A little bird once told me that all young people, big and little, love a love story; so I’m going to tell you one. If you will turn to the Book of Ruth in the Old TestamentNow what is the matter? Why do some of you girls look so disappointed and say, ” The Old Testament! That is a part of the Bible, and there are no love stories in that?”
But there are, and such interesting ones that you will not want to lay the book down until you have read the very last word. In what place would it be more natural for you to find a love story than in the Bible?
If I should ask any one of you what the Bible is, you would say, “The ministers call it the Word of God,” and perhaps there is among you a tiny girl just big enough to hold the book who will add quickly, ” My mother says, God is love.”
Then why be surprised if the Bible tells a story of love, with a hero and heroine having experiences just as exciting as in any story book, and ending with a wedding, just as you want all of your favorite stories to end?
You have read the story of the wonderful boy David, and perhaps have asked, “Has the Bible any stories of wonderful girls?” Or you may have looked through the Book to find out for yourselves and have been answered by the story of Ruth.
She was a Moabitess. In those days that was the same as saying that she was a heathen; and then as now no one expected much of a heathen. But the world is so full of surprises that we have to look sharp and think fast to keep up with all that come to us. Ruth’s people, the Moabites, believed in a god named Chemosh who was very cruel and often made his people suffer. Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, was a Hebrew and had been taught that the Hebrew’s God, Jehovah, gave only blessings to those who obeyed his commandments. Right there is the surprise. We find Naomi complaining and finding fault, saying that her God is sending her trouble, while Ruth’s spirit is bubbling over with love and good will toward all.
Naomi and her husband, Elimelech, with their two sons, had moved from Bethlehem judah to the plains of Moab because of a famine in Judea. In those days a famine was a more serious matter than it is now. With the telephone, the telegraph, and our great ocean vessels and steam trains, any barren part of our country where the crops have failed or the frost has killed them can easily get relief. Now a message can go round the earth in a few hours.
But in the time of our story there was no way of traveling except by walking, unless one was rich enough to have camels and oxen or donkeys.
In the days of Ruth, traveling was very dangerous, and no one was sure when he started out that he would get safely to his destination. If you have read the stories of our early American settlers and of the troubles they had with the Indians, and often with wild animals, you will have a good idea of the wildness of the times of the Judges, for it was in their time that Ruth lived.
You can also understand how very hungry Naomi and her husband, Elimelech, must have been to leave their safe home in Bethlehem-Judah, with their two boys, Mahlon and Chilion, and walk, or ride by means of oxen or camels, to the plains of Moab. There were mountains, sea, and deserts between them and Moab, and we wonder how the little family ever managed to get there. But they were hungry, and bread was in Moab. They had an object in view, and like David, who always aimed straight at his object, our family looked straight ahead at the bread that was to be had in Moab instead of wasting time thinking of the dangers of the journey.
They found food and friends in Moab and liked it so well that they stayed there even after the famine was over in Judea. Their two boys grew to be men and married women of Moab. They were very happy, for theirs was a home rich in kindness and none of them thought of their having any more trouble. But it came. Elimelech and his sons, Mahlon and Chilion, died, and Naomi and her two daughters-in-law became widows. Poor Ruth and Orpah with Naomi were now alone.
“But they were not alone,” some of you older girls will say, “for they must have had many friends; and Ruth and Orpah, who were Moabites, must have had relatives who would care for them.”
Yes, for you girls of to-day that is a very natural way of thinking. But do you know that in those days women had no independence and were bought and sold the same as furniture and cattle? For a girl not to belong to someone was to be without any protection, and for young women that was a very serious matter. A girl without male relatives never knew what might happen to her that she would not be able to resist, and having no ” owner” to fight for her, she would be powerless.
You may say, “But Ruth and Orpah must have had parents who would care for them.”
Yes, if they wished to. But when a girl married she lost by law the protection of her father and other male relatives. Her only lawful claim was on the male relatives of her dead husband.
