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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

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BOTH the Bible, and all the books that take after the Bible, are full of fine stories of love. The love of the mother for her child. The love of the lover for her he loves. The love of the brother for the sister. The love of Jonathan for David, and of David for Jonathan. The love of Paul for his people Israel. The love of Christ for His own and for all men, and so on. But neither in the Bible, nor anywhere else that I know of, is there another such story of love told as the love of Ruth for Naomi; the love of this Moabite daughter-in-law for her Hebrew mother-in-law. Ruth's love for her dead husband's decayed mother is as pure as gold and as strong as death. Many waters cannot quench Ruth's love. And her confession of her love, when she is constrained to confess it, is the most beautiful confession of love in all the world. The world has nothing after Ruth's confession of her love like it. And Naomi said unto her two daughters-in-law, Go, return each to her mother's house; the Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; 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, will I die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me. No. There is nothing again like it 'The same is my mother.'

'She clave to her mother-in-law,' says the Scriptures. Ruth's heart was so full of the cords of love to Naomi that those strong cords drew her out of the land of Moab and knit her deep into the lineage of Israel, and into the ancestry of Jesus Christ. And thus it is that our great seer discovers Ruth seated on her glorious seat in the rose of the seventh heaven, beside the glorious seats of the greatest dames of Scripture story-Mary, and Eve, and Rachel, and Beatrice, and Rebecca. Before Ruth had given Naomi the full proof of her love, that desolate woman had bestowed her highest praise on Ruth's past love, not only as a wife, but still more as a daughter-in-law. The Lord deal kindly with thee, as thou hast dealt with the dead, and with me. And the women of Bethlehem at once caught up this quite singular feature of Ruth's affection when they came to congratulate Naomi on the birth of Obed. 'Thy daughter-in-law,' they said to Naomi, 'which loveth thee, and which is better to thee than seven sons, hath borne him.' And in this salutation of theirs the women of Bethlehem are in entire harmony with the whole world about Ruth's so pure, and so noble, and so unparalleled love. Every language spoken among men has its own stock of cruel proverbs and satires and lampoons at the expense of their mothers-in-law. But Ruth and Naomi go far to redeem that relationship from all that obloquy. No only daughter of her own body could have been so devoted to Naomi as her son's young Moabite widow was. All the relationships of human life demand faith, and love, and patience, and forbearance, and good temper, and good sense, and good taste, and good feeling; but, perhaps, above all the other relationships of life that of a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law demands all those gifts and graces. But, then, the relationship that offers scope and operation and reward for all those gifts of heart and graces of character is just that relationship that should be entered on by all men and women with much watchfulness, solicitousness, prayer, tenderness, sympathy, and loyalty; in short, with the mind and the heart of Ruth, that Moabitess maiden, and Naomi, that mother in Israel; that widow indeed.

Moses was as much opposed to Ruth's marriage as he had been to Jephthah's. A Moabite woman shall never be married by an Israelite man if I can help it, said that inexorable old law-giver; not to ten generations shall any of their offspring enter the congregation of the Lord. Yes, said Naomi, who had made up her mind to the interdicted marriage-Yes, she said to her more conservative and scrupulous husband, as she milked her kine under the top of Pisgah-Yes, she said, but marriage laws are made for men and women, and not men and women for marriage laws. And had Moses been here, she went on; had Moses been famished out of Bethlehem-Judah, as we have been; and had he been received and entertained of Ruth's and Orpah's fathers and mothers, as we have been, he would to a certainty have torn that revengeful leaf out of his law. Depend upon it, she said, as she saw her husband beginning to give way, depend upon it, Moses had altogether other Moabites in his mind's eye than Ruth and Orpah, and their so hospitable fathers, when he set down his retaliatory marriage laws. And Elimelech at last gave way. Nehemiah also, as well as Moses, visited the iniquity of the Moabite fathers upon the Moabite children to too many generations. For that merciless reformer and iconoclast contended with, and smote with his fists, and forcibly divorced the men of Jerusalem who had married Moabite women in his day. But, there again, this is to be said for Nehemiah, that the lawbreakers of his day had not married such dear, sweet, generous-hearted women as Ruth and Orpah were. 'Because their fathers met not the children of Israel with bread and with water,' said Nehemiah. But, then, that was just what Ruth and Orpah and their fathers had done. They had met Elimelech, and Naomi, and Mahlon, and Chilion, not with bread and water only, but with wine, and milk, and honey, and spices, and all manner of Moabite fruits, till the land of Moab became to that famished-out family of Bethlehem-Judah a land of Moab indeed, a most delectable mountain, a place to dwell in, and to see their sons and their sons' sons settled in. And thus it came about that those two Israelite youths, Mahlon and Chilion, were married to those two Moabite maidens, Orpah and Ruth. And thus, through all that, it came about in God's providence that a rich stream of Moabite blood ran first in King David's veins, and then through David's veins into the veins of a far greater King than David.

