligently to save them.
We get the idea that the king losing his way and being presented with the demand of marriage is a trap set by the young witch with her mother’s help to secure the queenship, because she “receives [the king] as [if] she [has] been expecting him.” Her mother insists that the girl deserves to be his wife, like the maid in “The Goose Girl” asserts that she, rather than the princess, deserves to be queen. Jacob, too, had more than likely been told by his mother that he would take the birthright away from Esau, because God had already foretold it in verse 23. Both parties act deceitfully to get what they want under the influence of the guardians of their hearts. It’s a post that can be used for good or evil and when it lies vacant, further trouble ensues.
The king is a widower with seven unprotected children, six boys, representing the number of man, who was created on the sixth day, and one daughter, the seventh child, representing the number of completion, perfection, rest, and rescue. Although she is the last child of the royal line, she will assume the vacant position of protector before the story’s end. Eve, too, was the last child of creation and a planned solution rather than an afterthought. God made her as an answer to the problem of loneliness and equipped her to protect the heart of her male counterpart (Genesis 2:18-24). The princess, too, turns out to be a powerful ezer kenegdo, bravely doing what no one else will and meeting every challenge on the way to rescue and restore her brothers.
Before she can fully step into her role, disaster must strike to awaken her spirit. Having enough sense to know that his new bride could easily harm his children, her father sequesters them deep in the forest in a castle that he visits often but cannot find without the aid of a wise woman and her gift of a navigationally sound ball of yarn. This poor man needs all the help he can get!
This concept comes up in many fairy tales. Not the navigational ball of yarn—although that is certainly true as well—but the phrase “wise woman.” This does not mean that the lady in question is a witch of any kind. It means that she is knowledgeable and takes the time to learn and understand what others dismiss so that she can be helpful when the time comes. She is a woman like the one described in Proverbs 31, who does the best she can with the resources she has, especially in a crisis. Other biblical examples of wise women include Deborah, Abigail, Lemuel’s mother, and the wise women of Tekoa and Abel. Although the phrase has been borrowed to describe female occult practitioners, wise women and witches are complete opposites. Witches manipulate to get what they want. Wise women share their godly wisdom for the benefit of others. As guardians of the heart, we are called to be wise women, working for the good of those we protect, not witches who manipulate those in our charge by taking advantage of the weak spots we are meant to fortify. Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wise woman builds her house,
but the foolish pulls it down with her hands.”
Determined to discover where her husband disappears to, the witch queen manipulates the servants into giving away the secret of the hidden castle, and snatches up the king’s ball of yarn, meaning to pull his legacy down brick by brick. She wickedly sews a curse into six shirts, strides up to the forest fortress, and flings a shirt over the head of each prince who runs out to greet her. She watches in perverse delight as the princes are transformed into swans and fly away from home. The servants must not have mentioned the princess, because the queen “[knows] nothing about her.” Thinking that she has successfully rid herself of her stepchildren, she smugly returns to her castle. Removing the children paves the way for her future offspring to inherit the crown, a course of events which her malleable husband seems unlikely to prevent should it occur.
The stepmother’s behavior is in line with what the enemy does to God’s children. The father of lies will capitalize on our circumstances and use everything available to him to weave heavy garments of deception to fling over the heads of heaven’s princes and princesses. Everyone who loves Jesus and keeps His commandments is part of God’s royal lineage. Our Heavenly Father is not inept like the king in this story, but we all have earthly parents who are fallible like us. Some of our parents passed away early, didn’t stick around, actively plotted against us, or passively let us be besieged. Even the best moms and dads in the world drop their guards once in a while. When we are learning about God and our relationship to Him, it’s important to have someone in our lives who models what a healthy mother or father looks like so that we can better understand the Lord’s intentions toward us. When we don’t have that influence, we can forget that we are sons and daughters of the Most High God, loved, cherished; authorized and equipped for battle. It becomes easy for us to be deceived by the opinions of others and the lies of the enemy while we chase down the sense of belonging we never had in the eyes of anyone who comes our way. We assume identities contrary to our true selves, wearing the cursed shirts of rejection, abandonment, and shame. Bereft of their mother and forsaken by their father, the princes run out unprotected toward the illusion of love, unwittingly falling under the wicked stepmother’s spell.
