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self, wanted the common necessaries of life; that Naomi was perhaps fasting till she returned, and, worse than fasting, tormented with solicitude about her safety. The sweetest part of the repast to Ruth was the portion she had reserved from her own necessities for the sustentation of her ancient, affectionate, starving parent.
Their frugal simple meal being ended, they rise up, not to play, but to work again, and continue their labour until the evening. A fresh charge is given to the reapers on no account to disturb, or insult the lovely gleaner, and the young men are directed to find no fault with her, gather where she would, even among the sheaves before they were bound up; and to drop here and there a handful, as if by accident, to render her toil more pleasant and easy, without hurting her honest pride. This injunction could proceed only from a delicate and ingenuous mind. To have made her directly a present of the ears of corn, had been an indignity offered to her poverty; to scatter them without any apparent design, was effectually to facilitate her labour, and diminish her fatigue, without rendering the burden of obligation too grievous to be borne. The manner of conferring a benefit, it cannot be too often repeated, infinitely outweighs the matter. The comfort of human life, is a combination of little, minute attentions, which, taken separately, are nothing, but connected with the circumstances of time, place and manner, as coming from the heart, as tokens of good-will, possess a value and inspire a pleasure beyond the purchase of gold and rubies.
Think of the heart-felt satisfaction of the amiable labourer, when at the going down of the sun, on separating the straw and chaff from the good grain and measuring the produce of her patience and industry, she found it amount to so considerable a quantity! Would you make a poor man happy, do not encourage him to beg. Idleness and happiness are incompatible. No, render his toil a little easier to him, teach him to draw his subsistence and comfort from, and to build his dependence upon himself.
And now Ruth's comfort was going to begin; it was hitherto mixed and imperfect-it now flows pure and unrestrained. She has it in her power to relieve indigence, to remove anxiety, to dispel sorrow, to make the widowed heart sing for joy. See with what exultation she produces her store, remeasures her corn, details the adventures of the day, and receives, in communicating joy. This, O virtuous friendship, is thy present great reward! Such, if pride and perverseness prevented not, the felicity which Providence has graciously placed within every one's reach! Let me have some friendly ear, in the calmness of the evening's retreat, to listen to my tale; some sympathetic heart, to participate in my sorrows and my joys, and I care not what hardships I endure, what mortifications I meet with, through the livelong day. Friendship doubles the delights, divides, and thereby diminishes, the cares and miseries of this transitory life.
Think of the composed felicity of the ancient matron, as she surveyed the fruits of her beloved daughter's dutiful exertions, and heard the artless story of a harvest day's employment and recreation. Yes, she is the happier of the two. The joys of age are calm, untumultuous, untempestuous; those of youth have always a mixture of ardour and impetuosity, that allays their purity, and hastens on their dissolution. We sincerely bid them good night, and leave them to the sweet repose of conscious integrity, of acquiescence in the will and thankfulness for the bounty of gracious Heaven, and of budding, blossoming hope of greater blessings yet to come.
At what a small expense may a great man acquire respect, esteem, love ? How infinitely nature excels art! In how simple and easy a method does Providence bring about the greatest events! Godliness is" every way "great gain:" it has "the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come."
HISTORY OF RUTH.
RUTH II. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23. AND III. 1.
And her mother-in-law said unto her, Where hast thou gleaned to-day? And where wroughtest thou? Blessed be he that did take knowledge of thee. And she shewed her mother-in-law with whom she had wrought, and said, The man's name with whom I wrought to-day is Boaz. And Naomi said unto her daughter-in-law, Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead. And Naomi said unto her, The man is near of kin unto us, one of our next kinsmen. And Ruth the Moabitess said, He said unto me also. Thou shalt keep fast by my young men, until they have ended all my harvest. And Naomi said unto Ruth her daughterin-law, It is good, my daughter, that thou go out with his maidens, that they meet thee not in any other field. So she kept fast by the maidens of Boaz to glean unto the end of barley-harvest, and of wheat-harvest; and dwelt with her mother-in-law. Then Naomi her mother-in-law said unto her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?
NOTHING is more absurd than to judge of ancient and foreign customs, by the fashion of our own country and of the present day. Language, manners and dress are incessantly changing their form. Were our ancestors of the last century to arise from the dead, and to appear in the habit of their own times, their great grandchildren and they would be utter strangers to one another. Their speech would be mutually unintelligible, their modes of behaviour uncouth, their apparel ridiculous. How much more, after the Japse of many centuries has intervened, and the scene shifted to a distant land, peopled by men of a different complexion, governed by different laws, and communicating thought by means of a different language.
