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DURING the period when the judges ruled over Israel—the precise date is uncertain—a famine occurred, which compelled an inhabitant of the town of Bethlehem of Judah to remove, with his wife and two sons, into the land of Moab, which, in consequence of the victories under Ehud, appears to have been in some degree subjected to the Israelites.* This man's name was Elimelech, his wife's Naomi, and his sons' names were Mahlon and Chilion. Soon after they arrived there, Elimelech died, and his two sons, who had married Ruth and Orpah, daughters of the Moabites, after the lapse of about ten years, were also buried in Moab, leaving no issue. Thus deprived of her earthly protectors, and household comforts, and having heard that “the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread,” Naomi resolved to return to her native land. This resolution she disclosed to her daughters-in-law, and both expressed their attachment to her, and their willingness to accompany her to Bethlehem. At first Naomi allowed them to follow the bent of their inclinations; but when they had proceeded part of the way she intreated them to return, expressing her gratitude for the kindness they had shown to herself and her deceased sons. The attachment of both Ruth and Orpah seems to have been great, for “they lifted up their voice and wept.” But the love of Ruth was the most sincere. While Orpah kissed Naomi and returned, Ruth, in the emphatic language of Scripture, “clave unto her.” Still, Naomi was unwilling to take Ruth from her country and her friends, and she therefore urged her to follow the example of Orpah. But Ruth had been instructed in the worship of the God of Israel, the Fountain of life and happiness, and had embraced the faith of Naomi. Her attachment to her mother-in-law was, therefore, founded on the principles of religion. Hence her touching and beautiful answer to Naomi:—“Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.” Naomi could not resist this touching earnestness, so on they travelled to Bethlehem. Worn down by the griefs which her threefold loss had inflicted upon her, when Naomi arrived at Bethlehem, her old neighbours crowded around her, and, gazing at her features, asked, in the language of astonishment, “Is this Naomi?” Her reply abundantly satisfied them that she was the selfsame person. In the depth of her anguish, which was softened by pious submission to the will of God, she exclaimed, “Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?” When Naomi and Ruth arrived at Bethlehem it was barley harvest; and during the ingathering of the harvest, the law of Moses directed very liberal treatment of the children of want. The corners of the fields were to be left unreaped; the owner was prohibited from gleaning therein; if a sheaf was accidentally left, then it was not to be fetched away, but left for the poor; and the privilege of following the reapers, to pick up the straggling ears, was to be granted to those persons the owner might wish to befriend. Ruth was acquainted with this benign law, and she solicited Naomi's permission to glean a few ears after him in whose sight she might find favour, in order to relieve their common wants. The day had been when Naomi would, probably, have refused to comply with a request that implied such a state of poverty; but affliction had so effectually humbled her that she readily gave her consent. Accordingly, Ruth set out on her lowly, but honest employment, and a kind Providence directed her to that part of the field—the arable land not being inclosed in the east—which belonged to Boaz, a near relation of Elimelech. From his servant, who, according to oriental custom, was set over the reapers, she obtained permission to glean. In the course of the day, Boaz himself came to view the progress of the harvest, and, after the usual devout salutations of this “mighty man of wealth” and his reapers—“Jehovah be with you!” and “Jehovah bless thee!”—his eye lighted upon Ruth, and inquiring who she was, the overseer informed him that it was the Moabitish damsel who had shown such friendship for Naomi. It
* See Judges iii. 12–30.
BOAZ AND RUTH.
would appear, that Boaz had heard of the circumstance, and addressing himself to her, he exclaimed: “Hearest thou not, my daughter? Go not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here fast by my maidens: let thine eyes be on the field that they do reap, and go thou after them: have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee? and when thou art athirst, go unto the vessels, and drink of that which the young men have drawn.” Ruth was astonished at this kindness, and fell at his feet, expressing her thanks and surprise that he should show such favour to a stranger. Boaz replied: “It hath fully been showed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother-in-law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore. The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.” Ruth answered: “Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord; for that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens.” It is the above affecting and interesting scene that the artist has attempted to delineate. In doing this, as the days of Boaz were those of patriarchal simplicity, in all that concerns rural life in the oriental countries, he has taken the analogy of the present inhabitants of Mesopotamia and the adjacent regions—whose costume, manners, and customs, undoubtedly shadow forth that of the ancients — to furnish the materials for the picture, which has been chiefly derived from the celebrated painting by Schopia. The light costume of Ruth contrasts agreeably with the weightier dresses of the men, whose duty it was to keep watch by night, as well as to labour by day. The meeting of Ruth with Boaz proved a providential event. When she returned home in the evening, with the result of her day's gleaning, about an ephah, or nearly an English bushel, of barley, Naomi was anxious to know how it happened that her labours had been so prosperous. Ruth related all the occurrences of the day, and Naomi, in the fulness of her heart, exclaimed, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead.” She added, in explanation, that Boaz was a near kinsman of the family, and advised that, according to his expressed wish, Ruth should confine her gleaning to his fields.
Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz, not only to the end of the barley harvest, but of the wheat harvest.” At the end of that time, Naomi, anxious for the welfare of the devoted Ruth, acquainted her with the thoughts that had lately filled her heart. She said that Boaz was so near of kin that he came under the operation of that law among the Hebrews which required, that when a man died childless the next of kin should marry his widow. Accordingly she directed Ruth to change her attire, and to enter the threshing-floor—where she expected Boaz, in accordance with oriental custom, would repose in the evening—for the purpose of claiming his protection. All happened as Naomi had foreseen. Boaz. entered the threshing-floor, and acknowledged the claim, at the same time paying this glowing tribute to her virtues: “Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for thou hast showed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning . . . . And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.” He added, however, that there was a person in the town more nearly related to her deceased husband than himself, and that on him properly the duty devolved; but if he declined it, then it fell to himself, and he would not shrink from performing it. This kinsman declined it, and Boaz took Ruth to be his wife. Her fidelity to Naomi was rewarded; she was raised from a state of abject want to be the wife of a wealthy Bethlehemite, and thus became the ancestor of David and of the Messiah.
The dutiful conduct and the unshaken faith of Ruth afford a beautiful example to her sex, throughout all generations. Well would it be, indeed, if all would follow her example, if all would submit themselves to the guidance of their parents, and “cleave to the Lord with full purpose of heart.” They might then rest assured, that a blessing would attend them from heaven, as it did Ruth, and that not only in this life, but that which is to come. But, alas! what a different aspect does the face of society wear in these our days. In too many cases, filial duty is scarcely more than a name, and the God of Israel is forgotten. The vanities of this world, transient and unsatisfactory though they be, have yet charms sufficient to allure the mind from all that is truly lovely and enduring. There are many Orpahs, who love their pleasures better than God and their parents.
* In Palestine, as in Egypt, barley is gathered in before the wheat, and not after, as in our own country.