The princess does not dash out to meet the queen with her brothers, who believe that it is their father coming to see them. Does she discern from a distance that this is a stranger and refuse to come out? Does she try to warn her brothers not to go only to be called a baby and ignored? What we do know is that she stays behind and sees the terrible transformation take place through the window. When everyone has gone, she creeps out to the courtyard and gathers the feathers dropped by her enchanted brothers in their flight. She takes them as proof and shows them to her father when he arrives the next day, telling him all that her evil stepmother has done. As much as he fears his wife, the absent-minded king does not believe her capable of such treachery. He wants to bring his daughter back with him, in case someone returns to steal her away, but she is wise enough to know that she does not need to be anywhere near the witch queen, and begs to spend one more night at home, or else she may become ensorcelled too.
Here we have the Cinderella pattern emerging in a completely different storyline: evil stepmother, absent or confused father; obvious wanton destruction perpetuated against the father’s children by the stepmother, followed by the father’s subsequent denial. We know how this turns out for the daughter caught in the middle every time, and so does she. Our heroine has no intention of going back to her father’s castle. She knows that he no longer sees her due to her stepmother’s influence. He does not even intend to recover his stolen sons. All the men in her family are now under a spell in one form or another. Their unguarded hearts are assailed by evil and they all believe that they are powerless to stop it. Realizing that she is her family’s only hope, the princess steals away in the dead of night, plunging into the forest in search of her brothers.
Like her father, she too becomes weary on her long journey, but she keeps her wits about her and comes to rest inside an empty hut, concealing herself under one of its six beds for safety. Fortunately, she has come to the right place. Just before sunset, six swans fly in through the window, blow the feathers off of each other, and resume their human shapes once more. As excited as the siblings are to be reunited, the brothers warn their little sister that she cannot stay in the hut because it is a robbers’ den. She would be killed if they discovered her. The brothers admit that they cannot protect her from the marauders because they can only be human for fifteen minutes every night before the enchantment takes over and turns them back into swans. After this, they must fly from the shelter to avoid being killed themselves.
If you have ever seen someone living a fraction of their life with full knowledge that it is no life at all, you know how the little princess feels. She weeps to hear that her brothers, once strong and boisterous and full of adventure, prepared to rule their father’s kingdom, are now reduced to running and hiding, limited by their animal forms. Once they were hunters; now they are prey. The very subjects they are meant to protect may now catch them and kill them. She cannot stand the thought of this and begs to know if there is a way they can be freed. Despondently, her brothers relate to her the difficult conditions that could secure their liberty. She must “neither speak nor laugh” for six years, and in that time, sew a shirt for each brother out of starflowers. If she utters even one word during this time, they will be doomed to wander as swans until their deaths.
Like their father, the princes have fallen into desperate circumstances and are in danger of forgetting who they are. For a tiny sliver of time every day, they are allowed to remember that they are royal human men. The act of blowing the feathers off of each other is reminiscent of the Holy Spirit blowing through the upper room “like a violent, rushing wind,” anointing Jesus’ followers to come fully into their ministries (Act 2:2). It also harkens back to Ezekiel 37:9, when God commands Ezekiel to “prophesy to the breath… of the house of Israel,” speaking life and the Holy Spirit into its once dry bones. In this sequence, God calls the people of Israel to remember who they are and to Whom they belong. In stripping the feathers from each other with their breath, the princes encourage each other to remember their true selves and take heart. Their faith gives them a fighting chance to hold on and believe that their curse will be broken.
On closer examination, it is fitting that the six shirts their sister must sew for their restoration are made of starflowers. In the U.S., the flowers are white and often contain seven petals. In Eastern Europe, where our story takes place, starflowers, or borage, are purple and deep blue with five petals. Purple of course symbolizes royalty, kingship, and priesthood, while blue represents water, the Holy Spirit, authority, and the healing power of God. The ends of the tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl, are banded in blue. It is thought that when the woman with the issue of blood determined to touch Jesus’ garment for healing, she was referring to his tallit. The number five represents grace. There are five types of offerings mentioned in the book of Leviticus, five of the ten commandments referring to our relationship with God and five to our relationships with others. When Jesus fed the 5,000, He began the miracle with five loaves of bread. When He died on the cross, Jesus received five piercings. There are five Old Testament books of the Law, and five New Testament books of the ministry of grace. The little sister must create six shirts, again representing the number of man. Taken together, the message the princess sews into every stitch of her brothers’ garments is that they are royal men called to lead, not to be hunted. By grace, they will be healed of the curse and affliction set upon them.
