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Naomi and Ruth
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We now come to a portion of our history as women of Israel, which, from the loveliness of female character that it displays, has in neither history nor romance been equalled.
In the Bible it is termed the book of Ruth; but as Ruth does not properly belong, by birth and ancestry, to the women of Israel, Naomi must be the subject of our consideration. With her history, however, Ruth is so entwined, that we cannot reflect on the one without also pausing on the touching beauty of the other.
The country of Moab, situated in the north-east part of Arabia Petraea, was separated from Judea by the desolate tract of the Dead Sea, and the river Arnon. It could not probably be said ever to have formed part of the land of Canaan; but was one of those nations which the Eternal expressly commanded His people to spare. See Deuteronomy 2:9.
The Dead Sea was also the boundary of the tribe of Judah; and it is rather a remarkable fact that Judah and Simeon are the only tribes of Israel who appear to have driven out all the previous Canaanitish possessors. Judah was the first appointed by the Most High to go up against the land; and, accompanied by his brother Simeon, evinced not only more obedience but more valour and military skill.
We do not read of them, as of Benjamin, Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulon, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan, who, with scarcely any fighting, entered into peaceful covenants with the Canaanites, and permitted them to dwell with them even in their cities. Nor, in consequence, do we find recorded of the tribe of Judah those awful crimes and wilful idolatries practised by his brethren. [It is from Judah that the Jews received their name.]
In the early part of Jewish history, Judah was undoubtedly the most faithful tribe, else had he not been the chosen branch, from which, in God’s own time, will spring our Restorer and Messiah.
Elimelech was a man of this valiant tribe, and, in consequence of a severe famine which devastated Judea (the punishment, in all probability, of national sin), he removed his family, consisting of a wife and two sons, to the country of Moab, not far distant from their native city, Bethlehem-Judah or Ephratah [See Micah 5:2.].
Elimelech died in Moab, not very long after he sojourned there; and his two sons, Chilion and Mahlon, took them wives of the women of Moab, and dwelled there about ten years. Such unions were contrary to the given Law of God; and we may infer that, notwithstanding the virtue and attractions of those selected, the act itself as disobedience was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, from the early deaths, without leaving children, of Elimelech’s two sons. This, however, is a mere suggestion, which may or may not be, and does not infer Divine displeasure against either Orpah or Ruth; as those not under the Law were not bound by its instructions.
During the lifetime of her husband and sons, we hear nothing of Naomi; but it is by her conduct and sentiments in adversity, and the strong affection borne towards her by her daughters-in-law, that we may judge of her previous character.
A faithful wife, an affectionate mother – gentle, meek, trusting – manifesting a simple, guileless [open] piety in every relation, every circumstance of life; such she must have been, or we should not find her in affliction the [kind of] character which the Word of God displays.
It is not always in prosperity that we discover the true graces of a spiritual character. The quiet, unostentatious [no fuss] discharge of domestic duty – the fond, unwavering affections of domestic life – these strike us not. Nay, we often pass them by, wondering at the simplicity and tame-spiritedness which can rest content in such unexciting scenes. But when adversity comes, and strength and piety is to an extraordinary degree displayed, then it is we learn that it is in unexciting scenes woman’s character is best matured; and we may chance to envy those whom we had before almost despised.
The heart of the Hebrew widow yearned towards that lovely land, from which she had been so long a willing exile for her husband and children’s sake – yearned towards it, for it was the land of her brethren, where the Lord had set up His only Tabernacle. [The land] where His law had assured her of His especial protection – for she was a widow in Israel; where her full heart could pour itself before Him in the congregation of her people – could worship Him in all points according to His law.
In Moab she was alone of her race and faith. No wonder she yearned once more to rest in her native land; or that, lonely and aged as she was, she should yet set forth on the weary way. Another reason, also, might thus have urged her; she heard that ‘the Lord had visited His people with bread,’ [Ruth 1:6] and, therefore, she was no longer guiltless in continuing to sojourn in a heathen land.
Accompanied by her daughters, she departed from ‘the place where she was;' but, after going some little way together, she tenderly besought [begged] them to return, each to her mother’s house, praying that the Lord might deal kindly with them, even as they had dealt with the dead and with her; and grant them each rest and peace, with a husband of their own people.
Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept, saying ‘We will surely return with thee unto thine own people.’ [Ruth 1:10] They had lived with her ten years – a long period for the character and conduct to have been tried – and we see what Naomi’s must have been, by the grief of her two daughters – unable to part with her, even to return to their own parents.
