In the days before there was a king in Israel a woman called Naomi, whose name means |the pleasant,| lived in the little village of Bethlehem; and when at one time food was scarce, she left the place with her husband and two sons, and went over into the land of Moab, where there was plenty of food to eat.
For ten years she lived in that land, and there her sons married Moabite girls. Then heavy trouble came upon Naomi, for she lost not only her husband, but her two sons also. In her sorrow Naomi's heart turned to Bethlehem, with its cluster of white houses among the hills of her own country. But before going back she bade her daughters-in-law return to their mothers' houses, where they would be happy. They both wept, and Orpah, the elder, kissed Naomi and went away; but Ruth clung to her and refused to go.
|Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee,| she said; |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.|
So they went back together to the village of Bethlehem, and Naomi in her sorrow said to her old friends, when she met them once more, |Call me not Naomi 'the pleasant,' but Mara 'the bitter;' for God hath dealt bitterly with me.|
Ruth wore the dress of the village girls, of deep green and bright red, with a white veil streaming over her shoulder, and a row of coins upon her brow; and she was pleasant to look upon as she went up and down the stony path which ran from the gate in the wall to the women's well, carrying her pitcher to get water. As she moved along the path her eyes often strayed over the plains of dry grass and the fields of golden grain; for it was the rich harvest time, and she was very poor.
Rising one morning before the clouds were red over Hebron, she went down into the valley where the harvesters were at work, and followed the reapers and binders, picking up as a gleaner all the stray heads of barley she could find. As the binders were women she kept near them; and they talked kindly to her, for they knew her and had heard her sad story.
Now when Boaz, the farmer, came down to the village to see how the work went on in his field, he called out, |God be with you| to his reapers; and they answered, |May God bless you.| Turning to the women, he asked the name of the strange maiden, and spoke kindly to her, calling her his daughter, and telling her to keep close to his women, where no one would touch her, and not to leave his fields. If she was thirsty, she might drink from the water-bottles from which the reapers could drink when they wished.
Kneeling before him with head bowed down, as if this farmer were a king, Ruth thanked him for his kindness to a stranger; and the man replied that he had heard of her goodness to Naomi, her mother, and praised her.
[Illustration: Ruth and Naomi.]
When the midday heat was great the reapers gathered in a shady place, and Boaz bade Ruth come and share their bread and light wine, and he gave her parched corn, as much as she could eat. In the afternoon they rose to work again, and Boaz told the reapers to let the girl glean among the sheaves, and pull out a handful here and there; and she gleaned there till the sun went down over the hills.
Now the corn that she gathered was too heavy for her to carry away as it was, so she sat down and beat the barley out between two stones, and tying it up in her veil, put it on her head, and went home with a light step. Naomi was astonished when she opened out her store in the little house; for she had gleaned more than a bushel of barley.
When she told Naomi where she had been, her mother said that Boaz was a relative of her own; and the elder woman was glad indeed to hear that he had given Ruth leave to glean in his fields during the whole of the harvest time.
And so it came about that every day at the red dawn Ruth went singing down the rocky pathway to work with the reapers in the warm Eastern valley; and as the wheat harvest followed close upon the barley harvest, she worked for many days, returning home at night with her ruddy cheeks burnt brown with the sun, to lay her heap on the floor of her mother's house; for they were laying up a little store with which to bake bread in the months of wind and rain that were before them in the coming winter.
But as time went on they did not need to live in poverty, for Boaz married Ruth at the end of the wheat harvest; and this Moabite girl became the great-grandmother of King David, the most famous king of Israel, and one of the ancestors of Jesus Christ our Lord Himself.