One of the great pleasures arising from the study of ancient history, is to trace these differences, to contemplate the endless variety of the human mind, ever changing, still the same; to compare age with age, nation with nation, in order to excite admiration of the great Creator's wisdom and goodness, and to inspire love towards our fellow-creatures.
In examining the customs described in the context, let it be remembered, that they are the customs of men who lived upwards of three thousand years ago, who inhabited a different quarter of the globe, whose ideas, employments and pursuits had no manner of resemblance to ours, and who would be equally astonished, shocked and offended, were modern and European manners made to pass in review before them. And let it be farther remembered, that we speak of customs and manners only, and not of morals; of circumstances which from their own nature and the current of human affairs are liable to alteration, not of things in themselves eternal and immutable.
We have seen by what easy and natural progress, the providence of God carried on its purpose respecting the posterity of Abraham in general, and the royal line of the house of David in particular, and respecting a much higher object, to which this was a mere ministering servant, an harbinger and preparation, namely, "the manifestation of God in the flesh," for the redemp
tion of a lost world. We have seen the commencement of the temporal rewards of virtue, and the dawning of everlasting joy. We are now to attend the progress of divine beneficence, of providential interposition, to crown the endeavours, and promote the happiness of the faithful.
Ruth has returned to her mother-in-law, laden with the fruits of honest industry, and provided with a supply for present necessity; cheered and comforted by the benevolence of a respectable stranger, and exulting in the prospect of future employment and success. Sweet are the communications of filial attachment and prosperity to the ear of maternal tenderness. It is not easy to conceive happiness more pure than was enjoyed that evening by these amiable and excellent women. Artless, undesigning Ruth seems to look no farther than to the remainder of the harvest, the continuation of her labour, and of protection and encouragement from Boaz, and to the pleasure of supporting herself and aged parent by her own exertions. But Naomi, more experienced and intelligent, begins to build on the history of what Providence had done for them that day, a project of recompense to her beloved daughter, which her piety and affection so well merited, even no less than that of uniting her to Boaz in marriage. Was she to be blamed in this? By no means. It is criminal to outrun Providence, it is madness to think of constraining or bending it to our partial, selfish views. But it is wisdom, it is duty to exercise sagacity, to observe the ways of the Almighty, and to follow where he leads. The advice she gives in pursuance of this design, and Ruth's ready compliance, have, according to our ideas a very extraordinary and questionable appearance, and seem rather calculated to defeat than to forward the end which they had in view; but modern refinement and licentiousness are little competent to judge of rustic simplicity and ancient purity. The proceeding was authorized by custom, was free from every taint of immorality, and had not in the eyes of the world even the semblance of indecency. The parties were all virtuous, they feared the Lord, they conformed to the laws and usages of their country, and Heaven smiled on their honest, unsullied intentions.
Had I the happiness, with a mind as pure, to address ears as chaste, imaginations as undefiled, I should, without hesitation or fear, enter on the detail of the transaction as it stands on the record. But regard must be had to the prejudices of the times, to the propriety and decency which custom has established, remarking at the same time, that guilt is the parent of shame, and that an over refined delicacy is too often the proof of a polluted heart.
The marriage of Boaz to Ruth is the only instance we have of the application of a civil and political statute of long standing: which runs in these terms, "The land shall not be sold forever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me. And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land. If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold. And if the man have none to redeem it, and himself be able to redeem it; then let him count the years of the sale thereof, and restore the overplus unto the man to whom he sold it; that he may return unto his possession. But if he be not able to restore it to him, then that which is sold shall remain in the hand of him that hath bought it until the year of jubilee and in the jubilee it shall go out, and he shall return unto his possession."* And it stands in connexion with another law circumstantially narrated. "If brethren dwell together, and one of them die and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to
*Lev. xxv. 23-28.
him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her. And it shall be, that the first-born which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel. And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, then let his brother's wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband's brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband's brother. Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him and if he stand to it and say, I like not to take her, then shall his brother's wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother's house. And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed."* The whole spirit of the Mosaic dispensation considers the great Jehovah as the temporal sovereign of Israel, the land as his, the supremacy his. Every Israelite received his inheritance under the express stipulation that it should not be alienated from him and from his family forever. That if, pressed by necessity, he should sell the whole or any part of it, he himself or his nearest of kindred might at any future period redeem it; that at the worst, in the year of jubilee, it should revert unpurchased to the ancient proprietor or his representative; and thereby succession and property be preserved distinct till the purposes of Heaven should be accomplished.