To Naomi, such separation must also have been a heavy trial; but she was too unselfish to wish them to accompany her to a land of strangers. With renewed tenderness, then, she sought to turn them from their purpose, telling them she might no longer give them husbands; thus alluding to the law of her people, which commands the brother, or nearest kinsman of the deceased, to take unto himself the childless wife; and then only do we hear this meek and pious mother in Israel revert [refer] to her heavy affliction.
‘It grieveth me much, for your sakes, that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me.’ She recognised the hand of the Lord, and met her individual sorrows not only with uncomplaining resignation, but feeling yet more deeply for her daughters than for herself, and seeking to console them- leaving her own consolation to Him who had smitten and would heal. [See Hosea 6:1-3.]
No wonder that her fond words increased their grief and bade them weep again; but the effect on the sisters was different. Orpah was one of the many, feeling painfully at the moment, passionately desirous to evince that she felt, but liable to be easily diverted from her purpose. Penetrating no deeper than the surface, she, perhaps, believed Naomi’s words as neither desiring nor requiring her farther company; and, therefore, repeatedly she kissed her mother-in-law and wept, but at length turned back to her own home.
Much as she loved the aged Naomi, earnestly as she wished to serve her, she had not sufficient firmness and steadiness of character to act of herself, and set at naught the persuasions of affection. Gentle and yielding, it was easier for her to grieve than to act; and is not this the nature of many women? They fear to abide by their own judgment when two alternatives are presented to them. They hesitate and linger, fearing to commit themselves by decision, and so are guided by a breath.
Accustomed to express all their own impulses and feelings without regarding others, such natures cannot possibly understand those firmer and less selfish ones, who would do violence to their own wishes, to secure what may seem the greater share of happiness for another. That Orpah was one of these, solves her conduct far more justly and agreeably than to suppose her, as many do, merely professing a love and regret which she could not really feel – else she, too, would have followed Naomi.
Orpah was woman in her weakness; Ruth, woman in her strength; and both are as beautifully true to woman’s nature now as then.
Ruth’s own unselfish character gave her the clue to her mother-in-law’s words. She could understand that Naomi might persuade them to return home, and yet cling to them as her last ties on earth. To Ruth, action was better than passive grief – deeds, than the tenderest words; and, therefore, when Naomi besought her to follow her sister-in-law, and return to her own people, Ruth’s sole answer was couched in words exquisitely illustrative of the deep tenderness, the firm devotion, the beautiful deference of her individual character: - ‘Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following thee. Wither 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 me and thee!’ [Ruth 1:16-17.]
Not the most carefully studied oration [speech] could breathe more undying, changeless, self-submitting devotion, than these few and simple words.
Naomi was evidently poor. The riches of the Hebrews did not consist then of such wealth as would provide for their families after their death, - land and its produce constituted their possessions; and these, where there were no males to cultivate, could not prevent the female survivors from being poor as well as bereaved.
Naomi’s return to her own land would, of course, according to the law of God, secure her provision; but in the constant rebellion and disobedience of the people, it was precarious and uncertain – she might not even be recognised by her countrymen, so long a time had elapsed since she had left Ephratah. By her earnest entreaties for her daughters to return, it is evident that sufficiency and comfort marked their own homes [in Moab].
Yet Ruth unhesitatingly resigned them all to share her mother-in-law’s fate, whatever it might be. Bidding farewell to the friends, scenes, and associations of her youth, not for a time, but for a life, some cause for this pure devoted love there must have been. Ruth’s simple words not only reveal the beauty of her own character, but that of the aged Naomi. Affection is ever the impulse to devotion and unselfishness. The human heart ever needs something to which so to cling as to be drawn out from self, - and Ruth was not a character to devote her affections and energies to an unworthy object. We know what the character of Naomi must have been in those ten or twelve years of which we hear nothing, by the simple devotedness of Ruth in her adversity.
And what a comfort to that lone heart must have been the soothing words, and ‘steadfast mindedness,’ of the Moabitish damsel! Must not she whom we shall find, under every circumstance of joy or grief, looking to the Lord alone, and tracing all things from His Almighty hand, have felt this comfort came from Him – and that even then she had not trusted in vain? In the midst of affliction He sent consolation; in her deepest loneliness, raised up an earthly friend.
