A Kind of Christmas Tale

I wrote this story about four years ago to tell the children at Bethlehem's Christmas Eve service.

The Poor Man and His Cow
And the Rich Man and His Wall

Based (very loosely) on a story in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King.

Once upon a time there was a very wise old man named Job. In his old age God gave to him a daughter whom he named Jemima, which means little dove. He loved his little girl and she loved her daddy.

One day Job decided to go on journey and asked Jemima if she would like to go along. “Oh, yes,” Jemima said. “I would love to go along.”

But Job said, “It will be a journey that takes us several days. So we will be staying each night wherever people will have us. So I can’t promise it will be nice. But God will take care of us. He always does what is right. He always meets the needs of those who trust him.”

Jemima smiled and said, “And even if things go bad, God makes them turn for good. Right, Daddy? Just like the little poem that you taught us:

When things don’t go the way they should
God always makes them turn for good.”

“That’s right, Jemima,” Daddy said, “and there’s another little poem you need to learn. It goes like this:

When things go better than they should
For people who are bad,
Remember, if they stay that way,
At last they will be sad.”

And so they started off on their journey and walked all day. At sundown they saw a little cottage and knocked on the door. A very poor man and his wife and baby lived there. Job asked if he and Jemima could spend the night there before they continued on their journey in the morning.

The poor man and his wife were very happy to let them stay. They gave Job and Jemima their own room and made them a simple supper. The special treat was fresh milk from their only cow. This was how the poor couple made a living. Their cow gave good milk and they sold it for enough to live on.

In the morning when Job and Jemima got up they heard crying. The cow had died during the night. The poor man’s wife was crying, “What will we do? What will we do?” she sobbed. The poor man was about to cut the cow into pieces and sell the meat before it spoiled. But Job said, “I think you should not cut the cow in pieces but bury him by your back wall under the olive tree. The meat may not be good to sell. Trust God, and he will take care of you.”

Then Job and Jemima went on their way. They walked all day again and were very tired when they came to the next town and noticed a fine home. They knocked on the door. A very wealthy man lived in this house and they hoped that they would not be an inconvenience to one so wealthy.

But the man was very gruff with them and said they could stay in the barn. He gave them water and bread for supper and let them eat it by themselves in the barn. Job was very thankful for the barn and the bread and water and said to the wealthy man, “Thank you very much for the bread and water and for letting us stay in your barn.”

In the morning Job noticed that one of the walls of the house was crumbling. So he went and bought bricks and mortar and repaired the hole in the wall for the wealthy man. Then Job and Jemima went on their way and came to their destination.

As they sat by the fire that night Jemima said, “Daddy, I don’t understand the ways of God. It doesn’t seem right that the poor man’s cow should die when he was so good to us, and that you should fix the rich man’s wall when he was so bad to us.”

“Well, Jemima,” Job said, “many things are not the way they seem. Perhaps this once I will tell you why. But after this you will have to trust God.”

“The poor man’s cow was very sick, but he didn’t know it. I could taste it in the milk. Soon he would have sold bad milk and the people would have gotten sick and died, and they would have stoned him. So I told him not to sell the meat, but to bury the cow under the olive tree by his back wall because the Lord showed me that, if he dug the grave there he would find a silver cup buried from long ago, and sell it for enough money to buy two good cows. And in the end things would be better for him and his wife and child.”

“When we spent the night at the rich man’s house, I saw the hole in the wall and I saw more than that. I saw that hidden in the wall from generations ago was a chest full of gold. If the rich man had repaired the wall himself, he would have found it and continued in his pride and cruelty. So I bought brick and closed the wall so that the man would never find this treasure.”

“Do you see, Jemima?”

“Yes, Daddy, I see.”

“So never forget, Jemima, many things are not what they seem. But if we trust in God,

When things don’t go the way they should
God always makes them turn for good.”

But if we turn away from God and are unkind and selfish, then the other saying will come true:

When things go better than they should
For people who are bad,
Remember, if they stay that way,
At last they will be sad.”

And that’s the way it was with Jesus. It seemed like he was unimportant because he was born in a small unimportant town, not a big city. He was born in a stable, not a palace. He was laid in a manger, not a fine bed. He was a carpenter not a famous statesman. He had a small group of friends, not a great army. And worst of all, he was killed like a common criminal on a cross.

But many things are not what they seem. He was the Son of God, the Savior of the world. He rose from the dead. He is alive today and rules over the world and King of kings and Lord of lords. And everyone who trusts in him will have all their sins forgiven, and will be able to say,

When things don’t go the way they should
God always makes them turn for good.”

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.