Naomi, broken-hearted, decided to return to Bethlehem-judah. She had heard that her own country now had plenty of food. She had probably heard this often before, but paid no attention to it, just as we all let things pass by until we think they can be of use to us, and then suddenly the uninteresting becomes interesting. A little girl whom I knew, would not study and hated to go to school, but she loved stories. There was not always someone to read them to her, and so she made up her mind that she would learn to read them herself even if she had to study. Then she studied. So it was with Naomi. As long as things went along easily and pleasantly she was satisfied. Her name, “Naomi,” you know, means “pleasant.” I have known girls, and I am sure you have, too, who instead of running away from disagreeable things stayed right where they were and turned the unpleasantness into pleasantness. This was Ruth’s way, as you will see. Naomi, trying hard to find pleasure, going from her own country to a strange one and back again, I am very sorry to say carried with her a spirit of complaining, faultfinding, and fretfulness. At last she called herself ” Marah, ” which means “bitterness.” I think she deserved that name in the first place, don’t you?
The two sons and their wives and Naomi had been very happy together, so that when Naomi was going back to her own country her two daughters-in-law wanted to return with her. They were very busy getting ready, seeing that their sandals were in good order, filling their pockets,the long loose bosom of their outer coat was frequently used for storing food,fastening up their flowing skirts with a tight girdle so that they could walk more easily, selling or giving away the little property they owned, and waiting for some caravan which was going up to Bethlehem to pass their way.
To you who can step into a comfortable sleeping car and go alone thousands of miles, arriving safely at your journey’s end, this waiting for people who might be going your way may seem foolish. But in the days of the Judges no one who wished to arrive anywhere safely ever traveled alone. So Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth daily looked across the plains for a caravanthat is, a band of men, camels, cattle, and slaves, walking and riding by day, sleeping on the ground or under rude tents at night, as they journeyed from town to town. They must also carry water, not only to drink, but to keep their hands clean. Keeping the hands clean was even more necessary than it is now, for the food for all was in one common dish set in the center of a group of people. Each one put his hand into the dish and helped himself, so of course clean hands were insisted upon.
Perhaps you who have read the Book of Ruth will say, “But the Bible does not tell any of these things about their journey.” Of course not, for the Bible is talking to those who are sup-posed to know what the customs of the people were in the time of the Judges. If I should tell you that my little neighbor is going with her father to California, it would not be necessary for me to tell you all about how they were going. You know how people travel in this day.
Before Naomi had gone very far on her journey she began to be uneasy about her daughters-in-law. Although she loved them dearly and was glad to have them with her, she fearedthat is just like Naomi, isn’t it, always afraid of something?that they might not be comfort-able or happy in her country, which was a strange one to them, and so she stopped and urged them to go back. She could see only sorrow ahead for herself and for there. If there was anything good to expect, she failed to see it. Looking at the dark side of things is to thought what smoke is to the eyes everything is clouded and seems gloomy. So it was with our poor disappointed Naomi.
She kissed both her daughters-in-law and said to them, “Go, return each of you to your mother’s house: Jehovah deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. Jehovah grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.”
They cried bitterly at her words and refused to leave her, saying, ” Nay, but we will return with thee unto thy people.”
But Naomi was firm and continued to urge them to turn back, saying, “Turn again, my daughters, go your way it grieveth me much for your sakes, for the hand of Jehovah is gone forth against me.”
Orpah and Ruth were both affectionate and sincere and wanted to be with their mother-in-law. But Naomi was so filled with fear that Orpah began to feel it herself, and to wonder if, after all, it would not be wiser to remain in her own country than to venture into an unknown land whose dangers might be even worse than those with which she was familiar. So Orpah kissed Naomi and turned back toward Moab, crying bitterly as she went.
Naomi, much surprised at Ruth’s refusing to leave her, tried again to show her how much better it would be for her to return to her own people and her own god. But Ruth’s love would not let her listen to Naomi’s fears, and she spoke the words that have lived for thousands of years, so full are they of love and devotion : “Entreat me not to leave thee, and 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; Jehovah do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.”
Naomi was silent. Her fears for the moment were quieted. She experienced then the truth of what the apostle John stated centuries later : “Perfect love casteth out fear.” Which loved the more, Orpah or Ruth? Some of you young people will be in doubt ; others will say they loved equally well, but that Orpah was more cautious, which is necessary if one wishes to get on in the world. A few I can hear saying to themselves, ” Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.” Love never acknowledges itself beaten but accomplishes the good it sets out to do. What was terror to Naomi and Orpah was a pathway of peace to Ruth. In the house of Naomi and her Hebrew husband, Mahlon, Ruth had been taught that God dealt kindly and justly with all who really loved Him and kept His commandments. To this poor heathen Moabitish maiden it was very simplejust obey and love instead of being driven frantic by fear. You see she had put into practice what they preached.