Here, as we have already seen in the love of Isaac for Rebekah, we find the tender compassion of the Eternal for His creatures manifested in giving human comfort, - He not only pours spiritual balm into thee bleeding heart, but provides some being on whom its quivering affections may again find rest, and whose faithful love shall fill the aching void. To the bereaved wife and mother, left in her old age alone, a withered tree from which every leaf and flower has gone, with no hope of ever bearing more, Ruth’s affection must have been indeed a precious balm. Without her, Naomi had [would have] been alone, and oh, at all times how fearful is the suffering included in that word! Yet [how much] more in the adversity of bereavement and old age!
We do not hear how long the travellers journeyed, but Holy Writ simply yet forcibly brings before us the wonder and sympathy excited by the Bethlehemites on Naomi’s return, ‘and it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?’
Can we not fancy the whole city flocking to look upon the travellers, to discover if indeed the rumour of Naomi’s return could be correct – and anxious, if it were, to give her kindly welcome? – struck by her look of years and sorrow, remembering her only as the fair and pleasant-looking wife of Elimelech then in her freshest prime, marvelling one to another, can this indeed be Naomi?
It is a complete picture of that primitive union of family and tribe, peculiar to early Judaism. Men were not then so engrossed with self, as to feel no sympathy, no interest, out of their own confined circle. They could spare both time and feeling to ‘be moved’ at the return of a countrywoman, who had been absent so long; and to grieve with her at those heavy afflictions which caused her to reply to their eager greetings, ‘Call me not Naomi [“my pleasantness”], call me Marah [“bitterness”], 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 that the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?’
Again we find Naomi in meek submission referring all the events of her life to her God, yet uttering no complaint – she alludes to her heavy afflictions indeed; alludes to them as afflictions, as God Himself ordained; not as some enthusiasts would seek to persuade us, that all bereavements are to be considered joys, and so received with thanksgiving and praise; that pain is not to be pain, if sent by the hand of the Lord.
This is not the spirit of the Jewish religion, as taught and practised in the Bible. Our Father demands not such violence done to the heart which He hath so mercifully and so wisely stored with such vast capabilities of pleasure and of pain. He demands not, that sorrow is to be looked on as joy – and joy to be despised as leading us far from Him. When He tries us in affliction, where would be its spiritual improvement in faith and submission, if we are to welcome it as joy? – Where would be the trial of pain, if it be not pain?
No, God loves us too well to forbid the healing and saving influence of that holy grief, which, without detaching us from the sweet and lovely links of earth that He Himself vouchsafed, will yet lead us to Him, convinced that He afflicts for our eternal good; that He acts, even in bereavement, through His changeless love, and that He who smote, in His own time will heal. No sorrow has yet been soothed by the vain philosophy which would seek to lessen either its pang or its extent. The sufferer must weep and mourn awhile; but if it be in the spirit of Naomi there will still be comfort found.
Naomi makes no complaint. But how deeply she feels the contrast between her return to, and her departure from, Bethlehem. We read in her shrinking from the name of her youth, which, signifying pleasantness, sweetness, and grace, too painfully recalled the days when those terms were applicable, not only to the charms of her personal character, but the pleasantness and sweetness of her daily life. Bitterness and sadness were more applicable to her present lot than the sweetness and joyance which had characterized it heretofore; and therefore she bids them call her Marah – but it is not complaint: it is but the natural shrinking of humanity from the memory of the past, contrasted with the suffering of the present.
It was at the beginning of the barley harvest Naomi and her daughter-in-law arrived at Bethlehem. There, it appears from the context, the former sought a retired and very humble dwelling. Notwithstanding that she had a wealthy kinsman, of the family of Elimelech, who, had she applied to him, was bound by the law to give her all the relief she needed, the gentle, unassuming nature of the widow preferred retirement and lowliness, to claiming the attention of her wealthy kinsman. The contrast between their respective positions was too great; - and how beautifully does this shrinking from making herself know to Boaz, or even from revealing his existence to Ruth, betray her gentle dignity! – and that self-esteem, ever proceeding from true piety.
The character of Naomi is consistent in all its parts, forcibly marking one who, from youth to age, was found true to herself and to her God.
The holy narration tells us that “it was Ruth’s hap [chance] to light on a part of the field belonging to Boaz.’ Had she known his near connection, her refinement and delicacy of feeling would have led her to any other field in preference. The whole scene which follows is a most beautiful illustration of the domestic manners and customs of the early Jews, and all in exact accordance with the given law.
