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These are not the only female pilgrims whom the acred page has presented to our view, advancing by slow and painful stages to Bethlehem of Judah. Upwards of thirteen hundred years after this period, we behold a still more illustrious traveller, and in circumstances still more delicate, on the road from Nazareth of Galilee, to her native city; but not to take possession of the inheritance of her fathers, not to repose in the lap of case and indulgence, not to deposit the anxieties of approaching child-birth in the bosom of a fond and sympathizing parent; but to know the heart of a stranger, to feel the bitterness of unkindness and neglect; so friendless that not a door would open to receive her, so poor that she cannot purchase the accommoda. tions of an inn, overtaken by nature's inevitable hour, "she brings forth her first-born son in a stable, and lays him in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." But through such humiliating circumstances of meanness and poverty, what a display of glory and magnificence was the arm of Jehovah preparing! What an important station do the simple annals of these poor women hold in the history of mankind! What celebrity, in the eyes of all nations, have they conferred on Bethlehem, on their country! How a thousand years shrink into a point, before that God who sees the end from the beginning!" How the purpo⚫ses of Heaven are accomplished to one iota, to one tittle! How places and times are determined of Him who saith, as one having authority, "My counsel shall stand, and I will fulfil all my pleasure."
One of the advantages, and not the least, of travelling abroad, is the joy which the thought of returning home inspires; but this is a consolation whieh Naomi's return is not permitted to enjoy. She brings back no treasures to purchase attention, to command respect, to excite envy. She is accompanied with no husband, no son, to maintain her cause, or cheer her solitude. She brings back nothing but emptiness, dereliction and tears. A great part of her ancient acquaintance and
friends are gone, as well as her own family. Those who remain hardly know her again, so much are her looks impaired and disfigured with grief. A new generation has arisen, to whom she is an utter stranger, and who are utter strangers to her. But in a little city, a trifling event makes a great noise. The curiosity of the whole town is excited by the appearance of these two insignificant fugitives; and various we may suppose were the inquiries set on foot, the conjectures formed, the remarks made, the censures passed, on their account. This is the never-failing inconveniency of inconsiderable places. Where there is abundance of idleness, abundance of ill-nature, every man is a spy upon his neighbour, every one is at leisure to attend to the affairs of another, because he is but half occupied by his own. We have here enough of inquiry, enough of wonder, but not a single word of compassion, of kindness, of hospitality; and Naomi might have gone without a roof to shelter her head, or a morsel of bread to sustain sinking nature, but for the industry and attachment of her amiable daughter-in-law!
Base, unfeeling world, that can feast itself on the orphan's tears and the widow's sorrow! See, there they are, every one from his own business, or rather his own idleness, to stare and talk a wretched woman out of countenance; the whisper goes round, the finger points, the scandal of ten years standing is revived, and a new colouring is given to it. Affected pity and real indifference wound the heart which God himself has just bruised; whose husband and children he has taken to himself. The wretched mourner seems to feel it; she bursts into an agony of grief, and thus vents the bitterness of her soul, "Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?" Verse 20, 21. What simple, but what forcible language the heart speaks! She dwes
on the minute circumstances of her case, takes up her own name as a theme of wo, changes the fond appellation of parental affection, of parental hope, Naomi, on which Providence had poured out the wormwood and gall of disappointment, into one better adapted to her tragical history. The past presents nothing but happiness passed away as a shadow; rank, and opulence, and importance gone, gone, never to return. The future spreads a gloom unirradiated by a single gleam of hope. She apprehends no change of things, but the oppressive change from evil to worse.
