The story of Ruth, written doubtless by Samuel, and thrown in between the desolating wars of the Judges and those which followed under the Kings, is a touching picture of quiet pastoral life—a lifting of the curtain rolled in blood, from the background of tragic scenes, upon a peaceful home, where love has its trial and triumph. The thoughts rest like the Dove upon a green hill‐top, after flying wearily over the unburied slain and a deluged world, upon this bright vision amid heathen cruelties and slaughtered armies. We could not spare the short book of Ruth from the Bible. It not only illustrates God’s particular providence and protection of his people, but is an indispensable link in the genealogy of Christ, and is thus quoted in Matthew. (Mat 1:5.) A Moabitess is united to the ancestry of David, foreshadowing the truth that the Redeemer would shed his love and recovering mercy on the Gentile nations.
Voltaire dwelt with enthusiasm on the marvellous sweetness and simplicity of this “gem in oriental history.”
Fiction has never written so truthful and beautiful a tale—one while it reaches and subdues the heart, leaves no stain that would soil an angel’s purity. Like all God’s works and manifestations, it is faultless.
“No novelist has ever been able, with his utmost efforts, to paint so lovely, so perfect a character as this simple story presents. From first to last, Ruth appears before us endowed with every virtue and charm that render a woman attractive. Naomi’s husband was a man of wealth, and left Bethlehem to escape the famine that was wasting the land. (Rth 1:1-2.) In Moab he found plenty, and there with his wife and two sons, who married Ruth and Orpah, lived awhile and died. In the course of ten years, the two sons died also, and then Naomi, broken‐hearted, desolate and poor, resolved to return and die in her native land. (Rth 1:3-5.) How touching her last interview with her daughters‐in‐law, when she bade them farewell, and prayed that as they had been kind to her and her dead sons, so might the Lord be kind to them. (Rth 1:8.) Surprised that they refused to leave her, she reasoned with them, saying that she was a widow and childless, and to go with her was to seek poverty and exile in a strange land. (Rth 1:10-13.) She could offer them no home, and perhaps the Jewish young men would scorn their foreign birth, and when she died none would be left to care for them or protect them. There they had parents, brothers, and friends, who loved them and would cherish them. On the one hand were rank in society and comfort, on the other disgrace and poverty. Orpah felt the force of this language and turned back; (Rth 1:14) but Ruth, still clinging to her, Naomi declared that it was the act of folly and madness to follow the fortunes of one for whom no bright future was in store, no hope this side the grave. She sought only to see the place of her childhood once more, and then lie down where the palm trees of her native land might cast their shadows over her place of rest. ‘Go back,’ said she, ‘with thy sister‐in‐law.’ (Rth 1:15.) She might as well have spoken to the rock:—that gentle being by her side, all shrinking timidity and modesty, whose tender feelings the slightest breath could agitate, was immovable in her affections. Her eye would sink abashed before the bold look of impertinence, but with her bosom pressed on one she loved, she could look on death in its grimest forms unappalled. Fragile as the bending willow, she seemed, but in her true love, firm as the rooted oak. The hand of violence might crush, but never loosen her gentle clasp. With those white arms around her mother’s neck, and her breast heaving convulsively, she sobbed forth, ‘Entreat me not to leave thee, for where 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:—naught but death shall part us.’ (Rth 1:16-17.)
“Beautiful and brave heart! home, and friends, and wealth, nay, the gods she had been taught to worship, were all forgotten in the warmth of her affection. Tearful yet firm, ‘Entreat me not to leave thee,’ she said; ‘I care not for the future; I can bear the worst; and when thou art taken from me, I will linger around thy grave till I die, and then the stranger shall lay me by thy side!’ What could Naomi do but fold the beautiful being to her bosom and be silent, except as tears gave utterance to her emotions. Such a heart outweighs the treasures of the world, and such absorbing love, truth and virtue, make all the accomplishments of life appear worthless in comparison.
“The two unprotected women took their journey on foot towards Bethlehem. It was in the latter part of summer, and as they wandered along the roads and through the fields of Palestine, Ruth by a thousand winning ways endeavored to cheer her mother. (Rth 1:19.) Naomi was leaving behind her the graves of those she loved, and penniless and desolate, returning to the place which she had left with a husband and two manly sons, and loaded with wealth, and hence a cloud hung upon her spirit, Yet in spite of her grief she was often compelled to smile through her tears, and struggled to be cheerful, so as not to sadden the heart of the unselfish, innocent being by her side. And at fervid noon, when they sat down beneath the shadowy palm to take their frugal meal, Ruth hastened to the neighboring rill, for a cooling draught of water for her mother, and plucked the sweetest flowers to comfort her.
“Thus, day after day, they travelled on, until at length, one evening, just as the glorious sun of Asia was stooping to the western horizon, the towers of Bethlehem arose in sight. Suddenly a thousand tender associations, all that she had possessed and all that she had lost, the past and the present rushed over her broken spirit, and she knelt and prayed and wept. ‘Call me not,’ said she to the friends of her early days, who accosted her as she passed through the gates, ‘call me not Naomi, or the pleasant, but Mara, bitter, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me’ (Jdg 1:21.)