The kind and conciliatory manner of Boaz, ‘the mighty man of wealth,’ to his dependents; his salutation, and their reply; evince [illustrate] how completely the thought and recollection of the God of Israel was entwined with the daily work of His people. The intimate acquaintance which Boaz must have had with all his household, male and female, from his instant discovery of the youthful stranger, and the reply of the reapers, all breathe a refinement and civilization of feeling and action, found at this period [of world history] only amidst the people of the Lord.
Boaz confirmed the kindness of his dependents by addressing Ruth in words of such gently courtesy, peculiarly adapted to reassure and soothe her. He not only tells her to glean in his field alone – there was no need for her to go farther – but to abide by his maidens, thus removing unconsciously all painful feelings on her being a Moabitish stranger, which would keep her aloof. He told her, too, to follow close after the reapers, that she should receive neither harshness or insult, and when she was athirst, to drink freely from that which the young men had drawn.
With the respect ever proffered to real goodness, and astonished at such unexpected kindness, Ruth replied in words, the meekness and humility of which increased Boaz’s prepossession in her favour, and confirmed all which rumour had already proclaimed concerning her. ‘Why have I found grace in thy eyes,’ she said, ‘that thou shouldst take this knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?’
And how must her heart have throbbed with natural pleasure at Boaz’s rejoinder, ‘It hath been fully showed me all that thou hast done unto thy mother-in-law, since the death of thine husband: how thou hast left father and 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.’
Deserved approbation [approval] is sweet, however some stern stoics may say that virtue is its own reward, and if conscience approves we need no more. Ruth must at once have felt that it was not the mere kindness springing from a good heart, which dictated Boaz’s conduct to her, but that she was known and appreciated, stranger as she was. A coarser and more worldly nature than that of Boaz, even while it equally benefited, would have exalted itself, not the being it served; would have manifested kindness only because it would obtain personal praise, and care little for the feeling of the person served.
Boaz, on the contrary, removed the idea of obligation to himself by elevating Ruth, and making her believe that to her own virtue, not to his kindness, she owed the attention she received. ‘Let me still find favour in thy sight, my lord,’ was her grateful reply; ‘for thou hast comforted me, and hast spoken friendly to thy handmaid, though I be not like one of thine own handmaidens.’ We never find Ruth forgetting her origin, nor in any way assuming the privileges which her acceptance of and belief in Naomi’s God might naturally have assigned her; a lowliness which secured her, unasked, the privileges which, from a contrary conduct, would, no doubt, have been refused.
Not content with desiring her freely to share the meal provided for his reapers, Boaz himself reached her the ‘parched corn,’ – seeing that she ate till she was sufficed; and when she rose up again to glean, he gave orders to let her glean amid the sheaves, and reproach her not, and also ‘to let fall some handfuls on purpose for her.’ His generosity and her own perseverance enabled her to take home an ephah [a basket full] of barley.
And Naomi, eager to bring her child refreshment, not knowing how she might have fared during the day, ‘brought forth and gave to her the food which she had reserved for her;’ affectionately asking from her, at the same time, where and what she had gleaned, and fervently blessing him who had thus taken knowledge of her. Ruth’s reply elicited a burst of thanksgiving from Naomi.
‘Blessed be the Lord, who hath not left off His kindness to the living and the dead.’ She felt it was no chance, but her God, who had guided Ruth to the field of their kinsman, and infused his heart with kindness towards her. Convinced now that their restoration to their rights would be brought about by the direct agency of her God, she no longer scrupled to impart to Ruth the near relationship of Boaz; and when Ruth repeated his injunctions, to keep fast by his young men until they had ended all his harvest, Naomi, still tracing divine agency, gladly replied, ‘It is good, my daughter, that thou go out with his maidens, that they meet thee not in any other field.’
And Ruth, in unquestioning obedience, ‘kept fast by the maidens of Boaz, to glean unto the end of the barley and wheat harvest, and dwelt with her mother-in-law.’ Not all that was in all probability reported of her devotion and beauty could tempt her to turn aside from her lowly path of usefulness and good. Novelty and change could have had no glare [temptation] for her, or she might have restlessly longed to join the gleaners of other fields. She was too grateful for the friendly kindness of Boaz, too devoted to her mother-in-law, to wish to go beyond the field of the former, or the humble house of the latter. ‘Where thou lodgest I will lodge,’ she had said, and her words were but the index of her actions.
