Barbara Booker
Ruth - A Love Story

Chapter 2

The sights and sounds, though now of Israel instead of Moab, were much the same. Village life in these areas changes little from nation to nation or from generation to generation. Men and women were hurrying home for the night; evening meals were being prepared; restless children calmed; older children, still full of energy, played just one more game in the dusty streets.

Women made a final trip to the town’s well which was by the gate — how many times had Naomi longed for a drink from this well! This was when they saw us — two dusty, tired women... coming home. I was the first to hear the whispers:

“Is this Naomi?”

“But who is her companion?”

“Elimelech? and Chilion and Mahlon — where are they?”

Naomi answered them, forgetful for a moment of my presence:

“Don’t call me Naomi — call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

Her grief had been called to remembrance and for a brief moment some bitterness showed through. But my mother-in-law was a strong woman and she quickly regained control of her emotions. Friends and relatives, so overjoyed to see us, surrounded us with questions, kisses, hugs and invitations. Yes, we were home! For tonight we would sleep in a relative’s house, but in the morning, God willing, we would search out our own home.

Thus it was that I was in Bethlehem for my first “real” Passover, as Naomi always called it. After resting I sat quietly with Naomi, watching the Passover preparations being made. When all was in readiness we joined some of her relatives around the table, listened to the children’s questions, and then to the responses of her cousin, the head of the family, as he recited the history of that special night so long ago. Finally we partook of all the special dishes and wines.

By the time it was completed I was extremely weary, as was Naomi. It seemed like forever before all the family departed. Naomi and I then excused ourselves and helped each other up the outside stairs to the “upper room” where we would sleep. And sleep we did — a deep, peaceful sleep under Israel’s starlit sky.

Village life was starting again for Naomi and me. Early the next morning she took me through the streets, introducing me to everyone she saw, visiting with old friends, catching up on news and checking at the city gate to see who was settling which dispute. Here too, at the gate, she inquired about her old home — was it vacant? Had anyone lived there in her absence? “Yes” came the reply, the house was vacant. And “No” — nobody had lived in it.

So we set off for the home she had longed for — our new home. Past the shops already noisy and busy with trade we went until finally we turned a corner onto a quiet lane. Her house was at the end of this lane. It looked very neglected and at the sight of it Naomi broke into tears and sobs. We trampled our way through grass and weeds and then pushed on the door. It opened readily, as though it were expecting us. Sunlight streamed into the house through the open door — the first sunlight to enter in years.

Naomi moved quickly about her little home, opening windows, barred and locked by Elimelech before they left for Moab. Dust was everywhere, but she was soon busy sweeping. And as she swept she remembered and she talked. This was a piece of furniture that Elimelech had made for them... this was where Chilion and Mahlon had been born... this was where her boys had learned to crawl, to toddle, to run. This was where they had cried and laughed together. This was home. It wasn’t long before friends appeared in the doorway, bearing gifts. There were clay lamps, with fresh olive oil, new blankets and mats, fire for the oven, fresh fruits and breads. We were indeed blessed — our cup was running over.

Like Naomi, I too had my memories. I tried hard not to think of my first home with Mahlon; that seemed so long ago and so far away — so much happiness, despair and sorrow had flashed through my life in these short years. But here we were, with a new life ahead. If this new life were to continue, then we must find food and provide our own clothing and necessities. Gifts would not last forever — we knew that from the past. Naomi talked of selling the remaining family field, but that would require some time. Meanwhile, our food supply was running low, as was our money. Food was measured out meal by meal; not a crumb was wasted.

The reality of poverty was setting in, here in this promised land, this land of milk and honey. How carefully we counted and recounted our coins before market day. We had learned to wait to avoid being observed when making our humble purchases. We had also learned that, by waiting till near the close of a market day, we could get some bargains. Overripe fruits, day-old bread and fish were still fresh enough for our table. I watched and waited while others shopped — and I must admit, there were times when my eyes would scan the ground beneath the stalls as I sought, like a child, for lost coins. I did not always see forgotten coins, but I did see the pitying looks of shop owners and friends alike. I felt the sting and shame of poverty, and my cheeks burned with embarrassment. It was not something I could talk about with Naomi, for she suffered her own private shame with this new situation.

