« VorigeDoorgaan »
HISTORY OF RUTH.
RUTH II. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.
Then said Boaz unto his servant that was set over the reapers, Whose damsel is this? And the ser vant 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 and she said, I pray you let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves: so she came, and hath continued even from the morning until now, that she tarried a little in the house. 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. Let thine eyes be on the field that they do reap, and go thou after them: have 1 not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee? And when thou art athirst, go unto the vessels, and drink of that which the young men have drawn. Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger? And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been shewed me all that thou hast done unto thy mother-in-law since the death of thine husband and how thou hast left thy father and thy 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. Then she said, Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord; for that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens. And Boaz said unto her, At meal-time come thou hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar. And she sat beside the reapers: and he reached her parched corn, and she did eat, and was sufficed, and left. And when she was risen up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, Let her glean even among the sheaves, and reproach her not. And let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them that she may glean them, and rebuke her not. So she gleaned in the field until even, and beat out that she had gleaned; and it was about an ephah of barley.
THE life of the husbandman is full of labour and anxiety, but it is also sweetened and relieved by many peculiar delights. He must rise early, and often retire late to rest; he is exposed now to the scorching heat of the meridian sun, and now to the unwholesome damps of the night. He has to watch every aspect of the sky, and to guard against the strife of contending elements and after all his vigilance and foresight, he has frequently the mortification to see the exertions, and the hopes of a whole year destroyed in an hour. But on the other hand, the very variety which his profession admits of, deceives the toils of it; his life is constantly a life of hope; his health and prosperity flow from the same source; he spends not his strength for nought and in vain; the bountiful parent earth restores the precious seed cast into it with large increase, thirty, sixty, an hundred fold. He has the pleasure of observing the hourly progress of vegetation; of seeing his supplies coming immediately from the hand of Providence. Picty and profit are promoted by the same employments and pursuits, and the sublimest truths of religion press upon him in the plainest and most common appearances of nature. Add to all this, the labours of the husbandman are of all others the most essential, the most important to society. Other arts may minister to wealth, to pleasure, to conveniency and comfort, but on this depends the very subsistence of human life; and to the plough and the sickle, the ingenious manufacturer, the pampered citizen and the haughty peer must, of necessity look for the main ingredient of their daily support.
It was, then, in that happy state of civil society, the scene is laid which is to be the subject of this evening's meditation. It was that joyful season of the year when the ardour of summer was giving place to the milder glory of autumn; when industry was gathering in the produce of hope, when the common occupations of the sunburnt plain had levelled the distinctions of master and servant; when all was emulation, cheerfulness and joy, that Boaz issued forth betimes to superintend his harvest, and Ruth to glean after the reapers. Her sex, her demeanour, her employment, which bespoke her poverty, attract his notice, and excite his compassion. There are persons, there are countenances, there is a deportment, which strike at first sight, and create an interest which it is impossible to account for. The great hand of nature Las in many, perhaps in most instances, engraven on the external appearance, no doubtful or equivocal signs of the internal spirit and character. Ruth presented to the eye of Boaz an undescribable somewhat which spoke her immediately to be above the level of those common drudges, whose minds their servile condition has degraded; her native greatness shone through the veil that covered it, and naturally led to an inquiry into her situation and connexions. The attention which her figure and occupation at first roused, her history powerfully fixes and confirms. The mournful story of Naomi, and of the Moabitish damsel her daughter-in-law, all Bethlehem-Judah had heard, but not one had stepped forth to acknowledge and relieve them. Boaz himself is faulty here. Had he been informed, as he must, of the return of his nearest relations, and of her wretched plight, he ought to have sought them out, and, unsolicited, to have ministered to their comfort. He is in this respect an instance of what is frequently to be met with in the world; of that calm, unimpassioned goodness which is abundantly disposed to succour distress, when it falls in the way, but is not sufficiently zealous and vigorous, and active, to go abroad in quest of objects to relieve. But let us not pretend to look down on moderate and ordinary beneficence, till the pure and sublime come more into use. The former neglect of Boaz, and his future zeal, shall but the more redound to the glory of God.
-The short and simple tale awakens a thousand tender emotions in the bosom of the good man. He feels the sad reverses to which families, and states, and all sublunary things are exposed. He sees one branch of his own kindred demolished, extinguished. A woman, a young woman, a widow, a stranger in a strange land, but one step above begging her bread; with a still more wretched mother to sustain by the meagre fruits of her feeble industry. He sees women of condition, his equals, fallen far below the estate of the meanest of his servants and handmaids. Self-reproach perhaps mingled with compassion and instantly produced a resolution to compensate past carelessness and unkindness, by all that future sympathy and friendship could beThe dialogue that ensues is a beautiful exhibition of the honest simplicity of nature. The characters are supported with a happiness of expression, and displayed with a strength and exactness of colouring, worthy of him who, knows what is in man.