“Here again Ruth’s character shone forth in its loveliness. She was not one of those all sentiment and no principle; in whom devotion is mere romance, and self‐sacrifice expends itself in poetic expressions. Though accustomed to wealth, and all the attention and respect of a lady of rank, she stooped to the service of a menial in order to support her mother. With common hirelings she entered the fields as a gleaner, and without a murmur trained her delicate hands to the rough usage of a day‐laborer. (Rth 2:2.) At night her hard earnings were poured with a smile into the lap of her mother, and living wholly in her world of love, was unmindful of everything else. Boaz saw her amid the gleaners, and struck with her modest bearing and beauty, inquired who she was. (Rth 2:4-5.) On being told, he accosted her kindly, saying that he had heard of her virtues, her devotion to her mother, and her self‐sacrifices, and invited her that day to dine at the common table. (Rth 2:8-13.) With her long, dark locks falling in ringlets over her neck and shoulders, and her cheek crimsoned with her recent exertions, and the excitement at finding herself opposite the rich landlord, in whose fields she had been gleaning, and who helped her at the table as his guest, sat the impersonation of beauty and loveliness. That Boaz was fascinated by her charms, as well as by her character, was evident. He had watched her deportment, and saw how she shunned the companionship of the young men who sought her acquaintance, and of whose attentions her fellow‐gleaners would have been proud. Nothing was too humble, if it ministered to her mother’s comfort, but beyond that she condescended to nothing that was inconsistent with her birth. Whether abashed by his looks and embarrassed by his attentions, or from her native delicacy of character; she arose from the table before the rest had finished, and retired. After she had left, Boaz told the young men to let her take from the sheaves without rebuke, (Rth 2:15-16) and then, as if suddenly recollecting how different she was from the other gleaners, and that every sheaf was as safe where she trod as it would have been in his own granary, he bade them drop handfuls by the way, which she, wondering at their carelessness, gathered up. At sunset she beat it out and carried it to her mother. Naomi, surprised at the quantity, questioned her closely as to where she had gleaned, and when Ruth told her the history of the day, the fond mother divined the whole. (Rth 2:19.) Her noble and lovely Ruth had touched the heart of one of her wealthy kinsmen, and she waited the issue.
“The long conversations they held together, and the struggles of the beautiful Moabitess, before she could bring herself to obey her mother and lie down at the feet of Boaz, thus claiming his protection and love, are not recorded. (Rth 3:1-5.) Custom made it proper and right, but we venture to say that Ruth never passed a more uncomfortable night than that. Her modesty and delicacy must have kept her young heart in a state of agitation that almost mocked her self‐control. The silent appeal, however, was felt by her rich relative, and he made her his wife. The devotion to her helpless mother—her self‐humiliation in performing the office of a menial—the long summer of wasting toil—the many heartaches caused by the rough shocks she was compelled, from her very position, to recieve, at length met with their reward. Toiling through the sultry day, and beating out her hard earnings at night, the only enjoyment she had known was the consciousness that by her exertions Naomi lived. It had been difficult, when weary and depressed, to give a cheerful tone to her voice, so as not to sadden her anxious mother‐in‐law; but still the latter saw that the task she had voluntarily assumed was too great, and therefore, at length, claimed from Boaz the obligations of a kinsman. Love, however, was stronger than those claims, and he took Ruth to his bosom with the strong affection of a generous and noble man. She thus rose at once to the rank for which she was fitted, and in time the beautiful gleaner of the fields of Bethlehem became the great‐grandmother of the King of Israel.”
Ruth was naturally affectionate and amiable, but evidently owed that moral elevation of character which made her decision to go with Naomi, although a forlorn hope even did not brighten their path, sublime in its unyielding strength, to the religious culture of that Hebrew mother.
Orpah, less deeply impressed with the worship of the living God, returned at the urgent entreaty of Naomi, to her wealthy friends, and the adoration of Chemosh, the deity of Moab.
There is a fine appeal to the moral feelings in the last address to Ruth. “Behold thy sister‐in‐law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods; return thou after thy sister‐in‐law.” (Rth 1:15.) In her deep distress, Naomi knew not what to do—and throwing all the responsibility on the weeping Ruth, seemed to say, “Before us is famine and death—you can avoid sharing this bitter cup by a return to your people and idols.” With the spirit of a martyr that lovely being sobbed while she hung on Naomi’s neck, “I cannot forsake thee—let thy fate and God be mine.”
So did the family of Elimelech on the border of extinction, emerge from gloom into splendor which shines onward through all the lineage of David, blending at length with the glory that illumined the same vale of Bethlehem, when the chorus of angels was poured on the midnight air, because their King was cradled there in homeless solitude.