After the death of Elimelech, Naomi was a widow after Paul's own heart. Naomi was a widow indeed. She was desolate, but she trusted God, and continued in supplication and prayer night and day. She was in behaviour likewise as becometh holiness. She taught the Moabite young women about her to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, and keepers at home. In short, she taught them to be wives and mothers in Moab like the wives and mothers in Israel. I feel sure we shall not be far wrong to trace up a great part of Ruth's courage, devotion, extraordinary loyalty, and exquisite love, not so much to Naomi's schooling as to her example. She, no doubt, had something to get over, as well as her husband, when the two marriages first began to dawn upon her. At the beginning she, too, had her own struggle with her Hebrew pride when she saw that her two Hebrew-born sons were not to be married into some of the oldest and best of the families of Bethlehem-Judah. But when she saw that was not to be, she bore no grudge against the two Moabite maidens, but went over to their side, and stood up for them against both Moses and Elimelech. And then; now among the joys of marriages, and now among the sorrows of deathbeds, Naomi showed to those two Moabite women what a widowed wife and mother had to rest on in Israel; and one, at least, of her daughters-in-law laid the lesson and the example well to heart. Yes; behind all the nobleness, steadfastness, beauty, and tenderness of Ruth, I see inspiring and sustaining and maturing it all, the wise, chastened, weaned mind of one who was a mother in Israel and a widow indeed.

But you must not think of Naomi as a broken reed. You must not picture Naomi to yourself as a woman whose spirit was utterly and irrecoverably crushed. Widowhood with Naomi, and childlessness added to it, was not the dregs of life. It was not a few years of bitterness, and fretfulness, and listlessness, and ostentatious sorrow. No! Naomi is full of experience and full of resource. She knows the world. She knows the hearts of all the men and women about her. She knows the right way to act, and the right time to speak, widowhood, childlessness, and poverty, and all. With a rare and a delicate divination of how matters stood between Boaz and Ruth; knowing her kinsman and her kinswoman better than they knew themselves; Naomi struck the red-hot iron with the right stroke and at the right moment. Age and experience have their privileges and their opportunities, and Naomi possessed both age and experience, and employed them to purpose in the matter of Boaz and Ruth. 'Sit still, my daughter,' Naomi said to Ruth, while, all the time, her own heart was in a hidden flutter of love and of hope.

Not obvious, not obtrusive, but retired,
The more desirable.

What a blessing it is to a young man at Boaz's state of mind, and to a young woman at Ruth's stage of things, to have a mother in Israel, or a widow indeed, to whom to open their hearts! Or, still better, to have such an one to love them so that their hearts are divined and read before they are opened. One would think at first sight that a girl's own mother, or a young man's own father, was the natural adviser and bosom friend of their children. And that a parent should be the first to be confessed to, consulted, trusted in, and followed. And, again, that they should be the first to see and to take to heart all that is going on in their child's heart. But, as a matter of fact and experience, wherever the blame or the inability may lie, it is never, it is not once in a thousand, that a young man takes his father, or a young woman her mother, into their confidence and into their whole heart. And still less seldom does a father or a mother make it natural and easy and sweet for their child to do so. All the better, therefore, when our young people find a second father or a second mother in some friend older, wiser, more tried, and more skilled in the providences of God and in the passions of man than they are as yet themselves. Some one just to say, Sit still, my daughter. Some one just to say, with an anecdote to illustrate it, My times are in Thy hand. Some one just to say, I once knew a case exactly like yours. Or, better still, some one to tell them his own case, and to send them away with an A Kempis or an Andrewes, and this upon the fly-leaf, 'Your Father knoweth what things you have need of before you ask Him.' Then said Naomi to Ruth, 'Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall; for the man will not be at rest until he have finished the thing this day.'