Undaunted by her brothers’ fears, the princess courageously resolves to save them, “even if it should cost her her life.” “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends” (John 15:13). Our valiant heroine leaves the robbers’ den, climbs a tree in the middle of the forest, and allows herself to rest before beginning her arduous work in the morning. The last time we saw a princess sleeping in a tree, it was Thousandfurs on the run from her wicked father. This princess is also in a race against the consequences of her father’s choices, determined to end the hold of manipulation, ignorance, and apathy over her family. She takes refuge in a tree, symbolic of the cross of Christ. She casts her cares on Him so that she can pass the night in peace. Unlike Thousandfurs, she does not curl up inside the tree, but on it, presumably in its fork or on a strong bough near the trunk.
Why is she on the tree rather than in it? Unlike Thousandfurs, she has already come to grips with the idea that though her parents forsake her, the Lord will take care of her. She does not need to be enveloped and healed in the tree because she has processed this wound already. The princess rests on the tree because, like Jesus, who became a curse and hung on a tree for the salvation of the world, she is about to become a living sacrifice to rescue her siblings. Fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah, when Jesus stood falsely accused in His trials,
“He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth”
Jesus could have called down angel armies to defend Him in His darkest hour. With one word, He could have destroyed everyone who was out for His blood, but He didn’t. If He had, He would have harmed the very people He came to save, and His purpose as the Holy Lamb of God would not have been fulfilled. His willful silence saved our souls. Like Him, the princess must keep silent for a little while so that her brothers may be saved forever.
Although she isn’t being beaten to death or literally spat on, there are plenty of trials that befall the princess to tempt her into speaking. While she sits in the refuge of the tree branches, diligently sewing shirts from the starflowers she has gathered, she is accosted by the huntsmen of a nearby king (not her father!) and peppered with questions. Shaking her head at them, she tosses down trinkets and articles of clothing hoping to pacify them and make them leave her alone. Perhaps they will be unnerved by a strange woman flinging her girdle at them and flee! But no. They are too brazen for that. That trick might have sent her rambunctious brothers running and screaming from the room, but these are grown men capable of unspeakable things. They are only intrigued by her display and bold enough to seize the princess in her shift and haul her out of the tree.
They bring her before their king, who reiterates the same questions to her in every language he knows, only to be met with more silence. Although this monarch is much kinder, I can’t help thinking of Jesus being stripped down to His robe and brought before Herod and Pilate for questioning. He stayed silent through most of these exchanges as well. Something about Jesus affected Pilate so that he could not actively engage in His destruction. The king, too, is fascinated by the mute woman standing before him. Rather than being insulted by her refusal to answer him, he begins to fall in love with her because of her modesty, courtesy, and loveliness. Her inner glory translates into outer beauty, mesmerizing him. Placing his royal mantle around her shoulders, the king rides away with her and her little cache of starflowers to his castle, where he shortly unites himself with her in marriage.
Even though the king does not know that he has chosen a princess as his bride, her bearing, gentle character, and radiant beauty are enough to give her away as royalty. While it is true that he places his mantle over her in the forest out of modesty, the king is also placing royal authority upon the shoulders of his new bride. Mantles represent authority and anointing. Elijah passed his to Elisha as a symbol of the godly power that would come upon him after he inherited the position of prophet from his mentor. In placing the cloak around the princess’ shoulders, the king grants her the authority to rise from princess to queen. Although the timing may seem off since she still has to finish the shirts for her brothers, from a spiritual standpoint, the princess has already proven herself worthy of queenship. She is discerning and seeks to thwart injustice. She risks everything to protect those in her charge and puts the needs of others above her own comfort. She recognizes that this silence is a temporary season in her life and not a life sentence.