We were not the only poor in Bethlehem, I told myself... but we had not always been poor... it took time to adjust. I prayed fervently and often. I knew that God chooses the poor in this world — if they are rich in faith. I prayed for neither poverty nor riches — I would be very content with just daily bread. But I must not become so poor that I would be tempted to steal and so dishonor the name of the Great God I had chosen to serve.

I lay awake at night considering how to tell Naomi of the decision I had made. I would become a gleaner, foraging in the already-worked fields for a bit of food. With such a bountiful harvest there would be ample grain left in the fields for the poor, the widows and the strangers. Naomi and I were indeed in these situations! When I told her my decision, she expressed disapproval of this type of work for me, but we really had no choice. If I didn’t work, we wouldn’t eat — and so I would work!

I did not have to travel far for gleaning. Fields on the edge of town were rich for harvesting, and the reapers were singing and talking noisily at their work. Behind the reapers I saw women and children gleaning what had fallen from the reapers’ hands. The corners of the fields had been left untouched; that was where I began to glean. The sun became hotter overhead, but a constant breeze eased the work — just a little. I was not used to this type of labor — it had always been done by others. How quickly the back and legs ached! I stopped from time to time to stretch my sore body, but there was nothing to be done for my hands, which had quickly been torn by the crisp husks. But I must continue.

And so, hour after hour, and day after day, I bent over the fields. I would rest under trees at noon and eat the bread and cheese Naomi had wrapped early in the morning for me. There were days when my bread and cheese went to feed a hungry child, for there were others in Israel who were as poor as I.

Early afternoons were rest times for all laborers and gleaners, for the sun was at its hottest. It was during these quiet hours that I made friends with the other women. They did not treat me as a stranger — they had heard all about me, as life in a village has no secrets. Indeed when we talked of the blessings we had in the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they realized that I, too, had even embraced the faith of their fathers. I, with them, was an Israelite hoping for the time when one special child would be born to relieve the sufferings of the poor and needy — a time of plenty, a time of righteousness — a time of rest.

But for now, there was work. My body was growing used to the hours in the field, and my labor produced sufficient grain for Naomi and me to live comfortably. I knew that there were other crops growing in the area throughout the summer and fall seasons, therefore I would probably have enough work to last till winter. Winter! I tried not to think of the winter coming. God would provide. My labor and concerns must be only for each day. I looked upward to the birds of the air, and downward at the lilies of the field. All were cared for by my Heavenly Father. Naomi and I were also under His sheltering wings.

One day in some new fields there was a great deal of excitement among the reapers. I looked up to see a well-dressed man, followed by several servants, striding through the field. The reapers spoke to him with respect. He was the owner, a friend told me, Boaz, a wealthy and generous man. He had been away from Bethlehem for some time, so he had spent this morning with his chief steward reviewing his accounts. Now he was going about to check on his various fields and vineyards. As he walked through his fields he would stop and visit with his laborers — he knew each one of them and their families. He also took time to check on the gleaners — many of the women and children he called by name. Me, he did not recognize. When he inquired of a reaper he was told that I was the Moabite woman who had returned with Naomi. How odd....I had not thought of myself as a foreigner for a long time. The reapers had not heard my discussions with the women, so to them I was a Moabite, a stranger from the covenants of promise, having no hope, without God in the world.

I listened without hearing. My mind sought refuge in silent prayer. The head servant was explaining further:

“She is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She went into the field and has worked steadily from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.”

And I watched, heart pounding, as this great landowner crossed the field toward me. What was he going to say? What would he do? Would he tell me to leave his fields? My friends had said what a kind and generous man this Boaz was... surely he would not send me away! But here he was, standing before me. I heard his words as though from a great distance, because my heart was beating so loudly:

“My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along with the girls. I have told the men not to touch you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”

I fell on my face and bowed before him in gratitude. Somehow I squeezed the words from my trembling lips:

“Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me — a foreigner?”