But the time had now come when her earthly lot was to undergo a material change. Naomi, who had, in all probability, passed the intervening days in thought and prayer, determined on seeking the rest and prosperity of her devoted daughter, according to the dictates of the law. She therefore gave Ruth the necessary directions – directions which to us may appear strange, and even revolting, but which seem, in the time of Naomi, to have been authorized by custom, and therefore containing nothing whatever indelicate or forward.
To Ruth, as a Moabitess, the whole proceedings might have felt unusual, and perhaps even painful; but we have neither remark nor hesitation. She asks not wherefore, but simply says, ‘All that thou sayest unto me I will do.’ She had proved the affection and wisdom of her mother-in-law much too long to doubt them now, however her own feelings and judgment might shrink from the course of action proposed. Naomi’s influence had ever been that of love, not of authority, and therefore was she ever sure of unquestioning obedience.
Human means Naomi refused not to adopt, but still she left the entire end of these means to the justice and mercy of her God. She knew that in His hand was the heart of Boaz, and therefore she merely told Ruth how to obtain his attention, leaving it to him ‘to tell thee what thou shalt do;’ convinced that the Lord, in whom she trusted, would order the end aright.
All took place as she had anticipated.
Waking in terror at midnight – a terror not a little increased by finding someone lying at his feet – Boaz demanded, ‘Who art thou?’ and received such a reply as at once calmed his affright, and roused him to a renewal of all the nobleness and generosity of his character. Some of our Hebrew translators of this book suppose Ruth’s word, ‘Spread, therefore, thy skirt over thine handmaid, for thou art a near kinsman,’ to signify ‘Give me thy protection as a husband:’ and, as such, was in exact accordance with the law: we rather incline towards the opinion.
The reply of Boaz reassured the trembling suppliant; for steadily she had adhered to the straight path of duty, ‘following neither young men, neither rich nor poor,’ so that the whole city ‘knew that she was a virtuous woman.’ He proceeded to inform her that he was indeed their near kinsman, but there was one still nearer, whose duty it was to perform the husband’s part; but that if he refused, even he Boaz pledged himself to do so, as the Lord liveth, bidding her lie down till morning. But ere the day broke, so that one could recognise another, Ruth rose to depart, encouraged so to do by him with whom she had so fearlessly trusted herself, and whose care for her reputation was tender and thoughtful as a brother’s. Nor did he send her away empty. Fearful lest she and her mother-in-law might be in want ere the business could be settled, he filled her veil with six measures of barley, with which she returned to her home; and Naomi bid her sit calmly down until they knew how the matter would fall.
There is no need to transcribe the events detailed in the fourth chapter, from the 1st to the 12th verse. A reference to the Word of God itself is all that is needed on the part of our readers to impress them forcibly with the beautiful picture of the manners and customs of our ancestors which it presents. The gate of the city was always the place of public judgment, that all the people might be aware of what was going on, and give their suffrages [votes], and witness for or against.
Thither Boaz repaired the very next morning after his interview with Ruth, and sat him down, waiting the appearance of the person he had named as the nearer of kin than himself. He hailed him on his approach, and the man willingly turned aside from his intended path, and sat down by the gate. Boaz next assembled ten elders, and stated his business. The field which Naomi wished disposed of, the kinsman seemed willing to redeem. But the remainder of his duty, to raise up the name of the dead to his inheritance [his first child by Naomi would inherit Elimelech’s family name and his portion of Israel], he refused, on the plea that to do so would interfere with his own inheritance. [Thus] requiring Boaz, in consequence, to redeem the right for himself, as he, the nearest kinsman, could not; loosening at the same time his shoe, or glove, as some commentators believe, and giving it to his neighbour, as confirmation of his words.
Boaz then addressed the elders and the people, bidding them be witness that he had purchased of the hand of Naomi all that was Elimelech, Chilion, and Mahlon’s, and Ruth, the wife of Mahlon, to be his wife, that he might raise up the name of the dead, and so let it not be cut off from his brethren, or the gate of his place.
And the elders of the people bore witness joyfully, coupled with earnest aspiration [hopes] that the Lord might make the woman he had chosen, like Rachel and like Leah, who had built up the house of Israel; and that he himself might ‘do worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem.’