To give the law farther and more certain effect, it was enacted, that if the elder branch of the family and the heir of the inheritance should die childless, his next elder brother or nearest male relation should marry the widow; and that the issue of such marriage should be deemed to belong to the deceased, should assume his name and succeed to his inheritance. Here then was the family of Elimelech ready to be extinguished: he and his two sons were all dead without posterity. Naomi was past childbearing, the lands were ready to pass into the hands of strangers, for want of an heir, the hope of succession existing alone in the person of Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon. The measure therefore recommended by Naomi, and adopted by Ruth was neither less nor more than a legal call on Boaz, as the supposed nearest kinsman of that branch of the family, to fulfil the duty of that relation: Naomi, not knowing, or having forgotten that there was a kinsman still nearer than him. Boaz, apprized of this, and respecting the laws of God and his country, preferably to his own passions and predilection, refers the whole cause to a fair, open, judicial decision.
The conduct of Boaz throughout is exemplary and worthy of commendation it bespeaks at once a wise and a good man. We have expatiated at considerable length on his character as a man of piety, regularity and humanity; we have bestowed on him the just tribute of admiration and respect, as a man of sensibility, as susceptible of pity for the miserable, of kindness to the stranger, of love for a deserving object. His character acquires much additional respectability from this last consideration, connected with the delicacy of his situation as a man and a citizen. His partiality to Ruth was clear and decided. In the confidence of virtue she had put herself entirely in his power and what use did he make of this advantage? Never was father more tender of the reputation and chastity of his daughter. Every selfish consideration is sunk in sense of propriety, in respect to the divine authority, in solicitude about the honour and interest of the woman whom he loved. His partiality to Ruth was decided, but the right of redemption was in another, and he nobly disdains to avail himself of wealth, of power, of prior possession, to the prejudice of that right. What is the victory of the warlike
*Deut. xxv. 5-10.
hero compared to this triumph of a man over himself! What are trophies stained with blood, opposed to the silent applause of a good conscience, and the approbation of Almighty God! I see him bringing the cause to the determination of the judges, with the firmness of an honest man, with the anxiety of one in love, and with the resignation of one who feared the Lord, and committed all to the conduct of infinite wisdom. Characters shine by contrast. The nearer kinsman's versatility, disingenuousness, and insensibility to shame, serve as a foil to the firmness, candour, and delicacy of Boaz. When the former hears of a good bargain, when he considers the advantage of his birth as the means of stepping into a vacant inheritance upon easy terms, he is all acquiescence and eagerness; but the moment he hears of the condition under which he is to purchase, of the assumption of the widow, of the relief of the miserable, of transmitting the name of Elimelech, not his own, to posterity, together with his lands, he instantly cools, submits to the infamy of having "his shoe pulled off," of being publickly spit upon, of having his house branded with a note of disgrace, and leaves the field open to a much better man than himself.
It is much easier to conceive than to describe the solicitude of the parties, while the cause was yet in dependence. What a blow to the heart of Boaz, when he, on whom the law bestowed the preference, declared his assent to the proposal; what disappointment to the hopes of Naomi, who had evidently set her mind on the match; what a damp thrown on the wishes and expectations of Ruth, on whose susceptible heart the goodness and generosity of Boaz must have made a deep impression! What relief to all, to hear him solemnly retract his assent, resign his right, and submit to the penalty. Those are the genuine delights of human life at which we arrive through danger and difficulty, which are the immediate gift of Heaven, which we have not employed improper arts to acquire, and which we can therefore enjoy without shame or remorse. The felicity which we are in too great haste to grasp, which we pursue independent of God and religion, which by crooked paths we arrive at, proves at best a cloud in the embrace, often a serpent full of deadly poison in the bosom. The very delays which Providence interposes, the sacrifices which a sense of duty offers up, the mortifications to which conscience submits, enhance the value, and heighten the relish of our lawful comforts.
Let us apply this observation to the three leading personages in this interesting tale. Naomi sits down, and thus meditates with herself. "With what fair prospects did I begin the world; the wife of a prince, a mother in Israel, among the first in rank, in wealth, in expectation. But how early were my prospects clouded! Driven by famine from the land of promise, reduced to seek shelter and subsistence among strangers, but supported and refreshed by the company and tenderness of the husband of my tender years, and the presence and improvement of my children: finding a new home in the land of Moab, my family respected in a foreign country, reputably allied, comfortably settled. But the cup of prosperity again dashed from my hand; husband and sons, the desire of mine eyes, taken away with a stroke; Canaan and Moab, rendered equally a place of exile, robbed of that which rendered all places a home, all situations a pleasure; deserted of all but Heaven, and a good young woman, once the partner of my joys, now my sister in affliction: fleeing back for the relief of my anguish to my native soil and city, and mortified at finding myself there more a stranger than among aliens; providentially raised into notice and consequence again, my affectionate daughter nobly allied, the name of Elimelech about to be revived, and his house built up! What a strangely chequered life! Naomi and Mara in perpetual succession! But every thing is ordered wisely and well of Him who sees all things at one view;