Why is the young queen not speaking or laughing for six years one of the conditions of her brothers’ release? Let’s go deep. I posit that the princess must succeed where her father failed in order to break the curse off of her family. She is a Christ figure atoning for the original sin committed by and against her family. First of all, she is born a princess, and descends into the illusion of poverty before being made queen. Even in her queenship, her power is limited because of her silence, but all of her other gifts come to the forefront and affect those around her while she is silently carrying out her rescue mission. She never stops being who she is, no matter what it looks like from the outside.
Jesus, the living Word of God and only Son of the Most High became flesh and dwelt among us in the illusion of poverty (John 1:14). Although He did not come fully into His glory until after His sacrifice and resurrection, there was a majesty about Jesus, a command and authority that could not be hidden. He was revolutionary, kind, ferocious, funny, and compassionate. Even in His human form, with part of His divinity restrained, Jesus affected those around Him while silently carrying out His rescue mission. And no matter how desperate things appeared from the outside, He never stopped being a king.
He came to atone for the sin committed by mankind in the garden and every one that would follow. He won back for God’s children the positions we abdicated in our selfishness. The princess seeks to undo the damage caused by her father’s selfish decisions and win back for her brothers the royal positions they have ignorantly lost through their pursuit of belonging. Isaiah 53:3 calls Jesus “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” Our heroine is forbidden to laugh and experiences much sorrow in not being able to speak to her husband, her children, or her subjects. Like Adam and Eve, the king places instant gratification over the safety of his children and kingdom and forgets his own power. Like Jesus, the young queen gives up her own comforts and part of her power that her family may be saved. Jesus succeeded where mankind failed. The queen will triumph where her father tripped. And it won’t be easy.
A generational curse has come to roost in the young queen’s new home. Her father lost his children due to the manipulation and evil he invited into his home. Now, despite the righteousness of her heart and her commitment to her mission, the young queen faces her own feminine nemesis who intends to destroy her legacy and eviscerate her character. Remember that broken people make ideal accomplices for the enemy. The queen’s mother-in-law happens to be one of those people. She does not trust her son’s new wife, insisting that she is not good enough for her son and does not deserve the queenship because no one can provide proof of her pedigree. This pharisaical woman is so hung up on her new daughter-in-law’s background and so frightened of losing what pull she still has with her son, that she does not take the time to get to know the young woman and cultivate a healthy relationship with her. Instead, she plots against her.
The pharisees plotted against Jesus because he threatened their popularity. They had pull, but Jesus had authority. He was genuine and lived what He taught, even if it clashed with the norms of the day and especially if it flew in the face of the heavy regulations the religious leaders imposed on themselves and the people they were meant to minister to. Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
That burden is to love. The greatest commandments are to love God with all you heart, soul, strength and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself, because love makes the difficult things we are meant to do come more naturally. By bringing the people’s attention back to the spirit of the law rather than the letter, Jesus undermined the pharisees’ hold over Israel. Instead of learning from Jesus, and refreshing their souls in the presence of the Lord, they plotted against Him.
The king’s mother is naturally wicked and self-serving. She is introduced to us that way before we learn that she hates the young queen. In contrast, our heroine is full of pure, ferocious, sacrificial love. This is what truly draws the king to her and creates a wedge between him and his mother. When you can find the strength to be for others what no one would volunteer to be for you, you become a powerful threat to the enemy, because you are operating in God’s perfect love, which casts out fear (1 John 4:18).
Threatened by the young queen, the king’s mother engineers a plot to be rid of her once and for all. After our heroine gives birth to her first child, the old crone steals the baby and smears the young queen’s mouth with blood, accusing her of eating her own child. Why does the wicked woman portray the young queen as a cannibal? The surface answer is that she uses a crime so shockingly contrary to the queen’s nature that is has to be believed. Cannibalism is horrible to begin with, but there is a particular shudder that creeps down our spines when we hear about a female cannibal. Generally, whether they are biological mothers or not, women protect, nurture, and nourish others in one form or another, so the idea of a woman devouring the ones she is meant to safeguard sounds particularly demonic.