But yet her misery admits of alleviation. It comes from God, she sees the hand of a Father in her afflic tion, she kisses the rod, and commands the soul to peace. To endure distress the fruit of our own folly, to suffer from the pride, cruelty and carelessless of a man like ourselves, is grievous, is unsupportable; it drinks up our spirits. But the evil that comes immediately from God, has its own antidote blended into its substance; we drink the poison and the medicine from the same chalice, and at the same instant; the one destroys the effect of the other; their joint operation is salutary, is life-giving, not deadly. Was that the voice of God which I heard? Spake it not in thunder? Said it not, "Take now thy son, thine only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest, and offer him for a burnt-offering." It is well; it was the voice of God, and that is enough. I will offer up the sacrifice, I will surrender my dearest delight. I cannot tell how the promise is to be accomplished, consistently with my obedience and submission, but the command and the promise proceed from the same lips; I leave all to him.
From all that we see, Naomi had slender motives, and poor encouragement to return to her own country; we cannot tell what determined her resolution; it might be a little fit of female impatience, occasioned by some piece of Moabitish insolence or unkindness; it might be the mere restlessness of a mind ill at ease, grasping at the shadow of felicity merely from change
of place; it might be the ardent desire of home, of the scenes of childish simplicity, innocence and joy, which in certain circumstances, all men feel, and by which the conduct of all is, to a certain degree, regulated. Whatever it were, it came from above, it was overruled of infinite wisdom, it was, unknown to itself, acting in subserviency to a most important event: and it is thus, that little, unnoticed, unknown powers, put the great machine in motion, produce effects that astonish, and delight, and bless mankind.
The same all-ruling Providence is conspicuous in determining the season of Naomi's return. On this hinged all the mighty consequences of Ruth's acquaintance and connexion with Boaz-the birth of kings, the transmission of empire, the accomplishment of ancient prophecy, the hopes of the human race. Had this apparently unconsequential journey been accelerated, been retarded, a month, a week, a single day, the parties might never have met. Contingent to men, it was foreseen, fixt, disposed and matured by him "who is wounderful in counsel, and excellent in working."
Every one observes and records the great incidents of his life. But would you, O man, have rational pleasure, blended with useful instruction, attend to little things, trace matters of highest moment up to their source; and behold thy fate stand quivering on a needle's point; and a colour given to thy whole future life, thy eternal state fixed by a reed shaken with the wind, by an accidental concurrence which thou wert neither seeking nor avoiding; and rejoice to think that all things are under the direction of unerring wisdom, of allsubduing mercy; are "working together for good."
Does this teach a lesson of levity and inconsideration? Darest thou to trifle with thy everlasting concerns because there is a God who ruleth and judgeth in the earth, who doth all things after the counsel of his own will? God forbid. Presumptuously to lead the decrees of Providence, impiously to resist them, or
timidly to draw back, are equally offensive to a righteous, a holy and wise God.
We have seen the unhappy Naomi stripped of almost every earthly good; husband, children, friends, means, country, comfort; it is the dark midnight hour with her. No, there is one lamp left burning, to dissipate the gloom, to prevent despair-the sacred flame of virtuous friendship. No, the sun of righteousness is hastening to the brightness of his arising. The name, after all, was propitious and prophetic; God brings it about in his own way, and it is "wondrous in our eyes."
The continuation of this story will carry us on to the contemplation of scenes of rural simplicity, for the enjoyment of which, grandeur might well relinquish its pride and pomp, its vanity and vexation of spirit, and rejoice in the exchange. Let us meanwhile pause and reflect on the history of Naomi, as administering useful instruction.
1st. As an admonition never to despair. God frequently brings his people to that mournful spectacle, hope expiring, that he may have the undivided honour of reviving it again, and may be acknowledged as the one pure and perennial fountain of light and life and joy. The condition of Jacob, of Joseph, of Naomi, all preach one and the same doctrine; all proclaim that the time of man's extremity is God's opportunity.
2dly. Let us call, let us reckon nothing mean or contemptible which God employs, or may be pleased to employ, in his service. The notice of the King of kings impresses dignity and importance, confers true nobility on the low-born child, the beggar, the outcast, the slave. On them all he has stamped his own image; and their present and every future condition is the work of his providence. "It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish:" and if destined to salvation, to what worldly distinction. may they not aspire, may they not arrive? Carefully mark the progress of children: study the bent of their