And so he was: for as the great-grandfather of David, the name of Boaz must indeed be still famous in Judah, and dear to Israel. The uncomplaining submission and lowly trust of Naomi, and the filial [family] obedience and devotion of Ruth, were both alike rewarded. For the latter not only became the wife of the generous and noble-minded Boaz, but, in due course of time, God granted her a son; and Naomi, who had believed herself but a withered branch, to which neither joy nor fruitfulness might ever return, ‘took the child, and laid it on her bosom, and became nurse to it.’
We may read in the lively greetings of the women of Bethlehem, the joy which this event occasioned, and their affectionate sympathy in Naomi’s previous affliction, ‘Blessed by the Lord,’ they said, ‘who hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may 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, and who is better to thee than seven sons, hath borne him.’
How beautifully do these words express the women of Israel’s appreciation and love of the gentle Moabitess! The babe would be a restorer of Naomi’s life, and a cherisher of her old age, for he was Ruth’s son. She who had been to Naomi better than seven sons (in the Hebrew the number is unlimited) would not fail to rear up her child in such virtue and holiness as would make his name indeed precious in Israel, and a blessing to his grandmother. Nor can we doubt that the affection and devotedness marking their mutual intercourse in adversity, was lessened in prosperity. The love which had been so mutually proved was not likely to decrease, but would rather deepen with every passing year.
With the genealogy of Boaz, down to David, this most interesting book concludes; and before we proceed to notice the beautiful lessons of domestic life which it inculcates [teaches], we would endeavour to prove how mistaken is the objection sometimes brought forward, that Ruth, a Moabitess, should have been the ancestress of David, the elected servant of the Lord. When Ruth resigned alike, home, parents, and the gods of her youth, she voluntarily engrafted herself upon the children of God. [See Romans chapter 11.]
And we know that such engrafting was permitted, not only from the Law, but from its after-explanation by the prophets.
In the Law we repeatedly find the command to save the virgins alive, even of those nations whom they were commanded to exterminate, that they might be brought to the worship of the One true God, and multiply Israel.
In the prophets we read, that those of the stranger, whether male or female, who voluntary accepted the covenants of the Lord, and kept His sabbaths and appointed feasts and ordinances, even had they been only eunuchs before, were (see Isaiah 56:3-8), instead of being despised, to receive a place and a name in His house, better even than sons and daughters.
An everlasting name which shall not be cut off, to be brought to the holy mountain, and made joyful in His house of prayer; and their burnt offerings and sacrifices, the essential privilege of the Holy People, accepted on God’s altar. In the Law, too, we find repeated injunctions, - ‘love ye the stranger, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt;’ and by the whole history of Ruth, we see how precisely this law was obeyed. She was one of those coming under the denomination of ‘the stranger,’ and who yet, from her acceptance of the Lord’s sabbaths, covenants, etc; all of which is implied in her own words, ‘thy God shall be my God,’ deserved and received the privileges enumerated above.
She was yet more than a daughter in His sight, because her acceptance of, and obedience to, the Law, were entirely voluntary; not merely received from education and as heritage.
That God is no respecter of persons, we read throughout the whole of His changeless Word. Faithfulness and virtue, the heart, - but neither birth nor appearance – are valued by Him. And when, therefore, Ruth turns from all the associations and scenes of her youth, to adopt and accept the religion of Naomi, and faithfully serve her God, she is in act no longer a Moabitess (and is only called so to designate her as a stranger amidst Israel), but as worthy, if not even more so, to be the ancestress of David, than the lineal descendants of Abraham, who were Israelites because God had selected them so to be, not for their own sakes, or their own worth, but simply for the love He bore, and the promise He made, unto His favoured servants. Ruth became an Israelite from voluntary adoption. Her filial devotion and reverence were the most exquisite illustration of how she not only accepted, but obeyed the Law.
And, from the character of David, still more than even his selection, we may easily infer how faithfully she not only obeyed the Law herself, but transmitted it to her descendants. That the Eternal should have selected a king, whose great-grandmother was of Moabitish descent, cannot, then, we think, with any justice be brought forward as a matter either of wonder or objection. If it were unlawful for any stranger to be engrafted upon Israel, we should not find so many laws regarding ‘the stranger’ in the Mosaic code itself, nor their practical commentary in Isaiah, as quoted above. Her virtue and goodness gave her favour in the sight alike of God and man, and rendered her worthy of being the ancestress of that holy line whence the Messiah himself will spring – while her voluntary acceptance of the God, and of the course the faith, of Naomi, removed from her own Moabitish birth all reproach, and gave her yet a dearer name in the eyes of God and of His people than even that of daughter.