The deeper answer is that the queen is being framed for the same crime committed by her father that she is seeking to rectify. No, her father does not actually eat his children, but he sacrifices them for the sake of his own comfort. He abdicates his paternal duties by making a bargain that allows an evil stepmother to enter their home and refuses to save his children for the sake of keeping peace with the monster he has married. The queen is laboring to restore life and preserve a royal lineage while standing accused of selfishly tearing one down for her own satisfaction.
Jesus Himself was accused of casting out demons with the aid of a demon. But, as He pointed out, “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (Luke 11:17). Coincidentally, this conversation took place after Jesus released a mute to speak. The consistency of Jesus’ character up till this point was proof enough against such a falsehood. Similarly, the “pious and good” character of the queen is enough to convince the king that his wife is no murderer. He knows that “if she were not dumb, and could defend herself, her innocence would come to light.” But his evil mother continues to blacken her name, repeating the thievery and the smearing of blood twice more, until the king is left with no choice than to sentence his wife to burn at the stake.
All this time, the queen has forced herself to resist shouting the truth and convicting her mother-in-law of treason. She has bitten her tongue because the very words that could set her free would doom her brothers forever. She has a gift of discernment and from her first moments in this story shows a passion for justice and truth. Sacrificing the swiftness of her words in favor of slow-burning action, the agony of her silence slices through her heart with each stitch of her starflowers. After years of seeking to right the wrongs against her brothers, she finds herself bereft of her children and the trust of her husband and kingdom. She cannot seek her children to know what has become of them or open her mouth to prove her innocence. Is she no better than the father whose sin she has been paying for for six years? In fighting the filth of the generational curse, she’s become covered in mud and grime herself. Jesus, too, became sin “so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He took on our sin and shame and sickness and disease to the point where He was unrecognizable. He who knew no sin became vile so that we could be made clean.
Even if she is having a Gethsemane moment as she is being led to the stake, the queen does not shrink back. She knows that she has done all she can possibly do to free her brothers, remembering that she determined to do so though it should cost her life. Resolutely, she lays the six shirts on her arm. Although one sleeve remains undone, she has kept her vow six years to the day. Mounting the steps to the stake, she keeps her eyes on the sky. In her royal silence, her heart leaps for joy at the sound of beating wings: her redemption draws near. Just as the executioner prepares to light the fire at her feet, the queen’s six brothers come flying through the sky toward her. One by one, they swoop toward their sister, who triumphantly flings a starflower shirt over each swan. Instantly, they transform into their true selves, fully restored, except for the youngest, whose left sleeve could not be finished in time. He bears the mark of their family’s ordeal forever, a reminder that they survived; the curse really did exist, and it is broken once and for all. Even though Jesus returned in a glorified body to His disciples after His resurrection, He chose to keep the marks in His hands, feet, and side as a testimony of His victory over sin and death.
At last, the queen, too, is restored to her former glory, and the words she has been longing to say come tumbling out of her mouth. She clears her name, delivers her false accuser to judgement and death, and wins back her children. Finally, the twisted legacy is at an end. Our heroine has righted the wrongs and doubly redeemed her family through her fierce love and determination.
In Luke 21: 16-19, Jesus tells us that for His sake,
“You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.”
Just like the king’s mother despises her daughter-in-law, people will hate us because they do not understand the love in our hearts or our desire to keep fighting the good fight in spite of the obstacles we face. There are some instances when being silent and behaving as a living sacrifice to God are the only things we can do to carry out our mission. It won’t always feel right. It might feel like using your non-dominant hand to write an essay. And when you’ve been given special instructions by God that no one else understands, the enemy will find plenty of opportunities to make you doubt yourself and present you with options that look much more attractive than obedience. But you must
“Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:9-10).
Just like the princess, what we have lost in the name of love will be restored to us in the end. In the meantime, don’t let fear stop you from stepping into the role God made you to play. We have each been given a unique skillset by God to reach the people in our immediate spheres and beyond. It is woven into the foundation of the woman God calls you to be. Sharpen your sword, ezer kenegdo, and use the tools you have to set captives free and speak God’s kingdom into this earth.
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