In Boaz which shall we most admire; his prudent attention to his own af fairs, his winning condescension to his inferiours, or his pious acknowledgement of God in every thing? In his conduct to the forlorn stranger, we see a heart overflowing with benevolence, attending to minute circumstances, outrunning the expectations, the very wishes of the person whom he means to oblige. Observe his delicacy; he recommends the solitary helpless female to the society and protection of those of her own sex, and by his authority guards her from the incivility and insults of the other. He aims at soothing her soul to peace; he would have her believe herself at home. The law obliged him to permit her to glean, but he makes a free-will offering of much
more; the liquor in the vessels, the food provided for the reapers, all is tendered to her with hearty good-will. Ordinary minds feel ashamed at the sight of poor relations, deny them, turn away from them, hide their faces from their own flesh. True magnanimity thinks meanly of nothing but vice, esteems worth, though cloathed in rags, considers the revolutions which affect every thing under the sun, despises not the wretch of to-day, knowing that he may be obliged to change places with him to-morrow. Such an one was the wealthy owner of yonder happy field. The spirit of the master is diffused, it is felt over the whole extended domain. No jarring string mars their rural harmony, no contention reigns, but the strife, the blessed strife, of mutual affection and attachment.
The character of Ruth opened upon us with singular grace and beauty : it unfolds itself with equal energy and propriety. She discovers from first to last, a soul susceptible of tender and persevering attachment; ready to yield the sacrifice of ease, of rank, of estimation, of every thing, for the sake of enjoying the testimony of a good conscience, and the society that she loved. She discovers a spirit at once sweetly timid and bashful, and nobly resolute and undaunted. She inspires love by her gentleness, meekness and complacency; she commands respect by her firmness, magnanimity and patience. In addressing her mother-in-law, she is all amiable warmth and earnestness : in replying to the friendly tenders of Boaz, she is all amiable reserve and modesty. In speaking to Nami her heart flows to her lips, her words glow, her speech is copious and redundant; in answering a man, and a stranger, her words are few, she speaks by looks and gestures, and is then most eloquent when she says nothing.
I behold the effect which youth, and simplicity, and humbleness of mind, and distress have made upon a generous and sensible heart. The artless simplicity of the Moabitish damsel has made a deeper impression than all that cunning and design could have invented to allure affection, and impose on the understanding. Happily the progress of virtuous love advances without the consciousness of the parties concerned; it is at first a mere intercourse of civility, an attention to trifles, an interchange of kind words and pleasant looks. It grows unperceived, it gathers strength by neglect, it has arrived at maturity before it was known to exist, it gave no warning of its approach, and thereby became irresistible. And has the great Author of nature vouchsafed in his word to delineate, in more than one instance, the nature, progress, and effects of this important and necessary passion, and shall we turn away from it with affected delicacy, or take it up and pursue it with indecent mirth? No, if we adopt and imitate the candid, guileless simplicity, and the modest reserve of scripture, we cannot greatly err.
In the case of Boaz and Ruth, it was enchantingly grateful to the former, as highly honourably to the latter, that the decision of the understanding confirmed the judgement of the eyes. He had known, admired and approved the conduct, before he had seen and admired the beauty of the person, and the gracefulness of the behaviour. The charms of wisdom, virtue and piety, superadded to personal accomplishments, what a happy combination; what a foundation of felicity! The latter indeed, will and must fade, but their effect is immortal; the company in which they flourished and brought forth fruit, bestows on them a permanency not their own. How wretched is that female all whose consequence is fled with her bloom; who depended on rank or fortune to command respect; who has lost the admiration and applause of others, before she has begun to acquire the dignity of self-approbation, the only genuine source of public esteem.
The history before us strikingly displays the transition from pity to love on the one hand, from gratitude to love on the other. Compassion in Boaz,
sense of obligation in Ruth, excite the same mutual affection in both. It becomes his pride and joy to raise her to that distinction and affluence which she so well merited; it is her pride and joy to repay the tenderness of her benefactor by every kind office of compliance and affection. She had hitherto pleased herself with the consciousness of having done her duty; she had not hunted after praise; she had discovered no anxiety, taken no pains to publish abroad her own merits; but honour will follow virtue, as the shadow does the substance, and the flight of the one but accelerates the pursuit of the other. And how grateful must it have been even to the modest ear of Ruth herself, to hear her conduct approved, and her qualities celebrated, by the wise and good man who had taken her under his protection, and admitted her to his friendship. The praise which goodness confers on goodness, the praise which a man's own heart and conscience allow to be merited, praise bestowed by one we love and esteem is a feast indeed; it does equal honour, it communicates equal delight to the giver and the receiver; it is an anticipation of the glorious rewards of the faithful, from Him whose favour is better than life. But save me, merciful Heaven, from the commendation which my own mind rejects. Save me from the approbation, the ill-informed approbation of ignorant erring man, while I have just cause to tremble under the apprehension of condemnation and punishment from a holy and righteous God.