To us, as women of Israel, the whole book of Ruth teems with unspeakable consolation and support. It is a picture so vivid of the manners, customs, ay, and even feelings of Israel at that period, that even Gentile writers are struck by it, and refer to it with high eulogiums [praises] on its touching beauty and impressive truth.
Shall we, then, value it less, and refuse to draw from it the strong confirmation which it contains of our contested point – the refined and elevated position of the women of Israel themselves, and the tender yet respectful consideration with which they were regarded by their brethren? Will any one point of Naomi’s character permit us to suppose that during her husband’s lifetime she was merely a slave, with neither religious, moral, nor intellectual training? Had she been such in Elimelech’s lifetime, such she must have remained. Instead of which, from her determination to return to her own land, and worship her God once more amongst her own people, we perceive that she was a woman of strong mind and unfailing energy. While from the affection of both her sons’ wives, and the devotion of one, we must equally infer that she possessed, and in her domestic duties must have displayed, such winning and amiable qualities, as to call such affection forth.
These characteristics, and all which follow – the refined and retiring dignity, the correct judgment, and also the patient faith in her God – all were quite incompatible with a degraded position either individually or socially. It is very clear, then, that not in any received Law of Israel could the position of the women of Israel have been that which our enemies so ignorantly report. If two Laws were in action at this period, one must have been an exact repetition of the other, or in a book like that of Ruth, so strikingly illustrative of the national character and customs, some difference must have been discernible.
If, then, the charge [accusation] on modern Judaism be really founded on apparent truth, it must be a state of things brought about by the awful horrors of persecution, and their natural effect in narrowing and brutalizing the human mind.
In all that relates to Ruth, too, we see the real light in which the Hebrew woman was regarded, very clearly. We should not find her filial devotion and individual goodness so appreciated by all the Bethlehemites, female as well as male, were not virtue and goodness in woman subjects of admiration, of cherishing, and respect.
It was not only in obedience to the Law, which commanded love and kindness to be show towards the stranger, that Boaz so encouraged and cherished her when first gleaning in his field. He expressly states the wherefore, because of her devotion to her mother-in-law, and her having given up her father’s gods to accept Him under whose wings she had come to trust. ‘A full reward shall be given thee from the Lord,’ he says; thus marking her as accepted and cherished by God as well as man.
The most reverential yet fatherly care marks the whole of his conduct towards her; and here we see very strongly marked the obedience to the law instituted for the benefit of the stranger: he not only ‘showed kindness,’ but literally left for her the ‘gleanings of his field.’
The third chapter of the sacred story most emphatically proves the superiority of morality and civilization in Israel, over the known world. In what other nation could Ruth have so trusted herself, as she did to the honour and justice of Boaz? How fully must Naomi have been assured of the safety of her child, or how could she have counselled such a mode of proceeding? And how completely she was justified in her confidence, we read in Boaz’s anxiety to save Ruth from all insulting remarks, by letting it ‘not be known that a woman had been to the floor.’
Again, in Boaz’s instant pursuance of Ruth’s suit, we very clearly perceive that women must have been considered of some account. And also another important point in a national view, Boaz’s exact obedience to the formula of the Law, in calling the nearest kinsman to give his attention to the subject, and decide; notwithstanding his own evident anxiety to obtain Ruth as his wife, unquestionably proves, that as the Law was so strictly kept in one point, so it would be in all. And consequently there could have been, neither practically nor theoretically, any one single statute [law] to the disparagement [downgrading] of woman.
The very joy of the whole people in Boaz’s decision to make Ruth his wife; their hearty congratulations and earnest wishes for his welfare, and hers that she might be as Leah and Rachel; the delight of the women, and their joyous sympathy with Naomi at the unexpected issue to all her misfortunes – all prove the beautiful unity and love marking the people of the Lord. All seemed to vie with each other in making their respective tribes as one affectionate family, bound by the same ties, hoping the same hope, trusting the same God, weeping with those that wept, and rejoicing with those that joyed.
Such a state of things could never have existed if the women of Israel had not been, morally, spiritually, and intellectually, on a perfect equality with man.
Regarding the book of Ruth in its final bearings – that is, as it concerns women in general – we are particularly struck with the exquisite lesson of maternal and filial affection which it teaches.
