The story of Ruth and Naomi is one of the sweetest and most touching of all the Bible stories. It shows the beauty of unselfish devotion and constant love, and the happiness which they brought, and teaches a lesson which is very helpful to us all.
A long time ago, in the days of the judges of Israel, there was a famine in the land of Canaan, and a man named Elimelech, whose home was in Bethlehem, went with his wife Naomi and his two sons to live in Moab.
After they had been there a while Naomi's husband died, leaving her with the two sons. Then, by and by, the sons married, and their wives were very good to Naomi, and loved her. But it was only ten years before both of the sons died, and Naomi thought it was best for her to go back to her old home in Canaan; for she had been told that there was plenty in the land once more, and she wanted to see her own people and the relatives of her husband who was dead. So Naomi told her daughters-in-law to return to their own homes, because she could not expect them to be willing to leave everything for her sake.
|Go, each of you, to your mother's house,| she said; |the Lord deal kindly with you as ye have dealt with the dead and with me.| But they both wept and clung to her, saying, |Surely we will return with thee into thy land.|
Naomi, however, thought they would be unhappy if they left their own country, and she urged them to stay there and let her go alone; so one of them kissed her over and over again and promised to do as she bade; but the other, who was named Ruth, would not leave her.
|Entreat me not to leave thee,| she pleaded, |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 I will die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me and more, also, if aught but death part thee and me.|
Then Naomi stopped urging her to return, and they went together to Bethlehem, where the friends of Naomi were very glad to welcome her and greeted her in a very friendly manner, saying again and again, |Is this Naomi?|
[Illustration: THE ASCENSION INTO HEAVEN.]
But she answered: |Call me not Naomi, but call me Mara, for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.| She said this because Naomi means |pleasant| and Mara means |bitter,| and the sorrowing widow felt that her life was a bitter rather than a pleasant one, since she had been bereaved of her husband and sons.
There lived in Bethlehem a man named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi's husband, and who was also very wealthy. He had a large farm and many people, both men and women, worked in his fields, and as it was about the beginning of the barley harvest when the two women came to Bethlehem, these fields presented a busy appearance.
Ruth wished to do something to help support herself and her mother-in-law, so she begged Naomi to let her go into the fields and glean after the reapers -- that is, to gather up the barley that was left after they had made up the sheaves -- and Naomi told her that she might go.
[Illustration: THE PRODIGAL SON.]
Ruth happened to choose the field of Boaz to work in, and when the wealthy man came into the field and saw her, he said, |The Lord bless thee!| but he did not know who she was.
As he went away he inquired of the head reaper about the young woman, and afterward he said to Ruth: |Go not to glean in another field, but keep here close to my maidens.| He also spoke to his young men about her, telling them to be kind and courteous to her, and he bade her go and drink of the water which they drew whenever she was thirsty.
When Ruth wondered at his kindness and asked him why he was so good to a stranger, he told her that he had heard of her love for Naomi and her unselfish devotion, and he said: |The Lord reward thee, and a full recompense be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.| He invited her also to sit with his reapers at meal-time, and he waited upon her that she might have enough to eat and drink.
When she had gone he commanded his young men to let her glean among the sheaves and to drop some handfuls purposely for her, and not to find fault with her or reprove her.
So Ruth worked in the field all day, and then beat out the barley which she had gleaned and took it to the city to show Naomi, who was very glad, indeed, and very thankful.
Naomi asked Ruth where she had gleaned, and when she had heard the whole story, she told her that Boaz was a near relative and that it was well for her to stay in his fields, as he had given her permission to do, until the end of the harvest. So Ruth kept close to the maidens who gleaned in the fields of Boaz until the end of both the barley and the wheat harvests.
Then one night when Boaz was to have a winnowing of barley, Naomi told Ruth to make herself ready, putting on her best clothing, and to go to the winnowing and the feast and to ask Boaz what she should do.
The winnowing is the fanning out of the straws from the kernels after the husks have been beaten off. A great many people helped about the work, and a feast was prepared for them.
Ruth did as Naomi had told her to do. When she had informed Boaz that she was a near relative he said, |Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter.| Then he told her not to be afraid, but to bring the long veil which she wore, and when she had brought it he poured a large quantity of barley into it. She carried this to the city and gave it to her mother-in-law, telling her what Boaz had said, and Naomi was comforted; for she knew that Boaz would advise them wisely.
After this Boaz went to the city and consulted with the chief men and those that were interested in the welfare of Naomi and Ruth, and when he found that it would be wronging no one, he told the people that he was going to take Ruth for his wife, and the people said, |We are witnesses.| So Boaz married Ruth; but in her new position as the wife of a very wealthy and influential man, this noble woman did not forget her love for Naomi, whom she still tenderly cared for. When a little son came to bless the union, Naomi rejoiced, for she felt almost as though it was her own little son, and she named him Obed and delighted in taking care of him.
When Obed became a man he married and had a son named Jesse, who in turn became the father of David, the great king of Israel. Jesus Himself was of the House of David, and so God's promise to His chosen people was fulfilled.