The cordial of cordials administered by the hand of Boaz to this truly excellent woman, was his recommendation of her to the care, blessing and protection of the Almighty. It was much to be permitted to pick up a scanty livelihood among strangers; it was much to meet with notice and encouragement from a mighty man of wealth in a foreign land; it was highly soothing to a spirit broken by calamity to be approved and caressed by a great and a good man; but all this was nothing compared to the smiles of approving Heaven, in sweet accord with the serenity and composure of a quiet and approving conscience. How cordially could she pronounce "amen" to his affectionate and pious prayer, "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."*
The petition contains a piece of sweet imagery, of which interpreters have given different ideas. "Under whose wings thou art come to trust." The expression, according to some. implies an approbation of her resolution in renouncing the religion of her country and fathers, in forsaking the idol worship wherein she had been educated, and in deliberately joining herself to the Israelites and worship of the living and true God. The words, it is alleged, have an allusion to the Shechinab, the visible glory, the symbol of the divine presence which resided between, or under, the wings of the cherubim which were extended over the mercy-seat. This is, as it were, the point in which all the parts of the dispensation concentered, and therefore is employed to denote in brief, all that related to the knowledge, belief and service of Jehovah, in opposition to idolatry.
Others consider it as merely a tender and significant image, borrowed from nature, and frequently employed in other passages of scripture, the image of the tender callow brood of the feathered race fleeing, in the moment of danger, for protection, under the shelter of the parental wing. In either case, it marks the providential care, and the sacred security extended to all who seek refuge in the divine wisdom and mercy. No plague shall come nigh the place where they dwell, no evil shall befal them. It unfolds the spirit of a truly good man, disposed to do every thing that humanity dictates and ability per
mits, for the relief of the sons and daughters of affliction; but deeply impressed with the belief that without the blessing and favour of Heaven the interposition of man is vain and unprofitable. He refers not to the divine bounty as an exemption from deeds of charity and mercy, but to render his benevolence effectual, and to crown, promote and prosper his kind intentions; to fill up the measure of his liberal design, which, after all, was narrowed and contracted by slenderness of ability.
The effect of the whole upon Ruth is the same which a sense of unmerited friendship from man, and the expectation of blessings from on high, will ever produce on a good and honest heart. As she rises in situation, as she rises in hope, she sinks in humility. "Then she said, Let me find favour in thy sight, my Lord; for that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thy handmaidens."*
This draws from the benevolent lord of the harvest reiterated assurances of regard and sympathy. He again runs over the whole store of the field, lest he should have omitted any particular in his former enumeration; again intimates a cheerful and unaffected welcome to what she could desire, or he had to bestow. In this, if I mistake not, may be seen the farther progress of affection. Ruth gains upon his heart by every word she utters, by every gesture and attitude; and pleases most, from having formed, from pursuing no design to please. The greater her diffidence and self-denial, the greater is his earnestness to bring her forward, and to support her. She was by the former order permitted to go at pleasure and serve herself with whatever was in the field for the general use; now, she is invited to join the company where Boaz himself presided; she is fed from his own hand, and her portion is not a scanty one," she did eat and was sufficed and left." It was thus that Joseph expressed the partiality of his affection for Benjamin his own brother, his mess was five times so much as any of theirs; and thus in artless guise, the growing passion of Boaz for the fair Moabitess declared itself; and thus, not in high-flown rhapsodies of unmeaning jargon, but in little attentions, in petty offices of kindness, the genuine effusions of unsophisticated nature, the generous passion of love, always will declare its existence and quality. Happy, thrice happy banquet, far beyond all the luxury and pride of unwieldy, uneasy, unblessed magnificence. There they sit, under the open canopy of heaven, the master, the servants, the stranger, in one group. Their fare is homely, but labour has made it pleasant to sit down, and hunger gives to the food a relish.
But what a superiour relish did the morsel of Boaz himself possess! Think what a banquet, to see his numerous family around him, all contented and happy; to give bread to so many, and to receive the ample return of it in their honest attachment, and in the fruits of their industry. What a luxury, to feed a hungry, to raise a sinking stranger! to render gentle services to a deserving object, which humanity inspired, the understanding confirmed, the heart directed, and Heaven approved! What a desert, to reflect that all these comforts flowed from a heavenly Father's beneficence, that thus he was" twice blessed," blessed in receiving, blessed in giving.
The felicity of Ruth was far from being so pure and perfect. She felt the depression of dependence and obligation; obligation which she had no prospect of ever being able to repay. She felt for the anxiety, distress and want of a venerable aged woman, for whom nothing was provided; who was sitting solitary at home brooding over past calamities, and tormenting herself with apprehensions about futurity. She can hardly swallow her own morsel for grief to think that one more helpless, more feeble, more friendless than her
* Ruth ii. 13.