The women are so delightful in this delightful little book that there is no room left for the men. The men fall into the background of the Book of Ruth, and are clean forgotten. But this must not be. One, at any rate, of the men of the Book of Ruth deserves a better fate. One of them was certainly written for our learning. And more especially for the learning of all landlords and farmers and employers of labour. 'Then Naomi arose with Ruth, for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited His people in giving them bread, and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest. And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter. And she went, and came, and gleaned in his field after the reapers; and her hap was to light on a part of a field belonging to Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech. And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The Lord be with you. And they answered him, The Lord bless thee. Then said Boaz unto his servant that was set over the reapers, Whose damsel is this? And the servant that was set over the reapers answered and said, It is the Moabitish damsel that came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab.' Both Boaz's heart and his conscience were sorely struck within him at his servant's answer. For Naomi was a kinswoman of his own. He had known Naomi in better days. And he had heard of her widowhood, and of her return to Bethlehem; but he had not yet gone to see her, nor had he asked her to come to see him. He had made no inquiry of how she managed to live without husband or son. But here is a Gentile girl, a Moabite maiden, who has left her own proverbially abundant land to glean and to beg for the widow of his old friend Elimelech! And Boaz felt himself to be a beast on his own harvest field, while that gleaning Moabitess shone out like a princess in his eyes. 'Then said Boaz unto Ruth, Hearest thou not, my daughter? Go not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here fast by my maidens. 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. So Ruth kept fast by the maidens of Boaz to glean unto the end of the barley harvest and of wheat harvest, and Ruth dwelt with her mother-in-law.' Time would fail me to tell all the story of Boaz and Naomi and Ruth. Suffice it here to say that after two more chapters Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife, and she bore a son. And the women her neighbours gave him a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi, and they called his name Obed; he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Yes, Boaz is a splendid pattern to be set before all landowners, and farmers, and masters, and employers of labour. Courteous, solicitous, affectionate, devout, bountiful; Boaz greets his reapers in the harvest field as if they had been his sons and daughters. He meets them in the morning with a benediction, as if he had been a priest, and they with a salutation answer him, The Lord bless our master. We hear him, indeed, in his jealousy for the reapers and the gleaners, issuing the strictest of orders to his young men; but Boaz's own character and example are his young men's best law. Just, honourable, and upright in the market and in the gate, he is kind, generous, and hospitable at home. He eats and drinks with a merry heart in the happy harvest season; but with it all he is at all times and in all places both temperate and chaste. A master to make his servants worship him. A mighty man of wealth, but forgetting and despising all that he possesses before beauty, and piety, and goodness, and truth. Altogether a husband worthy of Naomi's dear daughter Ruth, and after that what more can be said? From gleaning in his fields, and from falling at his feet, on till she sat at his table and lay in his bosom,-Ruth from first to last had nothing in her heart but pride, and respect, and love for Boaz. And he had neither act, nor word, nor look, nor wish to repent of, though Ruth had been found at his feet when his heart was merry. A happy pair, with a romantic history behind them, and with a future before them that it had not entered into their sweetest dreams to dream.

With all that, it is not at all to be wondered at that the Church of Christ, with such a dash of romance and mysticism in her heart, should have seen in Ruth's husband, Boaz, a far-off figure of her own Husband, Jesus Christ. For she, like Naomi and Ruth, was disinherited, disconsolate, despised, forgotten, and without kinsman-redeemer in her famine and all her deep distress, when His eye and His heart fell on her in the field. And how well He has performed a kinsman's part all the world has read in a Book that for truth and beauty far outstrips the Book of Ruth. How He has not only redeemed her, but has given her rest in His own house, in His Father's house, and in His own heart-what written book can ever fully tell? Boaz the Bethlehemite and Ruth the Moabitess made a noble marriage, and a noble race sprang out of that marriage. Obed, and Jesse, and David, and Solomon, and Joseph, and Mary, and Jesus Christ-my Kinsman-Redeemer, and yours.

Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Ruth'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​r/ruth.html. 1901.
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