It was April, the beginning of the barley harvest, when Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem. Naomi had changed so much while living in Moab that her Bethlehem friends in welcoming her had to ask, “Is this Naomi?” This sad, sour-looking woman they could not believe was the happy Naomi who had left them years before. She was so busy pitying herself that she had no time to be thankful when she saw that her old friends remembered her.
Instead she complained that she had gone away full. What was the matter with her memory? Had she forgotten that it was famine, emptiness, which made her leave Bethlehem? And here she came back saying that she had gone away full and that her God had brought her back empty. But, after all, Naomi was not so very unusual. I have met people just like her in these days, who, as soon as any trouble came to them, forgot all their blessings and blamed God for their misfortunes instead of looking around to see what mistake they had made and bravely setting out to correct it.
Ruth had had a happy journey; she had been expecting and looking for good things all the way. So instead of feeling weak and weary when she arrived, she was as full of life and as strong as when she started, and immediately wanted to go to work.
She wanted to glean, for it was the time of the barley harvest. To be sure, barley was the food of only the poorest people and some of them would not touch it, thinking it fit only for cattle. But Ruth never let an opportunity slip by her. Little things, she thought, were far better than nothing at all. She could glean, and that meant some food, which was much better than starvation. In those days the corners of the grain fields were not touched by the owner; the grain growing there was left for the poor. If the reapers dropped grain anywhere else in the field, they were not allowed to pick it up, but had to leave it for the poor to glean. Picking up the fallen grain after the reapers was called gleaning.
Ruth went cheerfully to work, feeling sure that although she was a heathen in the sight of the Hebrews (Naomi’s people were Hebrews), there must be some of them who were like the God they worshipedfull of loving kindness. And she found just what she expected, for she went into the field of Boaz, a wealthy, kindly man who was a relative of Mahlon, her dead husband.
” Jehovah be with you!” he said to his workers as he came into the field, and they all replied, ” Jehovah bless thee!” His reapers and gleaners were glad to see him, for he always had a cheery greeting for them besides being careful of them and making it comfortable for them as they worked.
Boaz had come to look over his fields and to talk with the overseer about the crops, when he saw Ruth not far from where he was standing. She was so busy gleaning she had not noticed him. He was interested at once in what had brought this stranger to his fields, and asked his overseer who she was and where she came from. The man replied that she was the Moabitess, Ruth, the widow of Mahlon and daughter-in-law of Naomi, who had just come back from Moab. Ruth had loved Naomi so much she had come to the Hebrews’ country, leaving her parents and friends and even her god for the sake of being with her mother-in-law.
What a pretty picture she made as she stood there in the sunshine brushing aside the dark curls that would get into her eyes ! Such clear, fearless eyes they were that it gave one courage to look at them. Did she ever get tired, Boaz wondered, as she easily bent down to the ground picking up grain, and as quickly straightened herself again to drop the kernels into her wide, flowing apron.
He watched her as she followed the reapers. Then turning to his young men, he told them to treat the stranger well, to drop plenty of grain for her to glean, and to see that she had good, fresh water to drink. He sent a greeting to Ruth by his reapers, and later he went himself and spoke to her, saying, “Hearest thou not, my daughter? Go not to glean in another field, neither pass 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.”
Falling on her facethe way of greeting a superior in rank Ruth replied, “Why have I found favor in thy sight, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a foreigner?”
Boaz answered that he had heard of her kindness to her mother-in-law, that she had left her country and her god to be with the Hebrews and worship Jehovah; and he added, ” Jehovah recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of Jehovah, the God of Israel, under whose wings thou art corne to take refuge.
His wish for Ruth was really a promise, for he intended to do himself what he had asked the God of Israel to do for her. Many good people are full of kind wishes for others, but they never do anything but wish, and a man like Boaz knew that wishing without acting was not worth much.
Then the hot noon came. The blazing sun that had beaten on the workers all the morning was almost unbearable, and, like all workers in our day, they began to think of resting and having something to eat. Some shady spot, perhaps near a well of water, was soon found, and they all sat on the ground around the dinner of parched corn, bread, and vinegar. “Ugh,” I can hear you say, what a meal for hungry people ! Did anyone eat anything?” Indeed they did, and were very glad to get it. In that day it was a bounteous meal for reapers and gleaners, for sometimes the gleaners got nothing at all to eat.
