'You Shall Not Afflict ...'

IN THE DAYS when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion....But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years; and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was bereft of her two sons and her husband.Ruth 1:1-5

Thus begins one of the most compelling narratives in the scriptures, the story of Ruth. It is a story about a radical change in social status for three women, who suddenly found themselves widows in a culture that had no place for them.

Ruth's love and loyalty for her mother-in-law, Naomi, is perhaps the message most remembered from the tale. After her husband's death, as Naomi set out to return to Bethlehem, her home, she tearfully tried to prod Ruth to remain in Moab, where she could find security in her ties to her people and in the prospect of a new husband. In response, Ruth offered these cherished words: "Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God; where you die I will die, and there I will be buried" (Ruth 1:16-17).

When Naomi saw that Ruth could not be swayed, the two of them traveled together to Bethlehem. They went to the fields of Boaz, a wealthy kinsman of Naomi. There Ruth gleaned among the ears of grain in order to feed Naomi and herself.

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