If you’re not familiar with the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, The Robber Bridegroom, I recommend clicking here to read the story before proceeding to my commentary.
This story is not for the faint of heart. It’s a terrible tale of horrific murder. A tale that, despite a brief encounter with a talking bird, could have actually occurred in a dark and depraved forest. Sadly, human beings are capable of such atrocities. I don’t believe this story is intended to scare children, though such overt sin did scare my daughter when she read it. She even marked it in the table of contents so she would remember that it was too disturbing to read again. But this need not be the case.
Think about it this way: the story is dark and gory, but so is our world, right? Murder happens all the time in our world. You don’t have to go to a bizarre episode in fairyland to find it. People lose life and limb for various reasons including for their possessions, as did the beautiful girl who wore the ring. The storytellers don’t mask the realities of living in a sin filled world, but instead confront it head on. They acknowledge the truth and are then able to overcome it. This story is one of encouragement. It delivers us into the trenches of our sinful condition and then provides the means by which we can escape. It shows us the benefits of keeping God’s Law and the importance of serving our neighbor.
God established His good and holy Law to protect people from the horrors of sin, from devouring each other in our depravity. Consider the old woman, how she keeps the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).
Traditions differ in numbering the Ten Commandments. In Judaism, the prologue (“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”) constitutes the first element, and the prohibitions against false gods and idols the second. Medieval Roman tradition, accepted by Luther, regards all these elements as one and preserves the number 10 by separating the prohibitions against coveting another’s wife and coveting another’s possessions. In the Greek Orthodox and Protestant Reformed traditions, the prologue and the prohibition against false gods are one commandment and the prohibition against images is the second.
If she didn’t do anything to save the betrothed bride, she would have been guilty of breaking this commandment, as guilty as the men carrying out the murderous act. Luther says it clearly in his explanation to the Fifth Commandment in his Small Catechism.
“You shall not murder.” What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.
The Ten Commandments are not just prohibitions, but they actually instruct us in how we are to be of service to our neighbor. To keep the Fifth Commandment, the old woman had to help save the betrothed bride. Sadly, these two women were unable to save the beautiful girl as they escaped. They would have been overpowered and killed. But what did they do when they were finally free? The miller’s daughter informed her father of what was going on, and a plan was hatched to bring justice to these murderous villains. In other words, the two escapees made sure the murderers would never harm another person, that is, they kept the Fifth Commandment.
We may not find ourselves in the same situation as the miller’s daughter and the old woman (thank God), but every day we have the opportunity to keep God’s commandments as they did. As Christians we’re saved by Christ’s keeping the Law. We, therefore, strive to keep the commandments in like manner, for the welfare of our neighbor, like the old woman served the miller’s daughter, and like the miller’s daughter served other girls who would’ve been victims of The Robber Bridegroom.
The next Finding Truth in The Story will be on Old Hildebrand. Click here to read the fairy tale in advance.
I’m reading the fairly tales from the Fall River Press publication, Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Click here to purchase a copy for yourself.
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