The beauty of Ruth’s words and actions sometimes occupies attention alone, to the exclusion of the tenderness characterizing Naomi, which, to our feelings, is equally touching and impressive. Ruth’s determination to quit her own land, her parents, and their gods, was indeed one of beautiful self-devotion; but was evidently LOVE, not duty, which impelled it, and that love must have been called forth by the tenderness she had originally received.
Seldom is the love of the young excited to such an extent towards an elder, unless by affection and appreciation from that elder invited so to love; and not only invited, but retained by unwavering kindness and regard. That such feelings had always actuated Naomi towards her daughter-in-law, we infer from the caressing tenderness with which, in all that passed between them, she invariably addressed her.
We never can read either coldness or indifference, much less the harsh mistrust, breathing often more in tone than actual words, which sometimes characterizes the manner of an elder towards a younger. All she says, either in persuasion to return, or in advice or inquiry, is with the same caressing love. In her bringing forth on Ruth’s return the remains of the day’s meal which she had been compelled to take while Ruth was absent, how touchingly we read the love lingering with her absent child, the thought of saving for her the evening meal, and bringing it with eager haste the moment Ruth appeared, not knowing how she might have fared during the hot and weary day.
Oh! while we would have our young sisters imitate, as they cannot fail to love, the conduct of Ruth, will not their elders do well to ponder on and imitate the tenderness of Naomi?
Youth will not, cannot love a pure unselfish love, unless invited so to do; no, not even in the sanctuary of home, not even parents, unless love, not only felt but displayed in confidence and caressing kindness, marks the parental conduct.
Duty done on either side is not enough, for it is not according to the spirit of the Lord and of His Word. There love predominates, and so should it predominate in the homes of His children.
We do not deny that it does, but we would have it displayed as well as felt by every member of that hallowed temple – HOME.
Brothers and sisters, parents and children, twined together in that sacred silvery link, unbroken even by death, for they know it is immortal. Love not only felt, but breathing in every tone and actuating every deed; confidence and trust – mutually given, mutually felt. How thrice blest would such things make home! The parental heart would not then bleed in secret at what seems like neglect and unkindness, if not an utter want of love.
Nor would the young spirit shrink within itself, chilled and sad, yearning for affection spoken as well as felt, and utterly unconscious how truly and how deeply they may still be loved. How different is that home where no gentle word is heard – no caress asked for or voluntarily bestowed – no interchange of mutual thought; but each member walks alone, seeking no sympathy save from the stranger, caring not to shed one flower on the parental hearth, and believing they have no place in the parental heart save as a child, words of which, until they are parents themselves, they know not, guess not, the unutterable meaning.
How different is such a home to that where love is visible – where parents and, as its natural consequence, children vie with each other as to who can prove it most, and by the words and manners of daily life throw such a beautiful halo even over its cares and sorrows as inexpressibly heightens its sweetest joys.
There are some who doubt the love that dwells in caressing words and a loving manner. Yet why should it be doubted till its absence has been proved? Why should the gentle power be despised which will make daily life happier, and so inexpressibly soothe the sickness and sorrow which ask but love alone? No; it is the icy surface we must doubt, for never yet were there warm and unselfish loving hearts who could think it necessary to suppress such fond emotions in the sweet sanctuary of home.
It is the cold at heart who never give domestic affections vent, and can therefore never hope so to attract the young, as to rouse them to evince the love they could have felt, or proffer more than the cold dull routine of daily duty.
We must love to be loved – we must evince [show] that love, would we so unite young hearts to our own, as, if needed, to sacrifice all of self for us, or to devote life, energy, hope, all to our service. Would we have our daughters Ruths, we must be Naomis.
We have no right, no pretence to demand more than we evince as well as give. Reserve, coldness, command may win us duty, but duty in the domestic circle is a poor substitute for love. Even kindness in act is often undervalued, nay, absolutely unknown, if it be not hallowed by kindness of manner and of word. In the world words and manner may be deceiving, but not in the temple of home; for the love which would there dictate kindness of manner must equally incite kind deeds. The latter may exist without the former, and if only one may have existence, we may grant the superiority of good deeds, though there are some griefs, some trials, which kindly words may soothe where action has no power.
Oh, let us unite the two as Ruth and Naomi! and however dark and troubled our earthly course, a light will shine within our homes, which no sorrow, nor care, nor even death will have power to darken or remove. God is Love – the spirit of His Word is Love; and would we indeed walk according to His dictates, Love, proved alike in word and deed, must be the Guardian Angel of our homes.
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