Boaz had invited Ruth to eat with them, and looked out for her wants so carefully that after she had finished eating she had enough to take home to her mother-in-law.
Naomi may not have relished the vinegar, which was a sour wine and a very cool and popular drink in that hot country, nor had as much appetite for the parched corn– ears of wheat roasted and the kernels shaken outas had Ruth. Work and a cheery spirit give one an appetite, while staying at home with gloomy thoughts and wondering what evil thing is going to happen next, would make the daintiest food taste bad. Try it yourselves and see.
Back to the fields went Ruth after dinner and gleaned until dusk. Then she beat out the grain with stones until she had ” about an ephah of barley,” which is nearly a bushel. Think of working in the fields from sunrise until sunset for only a bushel of barley, and being thankful for it! But our heroine Ruth had learned that being glad made other people glad, and that when one was happy things went much better.
We can see her as she flew along the path to her home, singing as she went, and eager to cheer Naomi with the good news of the day. Wouldn’t Naomi’s sad face lighten when she heard of Boaz and of his kindness to the little Moabitish stranger?
Naomi was anxiously watching for Ruth, and asked at once where she had gleaned and if people had been kind to her. Of course they had been kind, thought her mother-in-law, for who could help being kind to Ruth?
When Ruth told her of Boaz, Naomi must have felt ashamed that she had not herself thought of this kind kinsman. And why had she not? I fear she had formed such a habit of being miserable that she could not see a blessing unless someone like Ruth showed it to her. And how glad she must have been that she had Ruth to do this.
Ruth was sure of work until the harvest was over, for Boaz had told her to stay in his fields until all the grains were harvested. Right after the barley, the wheat and other grains would be ready, which meant a period of work for six or eight weeks. Boaz seemed every day to grow kinder and more thoughtful of Ruth’s comfort, and often came to her side of the field and talked with her. She must have told him of her life in Moabhow happy they all were together until Mahlon, Chilion, and Elimelech had died; how discouraged her mother-in-law had been ever since, and how she hoped to earn enough to make them a little home once more. Of course it would never be the same again without the three who had gone, but they had each other, and that was something to be thankful for.
Naomi was encouraged to learn that Ruth was to keep gleaning in Boaz’ fields, and she began to think and plan for her. Why, she said to herself, wouldn’t Boaz make Ruth a good husband? He is fond of her and she would make any man a good wife. But of these things she said nothing to Ruth until the end of the harvest. It was better not to speak too soon, for that might spoil it all.
At last the reapers and the gleaners were through, the grain was ready to be threshed, and the time had come for Naomi to act and tell Ruth of her plan. When Ruth came in from the fields that evening, Naomi told her to wash and anoint herself. How astonished Ruth must have been to receive such directions from the sad Naomi! Why? Because washing and anointing in those days meant joy. When people were in mourning, especially if their grief was very bitter, they went unwashed and did not anoint themselves.
Naomi thought a careful man like Boaz would probably sleep at the threshing floor and watch that none of his grain was stolen, so she said to Ruth, “My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee? And now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to-night in the threshing-floor. Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the threshing-floor; but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking. And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet” this was an oriental way of placing her-self under his protection. In those days people often made known their thoughts to one another by means of symbolic acts instead of by using words “and lay thee down ; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.”
Ruth answered Naomi, “All that thou sayest I will do.” She loved Boaz and knew that as he was a kinsman of her husband she had a right to ask for his protection. In those days any widow could claim the protection of her husband’s brother, or, if he had no brothers, of the next nearest relative. But sometimes the near relative refused to care for the widow, in which case his name was called ” The house of him that hath his shoe loosed.”
Ruth made herself ready as her mother-in-law had told her to do, and after kissing Naomi good-by hurried to the threshing-floor, which was only a piece of open ground beaten hard. She was greeted by Boaz, who was pleased to see her and told her to take home as much barley as she could carry. She watched the patient oxen as they threshed the grain, and listened to the shouts of their drivers until all was finished and the tired workers lay down to rest for the night.
