Naomi Loses Her Husband and Sons
There was a time when Israel didn’t have kings to rule over them. But they had leaders to help them. This is a story about some things that happened during that time. There wasn’t enough food in the land of Judah. So a man went to live for a while in the country of Moab. He was from Bethlehem in Judah. His wife and two sons went with him. The man’s name was Elimelek. His wife’s name was Naomi. The names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were from the tribe of Ephraim. Their home had been in Bethlehem in Judah. They went to Moab and lived there.
Naomi’s husband Elimelek died. So she was left with her two sons. They married women from Moab. One was named Orpah. The other was named Ruth. Naomi’s family lived in Moab for about ten years. Then Mahlon and Kilion also died. So Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
Naomi and Ruth Return to Bethlehem
While Naomi was in Moab, she heard that the Lord had helped his people. He had begun to provide food for them again. So Naomi and her two daughters-in-law prepared to go from Moab back to her home. She left the place where she had been living. Her daughters-in-law went with her. They started out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Both of you go back. Each of you go to your own mother’s home. You were kind to your husbands, who have died. You have also been kind to me. So may the Lord be just as kind to you. May the Lord help each of you find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them goodbye. They broke down and wept loudly. They said to her, “We’ll go back to your people with you.”
But Naomi said, “Go home, my daughters. Why would you want to come with me? Am I going to have any more sons who could become your husbands? Go home, my daughters. I’m too old to have another husband. Suppose I thought there was still some hope for me. Suppose I married a man tonight. And later I had sons by him. Would you wait until they grew up? Would you stay single until you could marry them? No, my daughters. My life is more bitter than yours. The Lord’s power has turned against me!”
When they heard that, they broke down and wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye. But Ruth held on to her.
“Look,” said Naomi. “Your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
But Ruth replied, “Don’t try to make me leave you and go back. Where you go I’ll go. Where you stay I’ll stay. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God. Where you die I’ll die. And there my body will be buried. I won’t let even death separate you from me. If I do, may the Lord punish me greatly.” Naomi realized that Ruth had made up her mind to go with her. So she stopped trying to make her go back.
The two women continued on their way. At last they arrived in Bethlehem. The whole town was stirred up because of them. The women in the town asked, “Can this possibly be Naomi?”
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara. The Mighty One has made my life very bitter. I was full when I went away. But the Lord has brought me back empty. So why are you calling me Naomi? The Lord has made me suffer. The Mighty One has brought trouble on me.”
So Naomi returned from Moab. Ruth, her daughter-in-law from Moab, came with her. They arrived in Bethlehem just when people were beginning to harvest the barley.
Ruth Meets Boaz in the Grain Field
Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side of the family. The relative’s name was Boaz. He was a very important man from the family of Elimelek.
Ruth, who was from Moab, spoke to Naomi. Ruth said, “Let me go out to the fields. I’ll pick up the grain that has been left. I’ll do it behind anyone who is pleased with me.”
Naomi said to her, “My daughter, go ahead.” So Ruth went out to a field and began to pick up grain. She worked behind those cutting and gathering the grain. As it turned out, she was working in a field that belonged to Boaz. He was from the family of Elimelek.
Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem. He greeted those cutting and gathering the grain. He said, “May the Lord be with you!”
“And may the Lord bless you!” they replied.
Boaz spoke to the man in charge of his workers. He asked, “Who does that young woman belong to?”
The man replied, “She’s from Moab. She came back from there with Naomi. The young woman said, ‘Please let me walk behind the workers. Let me pick up the grain that is left.’ She came into the field. She has kept on working here from morning until now. She took only one short rest in the shade.”
So Boaz said to Ruth, “Dear woman, listen to me. Don’t pick up grain in any other field. Don’t go anywhere else. Stay here with the women who work for me. Keep your eye on the field where the men are cutting grain. Walk behind the women who are gathering it. Pick up the grain that is left. I’ve told the men not to bother you. When you are thirsty, go and get a drink. Take water from the jars the men have filled.”
When Ruth heard that, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why are you being so kind to me? In fact, why are you even noticing me? I’m from another country.”
Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about you. I’ve heard about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since your husband died. I know that you left your father and mother. I know that you left your country. You came to live with people you didn’t know before. May the Lord reward you for what you have done. May the Lord, the God of Israel, bless you richly. You have come to him to find safety under his care.”
“Sir, I hope you will continue to be kind to me,” Ruth said. “You have made me feel safe. You have spoken kindly to me. And I’m not even as important as one of your servants!”
When it was time to eat, Boaz spoke to Ruth again. “Come over here,” he said. “Have some bread. Dip it in the wine vinegar.”
She sat down with the workers. Then Boaz offered her some grain that had been cooked. She ate all she wanted. She even had some left over. Ruth got up to pick up more grain. Then Boaz gave orders to his men. He said, “Let her take some stalks from what the women have tied up. Don’t tell her she can’t. Even pull out some stalks for her. Leave them for her to pick up. Don’t tell her she shouldn’t do it.”
So Ruth picked up grain in the field until evening. Then she separated the barley from the straw. The barley weighed 30 pounds. She carried it back to town. Her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out the food left over from the lunch Boaz had given her. She gave it to Naomi.
Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you pick up grain today? Where did you work? May the man who noticed you be blessed!”
Then Ruth told her about the man whose field she had worked in. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said.
“May the Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “The Lord is still being kind to those who are living and those who are dead.” She continued, “That man is a close relative of ours. He’s one of our family protectors.”
Then Ruth, who was from Moab, said, “He told me more. He even said, ‘Stay with my workers until they have finished bringing in all my grain.’ ”
Naomi replied to her daughter-in-law Ruth. She said, “That will be good for you, my daughter. Go with the women who work for him. You might be harmed if you go to someone else’s field.”
So Ruth stayed close to the women who worked for Boaz as she picked up grain. She worked until the time when all the barley and wheat had been harvested. And she lived with her mother-in-law.