Boaz continued:

“I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband — how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

Arising, I thanked him for such kindness:

“May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord. You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant — though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls.”

As he turned to leave, Boaz invited me to join the reapers for the noon meal. To my surprise, he, too, joined the reapers. Boaz gave thanks for our food and all of us echoed the “Amen”. The men’s mood had changed from the usual loud, boisterous talk of idle men to a serious tone... as that of students and teacher. Boaz talked of many things that he had seen and heard while travelling in Israel. He spoke of the farming conditions, and how there was no smith in the land — all farm implements had to be taken to the Philistines to be sharpened. He spoke of the military movements of neighboring countries; of the lack of swords and spears in Israel. And he mentioned the spiritual conditions of his nation. There were, Boaz said, rumors of unrighteous priests at the house of God in Shiloh.

He had also heard whispers of some wanting a king. A king, so Israel could be like its neighbors! Has Israel forgotten her real King, Boaz asked? The problem was, he continued, every man was doing what was right in his own eyes... did not Israel realize yet that man’s ways would lead to death? Had not God warned Israel many times that, if they chose to walk in wrong ways and to serve other gods, He would hide His face from them? Had not our great leader Moses told the people to hold fast to the God of Israel, for He is life and the lengthening of our days?

Boaz was very disturbed with conditions in his country. He talked on... and his reapers listened intently. Between conversations, he passed me roasted grain and bread. One time as our hands touched and our eyes met each other in awkward silence, I remembered... I remembered another similar time. I remembered Orpah and Chilion’s wedding and how my eyes had first met Mahlon’s, and how we had momentarily touched. I remembered the happy, dreamy days and months thereafter as we fell in love. I remembered our wedding and that special first home. Then a memory of his long painful sickness... and finally his death flashed through the thoughts.

My mind was brought back to the present and I saw myself now: Ruth... a widow in widow’s garments, a stranger to some, penniless... a gleaner, with rough hands and a tired body, sitting with a group of men. All of a sudden I was embarrassed. I blinked back tears as I gathered up the remnants of my meal and hurried back to the fields to continue my gleaning and to escape the past.

Unknown to me, Boaz watched me go and watched my efforts in his field. Something of my loss, and of my sadness, must have touched him, because — as I later learned — he commanded his reapers to let grain fall and remain available to me, and to let me glean even among the sheaves — not a normal procedure. The rule in most fields was that the gleaners were welcome to what was left only after the sheaves were bound and set up.

Meanwhile my women friends were curious as to why I, Ruth, had been invited to eat with Boaz and the men. I had no answers to their questions. I, too, was confused by the morning’s events. My circumstances were the topic of field conversation for the rest of the day. I knew, too, that by evening the talk around the village well would be of me. I was aware that the reapers now had special notice of me... and I felt uncomfortable. I was aware of the women’s smiles and the teasing comments... and I worked on. And as I worked through the field I thanked my Heavenly Father for having shown mercy to me in the sight of this Bethlehemite, this Boaz.

I worked till evening and threshed out the fruit of my labor. Thanks to Boaz’s instructions to his reapers there was a larger amount than usual to take to Naomi. My veil held another surprise for her: I had saved some of my noon meal for her — she would enjoy the roasted grain while I talked of this unusual day.

And talk we did! When Naomi saw the results of my day’s work, she immediately wanted to know where I had been gleaning and if someone had helped me. I told her that the wealthy farmer’s name was Boaz. I saw a stunned look cross her face and heard her whisper:

“The Lord bless him! He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.”

And then in a firmer voice, she added:

“That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.”

I was also pleased to report to her that Boaz had insisted that I remain with his reapers in his fields throughout the rest of the barley and wheat harvests.

So it was that day followed day in an ordinary pattern. Life was simple, our needs were simple, and we clung to each other in the firm belief that our Heavenly Father knew those needs and would supply them all.

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