When Boaz lay down to sleep, Ruth was to go and lie down at his feet, after uncovering them. At midnight Boaz was startled, and wakening, discovered someone lying at his feet. He asked, “Who art thou?” Ruth answered, “1 am Ruth thy handmaid; spread therefore thy skirt over thy handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.” She meant by near kinsman one who could by law redeem her mother-in-law’s property and give it back to the two women.
The heart of Boaz went out to Ruth, for he had noticed she did not follow any of the men, young or old, among the reapers and gleaners. She worked hard, caring for her mother-in-law and herself, and Boaz had great respect for her. He explained to her that he really did not have the right to redeem Naomi’s property as there was a nearer kinsman than himself. He promised that he would go the next morning and insist that the nearer kinsman either redeem the property or refuse to do it. If the kinsman refused, Boaz would be free to redeem it himself and would do so.
Early in the morning, before it was light, Ruth returned to Naomi carrying a present of barley from Boaz to her mother-in-law. Naomi was very happy. She felt that Ruth was now going to be cared for by her wealthy kinsman and that all her sorrows would soon be turned into joy.
And so it proved. “Boaz,” you know, means “fleetness, ” and surely our hero deserved the name, for he lost no time in going to the gate of the city, calling the elders together, and asking the next of kin to Naomi if he was willing to redeem her property. The man was willing. People desired property then as they do now, especially if it comes as easily as this near kinsman thought it was going to come to him. When it was only some money to be paid out for presumably a good piece of land joining his own, he was willing to obey the law for the “next of kin”; but, like his brothers and sisters of to-day, when obedience meant personal sacrifice he had some excuse to offer for not obeying. This was the law: If a man died leaving a wife without children, usually the dead man’s brother, sometimes a near relative, was to marry the widow, and her first child took the dead man’s name and was considered the son of the dead man and inherited his property. Boaz knew this, and tested the sincerity of the nearer kinsman by first offering him the property, afterward saying, “What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance.”
The nearer kinsman replied, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar my own inheritance: take thou my right of redemption on thee; for I cannot redeem it.”
As you see, he was purely selfish, thinking only of himself and his inheritance which might be injured by obeying the conditions of the law of the brother-in-law.
Boaz loved Ruth and intended to marry her and redeem the property, but in all his dealings he was just and fair, so he gave the nearer kinsman a chance before he offered to redeem the property himself.
The nearer kinsman, learning that he had to make some sacrifice to get the property, at once drew off his shoe and handed it to Boaz. “How silly!” you say. “What has taking off a shoe to do with selling property?” In the time of the Judges that act meant something. As I have already told you, in those days people did not have as many words to use as they do now and so they talked to each other in what we call symbolic acts. Taking off his shoe and handing it to Boaz meant that he gave up his claim on the property and upon Ruth, and gave to Boaz the right to redeem them.
Boaz very wisely called the elders of the people together as witnesses to his agreement with the nearer kinsman, because he wanted no trouble if afterward the kinsman should change his mind. And to the elders and to all of the people he said, ” Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, of the hand of Naomi. Moreover, Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place : ye are witnesses this day.”
The people crowded about him, wishing both him and Ruth joy in their married life, saying, “We are witnesses. Jehovah make the woman that is come into thy house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily in Ephrathah, and be famous in Bethlehem.”
If you have read the parables in the New Testament, many of which describe weddings, you will know what they did at the marriage of Ruth and Boaz.
I am sorry about Naomi. Even with all the joy going on she seemed to be gloomy. Perhaps she had formed such a habit of being miserable that . it was hard for her to give it up. But a cheerful spirit has to be made a habit just as music has to be practiced’ if one wants to succeed. Practice cheerfulness for one day only and see what a difference it makes. Ruth had learned the habit of being happy until she really could not help it.
Naomi never seemed to see a blessing unless someone told her of it, for when Ruth’s little son, Obed, was born the neighbors had to say to her, “Blessed be Jehovah, who hath not left thee this day without a near kinsman; and let his name be famous in Israel. And he shall be unto thee a restorer of life, and a nourisher of thine old age ; for thy daughter-in-law, who loveth thee, who is better to thee than seven sons, hath borne him.” That this comforted Naomi we know, for she ” took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it.” The little Obed became the grandfather of King David. “Is it true,” you ask, “that Ruth’s cheery, loving spirit could win so much good fortune?” Look about you at