Barbara Booker
Ruth - A Love Story

Chapter 3

While I was in the fields I could let my mind wander to the past, and sometimes I even smiled at the thought of a future. Would I always be one of the poor?... a gleaner, always? Would I someday remarry?... because at times now I could think such a thought. At other times it was still too painful to consider... but I could tell that the grief was healing, slowly. Naomi’s companionship was itself a healing balm and bond... but there were times when I longed for a home of my own again, some simple household tasks, a loving husband, and yes, I even dared to dream again of little ones. There were many young men in Bethlehem, but I saw little of them. My main contact with men was limited to Boaz’s reapers, who would acknowledge my presence with occasional comments on the weather or inquiries as to Naomi’s health.

As for Boaz, he visited his fields daily and spoke to me, as he did to his laborers and the other gleaners. And so, I would dismiss my daydreams with the thought that all things were in my Heavenly Father’s capable hands, and He would provide for me in all my concerns, in due time. For now there was work to be done, by me.

I suspected that Naomi worried about my safety from time to time. I would leave home as the gray dawn appeared, and return only when the sun was setting. But I would tell her in words that she had often spoken to me:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?”

Little did I realize that Naomi was concerned for me in ways other than my safety in or near the fields!

Thus it was quite a shock when one evening she said to me:

“My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for?”

I sat staring at her... my mind was a whirl of confusion. I felt light-headed. She was speaking... she was speaking of marriage for me! And not just to someone I did not know... but of marriage to Boaz, our wealthy relative... the man for whom I gleaned! She continued:

“Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

I heard my own voice replying:

“I will do whatever you say.”

I moved about our little house in a numb condition. How strange all of this seemed! So sudden! I was not in love with Boaz....or with anyone else! What a contrast to my courtship with Mahlon — we had had many visits, fallen in love and dreamily made plans. Then his father and he had visited my family, paid the dowry, and made the announcements. There had been the busy preparation time before the wedding — he, his father, and his brother had built and furnished our home; my mother and sisters and I were occupied with wedding garments and other arrangements. But now — ? Was Naomi sure of this custom? It was something of which I knew very little — and evidently a law very seldom observed in Israel. What if servants discovered me with Boaz? What if he refused to marry me? I had learned much of Israel’s laws. I knew that when she talked of seeking rest for me, Naomi meant finding me a husband to care for and shelter me. I was to ask Boaz to spread his garment over me — thus I was asking him to protect me — to marry me.

I learned that the Law provided for a brother or next of kin to take his relative’s widow as his wife. I learned, too, that the firstborn of such a marriage would be in memory of the deceased — with all legal rights and properties belonging to that child. I wasn’t sure I was ready for all this. True, I had thought of remarrying... someday... but this was so sudden, so unusual. What would Boaz think of such a forward young woman? Would he, like others, see me as a Moabite — to be shunned forever? How was I to say the words? The thoughts tumbled together in my mind... and remained so as I followed Naomi’s instructions. She was my mother-in-law, my parent... and I dutifully obeyed her. She had my wellbeing always in her mind — my physical and spiritual concerns were hers. But... what if?... No!... I must not doubt! Prayer after prayer went through my confused mind. This God of Israel had looked after me for some time now — I had to leave it all to Him. There was no turning back.

It was dark as I slipped nervously into the quiet streets of Bethlehem and moved on toward the edge of town. My feet knew the pathway, even if my mind was unsure. As I approached the threshing floor, I could hear Boaz bidding a good night to some guests. They had had a meal together, with a fair amount of wine, and some seemed a little unsteady on their feet. I remained in the shadows, watching, listening. Then Boaz’s chief servant came to see what final tasks his master might have for him. But Boaz dismissed him for the night, and in just a few minutes he lay down at the end of a pile of grain.

I waited, nervously, till the last sounds of human life in the area were gone. Sounds of the night were all around. Crickets chirped softly in the warm earth; an owl in a nearby tree hooted repeatedly, and overhead the moon and stars twinkled in a black, velvet sky. I could hear Boaz breathing deeply and regularly as he drifted into heavy sleep. It had been a busy, tiring day and he slept well. Yes, the sleep of a laborer is sweet. Still I waited... was there no other way? None, it seemed. I must continue with the plan, and I must continue to believe that all would work out well.

Softly I crept over to him — and with trembling hands I lifted his blanket and slipped under at his feet. I lay there minute after minute... hour after hour... afraid of a servant coming, afraid to move lest I wake Boaz... and yet knowing that my quest could only be finished if he were awake. I shivered as the warm evening turned to a cooler night, but was it the night air, or was it just my very anxious mind and body anticipating the dawn? At some point in the night, Boaz stretched and turned in his sleep. And it was at this time that he was suddenly aware of another body near him. He awoke with a start and, as we both sat up, he realized that a woman was with him. All the anxieties of the previous hours were now concentrated on this single moment. Now was the time. I must speak as Naomi instructed me. And now, I spoke first to my Heavenly Father, quickly, and then to Boaz, who had asked:

“Who are you?”

“I am your servant Ruth. Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.”

I heard him gasp and then there was a long silence. How my poor mind raced with regrets. Why had I let Naomi talk me into this? How would I bear the shame of his refusal? Where would I go? How would we live? So many questions flashed through my head. After what seemed like many minutes, he spoke:

“The Lord bless you, my daughter. This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character. Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman and redeemer nearer than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to redeem, good; let him redeem. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.”

And so I lay back down at his feet, but sleep was impossible. Was this really true? Or was I dreaming? The reality of the grain-covered ground, hard under me, the smell of the threshing floor and Boaz’s light breathing nearby, assured me that I was awake — and that, yes, I had indeed accomplished my task. Boaz would marry me. But first he had to see if the nearer kinsman wanted to marry me instead. I wondered who that was — what was he like? Did he already have a wife and children? Would he want a “Moabite” for a wife? Boaz would attend to all the details in the morning, he had said.

I was just drifting into an exhausted sleep when Boaz gently awakened me — it was near dawn and time for me to leave so no one would see us together. Before I left he filled my veil with barley to take home to Naomi. And then we parted — Boaz went toward town to attend to our business, and I went home. Naomi was up and waiting. (Had she ever gone to sleep? Had she spent an anxious night like I had?) As I entered, she eagerly greeted me —

“How did it go, my daughter?”

I told her everything. Then Naomi said,

“Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.”

Thus we sat down to await what this new day would bring... this new day which followed such a strange night for me, Ruth, widow of Mahlon, an Israelite. For me there was no rest... just waiting.

As we waited, I remembered. I remembered so many times of waiting in these past years. I had waited daily, hourly, for Mahlon’s visits. I had waited for a wedding announcement. I had waited for a wedding, for a new home, for a new life, for a child born of new love, new hopes and dreams... a child which had never come. I had waited beside sick beds; I had waited beside the dying; I had waited for prayers to be answered. I had spent so much time waiting.

And now I waited again for my future to be decided at a town gate.

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